I just got done with a whirlwind visit to Toronto to attend and present at ECOO – Educational Computing Organization of Ontario. It was a wonderfully run conference, with nary a hitch as far as this attendee could tell. The planning and communication ahead of time and the support team in place yesterday and today made it a great experience. If you can get a chance in the future, I would recommend attending.
One of the things that the time brought home to me is that while online tools are great for connecting educators from around the world, there is nothing like face-to-face time. There is a wonderful energy that comes from being across the table from a person, whether someone you follow on Twitter or not, and talking about topics about which we are all passionate. There is a deep kind of connection that comes when I meet someone that I had followed on Twitter for awhile. These are people whose ideas I know, but with whom I have never shared a cup of coffee. Having the time to share a meal is wonderful. Friendships are quickly born on the solid foundation of trust that has been built up over time on Twitter.
My one funny, and slightly embarrassing, Connecting with my PLN story came when I met someone that I had been following for over a year. I feel very connected to this person, know his ideas and definitely consider him part of my PLN. I pay attention to his tweets when I see them. I ended up sitting at a table with him and a few others. Shortly after the session started, he tweeted that he was sitting with the others but didn’t include me. I made a silly joke about being left out. What became immediately clear was that while I “knew him well,” in Twitter terms, he didn’t “know” me. He did not follow me and had no idea who I was. Truly, there was no reason for him to know me! Like many of the people who follow me, that I do not follow back so that my PLN doesn’t become unruly, he had not made a connection with me. I was outside those he followed.
It was one of those interesting, global connections/disconnections moments. Twitter creates a sense of community that sometimes needs to be tested. It is a great place to meet and begin the connections, but it is really just the starting place. If we want to have a rich, community life, we need to do those next steps – reading and commenting on each other’s blogs, attending online and face-to-face conferences, taking the time to move beyond the more superficial relationships and develop deeper ones.
That is why times like ECOO are so important. We need to make the time and save the money to attend them and to drag along as many colleagues as possible. In places like ECOO, it is possible to learn about global connections and digital tools in a familiar setting that seems to draw many more people into making deeper connections. We can also deepen all of the relationships that get started in other ways.