2.2 Network weather
Weller (2011) summarises the concept of network weather (first coined by Greenfield, 2010). Looking at people in cities, they argue that your life is impacted by new technologies, whether you use them or not – they are like the weather. Weller goes on to describe a scenario that might be familiar to educators:
‘When you arrive you are disappointed to find out that someone who has attended for the previous three years, and who you always have a meal with, has stayed at home because they can attend remotely. In the opening session the keynote speaker makes a claim that someone checks and passes around via Twitter, and it seems they have misrepresented the research findings. There is a noticeable change in atmosphere and the questions the speaker receives are more challenging than you usually encounter. In another session the speaker takes questions from the remote audience, which includes students and this generates a very good discussion about the learner perspective.
That evening the conference bar seems rather empty, and seeing an old colleague he informs you that there is an alternative conference Facebook page, and they have arranged a meeting in a local bar, with a discussion theme.
The next day the afternoon doesn't have any presentations; instead it has an informal format where the participants seek to create a set of learning resources and a link up with four remote hubs in different cities.’ (pg. 116)
This may at first glance seem like a negative summary of the technological developments at the conference, but these changes to people’s behaviour represent real changes to an activity at the core of scholarly practice and are therefore a good example of the type of network weather that we may all experience in our day-to-day lives as educators.
Weller summarises the technological developments affected by network weather in that scenario:
- Remote participation – streaming events allows people to attend remotely and often put questions to the speakers.
- The backchannel – Twitter, in particular, has become a potent force for creating a backchannel of conversation, with positive and negative results.
- Amplified events – many conferences now seek to draw in a wider audience using remote participation, beyond the normal constituents.
- Socialisation – people will organise events before and during the conference using social networks.
- Alternative session formats – in response to the impact of such technologies, conference organisers are beginning to use the face-to-face element of conferences to do more than just content delivery.
Using networked tools to live blog, tweet or otherwise capture conference interaction as the event happens is becoming more common and is referred to as the conference ‘backchannel’ (you were introduced to this concept in Week 1 of this course). This allows participants to discuss the conference activity while it is in progress, both with those at the event, and other interested parties. Some conferences make this backchannel discussion more visible, referring to queries posed online. Whether formally captured or not, one effect of this networked activity is that it presents and preserves discussion and reactions to the conference as these occur, in a way that can be searched after the event is over. It is an addition to the usual recordings and is less tightly controlled.
Activity 2 Network weather and you
As a teacher who is venturing into the online world, you need to be aware of the network weather around you. Jot down some brief thoughts in response to each of the following questions:
- Where might you begin to look for easy networking opportunities that may be available to you that you simply don’t yet know exist? In which of these would you wish to begin as a ‘lurker’? Are there any that you might feel sufficiently confident to actively participate in now?
- What networking activity do you already participate in that could be modified or refocused to bring you networking benefits?
- How could you harness the power of the ‘weather’ that is already around you to benefit your online teaching practice?
Networking is an activity that all teachers participate in, although often it is limited to the colleagues who work in the same organisation. This activity is designed to help you identify other avenues for networking, so that you may benefit from the ‘weather’ occurring around you if you choose to tap into it.