Virtual networking is an interesting concept. Although I can’t claim a lot of experience with it, it may be a little easier for those of us on the “introvert” end of the continuum than the in-person variety (as mentioned in one of the readings).
That said, the ability to connect with others who have similar experience has changed the lives of many LGBTQ+ people dramatically. I expect it has offered similar opportunities for others who claim membership in a variety of marginalized groups. Connecting virtually can feel less risky or threatening in comparison to the semi-public spaces (e.g. bookstores, bars) that used to provide ways for LGBTQ+ people to meet. Technology certainly has changed the way we get acquainted, the way we organize politically, the way we build community, not to mention the way some “hook up”; although I have to admit I mourn the loss of those physical spaces that used to be the hubs for community building and chance meetings.
Networking tools (e.g. Facebook) have allowed me to reconnect (at least superficially) with a handful of people with whom I’d lost contact over the years or for whom an annual holiday card was the primary outward expression of our relationship, a tradition that has pretty much been usurped by mass holiday texts or Facebook posts. Although there is relief in the fact that I no longer expect myself to send out 60 or 70 cards during the winter holidays, the feelings that an electronic message or social media post evoke do not compare to those I associate with a US Mailbox full of hand-signed cards, some with personal notes included. (I should quickly add that I do get a kick out of the dozens of likes and comments I get when I post a picture of a new art quilt!)
Professionally speaking, I maintain a LinkedIn account that I try to keep up to date, although I rarely post anything on the news feed. Unlike Facebook, which I restrict to friends and acquaintances of a personal nature, I include a much broader array of people in my LinkedIn network, primarily those with whom I have some professional tie, no matter how weak. I have even included my LinkedIn address in the signature line of my maine.edu email account and occasionally get requests from email recipients who notice. As requests appear, I usually agree, unless it comes from a current student or I don’t recognize the name. I am interested in others’ thoughts about the extent to which you include current students in these networks and, perhaps, how well you feel you must know a student before including them. Do you accept all interested parties or do you have criteria by which you decide whom to include?
Some months ago, I got an email from a doctoral student at a university in the southwest who was interested in a paper I had co-written some years back. I receive inquiries about my research from people I’ve never met, sometimes from distant places, every now and then. However, this one led to both virtual and real-time conversations that resulted in my agreeing to serve on the student’s dissertation committee. Although I’ll likely never have the opportunity to meet the student in person, serving virtually as his “content expert” is allowing me to figure out how to mentor virtually.
Finally, reflecting on concepts like digital citizenship and digital literacy raises important curricular questions, at least for me. Given the importance of the array of skills students need in the ‘digital age,” it seems to me we need to ensure we teach students at least the basic skills, encourage them to consider associated ethical questions, and give them ample opportunities to practice (in a somewhat protected environment, within the LMS perhaps). To what extent should we include digital literacy alongside science literacy, writing proficiency, numerical competency, etc., as an expected outcome for a college degree?