I Am Network Literate

I am “network literate,” and thus, I am far less limited as a learner. I am not limited by my personal knowledge and skills, nor my personal affordances of time and or money. I am at the shifting center of an ever-changing, loosely-tied hub of humans and their products. Humans with varied backgrounds, interests, and perspectives.

Look up

I cannot know everything. I cannot even hope to know most things. The flow of human technical knowledge is said to double now every few days. And yet, our schools and our curricula are too often set up to rely on the teacher to be just that: the expert. Statistically-speaking, likely hundreds of books were published during your read of this blog post. If connecting to others has always been a human need, then what, if anything, has changed for the positive in the rather recent past? I suggest that it is a relatively dry tipping point in the construction of digital communication frameworks, tools and their subsequent adoption. The sheer speed and efficacy of digital communication turns this seemingly uninteresting milestone into a communications environment none of us were prepared for. It seems that the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has finally found teeth in something other than a political sense.

Tree huggers in the most literal sense grab the critter by the trunk and hold on. And yet, the most interesting work is being done around the periphery, in the luminous green leaves at the tips of its existence. Each one stretching itself closer to the sun. I could go on and on with this rather imperfect yet interesting metaphor, but I have recently sworn to smaller posts. So let’s cut to the chase…

You are likely a node in my network in one or more ways. I read differently because of you. I think differently because of you  I likely even act differently because of you. Perhaps network literate is now merely a subset of literate in today’s world. Does that discount being able to digest rigorous text and ideas? Nope. Does that discount being able to craft a cogent argument? Nope. Does that discount the sense of knowing when to say what? Nope. Does it mean that all of this now happens at an exponentially fast pace in the real world? Yep. At what pace does real human discourse happen in our public schools? Has the process of how our students make meaning of the world changed? Should it have?

the worlds network

I am network literate. At least I think I am. Maybe not. Perhaps I’m overstating the magnitude of this shift. Thoughts?

Are you “network literate?”  Does it matter?


*”Look up” by James Thorpe on Flickr

*”the worlds network” by saschaaa on Flickr


Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at http://nashworld.me


  1. Sean,
    Your words always inspire me and lead me to think. For me, the most powerful words in this piece are, “I read differently because of you. I think differently because of you. I likely even act differently because of you.”

    That, my dear friend, speaks to the human element in the process. It’s amazing the power our words have over the lives of others. As I believe Paul said, “The power of life and death are in the tongue.” The idea that this medium allows us the opportunity to speak to potentially millions brings to mind the importance of thinking with the heart as well as the mind.

    • Isn’t that the truth? So here I am thinking of the two-word sentence you and I clearly both believe in: “Words matter.” Here’s a little secret to my sick brain…

      Oftentimes when I find myself pausing in reflection on a topic, I take a quick trip to the side. Thinking aloud about this right here, right now makes me realize how odd this just might be. But here’s the trick: I take that idea, toss it into Google and try to “flip” the media mode that I’m dwelling in. For example, this thought was clearly rooted in text. So I did an image search by running “words matter” up the Google flag pole to see what salutes.

      In this case, the thing that first caught my eye was a slick graphic that seeks to characterize emotions. Clicking through the link to see the context of the image, I found a really nice little blog post written by a coach I’d have likely never “found” otherwise. Check it out: http://is.gd/fA3w9 And you know what… this little side journey taught me something about word choice. It also left me with a nice little graphic that taught me a thing or two about effective design.

      I wrote a post. You re-directed my thinking to the general idea “words matter.” An unknown coach provided the words, a psychologist provided the diagram and thinking about emotions, Google images served it all up to me, and here I am sharing this very loose tie-in as a reply on my own blog. These are odd times indeed. None of that above will likely change the world, but it does tend to keep things fresh inside my skull and keep me away from rather linear, one-sided thought.

      And so I return the thanks.
      (that was weird doing that aloud and from the hip)

  2. Truly we take for granted sometimes how important it is to exist in a network. It’s not just about social and emotional needs anymore, though. Rather this networking need extends into the collective existence that we all share. It refers to the important sense that we are smarter, better, faster, and more efficient as a group than we are individually – a concept that I try to emphasize in the classroom. Teaching history has its challenges, greatest among them being the difficulty of expressing why history is so important. Why study history? Because it is our collective past; the set of experiences that we all share. We cannot know who we are or project where we’ll go unless we see where we’ve been.

    I’m network literate.

    • What more inspiring to me than even the text of your reply here is the very connect itself. I’m a big fan of something Will Richardson often tells groups that he presents to- something along the lines of: “I’m humbled by the fact that I have thousands of people all over the world every day who are working for me.” I believe he says that mostly in the sense that these connections he has with so many bright folks are set up via RSS, etc., in such a way that they feed directly into him. This essentially flips the flow of information from going out to find it, to finding good filters in other professionals who then essentially (via technology) “send” it your direction.

      However, I think there is another important level of this idea. This is where your comment on this post comes in. What I’m talking about here are digital connections so strong that one person purposefully arranges a “digital handshake” between two of the nodes in his network that he realizes have much in common. The very fact that the two of us have a guy like Punya Mishra in some way running digital interference for us is, in short… amazing.

      I’ve had the chance to hang out with Punya in St. Louis briefly, but the vast majority of our correspondence and sharing has taken place via the loose ties of our blogs, and then email. The idea that you can build such a strong relationship in that way is such a shift. Punya sending a single email addressed to the both of us essentially saying, “you two should meet – you have a lot in common – gentlemen, take it from here” …is just a profoundly powerful thing. The fact that you can convert a weak digital tie into something where you know and admire another person’s work so well that you take it upon yourself to advocate for them… wow. It reminds me of the diagram in a recent post by my friend and colleague Jaime Dial. Check it out here: http://goo.gl/l6HF

      Clearly, I’m still blown away by this sort of thing. We’re pretty lucky people. 😉

  3. I like the idea, but don’t dismiss the importance of having a personal conceptual network. Dialogue such as this often leads to dismissing the importance of personal knowledge. This personal “schema” is important for filtering and making sense of the information we receive from our networks. If we simply outsource all of our learning to our network, we risk becoming a highly networked community that doesn’t actually know anything. So yes, network. But don’t forget about building your own store of knowledge.

    • I certainly hope I wouldn’t be perceived as someone advocating a completely crowdsourced existence. Utilizing and contributing to networks is largely done by most bright folks to do just this… add to one’s personal schema. In the classroom I find power in using dispersed, networked learning as a way for students to “prime” the pump for increased building of their personal schema. I love Punya Mishra’s comment on my post here, entitled: “Prior Knowledge and The Flow of Learning” — http://goo.gl/nvEW

  4. If you are “the shifting center of an ever-changing, loosely-tied hub” does that make you a wobbly axle?

    More seriously, network literacy may increase our awareness of the human essence of all knowledge – that what turns data or observations into knowledge and, eventually, wisdom, is processing through human minds. Older media formed slow-growing networks, too. But now we are more forcibly aware of the networked nature of our understanding of the world. The electronic interfaces may be temporarily dehumanizing, but the sum of the experience is very human.

    • Oh man, are you spot-on with this one. In two ways:

      1) Some days I certainly DO feel like a rather wobbly axle. That’s actually an interesting little metaphor you’ve drummed up. I like it.

      2) Your comment here sums up so much of this rather nicely. Really, I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for adding this.

  5. Nash-
    Interesting concept, particularly your statement “I read differently because of you.” It got me to wondering about the positive and negative reading influences in each person’s life. I am bothered and intrigued with the concept that our students, while network literate in some senses, often do not possess the appropriate filters to synthesize to form relevant knowledge. Deep thoughts for a Wednesday. Thanks for the push.

    • I’m not for certain on this one, but it feels like you’re saying that although the younger set of today tends to feel rather comfortable with digital media and using these tools to informally network and socialize… they lack the direction/focus/experience in leveraging these tools and connections in a rigorous way for a rich learning experience.

      If so, I fully agree. What did I miss?

    • Thanks Jenny. Good to hear from you again. Was great meeting you last year at Educon. Will you be attending again this year? It is always interesting when I explain to people the reality that I have actually met about half of the people who comment here face to face. Even the Aussies in this case!

      You actually read the “thinking aloud” thing, huh? I know it’s a bit odd, but I’ve tried to do that whenever possible for about the last month. Not so much on the blog, but just whenever I can sit down to type. I find it interesting how so few people can actually characterize the way the tend to solve problems in any sort of concrete detail. <= me included.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *