In the not-so-classic Ben Stiller film Mystery Men, there was a superhero character called Invisible Boy. He’s invisible. As long as no one is looking at him. I too have the superpower of invisibility. But only when I’m on the internet. And that is how I existed in my digital communities, with very few exceptions, for most of my digital life.
I joined Twitter in November 2011 and have managed to tweet or retweet 138 times. That’s an average of 1-2 tweets a month, but for my first six years I averaged one tweet a year. I joined Reddit in November of 2014, and have since made 15 original posts. Just under 4 posts a year. My Instagram account tells the same story, and I manage to change my Facebook profile picture about once every two years.
I’m not really sure how teachers used to do their jobs without the internet. They are the real superheroes. I haven’t been teaching that long compared to many, but since my first student teaching, I have relied heavily on the internet for information, ideas, and resources. Early on it was a simple Google search, or something from Teachers Pay Teachers. More recently, it’s a constant flow of great ideas on my Twitter feed. The internet is an endless teaching resource. It wasn’t until recently that I started to think about where all those ideas and resources were coming from. I am coming to realize that my “invisible on the internet” super power isn’t helping me any more than it’s helping my digital community. So what would make someone a digital community superhero?
The Digital Community Superhero
What skills, attitudes and motivations do they need to have? In their work on online personas, Lloyd, Skyring and Fraser describe a wide range of personalities that members of an online community take on as they engage with their PLN. Their primary personality types are Connector, Maven, and Salesman, and I would argue that the the ideal member of a PLN is a well balanced mix of all three. A person who can effectively form and maintain connections within a digital community and readily share those connections. Someone who uses those connections to keep up to date with new ideas, and is knowledgeable about the current best practices in the field. Combine those two personas with the motivation to share those ideas and practices with those around them in a way that will convince them to try them out and move their own practice forward, and you have a PLN Superhero.
Of course each of those personas comes with their own form of kryptonite. The connector who hashtags and mentions so much that their connections get lost in the chatter. The maven who has a bit too much know-it-all attitude. The salesman who’s just a bit too pushy, or motivated by self gains. The beauty of a digital community is that our communities are what we make them, and so we can all avoid the kryptonite.
I know that I’m not yet a great connector, maven, or salesman, but I recognize where I would like to be heading. Rod Lucier describes The Seven Degrees of Connectedness as a continuum for how we interact with our learning community. I would place myself firmly between a Novice just dipping their foot in the water, and an Insider starting to feel like they understand, but aware that their superpowers have long way to develop. Where are you on your superhero journey?