Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Making Friends Online

I'm often times asked by folks when I tell them about our student Internet Radio show, The Gator Radio Experience, "How did you find those people from [insert location here] to talk live with your students." Many people who ask this question of me probably know how to find a doctor in their community, a mechanic to repair their car, or a good babysitter to look after their children. They all have networks in their local communities that they can reference when they are in need of such resources. Finding people to collaborate with online is really no different than finding people to work with in our respective communities. However, just like it takes time to build up a support network in our local communities, the same can be said for working in the virtual world. It takes time to build up a network of trustworthy individuals who are willing and able to collaborate with us on various projects.

When my wife and I relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area a year ago, we only knew a few people. However, these few people showed us around the area and introduced us to many people that they knew. A year after our move we're still not fully established and we don't know the area that well, but we definitely have a little larger network than when we first moved here. We've gone hiking, to baseball games, dinners, etc with both new and old friends. This network has been incredibly kind and supportive to us throughout our transition. I'm sure this network will continue to expand as we get to know more people in the different aspects of our lives here in the Bay Area.

The same exact scenario plays out in online relationships and communities. It might even take more time, quite honestly, to build up rapport and trusting relationships that can be leveraged for a variety of different activities from professional development experiences to classroom projects. Just like moving to a new community, you have to be patient when you first enter an online community. Look for a few helpful people to get you started and they'll introduce you to many of their trusted connections. Be sure to share useful information as this helps you establish credibility and rapport in the online community. Build up a profile that includes your photo, your interests, your professional background, and links to any online spaces like a blog or wiki that you work in. Chances are that if you are an honest, thoughtful and caring contributor to the online community, that community will return the favor by supporting you in all sorts of powerful ways. And if you remain patient during the process of becoming acquainted with your online community, I think you'll find this to be an invaluable form of professional development and continuous learning.

*Photo-my wife, Erin, and I pictured in front of the Golden Gate Bridge early on in our transition to the Bay Area.

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