How am I connected digitally with others? What would a visual map of my connections look like? I’ve been online in resident capacity (White & LeCornu, 2011) as long as online connection has been an option. I chose to use LinkedIn for this visualization exercise as it was easy to download a .csv from, to import and modify the data for use with Kumu, and it looked primarily at professional connections. The exercise of creating the map proved to stretch my understanding of the network and my place in it in new ways, as well as allow me to work on my own digital competency skills.
Downloading the .csv was not difficult. Learning the Kumu software took time, allowing me to practice some of the digital learner profile proficiencies as described by Helen Beetham, specifically ICT proficiency, data literacy, and digital creation (Beetham 2015).
My LinkedIn network consists of connections that have been made primarily through face-to-face work or virtual work encounters, but also includes those made with promotional, strategic connection in mind (on my side, or on the other side of the connection). While modifying the data – especially to denote the ‘strength’ of connection – it came clear that assigning a connection the attribute of strong, mid, or weak, was arbitrary. I had to consider both how I would rate the connection as well as how the other person would rate it (without the benefit of the other’s input). LinkedIn is the only network that I accept connections from people I’ve not physically met – assigning a strength to those connections was particularly challenging, as there are people in my network that I’ve worked with for years without having ever met in person.
My network diagram can be viewed here. There are 206 contact nodes depicted, based on my ‘connections’ in LinkedIn. I added nodes to represent hubs: communities of practice, or goal-oriented communities of interest (Veletsianos, 2016). The hubs were companies that I’ve been part of as represented by those connections: Selkirk College, Shambhala Music Festival, Insightful Ink, School District 8, and Quilting (I used to own a business), followed by the Personal and Family communities.
I made different visualizations. One based on the ‘strength’ of connections, one on the companies that I am connected to. I found that the way that I viewed the network changed the implication of the network. When viewed from a strength of connection point of view, the network was a map of the pathways into each of the groups, of my closest working colleagues. When viewed as connection to companies, the visualization was more of a map of my employment itself, resembling a visual resume. The one I’ve linked to this blog is the latter.
The process of mapping revealed two things in particular to me: hidden connections, and connections over time.
There are parts of the network that I can’t create an accurate visualization of, as many of the nodes within my network are connected with other nodes (outside of my connection with them). I attempted to begin putting in some of those cross-connections, but found it to be a futile exercise, as I don’t know all of those connections. The visualization and my understanding of the network is limited by my perception of it.
While modifying the data to fit Kumu and considering each of the connections (when I met or worked with them, how strong the connections were) it occurred to me that the strength of the connections had nothing to do with how long I’ve had them. It brought up these two questions over and over again: Is the connection still relevant? Is it useful? Surely these connections were all relevant at the time of connection. Whether the connections are still relevant or useful speaks to the flexible and ever changing nature of networks. I did not go through and prune nodes from the network, but it did occur to me that doing so would make the network more effective and streamlined.
While only a small piece of my online network is represented by the connections in LinkedIn, the exercise of mapping was useful and illuminating. Paired with the current readings, the mapping exercise allowed me to practice some of the competencies described by Helen Beetham in the Jisc model (Beetham, 2015), and better understand my part in creation and participation of groups, networks and communities (Veletsianos, 2016).
Beetham, H. (2015, Nov 10). Building capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency [blog post].
White, D. S., & LeCornu, A. (2011). Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).
Veletsianos, G. (2016). Digital learning environments. In N. Rushby & D. Surry (Eds), Handbook of Learning Technologies (pp. 242-260). UK: John Wiley & Sons.