Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Perfect Storm

In the past, I have written about my struggle with the merging of technology and the human and social lenses in education. I wondered if all of our devices have the ability to meet the need for students to connect with each other and to give them voice. In the past week, I have witnessed the human and social lens to a great degree in the world of social networking. 

This winter has been unprecedented. The eastern part of the United States has been in the grips of debilitating storms and frigid temperatures. In fact, there have been two major snowstorms within a week. One included a layer of ice that shut down the electric system for 92% of my community for upwards of 3+ days. I was among the fortunate who had power. 

During that time, I continually turned to a Facebook group created by a couple of township residents. It started out as a place to ask for recommendations on local businesses and to share local news. It has morphed into a community of nearly 2,000 individuals, and I do not use the word community lightly. Besides the need for heat, a key human need in this storm was the need to keep devices charged to stay connected to each other.

Most of these people do not know each other personally. In most cases, they would not recognize other group members in town. Some have decided to get together at a local establishment to argue politics or soothe wounded egos in person. Others have gathered at a local meeting hall to start a knitting club. There are groups who know each other as parents of children in the same school or in the same sports league. However, the vast majority have never met.

As the power outage stretched into a full day, community members used Facebook to warn of downed trees and wires, to announce sightings of out of town utility trucks rolling into town, to note where warming stations had opened, and to ask for instructions on how to set up generators. But that was just the start.

As one full day turned into a second, the venting began. The shared distress was evident. There were people who were caring for sick loved ones. There were children of the elderly trying to find nearby kids to shovel out their parents. There were complete strangers offering their homes for warmth, laundry, showers, and powering up. When someone went to another town and found generators, they were willing to buy one for another member who couldn't find one. A mother was at her wits' end when she found out that her power would not be restored for another 24 hours. Another mother reached out and offered her home, her kids' xBox, and a shoulder. A local restaurant running on generator power set up charging stations and free coffee. Come on down, and you don't need to buy a thing.

Once the power was restored, normalcy returned. When the next storm was predicted, the jokes began.

Now, as day 7 of school closings comes to a close, the community is tense. Some folks are voicing their concerns about the lack of civility in the group. They are wondering if they should leave it. Yet, only a week ago, it was a lifeline for so many. Last week, the good in everyone came out.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that nearly 2,000 are reading what you write. Most sit quietly in the background. 

It resembles a classroom from the social aspect. There is a vocal group, a group who responds when the topic is of great interest to them, and a group of bystanders  who take it all in. The Social lens is alive and well in this online community.

I saw the last week through the human lens by being part of this group. Had I been locked away at home, I would have merrily gone about my business. I would not have known what was going on in my community, until the paper came the next day. And, it would have told only the stories of a few. Instead, I participated in a real community. 

I am rethinking where this aspect of technology fits into education. Can technology play a positive role in the social and human side of education (and life)? Absolutely!

My community certainly is a great place to live. 

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