13512552623918This image reflects my feelings about online participation and the visitor-resident continuum. Either it is the scariest thing I have done: leaving a perfectly good aeroplane, safe and secure, to experience the rush and exhilaration of open online participation. Or it is an exciting journey into the open wide world with no safety net!

As you can tell, in both cases, I have identified with the parachutist, not the remaining crew member or even the photographer.

My digital journey began in the 90s when I received my first institutional email. I was working in a third world country University and knew no one outside of work without an email. Our connection in the University Libray to the Internet was menu driven and provided via the state library of NSW.

My journeys in gopherspace and my introduction to Archie, Veronica and Jughead helped me to make sense of the online space. I took an online email course I learnt about called ‘a roadmap to the the internet’ by Patrick Crispen.

I discovered email lists and I subscribed to many. This resulted in me clogging the University’s email server. It had a 25Mb hard drive (state of the art).

I discovered the ability to search and connect to library catalogues. This allowed to reserve a book for our Pro Vice Chancellor attending a conference in Texas at A&M. Apparently, he visited the library and the book he wanted was being held at the desk. He merely gave his name and was handed the book to read.

I learnt about OLGA (the online guitar archive) and spent time typing to find files on songs I wanted to learn to play. I learnt about ftp to get those files. 

I attended a library conference in Sydney and was co-opted onto the Internet Roadshow Village as I knew the other guides from the state library of NSW via our online contact. They knew I was literate.

I already was realising the potential of this online space to support learners. I wrote an article describing the advantages of digital information access for the third world. This my co-author and I envisaged as mediated searching to credible databases provided by commercial suppliers.

Then Tim Berners-Lee came up with the Web. Everything began to change. Even my job – as I moved to a University in Africa.

Google appeared and began to challenge the other search engines. I remember alta vista and others. Heck, I used the first web browsers.

The web today is very different from the Internet I knew then. It has moved from a limited online participation by a small group of people into a system available from a device that fits in my pocket and contains more power than the desktop devices I used in the 90s. It no longer takes a day to download a file from a server in the UK. Streaming films and TV is on demand and omnipresent. Social media permeate and drive an online conversation that is both amazing and scary at the same time. The potential for both great and terrible things is there.

The potential for this online space to support learning is immense and still being discovered. This ONL is one path of discovery as I fling myself out of a perfectly good plane (the institution) to experience thrills and spills with the rest of you. However, with the company of my group, the facilitators and the rest of you it is not like being alone in this vastness but instead I feel connected and I am finally typing some words to leave a social trace and become a bit more of a resident in this space.

I still work in libraries and books are still used. My early online experiences have helped me to incorporate the digital elements in my role. I help users to make sense and find the information they need for their studies. I still am resident mainly in an institutional space, but this allows me a balance in the real world. I have social media identities and use them infrequently. I am a private person, who did not even share my lymphoma (2018) online. If you didn’t see me you never knew or had to know. I am now in full remission.

In case you google me, I am not the respected US literary scholar David Bevington from the University of Chicago, who wrote many papers on Shakespeare. I was mistaken for him once in an educational online space. He sadly died this August. 

In fact, David’s social trace is so large, and mine so small, I was on page 10 of the Google results before I spotted a link to me. I hope this course will give me confidence to move from a lurking visitor to a participating resident.

The image in this post is a public domain picture. It is called ‘To the rescue’ and was taken by: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua T. Jasper. The description states: ‘OVER THE ATLANTIC OCEAN (AFPN) — One of two pararescuemen from 38th Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., follows an inflatable boat out the back of an HC-130 during a rescue mission 350 miles northeast of the Caribbean island of St. Maarten on July 23, two years after the end of World War II. They provided medical support to a Chinese fisherman who sustained a life-threatening chest injury the day before.’ Find it here:

Online participation and digital literacies