A voice as unique as the sunrise

Despite my best intentions, I am afraid I am a little behind on the learning event from #walkmyworld. With the snow (but mostly ice) impacting our rural school system this week, I thought I would spend a few days “catching up” on this new project. (To my Northern colleagues or other portions of the world where you are much more accustomed to wintry weather conditions, yes, I am afraid the southern portion of our country is ill-equipped for winter weather. It is okay. You can feel free to laugh with impunity now. No hard feelings, I promise!)

Although I have not posted as regularly as I would have liked, merely listening to the participants of this project has already been a great experience for me. I originally connected with this project through my involvement with the Literacy Research Association. (In passing, I followed literacy researchers who tweeted within the same framework of my previous work during a conference, and one day I stumbled upon this hashtag in my feed. I am thankful to the organizers of this learning event for allowing me to tag along and share my befuddled musings!) After listening to other participants, I have a greater appreciation for the part both researchers and teachers play in shaping the learning experiences of the students we serve.

As I am striving to become more involved in a variety of professional organizations, I am also looking to find spaces where my own research interests/goals align and connect. This has taken me some time as I have had to do the “hard” work of carving my own path after many years of working with faculty on previously established research agendas. (Coincidentally, this “hard” work aligns perfectly with the struggle to develop a digital identity with similar questions involved in both pursuits: What do I like? What do I want to pursue? How do my goals align with others? What opportunities do I have to realistically follow this path?)

Still, there has always been something about the “digital” terrain that has always interested me. It isn’t necessarily the “newness” of it. (We all know there is a steady trend of people who possess the newest gadget, application, or knowledge to “play” in this domain.) It has been nearly two decades since I remember receiving my first “home” computer, waiting patiently for the erratic tones of America OnLine (AOL) to subside and announce, “You’ve got mail.” Despite my own students’ perception of this ancient relic of a memory (Still to others, ancient is a relative term as others remember events to shape this landscape before my own birth), I still find myself using technology to connect with the outside world, only now I do so with alacrity and not always confined to the walls of my own home. Instantaneously, I can connect with other professionals and colleagues who are probably working on similar projects at the same time as I. I can join conversations, discussions, and forums to both synchronously and asynchronously share, annotate, and collaborate with individuals across the world.

The opportunities are infinite, and our feeds never stop. My husband, the librarian–or alternatively, the information sciences professional, always likes to read and share random tidbits from his own work with me. Recently, he has been quite taken with the book and web comic series, “What if?” by Randall Munroe. Munroe, a roboticist and former consultant for NASA, attempts to answer “absurd hypothetical questions” with “serious scientific answers.” (If you are interested, you can read an NPR review here.) In his book, he tackles the sheer volume of Twitter by answering the following question:

How many unique English tweets are possible? How long would it take for the population of the world to read them all out loud?

The conclusion of his five-page formula postulates that it would take as much time as watching “all of human history unfold, from the invention of writing to the present, with each day lasting as long as it takes (a) bird to wear down a mountain.” Or, in other words, his formula presents the answer of ten thousand eternal years. From this calculation, he concludes by stating, “While 140 characters may not seem like a lot, we will never run out of things to say.”

I must say that when my husband read aloud this response, the reason why I love exploring online spaces, and probably the reason why I equally love teaching, researching, and writing, dawned on me (Please forgive the intended pun as I am rather fond of them.) I love stories. I love stories about endurance and unjust suffering; I love stories about conflict and triumph or defeat; I love stories about the human condition, a condition that unites us all regardless of our career paths, personal interests, or credentials. For some, the sheer volume of these stories can be intimidating. I recently read a New York Times article about the trend of people paring down their personal belongings (minimalism) including gadgets and devices as many have developed anxieties from the constant stream of information and news.

However anxious it makes other people feel, these spaces make me feel hopeful. I hear voices from people across the country who are agentive creators of their own personal narrative. The sheer number of our collective stories are as infinite as the universe outside of us and as complex as the subatomic particles within us (I’ve been watching a lot of Manhattan lately, in case you were wondering why I suddenly felt credentialed to speak about subatomic particles.) We are always creating as surely and as steady as the dawn breaks each day. Our story is both intrapersonal and interpersonal as we struggle to discover for ourselves why our existence is worth sharing to the world.

When it comes to involving students in the “digital” world, I can’t imagine a greater unifying purpose behind what we do as teachers, mentors, coaches, and professionals. We not only help them to develop the literacy skills to participate in this landscape, but in doing so, we help them to discover, refine, create, or share (pick a verb to reflect your own philosophical bent) a voice as unique as the sunrise.

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