11 thoughts on “Networks Versus Groups in Higher education

  1. Nice article Terry,

    I hear you about the groups vs. networks pretension, in HE or otherwise. Isn’t the problem = the old networks are built around National institutions, whereas most of the the new (IP) networks are built around (usually) some kind of shared application – e.g. a wiki, blog, utube, etc – and groups which share a common interest (usually by subject).

    As an old broadcast engineer, the biggest problem seems to be the change from broadcast to interactive, and the lack of focus on the (local and global) groups. So can i throw this at you and ask for your feedback. We have (National and Research Networks) NREN networks in every country. We’re also starting to see the beginnings of prototypes which focus on the groups “within them”. And every group will (say) want a different combination of apps.

    If we were to see the .edu network engineers collaborate, and share a space called (say) http://www.groups.edu (.edu.au, .ac.uk, etc) in each country, with a shared bibliographic directory; wouldn’t we have a way of putting together applications and libraries on behalf of, firstly, similar (subject) groups on one network and, secondly, systematizing the development of multicast networks between the NRENs’ global groups. Stupid idea?

    Could you reply here? Thanks.

    P.S. “Group learning has been the norm for formal education for at least two centuries”.
    Hmm.. I think you’d find Socrates, Aristotle, Plato and their mates would have disagreed with you. I guess it depends on what you call ‘formal’.

  2. Questions:
    1. Part of the definition of a learning network was “self-organizing.” But don’t groups self-organize, too? What differences do you see between the self-organizing of groups and networks?

    2. “The shape of the network is emergent, not designed.” Emergence has the notion of new behaviors or rules governing a new aggregate that differs from the rules/behaviors governing the agents making up the aggregate. Network shapes can change/adapt, as an individual agent changes/adapts, but as the latter adaptation doesn’t necessarily result in emergence, why should changing network shapes? Does all change/adaptation lead to emergence? What do you see as the difference between adaptation and emergence?

  3. Thanks for the questions Charles
    1. Groups can self organize, but I suppose because of our sense of familiarity with the context and other group members, we tend to fall into established patterns when working as groups. These are often hierarchical in institutional contexts. The divergent thinking, contexts and cultures of network members propels self organization, the familiarity of group structure and membership seems to tend towards the established and the familiar.

    2. What do you see as the difference between adaptation and emergence? I see both terms as related with adaptation being a lower level response to environmental conditions, while emergence carries the sense of evolution of new (in this case social) responses to environmental or social conditions/opportunities or challenges. In networks the variation in nodes allows and encourages much wider types of adaptation and then emergence, then in groups in which adaptation is lower level and less radical response to challenges – given the lower levels of variability amongst group members

  4. Thanks for the response. A few more thoughts.

    1. It’s easy to accept that groups are more stable than networks, having norms that are better defined and more constraining, and boundaries that are more porous. Still, this seems to be a matter of degree instead of kind. Cilliers writes, “it must be underscored that systems cannot do without hierarchies. Complex systems are not homogeneous things. They have structure, and moreover, this structure is asymmetrical” (p. 143). Although he is talking about complex systems, any network that has emergence needs to be considered a complex adaptive system, too. In fact, he refers to neural networks as a model of complex systems.

    2. It makes sense that more diversity in node could result in a wider variety of adaptations, which in turn would have a higher probability of “emergence” (or catastrophe with the system self-destructing), but I don’t follow “lower level” adaptation. Adaptation occurs at different levels in a system, or systems, but it’s not clear to me why we would want to call one adaptation lower or higher level. Levels relate to systems, not adaptation, although again, I can see a wider, or narrower, range of adaptations. Perhaps you could explain more on why you prefer the term “level” in relationship to adaptation.

    Cilliers, Paul (2001). Boundaries, hierarchies, and networks in complex systems. International Journal of Innovation Management 5(2), 135-147.

  5. Terry, I was re-reading this post tonight. Is it possible to have formal networked learning activities in an unpaced environment? What tools can facilitate this? DA

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