day 3 of learning in public. knowing very little. but knowing that little in the open. maybe prompting questions. maybe prompting thoughts of your own.
I’m hardly a network expert – merely a curious journey-person. But I love them conceptually. They’re alluring. A sort of dominant metaphor for the age. They’re everywhere. We’re all network, all node, all edge.
And since they’re such a splendid way to envision ourselves, I’m going to move through my own relationship with ‘network’ and then examine a burning question: How might students network across the obscene silos of individual institutions?
This gap between silo’d institutions, so seemingly natural, creates “bubbles” of assumptions and presumptions, chains against empathy. They become ‘obscene’ in their lock-down of knowledge and resources, quantification of identity, and isolation within economic strata. Pushing a couple of screwed-up us/them’s.
Couple of things to start with.
Let’s visualize. If we use the traditional network topologies started up by Paul Baran, we see this:
So we’ve got three types of networks: centralized, decentralized, and distributed.
And I’m going to break down higher ed into three strata/bubbles: Faculty/Staff/Student. Each network primarily among themselves and then secondarily with the other groups:
Which makes a university (in my mind), a predominantly decentralized network, where hubs are dominant figures in majors/offices/departments/offices on the academic side – as well as (on the student side) social organizations/clubs/first-year-halls.
But there are deep divisions between students and faculty/staff.
And this is just in individual institutions. When you look cross-institutionally, there are horizontal channels for faculty as established by professional networks – groups that can effect change in higher ed. These professional groups come together and discuss how fields and structures work. How to run the institutions. How to guide them – how to effect change in them. The networks have power. But students, on the other hand, have no access to horizontal movement.
Students are silo’d, occasionally gaining access to the professional networks through faculty members, though primarily stuck and isolated in their individual institutions. They can’t guide change.
Yes. These drawings are rough. And inaccurate. Imagine with me.
And I’m convinced that this power for faculty conversation and connection – this intermingling of minds across barriers, is a crucial element in new ideas and capacity to effect change. When you network across institutional boundaries, you shock the “natural” way things are done. Collaboration happens. Friendships form. These gatherings light up passion.
I believe that this siloing of students is one of the fundamental barriers to collective action. Students work in these small, rather ineffective groups… disconnected, centralized networks revolving around individual institutions. Student voice is not a collective voice. Every protest is mediated through the individual school. “Students at [insert university] take over [x] building.” It’s difficult to find more than a few voices exterior to these silos. You see Black Lives Matter. Where the ‘we’ is bigger than an individual institution.
But can we merge into a more distributed model of student connections? Can we use pre-existing social networking tools to expand beyond the individual school?
And – well – I haven’t done enough research. But I don’t even know where to find the others. And I haven’t been involved long enough in student activism… it’s befuddling. Where’s the pathways for connection?
A brief history of my relation to the network metaphor
The first project I titled with “network” was UNRH, the Undergraduate Network for Research in the Humanities – which rose out of a desire I had to (very ambiguously) bridge the gap between students at different institutions. And it blew my mind to see the work students were doing at other institutions.
The idea for UNRH came from my experience at ILiADS – the institute for liberal arts digital scholarship – in 2015. Something in the ethos of the conference encouraged faculty to bring students along – which prompted a series of realizations: I, in my undergraduate interests, was not as alone as I thought I was. So we gathered together and put on UNRH a couple of months later – bringing together 30 students at Davidson.
It continued at the 2015 DLRN conference, with a series of talks about learning models. Primarily arising out of the MOOC. Learning Networks. How do we learn together, coordinate resources, knowledges, and perhaps even students?
My thoughts on Network are merging into each other. Cause I’m now seeing these two things side by side: academic learning networks and student activist networks. A space for de-siloing that could allow students to effect change in higher education. How can the organization of a group of students interested in Digital Humaniteis (UNRH) teach and learn from a group of students gathering around systematic racism (Black Lives Matter)?
How might we bust down silos?
This bit is grossly in process…
Well. We have the technical capacity to connect students across institutions. And I wonder what the best way to do that looks like. I hate that connecting on a national level tends to be mediated through individual faculty members who handpick students.
How can students form a network that allows for collective action? How can we merge the pre-existing networks together and form a platform for shared student success across institutional boundaries?
The first step looks to be connecting student bodies in local areas and regions – where there can be physical facetime. To gather loud community voices within driving distance. At the same time, we could provide spaces to collect the writing of distributed voices.
Encouraging open, public writing and projects on the web and pathways for connection. Central hubs – portals – ways to view distributed networks. Get more folks on twitter perhaps. Ways to form community online. Ways to… connect across institutions around similar interests. Ways to converse around effective action. Ways to promote shared understanding between disparate communities. Ways to work together for change. Ways to come to consensus around policy goals.
- Connecting – for empathy building – for shared empowerment.
- Establishing Common Purpose – creating affinity as students, youth, dominated.
- Routes towards Consensus for common action.
Tools for trans-institutional collective action. Ways to talk to each other. Ways to share experiences.
Ways for 3 students in a single area to share experiences.
Ways for 3 students at the same school to connect.
I need to stop. I’m all over the place.