CCK11: Network thinking

Sparky says, Throw this stick I've brought you!

An article that will be appearing in Organization Science sometime this year discusses some aspects of network-based inquiry that might be interesting to folks in CCK2011 (note: although it’s not up yet, the DOI will be 10.1287/orsc.1110.0643). The experiment may not be directly related to our course, but I think some of its implications may be worth pondering.

In the paper I’m editing, the authors set up two experiments to discover how people activate their social networks in the face of the threat of job loss and whether that activation is related to their social status. Aside from the conclusions of the experiments, what’s interesting to me on the level of theory  is that they suggest that cognitively activating these netowrks is a precondition to mobilizing them. They suggest that given a certain kind of threat/opportunity, a person can invest in activating certain network segments in response that she may not have activated given another kind of threat/opportunity.

This suggests, then, that the social network also resides as a perceptual network.  And it can help explain why people vary their network-based responses in different situations. The researchers postulate that this may account for varying study results in research on social networks. It explains why the construction of a certain kind of study can “prime” study subjects’ conception of their networks that cause variations in response.

So do networks also live in my head? If so, how can I possibly conceptualize something so vast as, say, the internet? And here is where connectivism could help; the idea that “know where” is the key to knowledge, not “know what,” in a digital age. I can’t possibly “know” what’s in the internet, the thingness of every node—but I certainly have the sense that everything is within reach with potentiality. I like this aspect of connectivism because it honors the connections as knowledge. So what lives in my mind as “the internet” is not a static network but something more akin to a sense of the firings between network nodes.

The authors of the study I’m editing only account for human-based social networks, but I think the insights can be called upon here to talk about something that’s been bothering me about connectivism as a theory: agency. The contention that we do not create connections (and therefore knowledge) isn’t a premise, I guess, that I’m willing to accept. What I’m gradually concluding is that I am at least partly a constructivist; those theoretical insights generally give me what I’m looking for, which is a way to account for human agency, desire for change, thirst for knowledge, whatever you want to call it. What I’d like to do is take the best of both theoretical worlds: nonstatic, nonlocated knowledge coupled with intentional agency.

P.S. To posit agency doesn’t mean that it always works. For instance, Sparky incessantly brings me a stick (or a basketball, a Kong®, a squirrel corpse, a Frisbee®, and so on) and tries to create a series of events whereby he gets to chase the toy because I’ve thrown it. Sometimes, his agency has the expected result; sometimes, it doesn’t. Does he ever give up? No, because there’s a greater chance of getting the outcome he wants by taking action versus taking no action. And why my husband and I have been chanting outside of the Ohio Statehouse this week.

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6 Responses to CCK11: Network thinking

  1. Sounds like a very interesting study. As social animals it makes sense that a threat or opportunity would drive the urge to call on connections for help when threatened. Or for that equally human urge to share with others things that delight us from a picture of the new baby, to offers of unconditional help. If being alone as an isolated self-sustaining node were viable I bet the study results would show a bias towards closing down all contacts, not reaching out.

    Just confirmed there’s a good chance my job will end very soon. My first response was to reactivate accounts on a couple of group sites, become very helpful to perfect strangers and generally NOT withdraw into resentment. I’m not going to let the lion drag me for dinner without at least one call for help.

    Oddly, I haven’t notified any of my old friends who are outside the possible connections for another job category. To me this suggests a deliberate choice of networks. I don’t want the sympathy card and heartfelt commiseration help desk, I want HR department help desk.

    Not so oddly I did buy a book on how to build a blog in WordPress. I am influenced by the advice and comments of others on the net. And comfortable acting in a recommended manner. In “real life” taking advice grinds on my sense of autonomy like crazy and generally falls on deaf ears.

    Could this be about the net affording an interdependence not found in personal behaviors off the net? That we make decisions based on a different understanding of relationship to others in social media? Regardless, as you say, there appears to be agency here. I am making decisions towards an outcome. Just being less egotistical or forcing myself into modeling the Western: Individual-Against-All-Adversity cowboy model. (Can there be a Connectivist Cowboy? The Lone-Node drifting free across the plains?).

    Maybe Sparky is saying, I fetch, therefore I am?

    Scott

    • leahgrrl says:

      Scott, you’re behaving exactly as the study I mentioned predicted: what they call “high status” people (as in, educated, etc.) tend to reach wide across their network and engage in the kind of thinking you’re doing: conceptualizing your network and determining which aspects make the most sense to fire up. (In contrast, low status workers tend only to reach out to the very basic connections, friends, family, church. This limits their ability to find opportunities, the authors surmise, because that network is so constrained that not a lot of new information is going to penetrate.) I think that’s a really interesting point about “self sustaining” nodes, too. What would a cowboy node ride, though? 🙂

      WordPress works really well if you’re used to a CMS kind of environment, and I found a theme created by someone else that is quite nice and doesn’t look blogg-y (which I needed for my client’s purposes). And there’s a lot of functionality with plug-ins that makes it a huge help; for instance, I’m setting up a monthly newsletter that will come out of the posts automatically and I won’t have to write twice or copy and paste. One note, though: don’t try to use on Yahoo sites; WP’s fancier themes will break.

      I feel for your worry about your job. My husband as an experienced teacher with a higher degree is extremely worried that he will lose his job, thanks to the Ohio Senate’s decisions. I go through all the stages of grief, plus anxiety in droves, on a daily basis. Take care.

  2. Leah,
    “High Status” seems a bit over the top in explaining my behavior, but I do understand the idea. I was raised with permission to express myself in the world (raised by artists). It’s not an ego thing, an unwillingness to be told to stay in a place determined by someone else. I don’t “own” other people to tell them what to do and they don’t “own” me.

    This is an agency issue that seems related to network systems. Is there a thing resembling “place” in Connectivism? Place seems to imply a hierarchy and I’m not sure I can see the sort of valuing of one over another in a Connective network. Aren’t all nodes potentially both potentially rich with information and equal? Not sure if I’m getting this right. Weight of connections comes to mind as something Steven mentioned and he can answer better than I can.

    Just starting on the WordPress project. Took a building web sites course years ago and have to dig out the notes and handouts. I’m still at the rudimentary level–like setting privacy. Thought of using Blogger which I set up for another course but their help section is useless.

    The Connectivist Cowboy rides Across the network instead of Along fence lines formed by conventional connections. When they aren’t herding large packets of nodes into coherent theories they are either playing poker with games theorists or in shoot outs with rouge nodes who gang up into bad ideas. They also participate in contests similar to rodeos, riding incomplete ideas and feral speculations. Not so much to break them in for domestic use as for the fun of being tossed around by a worthy opponent.

    I’m not up on the Ohio senate’s decisions. Based on trends it must have something to do with union busting and other right wing nonsense? We live in the middle of the Alberta Tar Sands, a place awash with oil revenue, and the same cut education and human benefits mantra dominates. Ideology against the world, ideology wins. Hang in there! Remember the idea is to convince you that you are powerless.

    Scott

  3. jaapsoft2 says:

    Ha Leah,
    you write “The contention that we do not create connections (and therefore knowledge) isn’t a premise, I guess, that I’m willing to accept. What I’m gradually concluding is that I am at least partly a constructivist; ”
    Do you mean in connectivism students are not agents? And therefore you are a constructivist? I do not find such a statement in Downes. Could you explain this?

    • leahgrrl says:

      Hi Jaap!

      I’m referring to, for example, Stephen’s recent post (http://cck11.mooc.ca/post/54819 paragraphs 7 and 8) when he says “‘construct’ implies an agency that I think is not there” and his 2007 essay (http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html paragraph 5) where he says
      “In connectivism, a phrase like ‘constructing meaning’ makes no sense. Connections form naturally, through a process of association, and are not ‘constructed’ through some sort of intentional action.”

      I’ve mentioned these and asked the question about agency several times, even in my assigned paper, and I still have not gotten any response that tells me I’m misreading his words. If I am, I’m willing to accept it, but I would like the explanation, at least.

      My truth is that I do think that a learner can “construct” connections between materials, ideas, nodes. I do not think that all connections are “naturally there.” I believe that we have that kind of agency, whether we live in the Internet age or 50 years ago: our brains make connections happen between ideas that weren’t “there” before.

      Thanks for visiting! 🙂

  4. Pingback: Learner No agents but content creators? #cck11 « connectiv

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