Groups vs Networks- Struggling with my Class

everyone knows everyone from flickr
Image by eskimoblood via Flickr

After reading Stephens transcript Groups Vs Networks: The Class Struggle Continues, I extracted some of his thoughts to distinguish between groups and networks.   My intentions were not to create an oversimplified bulleted list that could easily be inserted into a boring PowerPoint presentation.


  • Groups require coherence and unity.
  • Groups are a collection of entities or members according to their nature.
  • Groups are about quality, mass and number.
  • Groups are distributive -everything flows from the center authority and distributed through the members.
  • The knowledge in a group replicates the knowledge in the individuals.
  • Transmission of communication goes from here to here to here, limiting the type of knowledge that can be created and communicated.
  • The sort of knowledge you can get from groups can resemble mass phenomena – the crowd culture that can influence rather than actually reflect an individual’s opinion.


  • A network is an association of entities or members where this association is facilitated or created by a set of connections between those entities.
  • A connection is a conduit along which a signal can run. What defines a network is the nature and the extent to which individuals are connected together.
  • A network is like an ecosystem where there is no requirement that all the entities be the same, where the nature and number of entities isn’t specifically relevant.
  • Networks require diversity and autonomy. A network thrives on diversity. It wouldn’t be a network without diversity.
  • Each individual in a network operates independently through their connections with other people.
  • Each individual defines their vision of what’s going to be important to them, their values and interests.
  • People interact with other people to make their own decisions- but not completely independently.
  • Networks are distributed. In a network, there is no locus of knowledge. There is no place that knowledge flows from.  Anything that is exchanged in a network is distributed across the entities of a network.
  • When an idea propagates to a network, it does not come from a centralized source, rather it comes from any given source in the network and then through a process of what they call propagation, it works its way through the network.
  • In a network, the knowledge is emergent. The knowledge is not in any given individual, but it’s a property of the network as a whole.  Consequently, it’s a knowledge that cannot, does not, exist in any individual, but only in the network as a whole.
  • Knowledge is more complex in the sense that it is able to capture and describe phenomena that are not simple like cause and effect, but complex like the nature of societies or the nature of the weather.
  • Networks offers that path that isn’t the individual and isn’t the group,

Finally, I was intrigued by Stephens’s statement “I want to change the system of assessment in schools because right now we have tests and things like that that are scrupulously fair, particularly distance learning where we outline the objectives the performance metrics and the outcomes and all of that. I want to scrap that system. I want testing to be done by at random by comments from your peers and other people and strangers based on no criteria whatsoever and applied unequally and unfairly.”

I’m required to meet specific learning objectives in the courses I teach. How can I begin to use networked type learning in this system? Is it possible?

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