Groups, networks, collectives. What matters?

I thought the distinction between groups and networks would be important, but now I’m not so sure. I have enjoyed the readings this week (Week 5), but I think I have now decided that whilst it’s an interesting academic exercise to try and distinguish between groups and networks, the outcome will not be that important.

There is an interesting discussion thread in the Moodle forum, started by Ailsa with the title passion versus reason. Stephen has said that groups are about passion and networks about reason – and the thread has led to some ‘passionate’ responses! Is a forum, by this definition, therefore a group? Do we care?

Stephen distinguishes between groups and networks as follows:

1. groups emphasize sameness, networks emphasize diversity
2. groups emphasize order and control, networks emphasize autonomy
3. groups emphasize borders and membership, networks emphasize openness
4. groups emphasize additive, cumulative knowledge, networks emphasize emergent knowledge
There are also some interesting blog posts. Here is Wendy’s.

But I think Terry captured what it’s all about right at the beginning of his Elluminate presentation, when he said that teaching and learning can be enhanced by all three – groupwork, networks and collectives. Although it’s easy to start each of these up,  we need to think about why we use them and which tools to use for meaningful contributions to be made. PURPOSE seems to be the key.

From my understanding of what was presented and discussed, on the basis of my current understanding which changes daily (;-))  I would want to do the following:

1. Determine the purpose  of the group, network or collective activity (my ideal would be that ultimately this would be negotiable and jointly agreed).

2. Make students aware that they may be unaware that they are part of a collective -and discuss this, particularly in relation to their online persona and how this can be used by others and how they can harvest from a collective to their advantage. I did not know about collectives before reading Terry’s article, but it makes sense.

2. Use groups when we (I/students) want to develop a sense of mutual support, mutual responsibility and promote collaboration and a sense of belonging – using f2f work and tools that assist this kind of working such as those typically found on a VLE. Like Terry, I don’t see groupwork disappearing anytime in the near future and hopefully it never will.

3. Recommend that students use networks to link with others/sources of information outside the group, using blogs, photo sites, social networking sites and so on. I see ‘networking’ increasing as a way of working and whether or not academic institutions put blocks on the types of technological affordances students can access, there is so much ‘free’ software out there now, that students will just do their own thing anyhow. As lecturers we may as well work with them and exploit the benefits.

So for me, I’m going to get on with thinking about how I can work with all three and not worry too much about the differences.

2 thoughts on “Groups, networks, collectives. What matters?

  1. suifaijohnmak October 11, 2008 / 2:54 am

    Hi Jenny,
    I read your article with interest. So you would like to work with all three and not worry about the differences.
    I have included an explanation on the differences on

    Please comment if it’s worthy of further sharing such as publication.


  2. Sui Fai John Mak October 15, 2009 / 5:50 am

    I just revisited your post here, one year after your posting. I think I resonate with your views. May be that’s why an education of the merits and limitations of groups, networks, and collectives is necessary to ensure a balanced view of ideal and reality. Really, in the corporate world, group is still the key playing field, though networks would add substantial value to each of our learning. Our research has proven that, haven’t we?

    Just so much to learn through such collective inquiry.


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