Social Network Analysis, or Choose a Methodology

I am attending a session at #nlc2010 that is around doing some research using social network analysis, and it has me wondering about how this methodology focuses on what we can say about the overall network itself, something that exists only insofar as the people involved are present. I like the idea of trying to deduce something from studying a composite of the individual experiences, though I am coming to realize I am more interested in asking questions about the development of individual meaning-making, rather than looking at some combination of the summation of them.

I find the more I learn about research, the more I realize that Etienne Wenger, in his comments during the morning session, is right–it is valuable to select a theory to use based on what questions or needs we have. Likewise, it seems the same can be said about methodologies–these also do not answer (or rather do not fit) any question that can be asked.

Have a research question? OK, then choose a methodology / method that works to get an answer to your question.

Social Networks and Learning Networks

This is an interesting session by Carolyn Haythornthwaite and Maarten de Laat that explores the questions that may be raised from the earlier Hotseat discussions for the previous several months prior to this session.

Very interesting session of various knowledge and network maps that Caroline and Maarten are exploring. Learning is a relation that connects people, though it is also an outcome of that connection. Learning is thus both the structure as well as its outcome.

The actors are the people, relations are the connections, and network (which is the relationship between them all).

Some more interesting network maps about how certain teachers or topics are linked with one another. These can be used as discussion starters. Seems like a valuable idea, though I wonder if this cannot also have the effect of oversimplifying some aspect of reality by reducing the complexity of relationships in a single way represented by single lines between nodes in a network?

Yes, context seems to be key, and from an educational perspective the idea of value creation and linking this back to how we can understand if learning actually occurs.

Yrjo Engstrom and Etienne Wenger Opening Theories

There is a opening discussion between Yrjo Engstrom and Etienne Wenger.

Yrjo speaks about Apprenticeship Learning, Traditional School Learning, Problem and Project-Based Learning, and Expansive Learning. Whether the learning is oriented toward existing or new activity or existing or new knowledge determines which of the four sorts of learning is used to try to explain learning. This theory of Expansive Learning is not intended to explain all forms of learning. It is seemingly a linear process, though Yrjo stressed that being linear is:

  1. Questioning existing practice
  2. Analysis
  3. Model of a new solution
  4. Examining and testing the model
  5. Implementing
  6. Reflecting on the process
  7. Consolidating and generalizing the new practice.

This seems nice and clean, and follows to an extent the way I develop training in general. Surprisingly, I am not sure if there is anything particularly new here, or if this is really the best way to highlight a difference with Wenger’s work (which I thought was part of the reason for this opening session). I know that some of Yrjo’s other work presents what I think to be more of a significant contribution.

Etienne Wenger is such a dynamic speaker, and his examples from practice make a lot of sense, given how social practice and identity drive knowledge and competence. I think his message, which he was delivering without notes, was quite powerful. I really liked his discussion about social systems and knowledgeability. He talked about the need to ask what story one wants to tell about a system. This is the question toward which one should ask depending on the story one wants to tell. He speaks of knowledgeability and a networked view of the world–who else needs these connections and how ways of seeing social structure demonstrate the linkage between activity, network, and community of practice.

The fishbowl discussion, around a small table, is now taking place. Yrjo talked about how important boundary crossing between various theories is, and how these various theories will be used or needed to explain some situation. Wenger then discussed how he does not speak about communities of practice (CoP) as being collaborative–collaboration is not a part of CoPs.

They are continuing to discuss their various perspectives, but I do not see how this is developing as a discussion between two thinkers who may be seen as having alternate perspectives on some issues. Pity that some of the questions are not as strong as they could be, given these two tremendous thinkers and speakers have so much to offer to the participants by which to engage in thinking.

Ahh, now there is some great discussion, though far too close to the end!

Welcome to the 7th International Conference on Networked Learning

The Networked Learning Conference 2010 just began. With this conference being the reason for my entire trip, it is nice that the formal conference itself has finally begun.

The venue of this large conference room in the Hotel Hvide Hus in Aalborg, Denmark. I love that in their introduction, the opening welcome panel even showed a map of Denmark, to (humorously) show the participants where we all are (partly due to the fact that this conference has until very recently been a primarily UK-based biannual event). The intro speakers included David McConnell (Glasgow Caledonian), Vivien Hodgson (Lancaster University), Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Aalborg University), and Thomas Ryberg (Aalborg University).

They discussed the growth of this conference in the Networked Learning area (a cross between educational technology with a communities of practice bent), how it is becoming even more international (by which they mean people from North America!), some information about the city of Aalborg and Aalborg University, as well as some conference logistics (the helpers in each of the conference rooms,  the Twitter tag #nlc2010, and some room changes).