On Groups, Networks and Collectives

Steven Downes’ post on the traits he sees that distinguish groups and networks drew a response from Scott Wilson who tried to create a different diagram and also pointed at this item where Jon Dron and Terry Anderson have been “developing a paper for ELearn in which we’ve been wrestling with the distinctions between three granularities of social software. In the process it has helped me to clarify Stephen Downe’s distinctions between groups and networks, the way that certain tools seem optimized for different levels of these granularities (for example blogs are better for networks than for groups) and it has helped us to create a rationale for use of collectives in formal education.” (There are several related posts off of the Anderson and Dron blogs.)

It got me thinking about some of these ideas, and the story from Xerox where the repair technicians were instructed to keep their two-way radios on so that they could listen to the chatter among their group as members went about distributed repair jobs. In effect the always on radios created a virtual water cooler that provided peer networking and support.

Within our office we have been talking about a dimension of annual reviews called “Attendance,” and spent a morning retreat thinking about how we wanted to define that term. The discussion sought to move away from “seat time” (which is probably the University’s original meaning) to ideas of “attending to” the needs of the group, the implications of one’s work on others, the implications of some external event on other aspects of the group.

I’m pondering how “attendance” as we are trying to use it attenuates as one moves out from group to network to collectives. We have another category “professional development” which we are extending from the original meaning (for oneself) to facilitating the development of members of the unit, peers at the institution and even wider circles. This also seems to attenuate as it moves out. Posting findings in del.icio.us, for example, might serve the collective. Pointing colleagues to specific del.icio.us results might simultaneously advance the more local group.

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