Monday, October 13, 2008

CCK08: 'Group' Semantics

Groups emphasize sameness;
Networks emphasize diversity;

Groups emphasize order and control;
Networks emphasize autonomy;

Groups emphasize borders and membership;
Networks emphasize openness;

Groups emphasize additive, cumulative knowledge;
Networks emphasize emergent knowledge.

In reaching consensus around the connectivist definitions of these terms, I find myself wishing that we had more examples of networking in nature. Even so, the animal kingdom offers us many parallel words that can be translated into characteristics of 'groups':

School (fish): Whether fish or students, most schools consist of cohorts or classes who are destined to swim in unision... rogue fish or learners are less likely to thrive or survive in such an environment.

Hive (bees): Look for evidence of abundant activity, all for a common purpose.

Herd (caribou): A group driven to act in a common way for the benefit of the entire group.

Cast (crabs): When a collective takes on a large production, the organized group can achieve maximal benefits by having individual members specialize in the completion of distinct tasks.

Team (cattle): A group that works collaboratively to achieve a common goal will sometimes have members take on common roles, but might also assign distinct responsibilities based on individual expertise.

Gang (elk): Coming together intermittently, this is a disorganized group that acts reactively without need for a pre-determined purpose.

Pack (rats): Rather than acting constructively, this group attempts to 'bring down' others, rather than to contribute for the benefit of the group.

Mob (kangaroos): At times, a large group that is not formally organized, will coalesce in response to a specific catalyst.

Flock (gulls): Just as the movement in the stars/seasons caused a group of birds to migrate together, so too are distributed members of a group sometimes influenced by memes.

Huddle (penguins): This group would rather find answers from its own members rather than seek assistance or expertise from the outside.

Posse (turkeys): A group whose members have forged lasting connections over a period of time, gathers on an ad hoc basis as needs arise. Such groups are able to respond more quickly than many other groups, thanks in part to pre-existing familiarity among members.

Crowd (porpoises): A group that finds itself wanting to act after participating in a common experience such as a symposium, workshop, or presentation.

Pod (seals): Although the benefits to all members of the group are very similar, membership in a pod might be seen as more flexible, allowing an individual to be a member of more than one group.

Although I've discovered many examples of groups harnessing sameness and order to achieve collective benefits, similar parallels to the openness and autonomy of a network are more challenging to isolate. Maybe 'networking' is new to the animal kingdom; or perhaps such behaviors are learned and are indicative of higher level thinking?

I like to think that my online persona "The Clever Sheep" is an apt metaphor for the networked learner. I prefer to follow my own path, while leading others in new directions; to harness the expertise of my online peers, while contributing to the professional learning of like-minded colleagues.

Photo Credit: Yeimaya