Education and the Network Society

The phenomenon of globalization is complex and lacks a consensus-driven definition (Robinson, 2008) but it can be understood in light of one’s worldviews and assumptions about what globalization is or should be (Eriksen, 2007). In an attempt to organize different theories about globalization into easily differentiated groups, Robinson (2008) proposed seven clusters of globalization theories that differed in the assumptions and worldviews they required; he called the questions that defined these assumptions and worldviews “domain questions” (p. 127). One of these clusters he denominated “the network society” (p. 132). This “network society” referred mainly to Castell’s (2000) ideas about the impact of technological change and how it has transformed societies worldwide through an abundance of exchange and production of electronic information. This new information age has generated a new economy that is global, networked, and based on knowledge and information. In the network society, these three domains—global, networked, and knowledge—are interconnected and dependent on the advances of technology (Castell, 2000), and all three domains have a direct bearing on education.

Cardoso (2005) investigated the global aspect of the network society by using a group of countries that underwent a democratization process in the last 30 years or so, and exhibited the same indices of development in key areas (e.g. technological achievement, Internet usage rate, Internet access ratio, education level, and others). The study included Spain, Czech Republic, Greece, Portugal, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil—a heterogeneous selection at first sight, which includes countries from Western and Eastern Europe and South America. The comparison group included the United States, Finland, and Singapore—another seemingly heterogeneous group that upon closer examination had very similar scores in the key areas previously mentioned. Through a series of comparisons, and using Portugal as a center point, Cardoso demonstrated the pervasiveness of the network society from the less populated to the most populated countries. He also pointed out that education and Internet usage are directly related: “there is a strong correlation in all the societies between educational competences given and the number of users of the basic network society technology: the Internet” (p. 34). Since technology is the main facilitator and driving force of globalization and the Internet is its clearest manifestation in the public sphere (Bohman, 2004), Internet usage may be used as a gauge of a country’s level of globalization. Although Portugal may have been chosen as one of the nations to be included in the study due to the fact that the Portuguese president proposed the study in the first place, Portugal may serve as a good example of the global factor impacting education and vice-versa, as its Internet usage rate mirrors the changes in its educational levels. Future research into Internet usage and its relationship to educational levels worldwide could yield benchmarks for countries aspiring to improve their educational systems and bridge the digital divide.

Collis (2005) proposed that among Internet-based technologies, e-learning has been a key factor in facilitating this globalization and the establishment of a “knowledge economy” (p. 215). This knowledge economy in turn has improved production and transformed educational processes in higher education and other sectors. Using the framework proposed by the government of New Zealand, Collis (2005) argued that knowing has become a vital source of progress in the network society, as individuals and communities must know the facts, the players, the places, and the times most appropriate to take advantage of opportunities and to perform well in the new economy. Guerrero (2010) investigated e-learning from a different perspective but using the same basic assumptions: the Internet was the major facilitating factor for the formation of the network society, and the network society has a direct impact on the educational framework and changes it in the process. Using the Universidad de Salamanca Digital as his primary object of study, Guerrero (2010) found that educational institutions that use e-learning realize that they must change their educational processes to reflect a change in assumptions about the relationship between education and virtual learning. Guerrero’s (2010) findings seem to support Collis’ (2005) assertions that the use of technology has a direct impact on the knowledge base needed by those involved—be it the institution itself, the faculty, or the student.

The knowledge domain of the network society interacts directly with technology and how people use it (Stoer & Magalhães, 2003). An interesting example was proposed by Dennison (2009), who investigated the communication patterns and methods between a student and her supervisor in a master’s program in the United Kingdom. According to this study, traditional forms of supervision (e.g. face-to-face meetings, formal reports, etc.) may not be as effective as technology-based methods for some students who are adept at using those tools. Dennison (2009) proposed, for instance, that blogging may be a very effective way to allow for a “stream of consciousness” (p. 189) that has a positive effect on improving reflection and improving the level of originality of ideas. By using a blog to record her thoughts, the student was able to communicate more effectively with her supervisor and to record suggestions and changes to the text via the comments function. Other technology-based methods were also studied, such as email and a website. These virtual tools seemed to have a positive effect on the learning experience and helped in generating new knowledge, as “distance and time-lapse allows thoughtful considerations of ‘where do I stand on this?’, encouraging a constructivist approach to information and knowledge” (Dennison, 2009, p. 192). Through the use of technology, the concepts of distance and time have been changed and morphed into somewhat controllable factors that the user can manipulate to his or her advantage (Castells, 2000).

Wheeler and Amiotte (2005) provided an example of the impact of technology on education and the morphed concept of distance. They investigated one of the most technologically advanced educational systems in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world: South Dakota in the United States. The authors used the background of existing tensions in the state (i.e. globalization versus individualism, power versus autonomy, and distance versus locality) to investigate the successes and failures of the government’s efforts to bring education to remote areas. Wheeler and Amiotte (2005) found that technology allowed for a successful implementation of e-learning in the whole state despite the fact that the tensions remained. While this success was made possible, mostly due to the technology utilized that allowed educational institutions to overcome the distance barrier, the findings in this study may not be supportive of realities in other states where distance may not be an important factor.

Still related to the global, networked, and knowledge domains and their impact on education, Moravec (2008) conducted a study attempting to identify a new model for higher education institutions to produce knowledge. In his view, three trends have converged to create what he called a “new paradigm of knowledge production in higher education” (p. 123). The first trend was globalization, which included the concepts of the global village and the flow of cultural values and characteristics. This globalization has impacted higher education through parallel processes of homogenization and heterogenization made possible by new technologies; it has also resulted in the “commodification of tertiary education” (p. 126). The second trend was the “emergence of the knowledge economy and the knowledge society” (p. 127), which included a shift in managerial roles from direct knowledge management to that of assistance to and support of “reconfigurable and self-organizing” employees and students (p. 127). The third trend was that of an increasing pace of change, both in technological and social terms. The changes taking place in the world will likely result in a future very different from the present, and will require individuals and institutions to use their collective and individual imaginations to build that future; and the construction of that future will likely depend on “technology-mediated constructivist knowledge production” (p. 131).

While Moravec’s (2008) approach to knowledge production indicated an ever-increasing need for more knowledge, this thirst for information and its subsequent production facilitated by technology has caused an overflow of data that must be somehow organized and mastered. Green (2010) referred to this problem as “the acceleration in the sheer pace of knowledge production, and relatedly, the proliferation of knowledge(s), or the sharp and indeed escalating increase in the volume and quantity of knowledge” (p. 46). In view of this situation, Green (2010) has proposed a new framework for dealing with the abundant generation of new knowledge in the field of education. According to Green (2010), education needs to undergo a process of “re-disciplining” (p. 43) whereby the fundamental knowledge is identified and subsequently mastered. By answering specific questions about education knowledge, scholars may be able to create a model for the advancement of knowledge without losing mastery over the essentials of the discipline. Among such questions, the author proposed two key ones: “What is the object of education?” and “How does it fit within the disciplinary and symbolic hierarchy of the University?” (p. 43). Answers to these questions may help guide the definition of the discipline while informing what knowledge means to educational practice and theory. And this in turn will allow for the differentiation “between knowledge, knowing and knower” (p. 47). Once these have been identified, Green (2010) proposed that a more thorough distinction between knowledge of method and knowledge of research would allow for the delimitation and organization of the new and abundant educational information into a systematic and comprehensible discipline.

In light of Green (2010) and Moravec (2008), technology comes into play via systems designed to archive and retrieve data that can be transformed into information: “the general installation of a digital, binary logic into culture and economy alike is conducive to a new social order of performativity that must be recognized as, at the very least, non-neutral” (Green, 2010, p. 47). To complicate matters, who defines what is important and what is unimportant for archival and retrieval? Here, too, the global aspect can be clearly seen in what Green (2010) referred to as the “global-academic” (p. 53); that is, methods, theory, and approaches tend to spread from certain regions to others and become the accepted norm for the discipline worldwide. If technology allows for equal participation and exposure of all academicians independently of where they are located, the discipline of education can become truly global in its scope via a network of scholars that are generating and mastering knowledge. Future scholars may see this as an opportunity to compile a living canon of education as a discipline—one that is international and global in its nature, content, and intent.

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References

Castells, M. (2000). The rise of the network society (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Bohman, J. (2004). Expanding dialogue: The Internet, the public sphere and prospects for transnational democracy. Sociological Review Monograph, 52(2), 131-155. doi:10.1111/j.1467-954X.2004.00477.x

Cardoso, G. (2005). Societies in transition to the network society. In M. Castells, & G. Cardoso (Eds.), The network society: From knowledge to policy (pp. 23-67). Washington, DC: The Johns Hopkins University Center for Transatlantic Relations.

Collis, B. (2005). E-learning and the transformation of education for a knowledge economy. In M. Castells, & G. Cardoso (Eds.), The network society: From knowledge to policy (pp. 215-224). Washington, DC: The Johns Hopkins University Center for Transatlantic Relations.

Dennison, C. (2009). Research, supervision and the network society. Research In Post-Compulsory Education, 14(2), 189-201.

Eriksen, T. (2007). Globalization: the key concepts. Oxford: Berg.

Green, B. (2010). Knowledge, the future, and education(al) research: A new-millennial challenge. Australian Educational Researcher37(4), 43-62.

Guerrero, C. (2010). La formación en red como objeto de estudio. (Spanish). RUSC: Revista De Universidad Y Sociedad Del Conocimiento7(2), 1-11.

Moravec, J. W. (2008). A new paradigm of knowledge production in higher education. On The Horizon, 16(3), 123-136. doi:10.1108/10748120810901422

Robertson, R. (1992). Globalization: Social theory and global culture. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Robinson, W. (2008). Theories of globalization. In G. Ritzer (Ed.), Blackwell companion to globalization (pp. 125-143). London: Blackwell.

Stoer, S. R., & Magalhães, A. M. (2003). Educação, conhecimento e a sociedade em rede. (Portuguese). Educação & Sociedade, 24(85), 1179-1202. Retrieved from http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0101-73302003000400005

Wheeler, S., & Amiotte, S. (2005). The death of distance: Documenting the effects of distance education in South Dakota. The Turkish Online Journal Of Distance Education, 6(1), 76-83.

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