October 7, 2010

Becoming a Master in Knowledge and Networks

Categories: Digital Learning, Educational Practice
students connected together by colorful strings of yarn

Last December, deans from the Graduate School and the College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University came to me and asked if I and the team at the Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC) team based at Duke would assess the need and opportunity and then propose a multi-disciplinary Master’s Degree that would help its graduates be prepared for communication, interaction, commerce, and other features of a digital age.  We began work, putting calls out to the HASTAC and Digital Media and Learning community, soliciting feedback on our way to drafting a proposal for a new Master’s degree in Knowledge and Networks.  This is a degree that, by design, spans the two cultures of technology and science on the one hand, and human and social sciences and the arts on the other.  It encompasses deep learning in the theory and history of communication, technology, and social networks with actual preprofessional (we’re calling it “re-professional”) training in project management, community building, and application of humanistic knowledge of communication in real-world settings, either with a social purpose (such as nonprofits) or as part of small businesses (entrepreneurship and innovation).  We have shown these ideas to many faculty, and have arrived at a draft proposal ready to be seen and discussed, both at Duke University and by anyone in the world.

The full draft proposal for the Master’s in Knowledge and Networks (with many informational appendices) is now available on Commentpress where it can receive comments, feedback, and offers of partnerships with anyone in the world. You can read the document and leave your own comments here.

We hope you will join in a bold and exciting experiment in re-envisioning higher education and providing a prototype for educational reform.  Our preliminary research suggests that some future students will already be in full careers, and returning to understand more about our rapidly changing world.  Some may be Ph.D. or ABD students looking for ways that humanistic knowledge and training can yield a successful career.  Others might find that, as technology experts, they are required to deal with intellectual property, social networking, and issues of change that their science background has not addressed.  In other words, we suspect a mix as varied by discipline and age as by the vast composition of the contemporary workforce.  We hope to use the HASTAC methodology of “collaboration by difference” to help students earn their degrees while also gaining the confidence to manage projects, from idea to completion, in a complex and changing world.  Future leaders in our digital age need deep knowledge as well as practical skills.  We’re trying to prototype a program that puts equal emphasis on both.

For-profit universities are addressing some needs in a digital age better than are research universities.  But often what they leave behind is deep knowledge of history, theory, issues of ethics and equity, in the headlong race for practical skills acquisition.  Without the deeper knowledge of how change works, one is always in the position of reacting, not understanding, not planning ahead for contingency and ambiguity.  We hope this Master’s in Knowledge and Networks is a beginning in addressing such challenges, and we hope you will leave us your thoughts, either in the comment section below or on the Commentpress site.  We believe it is time for the research university to take seriously the need for a new kind of training, in view of the rapidly changing landscape of how we live, work, and learn.

Image credit: Binkiexxx http://www.flickr.com/photos/8596221@N07/2923434507/