Knowledge Networks in Higher Education

Knowledge Networks in Higher Education

Filipa M. Ribeiro (University of Porto, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7365-4.ch051


Networks function as an appropriate device to explore the processes of creation and adoption of knowledge by academics in higher education institutions (HEIs), and how it can be operationalized with the concept of epistemic authority and the analysis of knowledge networks. The claim that underlies this chapter is that emergent processes of knowledge creation—in terms of epistemic states—are highly shaped by the social and knowledge networks in which academics are engaged. The primary focus of this approach to knowledge networks will be on knowledge creation. Thus, instead of focusing on the vehicles of distribution of knowledge and scientific outputs, the emphasis will be on the role of knowledge networks – seen as epistemic conduits.
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The role of social networks for the creation of knowledge has been studied outside the educational field, highlighting the crucial role of formal and informal networks in organizational learning by stimulating new knowledge and new practices (Ahuja, 2000; McGrath and Krackhardt, 2003). However, less is known about the role of social networks in the field of education. In fact, up to this point there is only one book published on social networks and education (Daly, 2010).

A social network is a collection of individuals (commonly called actors) and an enumeration of the relations (or ties) among such individuals (Kindermann, 2008). The term social network is depicted from Barnes’ work (1954), when he used it to designate the social relationships found in a community in Bremmes, Norway. Since then, the term has been associated to many different types of relations among many different types of individuals. Contemporary networks, unlike local communities, are not only centered on place-based affiliation, but more based on niche cultural affiliations and knowledge communities. These new ways of sharing culture and knowledge have broad implications on the relations between production and consumption and the traditional sources of authority for culture and knowledge. Standards are continuously being reshaped as networks have become the dominant cultural logic (Varnelis, 2008). “Today, network culture succeeds postmodernism. It does so in a more subtle way. No new ‘ism‘ has emerged: that would lay claim to the familiar territory of manifestos, symposia, definite museum exhibits, and so on” (Varnelis, 2008, p. 149). As it happens in other spheres, universities are made of networked actors1 and, thus, the cultures that emerge are varied.

In this networked society, the creation and production of knowledge and expertise rises the likelihood that current knowledge will be retained and multiplied in new knowledge and practices. Recent educational studies stressed the importance of strong social networks among teachers for the spread and depth of policy, reform, innovation and change implementation (Coburn and Russel, 2008; Moolenar, Daly and Sleegers, forthcoming; Penuel, Frank and Krause, 2007,Brown and Duguid,2000; Chiffoleau, 2005; Carre et al., 1989).

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