Collaborating Colleges and Castells: networking theory applied to H.E. Institutions

Shaw, John (2005) Collaborating Colleges and Castells: networking theory applied to H.E. Institutions. Investigations in university teaching and learning, 3 (1). pp. 66-71. ISSN 1740-5106


While this paper represents work in progress it starts from the familiar academic theme of applying theory to practice and in particular, to a neglected area of our practice as lecturers – how we engage with, develop and create networks.

We tend to accept networks as part of the educational scenery something natural and unremarkable but this paper suggests that they may not be so. By taking theory primarily used to analyse the business environment and applying it to HE institutions, the aim is to develop insights and foster an awareness that networks are not just a passive tool for us to use but, once created, that they have an internal logic of their own - a logic of which we need to be aware so that we can make explicit choices about our entry into them and then further choices about how we use and develop the various networks.

It may seem obvious to anyone in higher education (or business) that networks are proliferating and educational institutions are being encouraged to collaborate to maximise information flows. At the same time there is a proliferation of theories about this phenomenon in the business environment. Dordick and Wang (1993) introduced the idea of the ‘Information Society’; Mantovani in 1996 develops an approach to ‘New Communications Environments’ with perspectives on virtuality. Earlier Mackenzie & Wajcman (1985) examined the effect of technology on social construction. Harvey (1989) discusses it in the context of ‘postmodernity’ and Featherstone (1990) adds the familiar context of global culture. However the theory on which this paper will focus is that of Manuel Castells, developed in the late 90s in his trilogy ‘The information age, economy, society and culture’ (1996-1998). This theory has the advantage of offering a coherent explanation of all the trends mentioned above and is one of the few over-arching theories to survive into this century. Furthermore, it is not burdened with the weight of determinism as it takes a dialectical approach.

Castells’ theory will be applied to the context of the HE sector and the discussion of insights generated will be illustrated with a case study, that of a collaborative network of universities formed to develop a virtual learning environment designed to enhance students employability (‘E-evolve’). Illustrations will also be provided by a number of discussions which have taken place with colleagues in various universities, companies and agencies both in the UK and abroad.

There are few firm conclusions that can be developed at this stage of the investigation, only a number of interesting questions that hopefully may prompt some useful discussions, tentative recommendations and areas for further exploration.

InvestigationsInUniversityTeachingAndLearning v3n1 66-71.pdf - Published Version

Download (81kB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Downloads each year

View Item View Item