Twofish's Blog

July 22, 2006

The purpose of alumni networks

If we talk about how to make UoP challenge Harvard, we have to talk about the power of alumni networks, and if we talk about alumni networks, we have to clear up a misconception about why they exist.

The misconception is that these social networks exist so that someone can say

hire this guy, he is an idiot but he is my friend

whereas the information that goes on in these networks is

hire this guy, I *know* he is not an idiot because he is my friend and I stake my reputation on it

or

*Don’t* hire this guy, even though he is my friend, I know he is an idiot and I just want to give you my honest opinion.

The thing about this system is that it is hard to think of an alternative. Standardized testing or two page resumes don’t work well to evaluate a nuclear physicist or brain surgeon. In depth interviewing works, but in these cases even the process of interviewing is expensive, so you need some sort of network to tell you who to even talk to or not.

Social networks also have a filtering function.  If you have an MIT alumni, you know that there is a reasonable chance that they find jokes about 100 digit prime numbers funny.  (One brought down the house at the reunion luncheon.)

The other purpose of social networks is that social networks produce knowledge. To solve any real complex problem, you really need people constantly talking to each other and bouncing off half formed ideas and working toward common solutions. For example, I didn’t make the connection between the lack of teacher structures with UoP’s desire to maximize profit, until I started talking.
The UoP model is *very* good at that at the student level which is why I think it is very good for students.
It’s *very* bad at the teacher level. I’m sure I’m not the only adjunct faculty that wanted to write a business calculus class but couldn’t find anyone else to talk to, and I think one of the institutional issues that UoP has is that once people start talking about writing business calculus classes, they are going to start chatting about a whole bunch of other stuff, like pay, working conditions, grading policy, curriculum content etc. etc. But in order to start teaching surgeons, particle physicists, and CEO’s, it’s going to have to create these teacher networks, not withstanding the fact that it will make university administration a lot tougher.

So how does one fix the problem and create social networks…..

You are looking at it.

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