October 11, 2017

The moving target of Network Literacy

Posted by Laura Guertin

Network science is a significant pathway into understanding many kinds of Big Data. Since its inceptions during the late 20th century it has been increasing its relevance to people’s everyday life. Networks can help us to make sense of this increasingly complex world, making it a useful literacy for people living in the 21st century. — NetSciEd

I refer to discipline literacy documents often, especially when designing courses and assignments for students. The NAGT website has a page that links to the geoscience literacies – atmospheric science, climate, Earth science, energy, and ocean. The literacy documents help me explain to students not just the “what” they are learning, but “why” it matters (see my blog post on sharing with students why Earth science).

Enter another type of literacy that relates not just to Earth and space sciences but to all disciplines – network literacy. As described by NetSciEd:

As our world becomes increasingly connected through the use of networks that allow instantaneous communication and the spread of information, the degree of people’s understanding of how these networks work will play a major role in determining how much society will benefit from this heightened connectivity. In short, a networked society requires network literacy: basic knowledge about how networks can be used as a tool for discovery and decision-making, and about both their potential benefits and pitfalls, made accessible for all people living in today’s networked world.  —  Network Literacy

Challenged with defining what every living person in the 21st century should know about networks by the time they finish secondary education, over 30 network science researchers, educators, teachers and students developed The Essential Concepts and Core Ideas, broadly categorized around:

(1) Networks are everywhere

(2) Networks describe how things connect and interact

(3) Networks can help reveal patterns

(4) Visualizations can help provide an understanding of networks

(5) Today’s computer technology allows you to study real-world networks

(6) Networks help you to compare a wide variety of systems

(7) The structure of a network can influence its state and vice versa

With the ever-changing landscape of technology – hardware/software, online safety/security, social/personal learning, etc. – it seems that everyone approaches network literacy with varying levels of foundational knowledge yet never reaches full mastery. As everything from economic to political to scientific networks change, we should think about bringing in some network literacy to help students understand and prepare for our grand challenges.

Download the Network Literacy: Essential Concepts and Core Ideas document