Blog Post

Knowledge and Networks: A Model for Preprofessional Education

Last winter, some deans at Duke asked me (and the HASTAC team, of course) to think about what a next generation, pre-profressional Master's degree would look like in a digital age.  The M.A. in Knowledge and Networks is what we're developing, and it is based on new definitions of the boundaries of preprofessional knowledge, new ideas of how one moves from the classroom to the world, and new models of teaching and learning.


In other words, if someone were to return to Duke for two years, to earn a high prestige degree with equally high private university tuition costs, what would it look like. What would be worth their while?  What would be worth their investment? It's been fascinating to review all the existing programs--and if you have one we should know about, please put a link in the comments section.  The one we came up with to try out on faculty this fall, currently called the M.A. in Knowledge and Networks, blends media theory, history and future of the book, field-specific courses in new media applications, with hands' on mastery of various social media plus an array of relevant softwares and applications, with a year-long apprenticeship/internship where one brings these skills into the community, either by interning at an organization, a business, or another non-profit or for-profit institution where one can apply one's education-in-progress and contribute to it through real-world, community-centered, on the job experience and knowledge-networking.


The point of the "Knowledge and Networks" title (however provisional at the moment) is to emphasize that we live in a new era where the interactive and reciprocal relationship between private knowledge and community position has been blurred.  Especially with the collapse of traditional community-based media (such as newspapers), one person's knowledge extends out through networks of affiliation and association in a powerful way.   This program is based on the connectedness of all knowledge and all members of a community (however space and place do or do not define that connection).   One other thing:   the primary pedagogical methods require project management for a digital age (including virtual collaboration), collaboration by difference (the HASTAC method), and peer-evaluation.   We believe that knowledge is not a one-way transmission from expert to learner but is constantly interactive and never stops.  


The vision behind this new program implies a critique of existing higher education and some knowledge gaps out in the general world--but, more important,it  plumbs the expansive potentialities of higher education as well as the potiential for learning in the World Wide Web that remains unrealized:


(1)  General knowledge in the world needs to be more theoretical and much deeper in its historical perspective.  Too much analysis is uninformed and simply does not give us the grounding and perspective we need to reap the benefits of the affordances of the technologies and the new interactive social relations that, together, create an Information Age.   

Every time I see the intellectual titans (sorry about the sarcasm) of our era engage in a debate about whether the internet is making us dumber or smarter (sigh), I think, well, there really were media before television, for goodness sakes. Can we really talk about the evolution of the human brain and how the internet is changing our brain if we believe that human evolution began with primetime television?   I don't know if the internet makes us smarter or dumber----but the comparative arguments about "now" versus "then" are often about as thoughtful and learned as Gramps and Uncle Max out rocking on the porch talking about the Good Ol Days.  

One upshot of the loss of the humanities as a central and foundational discipline required for everyone who is designing the future of communication--by text, by multimedia, in whatever form--is that we have some really idiotic arguments made by people who don't know a thing about history or the past responses to new technologies.   This M.A. in Knowledge and Networks is for anyone who went through four years of college thinking they were learning about internet policy only to realize, in the real world, that they need to know a bit more about what structures and infrastructures, intellectual and social, the internet is build upon.   That is the province of the humanities.   This program suggests that true pre-professional knowledge in this fourth great Information Age (by Darnton's reckoning) demands depth of knowledge. Otherwise you spin you might as well get out your rocker and join the crowd on the front porch bickering over better days never more to come or just around the corner.   


(2) We believe there needs to be an overt the connection between theoretical and historical knowledge (in any field) and the ways we work, how we live in communities, and how we learn (and play) at our desktops or on our mobile devices today.  

Most education--whether in a Classics Department or an Economics Department or a Computer Science Department--leaves a major gap between its required course of study and the way an individual graduate might apply that requisite body of knowledge in the world beyond school and in the workplace.   This program makes application part of the program itself, with constant relays between what one learns in one's internships (there will be three of them) and in one's coursework.  A proseminar will work to constantly interweave insights.   Also, since all the MA students will be working in the community (one of the three internships is with a nonprofit or a community-serving organization or media outlet of some kind), the program overtly shows how an educational institution is interwoven into the community and vice versa.   Whether you are at a public institution supported by taxes or a private institution supported by tax breaks and grants (taxes again), you are the world.  


This program makes that community connection part of its mission, including with local companies who are part of that larger network as well.  We also believe that all knowledge should be public knowledge.  Instead of conventional term papers written by one student to be read by one teacher, we will be publishing the work of the MA students on line in a variety of formats, including interactive ones such as having groups of students who are earning their MA in Knowledge and Networks volunteering to teach, mentor, or moderate online learning communities such as Peer-to-Peer University ( and other visionary forms of peer-driven interactive learning.


(3)  We need to develop new pedagogies that teach us how to learn from one another and then to relearn over and over again.  We need pedagogies that are both responsive to the potentialities of the Internet and that continue to have power, relevance, and significance after one leaves school.

Almost all the forms of teacher-led grading, participation, syllabus-setting, lecturing, and hierarchy (one teacher, lots of attentive students) were created in the nineteenth century and have relevance to the Industrial Age but rarely have application to how we work towards a goal together in the workplace.   This program models project management, collaborative working and evaluation, and how to match individual achievement with a collective objective.   It also will make everything as public as we can make it, to underscore how knowledge must be networked to exist in the contemporary world.   We have a new relationship now between "private" and "public" and part of this program is to help students (at any age) see themselves as public, interactive community builders, even as they are learners.  "Expertise" is another category that we will be deliberately questioning as we pioneer new modes of feedback and critique and improving together.


I could go on.   But this is the tidbit of the morning and I'm hoping to hear from anyone who has a similar program or who might be developing one.  We see this as equally relevant for the Engineer who is in her first job and constantly being asked about relevant patent and IP issues as it is for the Art History major who suddenly has to understand the relevance of HTML5 to museum catalogues to the librarian who has been in his job twenty years and no longer recognizes anything from library school past as being relevant to his present job.   It is precisely that mix, of new graduates and people educated long ago who are stressed by a changing scene, of people in all fields, in people who are as puzzled about changing community as they are about a changing workplace (since those two, of course, go together) that will make this program work.


Oh, yes.  One other thing.  Now we have to explain this to faculty, administrators, and Trustees and get it approved.  My gut tells me that it will be the latter, the Trustees, many of whom are constantly out there powering the world of work and philanthropy, who will understand this program best.  I promise to report back as the year goes on.  Of course, I will!  The whole point of the program is to connect knowledge in one place to the networks and communities we live and share.  We hope this program will do the same thing, not just for our future students but as a model others might try too.



Special note:  Thanks to the comment from Richard Miller.  I went back and edited this to make it positive instead of reactive.  Reactive is a losing position.  We need to pay it forward and think ahead!




Hi Cathy,


Thank you for posting this--it is encouraging to see that ideas of this kind are moving to the planning stage. 


I wonder if it would be possible to state your vision in positive terms. Your critique of higher ed begins by suggesting that your program is for folks who were misled as undergrads. (Your vision in your pre-amble is bigger and more welcoming than that.)

At present, the B.A. is largely non-responsive/non-cognizant of the changes your program is built on. How will your program address the absence of historical depth and the ignorance of the contemporary moment's significance?

Your program appears to place a lot of weight on the value of internships. How will these internships differ from those in the past? One challenge we run into in our fledgling efforts here is that we familiarize our students with networking possibilities and then they find themselves working in shops with no internet--or considerably inferior technology.

Finally, defenders of the pedagogical status quo would say that they are teachers grounded in knowledge and are seeking to introduce students to the rigors of knowledge-acquisition. Can students who excelled under that system find a place in the one you are designing?


It's not that I disagree with your critique--indeed, I welcome being able to reference it in my own ongoing discussions about the value of the humanities in the 21st century. I'm just suggesting that the voice in your preamble follow through in the subsequent sections, stating in positive terms the value of joining a learning community committed to location-specific, action-based, collaborative education. 




Richard E. Miller

Executive Director, Plangere Writing Center

Rutgers University



You are 100% right.  See above, edited: 

Special note:  Thanks to the comment from Richard Miller.  I went back and edited this to make it positive instead of reactive.  Reactive is a losing position.  We need to pay it forward and think ahead!


I see no reason, by the way, that students (or their professors) who have excelled in one knowledge ecology--such as the academy--cannot also excel in the new one.  It pleases me that so many of HASTAC's leaders are "old guard" scholars who, by any standards, have succeded.   And none of us thinks that's remotely good enough.  We all want something more for our students and we all consider ourselves lifelong seekers and students.   Skills such as accepting and facing and succeeding in challenging situations carry over.   I hope this program will help be transitional including for those learners who were successful once---and, with help and experience and modelling of new ways and forms--can thrive in the new worlds ahead.


This sounds somewhat like what i try to do in my collaborative governance and civil society class,  but also like our modes of inquiry class that we teach in aspect.  


The idea that I'm pushing for my class is real world collaborative governance problems that i'd like to push toward something i'm calling a policy studio, where students would  take their backgrounds and unite them with the knowledge they are learning and produce interesting solutions to problems.  of course, first they must undestand the problem which is a matter of history, knowledges and networks, and once they understand enough of it, they can begin to work forward in bits and parts, building up a narrative and understanding of the problems constructs, from which they can develop their solutions.  fun stuff, it is great when you get great students.  


my mode is that i'd like to get away from the classroom if i can... i want something else... i want something like a student  lounge with virtual devices, screens,  whiteboards,  digital tables, etc.  that for me is the next step, the first step is getting the andragogy right.  yes... andragogy, i'm not going to treat grad students like children and use pedagogy... it is time to teach them and get them to learn like adults.  Once that's going then i can find a way to bring in the deep technology tools.