What are Networks?
In essence, Networks (i.e., Organizations) are "homes" for Communities. Just like Communities, Networks are owned and managed by individuals. And just as Community owners have the authority to invite users to their Community, promote Community members to Facilitator status, demote or kick out members, and set the rules for their Community, so Network Administrators have the authority to invite users to their Network, promote members to Administrator status, demote or kick out members, and set the rules for all Communities within their Network.
Networks are nested, which is to say that some Networks have Subnetworks. In general, we recommend that institutions build no more than two levels of Subnetworks. This is to ensure that an organization's web of Networks is tractable and manageable by Network Administrators.
In general, an organization's Network structure should mirror the organization's real-world internal structure. For universities, this structure is fairly straightforward. The majority of universities should institute a three-tiered Network with the following hierarchical structure:
TIER 1: UNIVERSITY (e.g., Yellowdig University)
TIER 2: CONSTITUENT COLLEGE OR SCHOOL (e.g., School of Business)
TIER 3: ACADEMIC DEPARTMENT (e.g., Finance)
Ideally, your organization's Learning Technology Specialist (or a similarly equipped administrator) will serve as the Tier 1 Network Administrator. Tier 2 Network Administrators could include administrators of the school or college, or one and the same administrator could serve as both the Tier 1 and Tier 2 Network Administrator. In general, department chairs or departmental administrators should serve as Tier 3 Network Administrators.
Networks perform a wide variety of functions and are a hallmark of the Engage platform. For instance, networks...
- Reduce the administrative burden on high-level Yellowdig admins. In Yellowdig Classic, all Communities (formerly "boards") occupied the same organizational tier. The result was a sprawling, unorganized mass of Communities—an especially acute problem for large universities with widespread usage. Because these Communities weren't partitioned by school or department, it was difficult to glean summary data without doing a deep dive. By categorizing Communities in an intuitive way, Yellowdig facilitates monitoring and administration.
- Enable department- and college-level data analysis. To properly assess the efficacy of Yellowdig and the impact of different usage patterns, deans and administrators may want to know how specific departments are performing relative to the university and relative to the average Yellowdig Community. Partitioning Communities into department- and college-level Networks allows Network Administrators to produce fine-grained data visualizations and perform more detailed data analysis than is possible in Yellowdig Classic.
- Give department- and college-level administrators varying degrees of control over Community defaults. Especially in Universities, one size often does not fit all. The needs of the Finance Department in the School of Business may be quite different from those of the Philosophy Department in the School of Arts and Sciences. Subnetworks allow department and school administrators to customize default settings and rules without involving higher level administrators. This reduces the burden on organization-level administrators and gives departments some freedom in managing their own curricula.
- Facilitate and contain student-run Communities. Yellowdig isn't just for classes. It's a versatile student engagement platform that allows students to organize club meetings and reading groups, announce student-lead campus events, set up intramural sports leagues, and so on—all in a secure academic environment where students' personal data is protected. While we encourage students to create their own Communities, administrators often disable this feature for their entire organization. Administrators understandably worry about their ability to monitor "rogue" student-run Communities; and indeed, in Yellowdig Classic, it was fairly difficult to find and keep track of all of these Communities. But in the Engage platform, students can create Communities in a dedicated, tractable Tier 2 "Student Communities" Network. By default, students can create Communities only in their institution's Student Communities Network. These Communities are fully accessible by Tier 1 Network Administrators, and students cannot hide the contents of these Communities. We strongly recommend that universities allow their students to create Communities within their dedicated Network. Abuse is very rare, and the benefits of allowing students to create their own Communities are notable.
To this point, our discussion of Networks has been fairly abstract. For a concrete example of how Networks are implemented in universities, continue to the next article.