HRL@Mozfest2014: A Network of Networks, a Hive of Hives

Global Hive Meetup @ MozFest 2014
Photo by Mozilla Hive NYC Learning Network

As we’ve studied Hive NYC, one of the big achievements we’ve seen is what can happen when previously unconnected educational organizations come together from across a given city. Organizations just miles apart geographically may have previously seen themselves as being in different sub-fields, but in Hive created a shared community platform where they can exchange ideas, find the places they have common values and organize around collective goals. One of the biggest value propositions of Hive, as contrasted with, say, broader field-level structures like conferences or online communities, is its locality. From an organizational perspective, it’s an ongoing field-level community located right in the backyard of your city. This core feature, and value, of locality is what sets Hive apart in many ways in an increasingly ‘flat’ virtual world.

And so the idea of having a ‘global’ Hive movement can seem antithetical to this local commitment. The whole point of a Hive is rooted in the idea of educators and organizations being able to physically come together with regularity, easily collaborate and design solutions to local problems – wouldn’t some sort of ‘Hive global’ be missing the point that the model made in the first place?

What I saw at Mozfest made me think about this issue in a new way. It made me realize just how powerful it is to have interaction among the growing number of cities that have Hives, be they full fledged Hive Learning Networks (in NYC, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Toronto), emerging Hive Learning Communities (in Kansas City, Chattanooga, San Francisco-Bay Area, India) or bunches of others in places that are exploring like Denver, Seattle, Vancouver, Manchester, Berlin and elsewhere. What I saw at Mozfest was not some sort of unitary ‘Hive Global’, some singular über-community that subsumes the commitment to local urban community. Rather, the Hive track represented a ‘Hive of Hives’, with Hive members and leaders sharing, discussing and creating solutions to shared problems together, using common language and based in shared values.

Kevin Miklasz, a Hive NYC member, reflected beautifully on the power of Hives coming together in his post about the festival:

It’s like that feeling you have when you meet up with an old friend and pick up right where you left off, as if no time had gone by. Except we had never met before, but we were able to just pick things up and start going anyway. We talked about the same things, using the same language and ideas, and were comfortable using the same kinds of open-ended design-thinking techniques to work through problems.

The rich interactions amongst ‘Hivers’ at Mozfest was what has convinced me of the value of having a ‘network of networks’. People were not only able to talk about issues that were relevant to actors in every city (e.g., what are effective strategies for making learning relevant for youth?), but also for sharing ideas about how a Hive might work, and how it might organize itself (e.g., what are the ways that your Hive designs opportunities for members to share ideas?). The former example, sharing thoughts on common issues like pedagogical approaches, is certainly powerful. But it is also the kind of thing that happens at many conferences and workshops. But that latter issue – on how Hives might facilitate and organize themselves – this is the place where a ‘network of networks’ can act as a context to innovate on the Hive model, to share thoughts on what works and doesn’t when it comes to building a Hive in a city. A Hive of Hives acts as an infrastructure for innovation on the idea of Hive itself.

As more cities explore organizing Hives in their backyards, it will be critical that there is a common space where the ‘theory of Hive’ and the ideas that Hives care about can be discussed, debated, learned from and about, and most importantly, advanced. Just as a local Hive is a great opportunity for educational organizations and actors that are committed to exploring and inventing around ideas of Connected Learning and web literacy, a Hive of Hives presents a critical opportunity for those committed to such city-based models to share knowledge and collectively level up what Hives around the world can be.

How does Hive NYC’s Online Minigroup Nurture the Network?

Minigroup Homepage

I am very excited to be interning with Hive Research Lab remotely from Amherst, Massachusetts, where I am a rising senior in high school. With the helpful guidance of Rafi and Dixie, the Hive Research Lab Project Leads, I am conducting a study of the Hive NYC Minigroup, an online listserv through which Hive NYC members interact.

The Minigroup, which was launched in 2011, serves as a conduit for information amongst Hive members. An active list with anywhere from three to a dozen posts per day, content ranges from information on programs and events, to articles on educational programs and technologies, to job opportunities. Many members use the Minigroup to seek help regarding outreach and publicity, logistical support, and information on best practices. From a research perspective, this frequently used communication tool can both provide information on how the network interacts with itself and we think that a little data on its usage patterns might help Hive NYC amplify how effective it can be as a communication channel.

In my study, I begin by addressing broad themes of participation in the Minigroup: How has participation changed since the Hive NYC Minigroup was created? How do different types of member organizations utilize the Minigroup in different ways? How many people from a given organization tend to use the Minigroup? It’s clear from even just preliminary analysis that the frequency of posts and responses has significantly increased since the Minigroup’s creation. Still, in order to effectively nourish this trend of positive participation and change any challenging trends we might find, it is crucial to use empirical data to specify exactly what is going on so that we can foster a more participatory online community that is useful to network members.

In addition, just like in the broader studies going on in Hive Research Lab, I’m paying attention to core Connected Learning and Hive principles: spreading innovation and supporting interest-driven youth trajectories through organizational collaborations and peer sharing. By tracing trends in the content of posts and responses, I hope to uncover both how Minigroup furthers these ideals and areas where it could be better supported.

Right now, we’re about midway through the study. We’re finalizing our coding scheme, tightening our research questions, and figuring the logistics of importing data into our analytic software. After I finish collecting and coding the data, I will compare content-based data (what people are doing) with participation-based data (how frequently they’re doing it) to see if there are trends that give us some useful insight about member usage of this communication channel.

My finished study will consist of a research paper that includes various data charts, and I’ll also be sharing some of those results outside of a report form here on the HRL blog. The findings of the project will address the general nature of Minigroup participation and how it has changed over time, as well as the Minigroup’s role in supporting youth trajectories and pathways and facilitating the diffusion of innovation. I will include suggestions based on my findings and any design questions that need to be addressed further.

I am extremely grateful to Rafi and Dixie for giving me this opportunity. I have already learned an enormous amount about research resources, methodologies, and ethics. Through my work with Hive Research Lab, I have also learned about how nonprofits function and interact within a network, and about the benefits of informal, interest-driven learning. I want to thank Lainie DeCoursy, the HiveHQ Communications/Operations Manager, who has been very helpful with my study, and everyone else we have gone to—and will go to—for research advice.

In a roundabout way, I have become one of the youths benefitting from interest-driven, informal learning principles!