What Works in Networks

Jeanne L. Narum
Director of Project Kaleidoscope
Dennis W. Marks
PKAL Senior Associate for Networks

From its beginning in 1989, PKAL has been about making connections within the undergraduate science and mathematics community that foster the identification and adaptation of best practices in strengthening student learning. In 2001, we began by establishing a series of formal networks (of individuals and institutions) that are committed to sustaining collaborative efforts in pursuit of these goals. By 2005, PKAL hopes to have a national network of networks, each reflecting the unique needs of its members, all working together toward the goal of systemic educational reform.

To further the establishment of a national network of networks joining forces to transform undergraduate Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology (SME&T) programs, the Office of Postsecondary Education of the U.S. Department of Education awarded PKAL a grant of $244,748 for "Building Dissemination Networks: A Next Step in National SME&T Reform." This effort, building on a decade of activities led by Project Kaleidoscope, will expand and accelerate the process of transforming undergraduate SME&T locally and nationally.

To implement the national network of networks, PKAL has assembled a National Advisory Council (NAC) of faculty and administrators experienced in the creation of effective networks. Project Kaleidoscope has compiled a list of characteristics of good networks based upon network building in the PKAL Community.

  • a common goal, one that is arrived at through consensus, and probably through long-term engagement and communication within the potential group of collaborators
  • people with a passion to make a difference and for whom this engagement is at the top of their list of priorities for expending time and energy
  • regular and persistent avenues for communication, both face-to-face and electronic
  • the visible involvement of persons with a stake in the success of the network, including presidents, deans and others who have leadership responsibilities on a campus or within a professional society
  • one or two people who take responsibility to be the connectors, people with credibility in the community of potential collaborators and within the stakeholder community
  • a vision about how working together is more effective than working in isolation
  • an affective component, that people come to enjoy participating and have a sense of belonging.