Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Social Capital and the Cohort Model in the MACT Program

I've been thinking about social capital and how it applies to our cohort. More than a few people have observed that for many of us out of towners, the end of this year's Spring Institute could very well be the last time we see each other face to face. There's even been half-joking suggestions of doing our own Spring Institute in Las Vegas in 2009, although probably not the full 3 weeks. :)

We talk about these things and we worry about these things because the cohort model allows us to make meaningful connections with each other. I think that's an important element of education in general. My undergrad program didn't exactly have a cohort model, but at the time I graduated there were only 60 or so of us in the major so I had shared classes with the few people who graduated before me and just about everyone with 2 or fewer years left to go. Many of us stay connected via Facebook or what not, even pointing out job listings to each other. We're in the same industry so that sort of things is easy.

But, that's where the social capital of the MACT program starts to break down. We're not all in the same industry or discipline. I assume, and this may be naive of me, that in most masters programs, with or without the cohort model, students can expect a good chance of crossing paths after graduation simply because everyone will run in the same professional or academic circles. Students getting a masters in Digital Humanities will probably frequent the same conferences for years to come. I don't see that happening with MACT students (or at least not in my cohort).

We've got people working in higher ed, civil service, banking, project management, IT, mass media, public relations, web development, law, graphic design...

The nature of our research projects seems to reveal the same trends. I won't know for sure until I see all the posters on Friday. In fact, that may not be enough either since we're able to change what we're doing after the poster presentation session. But based on what I've seen so far, we get a few similar groupings. I can think of at least 3 people who are looking at millennials in the work place. But they've got different approaches and varying research methods. There's a couple people using content analysis, but they're looking at radically different research questions in largely unrelated contexts. Even those of us focusing on web technologies are employing different research and philosophical lenses.

I think educationally this is one of the strengths of the MACT program. Discussions tend to be rich with idea generation as we bring our various backgrounds and understanding to the table and bounce ideas around. But this same multi-disciplinary approach robs us of a certain level of long term social capital. I wonder if the stronger ties facilitated by the cohort model will stand the test of time without the occasional reenforcement of weak ties found in chance encounters “in the field”.


o said...

The absurdity of FOAF is, to me, the beauty of it -- like you finding a place to stay close by. You just never know when some MACT social capital could kick in.

Derek said...

Exactly. But right now I find myself wondering how quickly that will crumble after graduation. Or even after I get on a plane on Saturday.