SM5323: Networks & Learning (a practice-based course)

City University of Hong Kong
School of Creative Media
Prof: David Jhave Johnston
Jan-Apr 2016

M6075 – Mon. 4-7p


This course will deal with networks, creative media networks, and new emerging methods of network-based learning. It will orbit the question: What is the future of creative arts networks and creative media education? It will consider this interdisciplinary question in terms of networks at a theoretical, political, social, technical, mathematical, biological, topological, neurological and practical level.

As the internet grows, many new forms of networked creativity arrive. Blogs in some cases replace publishing presses. Websites replace/supplement exhibit spaces. Students will be expected to develop and grow presences on social media and creative media websites. Artsy, Flickr, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter …

Also new modes of networked learning and teaching are emerging. Distributed methods such as MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courseware) have attracted substantial attention. Yet there are other initiatives such as the Kahn Academy and a SOLE Self-Organizing Learning Environment outlined by Sugata Mitra which advocates cloud-based schools in conjunction with encouragement from remote elders.

In SM5323, students will be exposed and expected to practice new pedagogical methods of self-motivated learning. This experience may place the student in an unfamiliar liminal space which requires that they respond creatively and maturely in order to arrive at insight. Reintegration of information will occur at various moments.

Introduction to the course materials will explain the rules of the game and initiate modes of engagement and role-playing games in order to give students a sense of how-to navigate with a firm conceptual foundation. Expectations will be delineated clearly. 


By the end of the course it is expected that students will understand core network terminology, technology and concepts. They will be capable of explaining how networks emerge and dissipate; and narrate a rudimentary history of network theory. They will be capable of identifying and discussing formal features of computational, social, neurological, and biological networks. Students will also be familiar with the impact of networks on creative practice. They will be capable of identifying key works in the lineage of creative practice concerned with networks. They will imagine possible futures for creative art concerned with networks and creative networks. They will be capable of listing and discerning between the key websites for networked learning.


Networks and complex systems are dominant interdisciplinary emergent paradigms arising from digital media . In ecology, biology, neurology, sociology, marketing, business, economics, communication, education, and art, networks and complex systems provide analytical frames that influence perceptions, modes of reasoning, and communities of discourse. In addition, network technology and apps (Uber, LinkedIn, Khan Academy, Lyft, Medium, Coursera, TaskRabbit, You+ etc…) disrupt the traditional ways humanity loves (develops relationships), lives (conducts business), and learns (educates). Social networks, attention economies, and sharing economies suggest that platforms are creating a post-internet transformation of culture with many political and personal implications.

One of the primary areas of impact of networks is on education : this class takes that notion seriously and implements a SOLE: self organized learning environment (Mitra, 2013). Students will be expected to perform research (in groups and individually) and produce results of that research in every class. The class itself will be considered as a network and complex system. Context , content and method of the class will reinforce each other. The professor will provide brief seed lectures that frame core pivotal key discussion points. The students will then cluster and rapidly research specific domains in order to produce presentations and essays that are hosted online on both video networks and social networks. Circular feedback will be used: networks and complex systems will be studied by using the internet as a research and publication site.

Understanding the ubiquitous presence of networks (both scientifically and theoretically) provides insights that are interdisciplinary and cross cultural. The course will require students to develop self-motivated rapid curious research methods. It will provide a grounded history of networks and complex systems as biological theoretical technical economic and personal processes.