From terrorists to pedagogy via network theory

Patrick Keefe (Can Network Theory Thwart Terrorists?, New York Times) looks at the use of network theory by the National Security Agency to find terrorists with its controversial eavesdropping (and warrantless) program. He discusses the civil liberties issues and the obstacles involved in detecting terrorists, such as information overload, identifying hubs and the "strength of weak ties" notion, a concept that important information can be exchanged between individuals in different networks that are not closely related to one another.

Granovetter, a sociologist at Stanford , originated the notion of the "strength of weak ties" in 1973 to explain the spread of information among people, asserting that diversity and new knowledge comes through distant connections rather than close ones like friends or relatives--an important point in finding jobs. In a 1983 article (pdf), he wrote that

individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market, where advancement can depend, as I have documented elsewhere (1974), on knowing about appropriate job openings at just the right time.

Obviously, the classroom would be a hub of information with strong ties rather than weak ones. I suppose weak ties would be responsible for spreading what was learned in the classroom to outside the class. I've seen this in my own first-year composition classes. One student helped a graduate Middle Eastern Studies student organize his paper. Another student helped her older brother, a graduate student in pharmacy, create a questionnaire that eventually was sent to more than 1000 people. I've seen the reverse, too, as when one student used a computer flow diagram to help organize his paper. What I'm wondering is, In what ways, if we can, capitalize on weak ties in order to promote the diffusion of knowledge across classroom boundaries to strengthen learning. Such diffusion would help classroom learning to become more real to the students, of course. Beyond that, however, what else might there be?