Networked Learning Conference 2010 
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Networked Learning ten years on: the rise of the Virtual Graduate School

Barbara Allan, Chris Thomson
University of Hull, Hull, United Kingdom,

Sheena Banks
University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom


The aim of this paper is to reflect on how conceptions of networked learning have changed, particularly in relation to educational practices and uses of technology, that can nurture new ideas of networked learning to sustain multiple and diverse communities of practice in institutional settings. Our work is framed using two theoretical frameworks: Giddens's (1984) structuration theory and Callon & Latour's (1981) Actor Network Theory as critiqued by Fox (2005) in relation to networked learning. We use these frameworks to analyse and critique ideas of networked learning embodied in both cases. We investigate three questions: (a) the role of individual agency in the development of networked learning; (b) the impact of technological developments on approaches to supporting students within institutional infrastructures; and (c) designing networked learning to incorporate Web 2.0 practices that sustain multiple communities and foster engagement with knowledge in new ways. We use an interpretivist approach by drawing on experiential knowledge of the Masters programme in Networked Collaborative Learning and the decision making process of designing the virtual graduate schools. At this early stage, we have limited empirical data related to the student experience of networked learning in current and earlier projects. Our findings indicate that the use of two different theoretical frameworks provided an essential tool in illuminating, situating and informing the process of designing networked learning that involves supporting multiple and diverse communities of practice in institutional settings. These theoretical frameworks have also helped us to analyze our existing projects as case studies and to problematize and begin to understand the challenges we face in facilitating the participation of research students in networked learning communities of practice and the barriers to that participation. We have also found that this process of theorizing has given us a way of reconceptualizing communities of practice within research settings that have the potential to lead to new ideas of networked learning.


Full Paper - .pdf




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