Networked learning conference Maastricht 2012
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The place of technology in networked learning

Symposium Organiser: Chris Jones, The Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, UK


This symposium brings together three papers focused around the theme of technology and its relationship to networked learning. The definition of networked learning that has informed the conference series has always contained the notion that networked learning is related to the use of technology.

Networked learning is "learning in which information and communication technology…is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources" (Goodyear et al., 2004, p1).

This symposium is concerned with how to understand that relationship between digital and networked technologies and networked learning.

Introduction - .pdf

Learning with technology as coordinated sociomaterial practice: digital literacies as a site of praxiological study

Martin Oliver, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, UK

While considerable attention has been given to the concept of learning – what it is, how we might know it when we see it, and how to intervene in it – by contrast, technology remains under-theorised. While theoretical approaches that have developed accounts of the relationship between technology and human action, few of these are well represented within educational technology or networked learning. This paucity of theorisation has resulted in simplistic accounts of the role of technology in various kinds of learning, usually involving some kind of causal or determining mechanism. Such accounts are vulnerable to critique (e.g. Friesen, 2009), but nonetheless remain prevalent.
In this paper, I will recap some of the problems with this position, and then consider alternatives that address issues around agency and the role of the social. Specifically, drawing on Mol’s concept of praxiology, developed in the context of work on the constitution of diseases in medical practice, I will explore alternative ways in which educational uses of technology can be understood. This value of this will be illustrated through the design of a study of digital literacies. Some implications of this include for researchers – including concerns about reflexivity – will then be drawn out.

Technology, science and technology studies, praxiology, digital literacy

Full Paper - .pdf

Towards an ontology of networked learning

Steve Walker, Dept. of Communication & Systems,The Open University, UK, Linda Creanor, Learning Enhancement and Academic Development (GCU LEAD), Glasgow Caledonian University, UK

Networked learning, conceived of as networks of people, informational resources and technologies, constitutes what has been termed a ‘highly interwined’ technology.  In this paper we develop our earlier argument that sociotechnical networks can form the basis for a non-determinist theory of learning technology.
Firstly, we argue that Kling et al’s sociotechnical interaction network (STIN) is compatible with a realist ontology, drawing on Fleetwood’s ‘ontology of the real’ and Lawson’s proposition of the social nature of the artefact in networks of ‘positioned practices’. This, we suggest, gives a more secure basis for the STIN concept, and provides a clear alternative to actor network theory (ANT)-based views of sociotechnical networks which do not distinguish between the influence of human and material agents. This also, we argue, provides an alternative way of anchoring concepts from the social informatics literature, often influenced by Giddens’ structuration theory, in ways that can help networked learning research.
Secondly, we explore some potential implications of such an approach for theories of networked learning and learning more widely. In particular, we suggest a possible ontology of elements of learning technology. The use of the word ‘learning’ here is somewhat problematic, as it is routinely used rather loosely to describe changes at multiple levels but which are likely to have rather different underlying mechanisms. A more thorough ontology of learning technology would allow us to distinguish between these uses and identify potentially distinct mechanisms at play in different forms and levels of learning.
Thirdly, we use this approach to explore how viewing learning technologies as sociotechnical networks helps to clarify our thinking about identities in social networking for personal, learning and professional purposes.

Sociotechnical systems, actor network theory, ontology, realism, networked learning.

Full Paper - .pdf

Networked Learning and digital technology

Chris Jones, The Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University, UK

Networked learning has been defined in the Networked Learning conference series as being based on the use of Information and Communication Technology. The term networked learning acknowledges one aspect of this relationship to computing and to networked computing in particular. This paper explores the relationship of networked learning to technology using an alternative characterisation of new technologies, the term digital, and asks what kinds of implications the digital nature of current technologies have for networked learning. The paper explores the idea of technology and suggests that the term can be used in a number of different ways. It suggests that digital technologies are complex technologies that imply a degree of modularity and recursiveness. The paper suggests that in learning technology digital technology is usually met as part of an infrastructure, understood as a sociotechnical system. The paper argues that despite this complexity there are analytically discernable features of digital technologies that can be thought of as affordances.
Using two lenses the paper examines current usage of the idea of the digital in terms of digital natives and digital literacy (-ies) and argues that both ideas are inclined towards technologically determinist outlooks. The paper also notes the particular feature of rapid change in relation to digital technologies and how the nature of the evolution of digital technology relates to digital literacy. The paper concludes by suggesting that research into networked learning needs to take the nature of the digital seriously. A more detailed understanding needs to be developed of what kinds of affordances digital technologies make available. These need to take into account the different meanings of technology and encompass the purposes of digital technologies, the ways they are arranged in assemblages and the way they present themselves as an entire collection of devices in a culture. If insufficient attention is paid to the digital bedrock of technologies then determinist readings of the effects of technology that are based on accounts that are uncritical and lacking in any detailed understanding of digital technologies will prevail.

Technology, digital technology, networked learning, affordance, digital native, digital literacy, agency

Full Paper - .pdf



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