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Learning from a deceptively spacious policy discourse
Sarah Hayes, Centre for Learning, Innovation and Professional Practice, Aston University, Birmingham.
Networked Learning, e-Learning and Technology Enhanced Learning have each been defined in different ways, as people's understanding about technology in education has developed. Yet each could also be considered as a terminology competing for a contested conceptual space. Theoretically this can be a ‘fertile trans-disciplinary ground for represented disciplines to affect and potentially be re-orientated by others' (Parchoma and Keefer, 2012), as differing perspectives on terminology and subject disciplines yield new understandings. Yet when used in government policy texts to describe connections between humans, learning and technology, terms tend to become fixed in less fertile positions, linguistically. A deceptively spacious policy discourse that suggests people are free to make choices conceals an economically-based assumption that implementing new technologies, in themselves, determines learning. Yet it actually narrows choices open to people as one route is repeatedly in the foreground and humans are not visibly involved in it. An impression that the effective use of technology for endless improvement is inevitable cuts off critical social interactions and new knowledge for multiple understandings of technology in people's lives. This paper explores some findings from a corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis of UK policy for educational technology during the last 15 years, to help to illuminate the choices made. This is important when through political economy, hierarchical or dominant neoliberal logic promotes a single ‘universal model' of technology in education, without reference to a wider social context (Rustin, 2013). Discourse matters, because it can ‘mould identities' (Massey, 2013) in narrow, objective economically-based terms which 'colonise discourses of democracy and student-centredness' (Greener and Perriton, 2005:67). This undermines subjective social, political, material and relational (Jones, 2012: 3) contexts for those learning when humans are omitted. Critically confronting these structures is not considered a negative activity. Whilst deterministic discourse for educational technology may leave people unconsciously restricted, I argue that, through a close analysis, it offers a deceptively spacious theoretical tool for debate about the wider social and economic context of educational technology. Methodologically it provides insights about ways technology, language and learning intersect across disciplinary borders (Giroux, 1992), as powerful, mutually constitutive elements, ever-present in networked learning situations. In sharing a replicable approach for linguistic analysis of policy discourse I hope to contribute to visions others have for a broader theoretical underpinning for educational technology, as a developing field of networked knowledge and research (Conole and Oliver, 2002; Andrews, 2011).
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