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Invisible practices and the technologies of the curriculum: Exploring the enactment of the academic self

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Invisible practices and the technologies of the curriculum: Exploring the enactment of the academic self

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The degree to which everyday social and professional practice is technologically mediated is not often recognized in the literature (e.g. Latour, 2007). The university provides a striking case of this, as academic subjectivities and entities such as ‘the discipline’ are constituted primarily via textual practices - many of which are invisible and technologically-mediated . Students’ digital practices have started to be examined at a fine-grained level, revealing complexity in terms of spatial and temporal domains, and devices (Jones 2010). However, there is less work focusing on how digitally-mediated practices intersect with the everyday practices and identity work of academics. Research tends to focus on the observable - with fields such as ‘digital scholarship’ and ‘e-learning’, implicitly separating these from ‘normal’ practice, which is sidelined and rendered invisible (Price & Oliver 2007). This raises questions about power, identity and practice. How does the constant re-making of academic self through complex, networked and digitally mediated practices take place? What entanglements between people, documents and technologies are needed to produce practices and curricula?

This work addresses these processes on a day-to-day level, exploring how institutional policies, technologies and practices play out in the university as a workplace. We argue that established frameworks such as Communities of Practice are inadequate, failing to adequately theorise the implicit, emergent and private nature of these practices (Lea, 2005) and the agentive role of technologies. We adopt a sociomaterial perspective, drawing on concepts from Actor Network Theory to provide a more nuanced analysis of this complex area of practice in the academic workplace.

We will describe a JISC-funded multimodal journaling study exploring academics’ engagements with technologies around the production of curricula in terms of design, production, audit and identity, drawing on a methodology deployed to study students’ production of digitally-mediated academic texts (Gourlay & Oliver forthcoming). Through this, we will explore the operation of power in the translation and enrolment of technologies and dominant discourses of design, openness and ‘quality’. We will show how struggles around the production of professional identities take place via practices which are highly complex, largely invisible and implicated in the operation of power.

The degree to which everyday social and professional practice is technologically mediated is not often recognized in the literature (e.g. Latour, 2007). The university provides a striking case of this, as academic subjectivities and entities such as ‘the discipline’ are constituted primarily via textual practices - many of which are invisible and technologically-mediated . Students’ digital practices have started to be examined at a fine-grained level, revealing complexity in terms of spatial and temporal domains, and devices (Jones 2010). However, there is less work focusing on how digitally-mediated practices intersect with the everyday practices and identity work of academics. Research tends to focus on the observable - with fields such as ‘digital scholarship’ and ‘e-learning’, implicitly separating these from ‘normal’ practice, which is sidelined and rendered invisible (Price & Oliver 2007). This raises questions about power, identity and practice. How does the constant re-making of academic self through complex, networked and digitally mediated practices take place? What entanglements between people, documents and technologies are needed to produce practices and curricula?

This work addresses these processes on a day-to-day level, exploring how institutional policies, technologies and practices play out in the university as a workplace. We argue that established frameworks such as Communities of Practice are inadequate, failing to adequately theorise the implicit, emergent and private nature of these practices (Lea, 2005) and the agentive role of technologies. We adopt a sociomaterial perspective, drawing on concepts from Actor Network Theory to provide a more nuanced analysis of this complex area of practice in the academic workplace.

We will describe a JISC-funded multimodal journaling study exploring academics’ engagements with technologies around the production of curricula in terms of design, production, audit and identity, drawing on a methodology deployed to study students’ production of digitally-mediated academic texts (Gourlay & Oliver forthcoming). Through this, we will explore the operation of power in the translation and enrolment of technologies and dominant discourses of design, openness and ‘quality’. We will show how struggles around the production of professional identities take place via practices which are highly complex, largely invisible and implicated in the operation of power.

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Invisible practices and the technologies of the curriculum: Exploring the enactment of the academic self

  1. 1. Invisible practices and the technologies of the curriculum: Exploring the enactment of the academic self Martin Oliver & Lesley Gourlay Institute of Education, University of London m.oliver@ioe.ac.uk; l.gourlay@ioe.ac.uk
  2. 2. Invisible work This paper is, rather, about just seeing what is there in our everyday lives. It is, if you will forgive me the cliché, about making visible to myself (and you?) the ways that we do/perform/narrate our lives in a teaching context. It is about what my work looks like and how bringing these features into view can help me to understand better how it is that the surveillances and regulations around me do their work. (Millen, 1997: 10)
  3. 3. Curriculum
  4. 4. The neglected curriculum All around the world, higher education is expanding rapidly, governments are mounting enquiries into higher education, more institutions are involved in running courses of study and more money is being spent on higher education, not least by students themselves. And yet, despite all this growth and debate, there is very little talk about the curriculum. What students should be experiencing is barely a topic for debate. What the building blocks of their courses might be and how they should be put together are even more absent from the general discussion. The very idea of curriculum is pretty well missing altogether. (Barnett & Coate, 2005: 1)
  5. 5. Conceptions of curricula [Absent] Content Plan (intended pedagogy) Hidden curriculum ‘Lived’ curriculum (understood as space, performance) (Oliver, 2003)
  6. 6. Curricula identity I think that course outlines are also forms of self-writing in particular because it is through them that we can put a personal stamp on the courses that we are teaching. […] That is to say – if I am personally and sometimes, passionately, involved in the politics of resistance – I might claim the writing of my version of a feminist analysis through my course outline. This claim to authorship stamps the activity as a political moment in schooling. It can help to reveal the embedded politics of schooling on all levels as we begin to reveal the authorship of these formal and detached looking texts. I have yet to see someone use a strong personal and continuous ‘I’ in a course outline, but it might be an interesting experiment. (Millen, 1997:23)
  7. 7. Material curricula
  8. 8. Curricula live in hearts and minds, it might be said; more formally speaking, in intentions. But curricula also live in educational structures (courses, programmes, and the like), in educational concepts and in institutional and disciplinary structures. (Barnett & Coate, 2005: 151)
  9. 9. Immutable: forms and structures The first important consequence of becoming attentive to the material traceability of immutable mobiles is to help us locate what has been so important with the sociology of the social from its inception. […] If the social sciences per-form the social, then those forms have to be followed with just as much care as the controversies. This is especially the case now that we no longer run the risk of confusing such a study of formalism with its formalist description. Forms have not ‘lost’ anything. They have not ‘forgotten’ any sort of human, concrete, lived-in dimension. They are neither ‘cold’ nor ‘heartless’, nor are they devoid of a ‘human face’. Following the making, the fine-tuning, the dissemination, and upkeep of immutable mobiles will not for one second take us away from the narrow galleries of practice. (Latour, 2005: 226-227)
  10. 10. Text trajectories We should not restrict the notion of context to what happens in specific communicative events. […] A lot of what we perform in the way of meaning-attributing practices is the post-hoc recontextualization of earlier bits of text that were produced […] in a different contextualization process, at a different time, by different people, and for different purposes. (Blommaert 2005: 46, emphasis in original)
  11. 11. Text trajectories Texts and discourses move around and are recontextualised into new interpretative spaces In these transitions they undergo significant changes in meaning (Blommaert 2005, Ehrlich 2012) Entextualisation, where talk is lifted out of interactional setting and becomes text (e.g. Silverstein & Urban 1996) ‘Modes and media of communication carry meanings between streams and flows that make up the texture of the contemporary world, and historically literacy is one of the most important channels through which meanings have crossed space and time’ (Kell 2006)
  12. 12. The intersection of trajectories and identity There were differences that I first became really conscious of when I realised that in order to ingratiate myself to those who had the power to hire me, I was writing course outlines that I hoped pleased them. In one instance I actually copied the structure of the co- ordinator’s outline, including in each week a section called ‘lecture’ which I rarely do – because she had done it. When I let this cowardice and misrepresentation, this lying, the fact that I was so-to-speak ‘running scared’, sink in, I realised that there were many more questions to ask about how we learn to do this activity. (Millen, 1997: 16)
  13. 13. The project
  14. 14. JISC-funded project on Digital Literacies Student-focused year 1 Staff-focused study in year 2: 4 participants Multimodal journaling and interviews Device to capture images, video etc Sketch maps of places where work is undertaken Series of interviews (biographies, curriculum, scholarship) Thematic analysis
  15. 15. Multimodal journalling data
  16. 16. Trajectories
  17. 17. It’s mostly sources that are coming from other professional development courses that we work on, whether they’re accredited or not accredited. And they’re repurposed, I mean, a very small number of items can just be repurposed, they can be left as they… as they… as they are… as they are whole, and used differently. Um, that’s a small number, most items are edited, changed, worked into something else, um, because this is, you know, a pretty unique context that we’re working with. Um, so, yes, they do have to become very bespoke for these particular students, yes. (Louise)
  18. 18. A document might be originated between myself and a colleague because we are specially looking at one activity or one bit of the module or something. So we might generate that because that’s our background and our knowledge. We’ll put it back and forth in a way that, you know, is entirely conventional, through email attachments. We’ll do things like track changes and comments and stuff like that. Then when we’re happy one of us will either upload it to Dropbox or, more usually, will send it to [a co-ordinator] so that he’s got an oversight immediately of everything that’s going on and then he will send a notification to all the relevant people that its gone into Dropbox ready to download as appropriate. (Louise)
  19. 19. I’ve had this, sort of, historically in like discussions with things like Teachers TV […] a few years ago when the Teachers TV producers were concerned that I was working on PGCE at that time, why we weren’t using their programmes enough. Very high quality, high production values and all the rest of it, why weren’t we using their programmes enough? Great programmes in all kinds of ways on our training programmes, new teachers. And it was a really interesting debate about the problem that we had about taking something which has been made for a specific other purpose very well, or with a producer’s framing, the text maker’s framing of what is valuable in it, trying to explain to them, well actually all that I would want is about two minutes of film just running in a classroom that you can take from and you can learn so much from. I don’t want it framed, I don’t want it contextualised by somebody else, you know, as a professional I want to be able to make this work for my learners whether it’s a bit of film, whether it’s a piece of written text a bit of research that I would pull out or whatever it is. (Louise)
  20. 20. Identities (and power)
  21. 21. I suppose people are developing bibliographies, um, you know, as… in terms of their own professional learning as part of doing the programmes. (Louise) Learning understood as familiarity with a growing number of texts
  22. 22. What can I do to ensure that those three people are doing it in a similar way and getting similar results so the students are getting a similar experience. So, that's in effect what I was thinking through and developing there. […] And at the heart of that there's a problem. At the heart of that… and the problem is, um, a member of staff who's not doing things in the way that I want them to be done. And without… I don't want to go into that meeting and go, oi, you, you're not doing it right, do it like this. It's about creating something within that meeting that enables that member of staff to realise that maybe there needs to be a shift or a change in that focus. […] That's one of the reasons why I wanted to annotate those evaluations in a way that was controlled and not publicly available because I wanted to choose the bits that would enable me to create the case that I wanted to create and put forward. That makes me sound really manipulative. (Gertrude)
  23. 23. Spaces and times
  24. 24. A lot of that stuff has been based in the office. Also, I think it's, um, sometimes I use the office as a bit of a test because everything works at home and I think, well, I'm not quite sure if, you know… and so I use my computer in the office because I figure if it works on there… It will work anywhere. It will work in Outer Mongolia. (Gertrude)
  25. 25. Wanting more or less
  26. 26. We need more effective proxies or ways of inscribing it I think because what we’re doing is very much not understood… very much not understood. I mean, both among the, you know, within ourselves as a team because the vast majority of the team is extremely inexperienced in this way of working, extremely. […] What are we actually doing? You know, and it’s… and it’s always only ever going to be an approximation of it, but even that is… could be really valuable (Louise) It just strikes me maybe there’s a sense in which actually you don’t want to create texts around that part of the process because you do just want to forget it and get on with the other stuff (Louise)
  27. 27. Conclusions Tracing the materiality of curricula provides new insights – although not all experiences are inscribed Curriculum work is academic identity work, and involves knowing, finding, rewriting, sharing and presenting texts Rewriting texts involves ‘personalising’ them (for the tutor, for the students); some texts are easier to rewrite than others These texts support the development and extension of professional identities – but also their constraint Examples of the temporality and spatiality of curriculum work – the cycles and rhythms of design, practice and redesign Blurs common-sense distinctions between authorship and readership, text and ‘user’, human and nonhuman actors Non-fixed, ephemeral, distributed nature of curricula where apparent stability is always provisional Text transformations and entextualisation as potent sites of engagement, authorship and contestation?
  28. 28. References Barnett, R. & Coate, K. (2005) Engaging the Curriculum in Higher Education. Buckingham: Open University Press. Blommaert, J. (2005) Discourse: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Ehrlich, S. (2012) Text trajectories: legal discourses and gendered inequalities. Applied Linguistics Review 3(1), 47-73. Kell, C. (2006) Crossing the margins: literacy, semiotics and the recontextualisation of meanings. In Pahl, K. & Rowsell, J. Travel Notes from the New Literacy Studies: Instances of Practice. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 147-171. Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Millen, J. (1997) Par for the Course: Designing Course Outlines and Feminist Freedoms. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 5 (1) 9–27. Oliver, M. (2003) Curriculum Design as acquired social practice: a case study. Paper presented at the 84th Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago. Silverstein, M. & Urban, G. (Eds.)1996. Natural Histories of Discourse. London: University of Chicago Press.

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