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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.

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

  1. 1. Invisible practices andthe technologies of thecurriculum:Exploring the enactment of theacademic selfMartin Oliver & Lesley GourlayInstitute of Education, University of;
  2. 2. Invisible workThis paper is, rather, about just seeing what is therein our everyday lives. It is, if you will forgive me thecliché, about making visible to myself (and you?) theways that we do/perform/narrate our lives in ateaching context. It is about what my work looks likeand how bringing these features into view can helpme to understand better how it is that thesurveillances and regulations around me do theirwork.(Millen, 1997: 10)
  3. 3. Curriculum
  4. 4. The neglected curriculumAll around the world, higher education is expandingrapidly, governments are mounting enquiries into highereducation, more institutions are involved in runningcourses of study and more money is being spent onhigher education, not least by students themselves. Andyet, despite all this growth and debate, there is very littletalk about the curriculum. What students should beexperiencing is barely a topic for debate. What thebuilding blocks of their courses might be and how theyshould be put together are even more absent from thegeneral discussion. The very idea of curriculum is prettywell missing altogether.(Barnett & Coate, 2005: 1)
  5. 5. Conceptions of curricula[Absent]ContentPlan (intended pedagogy)Hidden curriculum‘Lived’ curriculum (understood as space,performance)(Oliver, 2003)
  6. 6. Curricula identityI think that course outlines are also forms of self-writing inparticular because it is through them that we can put apersonal 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 – Imight claim the writing of my version of a feministanalysis through my course outline. This claim toauthorship stamps the activity as a political moment inschooling. It can help to reveal the embedded politics ofschooling on all levels as we begin to reveal theauthorship of these formal and detached looking texts. Ihave yet to see someone use a strong personal andcontinuous ‘I’ in a course outline, but it might be aninteresting 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 curriculaalso live in educational structures (courses,programmes, and the like), in educational conceptsand in institutional and disciplinary structures.(Barnett & Coate, 2005: 151)
  9. 9. Immutable: forms andstructuresThe first important consequence of becoming attentive to thematerial traceability of immutable mobiles is to help us locatewhat has been so important with the sociology of the socialfrom its inception. […] If the social sciences per-form thesocial, then those forms have to be followed with just as muchcare as the controversies. This is especially the case now thatwe no longer run the risk of confusing such a study offormalism with its formalist description. Forms have not ‘lost’anything. They have not ‘forgotten’ any sort ofhuman, concrete, lived-in dimension. They are neither ‘cold’ nor‘heartless’, nor are they devoid of a ‘human face’. Following themaking, the fine-tuning, the dissemination, and upkeep ofimmutable mobiles will not for one second take us away fromthe narrow galleries of practice.(Latour, 2005: 226-227)
  10. 10. Text trajectoriesWe should not restrict the notion of contextto what happens in specific communicativeevents. […] A lot of what we perform in theway of meaning-attributing practices is thepost-hoc recontextualization of earlier bits oftext that were produced […] in a differentcontextualization process, at a different time,by different people, and for differentpurposes.(Blommaert 2005: 46, emphasis in original)
  11. 11. Text trajectoriesTexts and discourses move around and arerecontextualised into new interpretative spacesIn these transitions they undergo significant changesin meaning (Blommaert 2005, Ehrlich 2012)Entextualisation, where talk is lifted out ofinteractional setting and becomes text (e.g.Silverstein & Urban 1996)‘Modes and media of communication carry meaningsbetween streams and flows that make up the textureof the contemporary world, and historically literacy isone of the most important channels through whichmeanings have crossed space and time’ (Kell 2006)
  12. 12. The intersection oftrajectories and identityThere were differences that I first became reallyconscious of when I realised that in order to ingratiatemyself to those who had the power to hire me, I waswriting course outlines that I hoped pleased them. In oneinstance I actually copied the structure of the co-ordinator’s outline, including in each week a sectioncalled ‘lecture’ which I rarely do – because she had doneit. When I let this cowardice and misrepresentation, thislying, the fact that I was so-to-speak ‘running scared’,sink in, I realised that there were many more questions toask about how we learn to do this activity.(Millen, 1997: 16)
  13. 13. The project
  14. 14. JISC-funded project on Digital LiteraciesStudent-focused year 1Staff-focused study in year 2: 4 participantsMultimodal journaling and interviewsDevice to capture images, video etcSketch maps of places where work is undertakenSeries 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 otherprofessional development courses that we workon, whether they’re accredited or not accredited. Andthey’re repurposed, I mean, a very small number of itemscan just be repurposed, they can be left as they… asthey… as they are… as they are whole, and useddifferently. Um, that’s a small number, most items areedited, changed, worked into somethingelse, um, because this is, you know, a pretty uniquecontext that we’re working with. Um, so, yes, they dohave to become very bespoke for these particularstudents, yes.(Louise)
  18. 18. A document might be originated between myself and acolleague because we are specially looking at oneactivity or one bit of the module or something. So wemight generate that because that’s our background andour knowledge. We’ll put it back and forth in a way that,you know, is entirely conventional, through emailattachments. We’ll do things like track changes andcomments and stuff like that. Then when we’re happyone of us will either upload it to Dropbox or, more usually,will send it to [a co-ordinator] so that he’s got anoversight immediately of everything that’s going on andthen he will send a notification to all the relevant peoplethat its gone into Dropbox ready to download asappropriate.(Louise)
  19. 19. I’ve had this, sort of, historically in like discussions with things likeTeachers TV […] a few years ago when the Teachers TVproducers were concerned that I was working on PGCE at thattime, why we weren’t using their programmes enough. Very highquality, high production values and all the rest of it, why weren’twe using their programmes enough? Great programmes in allkinds of ways on our training programmes, new teachers. And itwas a really interesting debate about the problem that we hadabout taking something which has been made for a specific otherpurpose very well, or with a producer’s framing, the text maker’sframing of what is valuable in it, trying to explain to them, wellactually all that I would want is about two minutes of film justrunning in a classroom that you can take from and you can learnso much from. I don’t want it framed, I don’t want it contextualisedby somebody else, you know, as a professional I want to be ableto make this work for my learners whether it’s a bit of film, whetherit’s a piece of written text a bit of research that I would pull out orwhatever 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 professionallearning as part of doing the programmes.(Louise)Learning understood as familiarity with a growingnumber of texts
  22. 22. What can I do to ensure that those three people are doing it in asimilar way and getting similar results so the students are getting asimilar experience. So, thats in effect what I was thinking through anddeveloping there. […] And at the heart of that theres a problem. Atthe heart of that… and the problem is, um, a member of staff whosnot doing things in the way that I want them to be done. Andwithout… I dont want to go into that meeting and go, oi, you, yourenot doing it right, do it like this. Its about creating something withinthat meeting that enables that member of staff to realise that maybethere needs to be a shift or a change in that focus. […] Thats one ofthe reasons why I wanted to annotate those evaluations in a way thatwas controlled and not publicly available because I wanted to choosethe bits that would enable me to create the case that I wanted tocreate 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 its, um, sometimes I use the office as abit of a test because everything works at home and Ithink, well, Im not quite sure if, you know… and so Iuse my computer in the office because I figure if itworks on there… It will work anywhere. It will workin Outer Mongolia.(Gertrude)
  25. 25. Wanting more or less
  26. 26. We need more effective proxies or ways of inscribing it Ithink because what we’re doing is very much notunderstood… very much not understood. I mean, bothamong the, you know, within ourselves as a teambecause the vast majority of the team is extremelyinexperienced in this way of working, extremely. […]What are we actually doing? You know, and it’s… and it’salways only ever going to be an approximation of it, buteven that is… could be really valuable(Louise)It just strikes me maybe there’s a sense in which actuallyyou don’t want to create texts around that part of theprocess because you do just want to forget it and get onwith the other stuff(Louise)
  27. 27. ConclusionsTracing the materiality of curricula provides new insights – althoughnot all experiences are inscribedCurriculum work is academic identity work, and involves knowing,finding, rewriting, sharing and presenting textsRewriting texts involves ‘personalising’ them (for the tutor, for thestudents); some texts are easier to rewrite than othersThese texts support the development and extension of professionalidentities – but also their constraintExamples of the temporality and spatiality of curriculum work – thecycles and rhythms of design, practice and redesignBlurs common-sense distinctions between authorship andreadership, text and ‘user’, human and nonhuman actorsNon-fixed, ephemeral, distributed nature of curricula where apparentstability is always provisionalText transformations and entextualisation as potent sites ofengagement, authorship and contestation?
  28. 28. ReferencesBarnett, R. & Coate, K. (2005) Engaging the Curriculum in Higher Education.Buckingham: Open University Press.Blommaert, J. (2005) Discourse: A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity 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 recontextualisationof 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 FeministFreedoms. Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 5 (1) 9–27.Oliver, M. (2003) Curriculum Design as acquired social practice: a case study. Paperpresented at the 84th Annual Meeting of the American Educational ResearchAssociation, Chicago.Silverstein, M. & Urban, G. (Eds.)1996. Natural Histories of Discourse. London:University of Chicago Press.