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Learning with technology as coordinated sociomaterialpractice: digital literacies asa site of praxiological study         ...
What’s the problem?• Educational technology has theorised  “education” (a little) and “learning” (more), but  not really t...
What theorisation we do have is a bit odd• Technology as a way for designers to  control users• An instrumental orientatio...
There are alternatives (even within Ed                                     Tech )• A focus on things like affordance  (tec...
Praxiology and the body multiple• One response to Tara Fenwick’s call for  “engaging with difference: multiple worlds”• Ho...
Another praxis has been introduced,another approach taken: that of practice.The latter encompasses molecules andmoney, cel...
An example: different bodies?• How can a gynaecological simulation, shown by  US research to be valid, be seen as lacking ...
Atherosclerosis• Mol’s ethnographic study of  atherosclerosis in a Dutch hospitalThis is the plot of my philosophical tale...
(Non-)Digital literacies as networked                                       learningAlmost all of our interactions with ot...
The project• ‘Digital literacies as a postgraduate  attribute’  – Lesley Gourlay, Jude Fransman, Martin    Oliver, Gwyneth...
A(nother) politics of networked learningI think that we need to go back to the descriptive and thinkagain about what it ac...
A reflexive moment• Patton: intended use by intended users,  because telling participants is nice but  changes nothing  – ...
As illustrationI don’t feel part of the institution, particularly if I’m thinkingthat I’m going to see the test, for examp...
Coming up next…• “Towards an ontology of networked  learning” (Steve Walker & Linda Creanor)• Directly addressing the prob...
Ontology and reflexivity• Taking a markedly different position on  reality• Bracketing off how we come to know  about real...
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Learning with technology as coordinated sociomaterial practice: digital literacies as a site of praxiological study

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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.

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

  1. 1. Learning with technology as coordinated sociomaterialpractice: digital literacies asa site of praxiological study Martin Oliver London Knowledge Lab Institute of Education, University of London m.oliver@ioe.ac.uk 1
  2. 2. What’s the problem?• Educational technology has theorised “education” (a little) and “learning” (more), but not really the “technology” bit• Technology as a black box – What are its effects, not how are these achieved?• But technology is theorised elsewhere (e.g. Philosophy of technology, Science and Technology Studies)• Networked learning as an opportunity to rethink this situation 2
  3. 3. What theorisation we do have is a bit odd• Technology as a way for designers to control users• An instrumental orientation to research (Friesen, 2009) – A ‘technical fix’ to educational problems• Technology that ‘constrains’ or ‘permits’ (i.e. controls users) – Cf. Grint & Woolgar, configuring the user – how do they learn to be permitted or constrained? 3
  4. 4. There are alternatives (even within Ed Tech )• A focus on things like affordance (technology as control)• But we also have, for example… – Activity theory (technology as tool in a system) – Communities of practice (technology as reification of practice) – Actor-Network Theory …and after (technology as emergent property of sociomaterial relationships)…although not common, and not always used well 4
  5. 5. Praxiology and the body multiple• One response to Tara Fenwick’s call for “engaging with difference: multiple worlds”• How practices coordinate people and things to achieve effects (not: “technology’s effects”)• Use of different technology creates different worlds: questions about which are favoured, coordinated, rejected; and how 5
  6. 6. Another praxis has been introduced,another approach taken: that of practice.The latter encompasses molecules andmoney, cells and worries, bodies, knives,and smiles, and talks about all of these in asingle breath. […] If practice becomes ourentrance into the world, ontology is nolonger a monist whole. Ontology-in-practiceis multiple. (Mol, 2002: 157) 6
  7. 7. An example: different bodies?• How can a gynaecological simulation, shown by US research to be valid, be seen as lacking in validity when used in Sweden (Johnson, 2008)? – If ‘fidelity’ maps to bodies, bodies would have to be different – If ‘fidelity’ maps to practices…• Practices as “ways of knowing reality”• Technology understood not as a collection of decontextualised functions but in relation to people, practices and purposes. 7
  8. 8. Atherosclerosis• Mol’s ethnographic study of atherosclerosis in a Dutch hospitalThis is the plot of my philosophical tale: that ontology is not given in the order of things, but that, instead, ontologies are brought into being, sustained, or allowed to wither away in common, day-to-day, sociomaterial practices. (Mol, 2002: 6) – Cf. Walker and Creanor’s discussion of realism, to follow 8
  9. 9. (Non-)Digital literacies as networked learningAlmost all of our interactions with other people aremediated through objects of one kind or another. Forinstance, I speak to you through a text, even though we willprobably never meet. And to do that, I am tapping away ata computer keyboard. At any rate, our communication withone another is mediated by a network of objects – thecomputer, the paper, the printing press. And it is alsomediated by networks of objects-and-people, such as thepostal system. The argument is that these various networksparticipate in the social. They shape it. In some measurethey help to overcome your reluctance to read my text. And(most crucially) they are necessary to the socialrelationship between author and reader. (Law, 1992: 381-2) 9
  10. 10. The project• ‘Digital literacies as a postgraduate attribute’ – Lesley Gourlay, Jude Fransman, Martin Oliver, Gwyneth Price, Susan McGrath – Diglitpga.jiscinvolve.org• 2-year project – 1st year: researching students’ practices (inc. survey data, focus groups, longitudinal journaling study) – 2nd year: implementation of interventions 10
  11. 11. A(nother) politics of networked learningI think that we need to go back to the descriptive and thinkagain about what it actually is. This is because STS hasalso taught us that description is already normative.The basic argument can be expressed in two short steps.One: to describe a scene or a process is to (try to) arrangeit in a particular way. And two: to arrange something in aparticular way is to be normative because it could bearranged differently, and that difference might be better orworse. Normativity, then, is about good and badarrangements, and it is about putting alternatives into play.And it is embedded in description. (Law, 2011: 5-6) 11
  12. 12. A reflexive moment• Patton: intended use by intended users, because telling participants is nice but changes nothing – Their place in networks doesn’t make them powerful actors for change• Can we explain (provide sociomateiral accounts of) how sociomaterial descriptions are used to decide about preferences for one reality over another? 12
  13. 13. As illustrationI don’t feel part of the institution, particularly if I’m thinkingthat I’m going to see the test, for example, in anexamination centre here. It’s so far from what theuniversity really is about and the e-mail I got from theexamination centre here is so cold and so... without reallyunderstanding what it means for us, that I don’t feel that Ibelong to the community of the university or the institute.I found that, you know, obviously on an online course thetutor is the interface for the institution. So, your relationshipwith the tutor kind of... in many ways defines yourrelationship with the IOE.•How can we reconfigure this? Should we? 13
  14. 14. Coming up next…• “Towards an ontology of networked learning” (Steve Walker & Linda Creanor)• Directly addressing the problems referred to earlier• Offering sociotechnical explanations (as opposed to ANT-derived sociomaterial ones) 14
  15. 15. Ontology and reflexivity• Taking a markedly different position on reality• Bracketing off how we come to know about reality (“view from nowhere”) – vs –• Implicating the researcher in the production of knowledge (“view from me”)• Revealing “the researcher voice”…? 15

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