Monday, September 10, 2018

Exploring the theory, pedagogy, and practice of networked learning – book overview

Published by Springer 2012 - so already somewhat dated, as technology enhanced learning and networked learning has shifted. However, the salient principles still apply. 

Introduction and conclusion with 5 other parts – developing understandings of networked learning; new landscapes and spaces for networked learning; dynamics of changing tools and infrastructure; understanding the social material of networked learning; and identity, cultural capital and networked learning through 17 chapters.

The introduction, by the editors, provides ‘a brief history and new trends’ in networked learning’.
Provides a summary of various initiatives from the 1980s to the present including the shifts in understanding and supporting learning. The emphasis of the overview is on various efforts to create platforms for collaborative work and learning. Sets out the pedagogical framework for networked learning as: openness in the education process; the affordances for self-determined learning; a requirement for a real purpose in the collaborative process; a supportive learning environment; collaborative approaches to assessment of learning; and assessment and evaluation of the ongoing learning process. Then provides a summary of the various sections and chapters.

Part 2 – developing understanding of networked learning continues the theme from the introduction with two chapters

C. Jones writes on ‘networked learning, stepping beyond the net generation and digital natives’. Begins by critiquing the premise of current students being different from previous due to their exposure to digital technologies. The study supporting the various recommendations in the chapter were completed almost 20 years ago, so the current advances in mobile technology, were not tested. However, the chapter recommends that an open mind is important in any future work. Depending on informal observations i.e. that digital natives exist, distracts from the important emphasis on learning.

An important chapter by T. Ryberg, L. Buus and M. Georgsen, discusses the ‘differences in understandings of networked learning theory: connectivity or collaboration?’ Discusses the many nuanced and individually constructed meanings of connectivism, collaboration, communities, negotiation of meaning, social practice, etc. Makes links between networked learning and connectivism. Networked learning is used more by European researchers and connectivism by North American, evidencing the roots of these two concepts. Clarifies what networked learning refers to. Networked learning is not only about elearning but about the connections made between people and between people and resources. Learning is a social endeavour, with knowledge and identity being constructed as interactions are undertaken through dialogue and interchange of ideas and perspectives. Networked learning is about the connections and interaction. There are many similarities between networked learning and connectivism. However, connectivism focuses much more on the individual and how they connect with the world outside of their own purview. Knowledge is related more to content than to connections and is seen to be outside of individuals’ minds but accessible when required. There is a good critique of both networked learning and connectivism.

Part 3 has 3 chapters around the theme of ‘new landscapes and spaces for networked learning’. This part provided examples and their empirical outcomes.

Chapter 4 by D.D. Suthers and K-H, Chu is on ‘mediators of socio-technical capital in a networked learning environment’. Example of using wikis and discussion forums, framed by concepts of using these to bridge socio-technical capital challenges.

Then a chapter on ‘collectivity, performance and self-representation: analysing cloudworks as a public space for networked learning and reflection by P. Alevizou, R. Galley and G. Conole. Cloudworks have been around for some time and is a LMS developed to support collaborative learning. The platform is anchored by core learning activities which support constructive and socio-cultural learning approaches. Instead of resources, there is emphasis on using ‘situations’. Students bring their collective experiences and learning to the courses and engage in ‘expansive learning’. The indicators of community are participation, cohesion, creative capability and community identity.

J. E. Raffaghelli and C. Richieri contribute the next chapter on ‘a classroom with a view: networked learning strategies to promote intercultural education’. This is another important chapter. It provides a case study of a programme, to introduce and support intercultural study across several countries. Envisages networked learning as a means for equal-but-diverse people to meet, connect, collaborate and complete projects. Used the concept of ‘a matrix of knowledge’ to frame the sense-making approach for building intercultural dialogue. The metaphor of the ‘networking platform’ as a window into and reflection of one’s own and others’ cultures was seen to be supportive of the process.

Part 4 is on ‘dynamics of changing tools and infrastructure’ with 2 chapters.

There is P. Arnold, J.D. Smith and B. Trayner on ‘the challenge of introducing “one more tool”: A community of practice perspective on networked learning’. Uses 2 case studies of the Workbench A- a community of practice in the Agricultural development field and Workbench b- community of distance learners in higher education as examples. Finds it is just not ‘changing a tool’ or ‘adding another tool’ but the many other parameters. These include how the tool changes whose voice is heard, whose voice can be legitimately brought forward, how competence is negotiated and overall, what matters in the community the tool is being used in. So, many agendas are impacted when a tool is changed as the change brings about a re-negotiation of what constitutes the community.

Then, T. Nyvang and A. Bygholm on ‘implementation of an infrastructure for networked learning’. Human centred informatics, which updates the work of Vygotsky to be relevant to contemporary practice, is used as a framework for implementing infrastructure to support networked learning. Dilemmas had to be unpacked depending on whether goals and technology were certain or uncertain.

Part 5 also has 2 chapters on the theme of ‘understanding the socio material in networked learning’.

T. L. Thompson contributes to the discussion with ‘who’s taming who? Tensions between people and technologies in cyberspace communities. Advocates for the use of Actor-Network theory (ANT) to help understand how aspects of materiality, impact on how people use, relate to and work with technology. Network effects may be unravelled through each of the four ANT concepts – passages, translation, socio-technical constructions and black boxes.

The second chapter in this section is from L. Creanor and S. Walker on ‘learning technology in context: a case for the sociotechnical interaction framework as an analytical lens for networked learning research. Argues for the use of sociotechnically in understanding how networked learning –pedagogy, technology and agency, may be constituted.

Part 6 has 6 chapters around ‘identity, cultural capital and networked learning.

Chapter 11 is by J. Ross on ‘just what is being reflected in on-line reflection? New literacies for new media learning practices. Uses blogging as the basis of study and argues for the need to ensure that new literacies and part of networked learning approaches. In part, due to the ways in which blogging is undertaken.

Then, L. Czerniewicz and C. Brown with ‘objectified cultural capital and the tale of two students’. Uses Bourdieu’s framework – field, habitus and capital – to explore and contrast two cases. The digital elite and the digital stranger.

The next chapter is on ‘how do small business owner-managers learning leadership through networked learning?’ by S.M Smith. An evaluation of the Leading Enterprise and Development (LEAD) integrated learning model for SMEs.

Chapter 14 is on ‘innovating design for learning in a networked society’ by K. T. Levinsen and J. Nielsen. Presents the re-working of Dorso’s model – modes of working across relational and complexity axis, to understanding innovative design for learning. Identified the sharing and uncertainty barriers of an approach (role-play scenario used as an example) and the challenges posed to roles / actors including tacit/qualified knowledge / rhetorics ‘sweet point’. Rationalised the choice of interactive design life cycle model – starting with identification of specifications and needs, design, physical design and test / evaluation.

Next chapter is with J. L. Nielsen and O. Danielsen on ‘problem-oriented project studies: the role of the teacher as supervisor for the study group in its learning process’. Identifies and discusses teacher roles – teacher as expert and instructive supervisor; process supervisor; and social mediator. Uses a case to unpack the nuances of each role.

Last chapter in this section is on ‘life behind the screen: taking the academic online’ with S. Boon and C. Sinclair’. Reports on the experiences of academics, shifting into the on-line environment. How language, identity, engagement and time shifts and how this aligns with the students’ perspectives of projection, performance, audience and content.

The last part, is the chapter concluding the book by the editors titled ‘the theory, practice and pedagogy of networked learning’. Focused on the ontology, epistemology and pedagogy of networked learning. Summarises the pedagogical values that underpin networked learning. Including implications for learning, teaching and the assessment process. There is a bringing together of the themes presented across the various chapters in the book.

Overall, the book provides background and rationale for networked learning. The various chapters, report on the ways networked learning is contextualised across different cultures (albeit, Western perspectives); school / tertiary institutions and workplaces; and technology approaches. The importance of the book is in setting up frameworks for networked learning, including defining the term and suggested models for practice.

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