Steve Walker

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Archive for the ‘learning technology’ Category

Examining hybrid digital/material resources in networked learning: a critical realist approach

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Examining hybrid digital/material resources in networked learning: a critical realist approach

The abstract of the paper that Sarah Davies and I will be presenting next month at Networked Learning 2014 in Edinburgh has been published on the conference web site (the full paper is available from the  OU’s ORO repository). It has ever such a slightly sceptical tone about the value of Actor-network Theory (see here if you’ve not come across it before), which given the other papers being presented could be quite entertaining. It’s part of a project we’re working on with Elaine Thomas looking at current state of play of ‘hybrid’ digital/material resources in networked learning (for example, remote labs or other physical devices which are linked to distributed learning). For me, interest in this was triggered by some of the ideas we looked at in the IBZL project.

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February 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm

The best reason for university students not to cite Wikipedia

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Yesterday, I listened to a podcast from Radio 3’s ‘Free Thinking’ festival. Jimmy Wales was talking about Wikipedia. A member of the audience asked when Wales thought that Wikipedia would be accepted as an appropriate reference for (in the question) a first year undergraduate paper. I was astonished to hear his answer, which from memory was something like: ‘Wikipedia won’t become a source. If I’d cited the Encyclopedia Britannica as an undergraduate I’d have been laughed at. Encyclopedias are good for helping you orient yourself to a new topic, not provide the last word.’ Which is, I suspect, exactly how a lot of academics use it –  as the first word on an unfamiliar subject, but certainly not the last.

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August 10, 2012 at 8:24 am

Networked Learning 2012

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Before Easter, I was at the Networked Learning 2012 conference in Maastricht. I’ve been to a few education and technology conference, but always find the Networked Learning conference particularly stimulating and enjoyable. The proceedings of the conference are now available. With colleages, I presented two papers, both of which are now available in ORO, the OU’s open research repository.

The first, “What have the Romans Ever Done for Us?”, with OU colleague Elaine Thomas and Paul Richardson (Swansea/JISC and an OU Science Associate Lecturer) came out of the IBZL project, itself part of the OU’s eSTEeM initiative to explore novel approaches to teaching in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. In one of the IBZL workshops the three of us considered how superfast broadband networks, in combination with other technologies, might enable the design of new types of ‘hybrid’ digital/material networked learning resources. Rather than students linking to blogs and wikis and so on, they might link to devices that interact with the material world directly. We considered 3d scanners and printers in teaching archaeology and the example of the SenseBoard used in our OU technology module TU100. As Sarah Davies pointed out, though, our colleagues in  the Science Faculty are already getting students to collaborate in the remote control of x-ray scattering machines and astronomic telescopes (the latter via the Pilate project).

The second paper, ‘Towards an Ontology of Networked Learning’ with Linda Creanor (Glasgow Caledonian University) was part of a symposium with Martin Oliver (Institute of Education) and Chris Jones (OU IET and symposium chair) looking at ways of thinking about technology in networked learning. Our paper suggested a way of thinking about networked learning technologies drawing on critical realist views of the relationship between people, society and technology. We tried to link such an approach to Rob Kling’s ‘sociotechnical interaction networks’.

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May 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Learning Technology in context: a case for the sociotechnical interaction framework as an analytical lens for networked learning research

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Linda Creanor and I have sent the final (I hope!) version and associated paraphernalia of our chapter for the forthcoming collection for Springer: Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L.,  Hodgson, V. and McConnell, D. ‘Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning’, following on from last year’s Networked Learning 2010 conference. The abstract is below. It might be possible to put a draft of the chapter in the OU Research Online (ORO) repository in time. I’ll leave that the IP folk.


Persistent gaps between claims made for learning technologies and the reality of their use are in part attributable to widespread implicit technological determinism. While the concept of networked learning goes some way to redress this, a more systematic use of sociotechnical findings theories developed in the fields of technology studies and information systems can help us to avoid mechanistic accounts. We illustrate this with the concept of the ‘sociotechnical interaction network’ (Kling et al, 2003) from the social informatics literature in analysing case material from the world of transnational trade union education. This draws our attention to the social, as well as technological, accomplishments in accessing online learning activities and the ways in which learners draw on prior technological knowledge in overcoming difficulties they encounter. Such approaches are increasingly salient as educators seek to position learning technologies in learners’ increasingly elaborate sociotechnical environments.

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April 3, 2011 at 7:31 pm

80% of UK HE students don’t think lecturers’ ICT skills are inadequate

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A couple of days ago, a tweet “UK students call for better ICT-trained lecturers” did the rounds on the #altc2010 tag, linked to this article: at Checkpoint learning, reporting on a presentation at the recent ALT-C conference. According to the article, marginally less than 50% of students reported that they saw their lecturers’ ICT skills as adequate, and just 21% said they should receive more training. At the time I tweeted that 80%, we might infer, did not think lecturers needed more training but ‘overwhelming majority of students satisfied with lecturers’ ICT skills’ is not quite such a snappy headline.

On reflection, I think this would be a story – the so-called ‘net generation’ are broadly happy with the ICT skills of their lecturers. Well done us! (Actually, I’d suggest that interested readers have a look at Chris Jones and colleagues’ recent work on the ‘net generation’ of students, where they’ll find a rather more complex picture including, for example, HE lecturer’s roles in developing the skills of the ‘digital natives’).

Without having seen the survey instrument (I haven’t looked, to be honest) the more I think about this, the more remarkable it seems. Only 21% of students thought lecturers needed more ICT training, even without consideration of alternative uses of time/resources. For example, were students asked something like “which of the following should lecturers spend more time on, and which less – a) student contact time; b) maintaining subject expertise; c) providing feedback in marking d) developing ICT skills” I’d be very surprised if ‘d’ were the most popular option.

So why the pushy headlines about the need for technology training? My guess is that it’s case of a rather dated technology-fix approach to the impending financial problems confronting universities. The surprise is that it’s coming from the NUS.

Written by Steve

September 29, 2010 at 7:53 pm