Critical Perspectives on Educational Technology

Provocation Paper

Designing and reconstructing the narrative of technology enhanced learning Keith Turvey Towards anthropomorphy
Increasingly it is argued that the fragmentation and in some cases collapse of many of the established socio-cultural institutions and practices of modern life are signs of the emergence of a shift in paradigm in which network technologies and the democratisation of the internet are significantly implicated (Rheingold, 2002; Castells, Fernadez-Ardevol, Linchuan Qui and Sey, 2007; Castells, 2004, 2009 and 2012; Jenkins, 2008; Baron, 2008; Wenger, White and Smith, 2009). With rapidly increasing digital connectivity, cultural convergence and new modes of expression through user-generated digital content, there is a need for further empirical evidence and theoretical development in order to determine the implications of such global socio-cultural and technological trends for educators. Castells (1996, p.3) posits that increasingly people’s lives are framed by a ‘bipolar opposition of the net and the self’ and that increased connectivity heightens the importance of knowing who we are. Such shifts have also heralded new pedagogical perspectives with some arguing strongly that we are seeing the emergence of new mobile modes of learning (Kress and Pachler, 2007). My own research to date focuses on the paradox between the network society and individual identity within and beyond professional contexts. It has enabled me to develop a conceptual model for developing an agent-centred view of educators’ appropriation of technologies situated within a wider socio-cultural ecology (Turvey, 2012a, 2012b and 2013). The narrativeecology model of technological appropriation I will posit later for discussion here crosses educational and socio-cultural boundaries; that is digital technologies are not merely conceived of as educational tools within educational contexts but as integral items of the expressive life of the individual (Goffman, 1959; Perkins, 1993); that is, for effective appropriation to occur I argue that technologies need to be conceived as an anthropomorphic extension of our own multiple identities within contemporary society. Technology brings I suggest an added layer of complexity and potential disruption to professional and socio-cultural contexts and is an inherently problematic area of research. As long as techno-centric arguments dominate this discourse I argue that technology will continue to disappoint in terms of realising anything more than a perfunctory role in education.

Transient tribes and a ragbag of research
The ‘problem’ of ‘educational technology’ is just that; the words ‘educational’ and ‘technology’ are uttered together so often by techno-centric determinists and politicians in need of a populist policy that assuages multiple audiences, that the question of what it takes for technology to be truly educational is rarely pondered. The field of TEL is one that Selwyn (2012) characterises as transient, incoherent and populated with mixed-motives. Different factions are often only temporarily brought together and rarely with any sustained impetus. Selwyn goes as far as to label it a ‘non-field’ that is nothing ‘more than the sum of its parts’ (2012, p.213). So does this ‘non-field’ (ibid) of technology enhanced learning look any more coherent when we examine international policy perspectives? If as Selwyn (2012) suggests TEL attracts a ragbag of transient research lacking in coherence can the same be said for various international attempts at forming policy in this area? Perceptions and approaches to teacher education are evolving as traditional institutions such as the school and University Schools of Education come under mounting pressure to respond to the opportunities that increased connectivity through digital technologies might yield. In the UK such pressures are framed within shifting policy priorities in teacher education introduced by the Coalition government (DfE, 2010). But the more recent trajectory of policy in ICT, TEL and now computing in the UK is certainly one characterised by competing factions with mixed motivations and little coherence. Yet again unfounded hyperbole creeps into the TEL and curriculum policy rhetoric as we are informed in the new programme of study for computing that ‘a high quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world’ (DfE, 2013). Since the current UK Coalition government began its tenure in 2010 it has had an ambivalent approach towards ICT in education making no reference to the role of technology in education in its first White Paper on education reform (DfE, 2010). After disbanding Becta - the agency advising schools on ICT in education - the government also moved to dis-apply the National Curriculum programme of study for ICT. Recent calls in the UK for more of a focus on developing young people’s and children’s programming skills (Schmidt, 2011; Gove, 2012) could advance children’s capacity to develop their thinking and problem-solving skills through technologies. However, a narrow and instrumental approach to ICT (now defined as ‘computing’) in education could merely reduce technology in education to serving the current needs of business and industry for more programmers whilst also entrenching a digital divide between consumers and producers of technology and media. Whilst ‘learning to code’ is proclaimed to progress to ‘coding to learn’ (Resnick, 2012) the lessons from previous eras of ICT in education are clear that that this progression is far from automatic (Pea, 1987). The recent political narrative towards technology and education in the UK contrasts significantly with that of other developed countries such as the USA and Australia. The Obama administration’s National Education Technology Plan (NETP, Office of Educational Technology, 2010) heavily implicates new technologies in the process of transforming education through increased connectivity and personalized learning. As Peters and Araya (2011, p.102) highlight the NETP is ambitious in calling for ‘revolutionary transformation rather than evolutionary tinkering.’ But like the previous 1997-2010 Labour government’s e-strategy in the UK, the NETP is loaded with the promise of transformation through educational technologies but short on how this may be a achieved or the role of educators in the process. Rose (2011, p.166) offers a strong critique of the NETP stating that it merely ‘endorses the systems that have created and maintained the status quo for the past century.’ The macro political narratives concerning education and teacher education policy in Australia also see a significant role for new technologies. But in contrast there has at least until quite recently been an attempt to locate teachers as key agents in any process of technological appropriation. This is epitomised by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s (AITSL) Teaching Teachers for the Future (TTF) Project which ‘specifically targets systematic change in the ICT in Education (ICTE) proficiency of graduate teachers’ (AITSL, 2012, np). Furthermore, the TTF use of what is termed the ‘most significant change’ (MSC) methodology focuses on teachers’ ‘stories of

implementation’ (Romeo, 2012, p.960) which goes some way to recognising the importance of teacher narratives in TEL. I am not claiming that the failure of TEL to live up to its promise can be remedied simply by paying greater attention to teachers’ narratives of appropriation, but it is an important step in that with greater agency also comes higher expectations that teachers take more responsibility for their own pedagogical appropriation of technologies. Whilst explicit reference to technology-enhanced learning (TEL) has been removed from the UK governments’ standards for teachers (TA, 2012) there is an explicit strategy to build the ICTE capacity of teachers and teacher educators throughout Australia and narrative approaches are seen by some as offering the potential for a new ‘participatory approach to curriculum’ and presumably pedagogical development both at the macro and micro level (Heck and Sweeney, 2013, p.36).

The challenge; laying claim to the narrative of TEL
Absent from from much of the research in TEL are discourses at the interface of macro-level educational policy and the micro-level contexts of professional practice. I argue, this is fertile ground for understanding the complex and unpredictable process of technological appropriation and its implications for education (Castells, Fernadez-Ardevol, Linchuan Qui and Sey, 2007; Pachler, Ranieri, Manca and Cook, 2012; Selwyn, 2012). Whilst such processes are often far less transformative of pedagogical practice than techno-centric arguments proclaim (Cuban, 2001; Selwyn, 2012), Jenkins (2006, p.11) has argued that we are currently in a ‘period of prolonged transition’ with regards the implications for new technologies and the way we learn. Similarly, Laurillard (2012, p. 226) comments ‘the difference that marks out the early years of the twenty-first century from any previous period in education is that digital technologies not only enable a change to treating teaching as a design science, they also require it.’

The narrative ecology model that I have developed through my research in the UK teacher education context is designed to capture these discourses at the interface of the macro and micro-level contexts as educators appropriate technologies into their pedagogical practice (Turvey, 2011, 2012a, 2012b and 2013). The model casts teachers as designers, orchestrating teaching and learning and taking responsibility for the TEL narratives they design, author, sustain and develop. Figure 1 contains an interactive link to a short video introducing some elements of the narrative ecology framework which I look forward to discussing and exploring further with delegates at the symposium.

Figure 1: Link to short Video introducing Narrative Ecology framework

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Romeo, G. (2012) ‘Teaching Teachers for the Future (TTF): Building the ICT in education capacity of the next generation of teachers in Australia’, Australian Journal of Educational Technology 28:6, 949964. Rose, R. M. (2011) The National Educational Technology Plan doesn’t live up to its callfor revolutionary transformation. E-Learning and Digital Media, 8:2, 165–169. Sey, A. & Castells, M. (2004) From Media Politics to Networked Politics: The Internet and the Political Process in M. Castells (Ed.) The Network Society: A cross cultural perspective (pp. 363–384). Cheltenham, MA: Edward. Selwyn, N. (2012) Ten suggestions for improving academic research in education and technology, Learning, Media and Technology, 37:3, 213-219 Schmidt, E. (2011) Television and the Internet: shared opportunity, MacTaggart Lecture, 26 August, 2011, Available at Somekh, B. (2007) Pedagogy and Learning with ICT: researching the art of innovation. London: Routledge. Turvey, K. (2012a) Constructing narrative ecologies as a site for teachers’ professional learning with new technologies and media in primary education. E-Learning and Digital Media, 9:1, 113–126. Turvey, K. (2012b) Questioning the character and significance of convergence between social network and professional practices in teacher education, British Journal of Educational Technology, 43:5, 739-753 Turvey, K. (2013) Narrative Ecologies: Teachers as Pedagogical Toolmakers, London/New York: Routledge. Wenger, E., White, N. & Smith, J. D. (2009). Digital habitats; stewarding technology for communities. Portland, OR: CPSquare.

Disclaimer: This provocation paper was written to stimulate debate at the ‘critical perspectives on educational technology’ event at the University of Brighton on October 15th 2013. It is clearly neither comprehensive, nor does it necessarily reflect the views of the author, rather it is written solely as a ‘stimulus document’ to support and set a broader context for discussions.

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