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Critical theory, informed learning and holistic views of technology in education

Presentation for talk given by Drew Whitworth at the Educational Technology Research Group (University of Manchester), 2/6/11

Drew Whitworth

on 19 October 2011

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Transcript of Critical theory, informed learning and holistic views of technology in education

Critical theory, informed learning
and holistic views of technology in education HOLISM... Diana Laurillard Rethinking University
Teaching (new edition
due 2011) Rose Luckin

Redesigning Learning
Contexts (2010) Christine Bruce

Informed Learning
(2008) ...is a difficult field
to work in, philosophically. Does it seek a "theory
of everything..."? There are different ways
of interpreting this. From a POSITIVIST

...it can be seen as the attempt
to engineer a situation completely
by achieving total understanding. Akin to early ideas about what a
'grand unified theory' could
explain. But science now recognises that even
such a 'unification' would still not allow
us to fully control a system...

... at least not one with a large number
of variables. However, the theory can at
least tell us what the variables
are, how to recognise and
account for them, what
relationships exist between them. Education is a field open to
holistic analysis. The number of variables
is very large... the learning environment
can be influenced, but not engineered. Every enquiry into education consists of:
learning about the environment
transforming the environment as a result For writers such as Carr & Kemmis,
professional quality depends on WHO
UNDERTAKES this enquiry... A "scientific" research establishment?

Or teachers themselves? QUESTIONS THEN:
what variables exist?
how do they impact, collectively, upon the effectiveness of a learning environment?
how are these impacts learned about?
who or what subsequently influences these variables, and to what extent? 3 holistic theories
of education Each has technology
integrated into it, but
not central to it. Based in phenomenographic
research: considering "ways
of seeing" a problem or
situation Understanding effective learning
requires an understanding of what
a problem or situation means to
a student. Students' conceptions are the key
variable in the environment...

Laurillard proposes that it is through
CONVERSATION that these can be
influenced and transformed. From this, a "conversational framework" is
developed that helps L. classify different
educational technologies. Diagram from http://www2.smumn.edu/deptpages/~instructTech/lol/laurillard/index.htm The point of the theory is not to say that a technology
is deficient if it does not support all 12 forms of conversation...

... but to help see where a particular medium requires support
(from a teacher, from another technology, from work by the
student) in order to be effective. Part 3 of Laurillard's book closes with a
comprehensive guide for learning
environment designers, based on these
principles BUT... are there contradictions here?

She wants to create a "learning organisation"...
but where is the "Conversation" here? Does she account for the ways learning
can be blocked? Or in terms of our holistic framework:

...how our ability to transform the
environment as a response to our
learning can be limited? Here, the fundamental
framework is Vygotskyan. Again, based on
studies. Here, however, the variation exists
with students' INFORMATION
PRACTICES (as opposed to
conceptions of a problem) Teachers need to help students "develop
new and more complex ways of working
with information" (p. 13) Whereas Laurillard's model
ultimately implied that the
HEI could be transformed into
the requisite 'learning
organisation'... As the complexity of Bruce's learning
environment increases... ... so the kinds of activities called for
become much less likely to persist within
the formally organised HEI. See figures from work by Susie Andretta 2007.

Susie asked participants to describe the IL
approach adopted by their institutions:
Frame 1st 2nd
Content 8 55
Competency 94 27
Learning to learn 5 17
Personal relevance 4 15
Social impact 0 0
Relational 13 16 Learning that takes place away from the formally
organised educational environment is harder to

... as the measures we typically use to assess education
struggle to account for it. The "relational model" of Bruce et al
is a useful tool for "learning how to
see" (cf. Blaug 1999)... ...but there is still a lack of attention
paid to the political and technological means by which information, meaning and learning can be controlled. Learning is "scaffolded" by a
"more able partner" - thus helping the
learner develop. The environment is an
"ecology of resources" - of
potentially limitless extent In practice, the ecology is filtered in various ways:
knowledge These filters become the key variables
influencing learning within an
environment... They can be built by teachers,

.... students...

... or be invested in systems, procedures,
technologies. (see quote p. 129) Transformational power lies not with technology, but: "in the way that people use technology to support interactions that enable people to learn through the relationships that they build between elements in their Ecology of Resources" (p. 162). FILTERS THEMSELVES must be
learned about and reviewed: whether imposed in a 'top-down' or 'learner-generated' way (p. 163) Effective learning, then, involves more than just creating a learning organisation (Laurillard) or increasing complexity (Bruce) but in developing AGENCY in learners: enabling them to take greater control of their own ecology of resources. SUMMARY: HARD! HARD! .... maybe. EU directives - the continuation of the
Bologna process - promote links between
formal, informal and non-formal education. Social media is creating a technological
context sympathetic to this. This is not to say Bruce's approach is "better" than Luckin's or Laurillard's.... all of them present very useful tools for seeing.

But it may be the most practical way to proceed. Drew Whitworth, School of Education
University of Manchester
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