Learners now have ownership of technology-enhanced learning

This post is an excerpt from a submitted essay for MA Online and Distance Education H808. The excerpt states my position in relation to learners’ ownership of technology-enhanced learning and uses my experiences of being a student on H808 as a context for this.

Learners now have ownership of technology-enhanced learning

Learners’ relationships with learning as well as technology will vary greatly and are dependent on social, economic, geographic factors as well as age, experience, level of course if applicable and what the expected outcomes of learning are. I consider ownership to go beyond the physical owning of technology tools and mean autonomy, control, confidence and sense of personal direction, arguably for any learning as well as technology-enhanced learning. I have interpreted technology-enhanced to mean the use of devices, tools and web that learners may use to research, communicate, store, retrieve, construct, share, develop, and reflect, information, ideas and resources.

A sense of autonomy or ownership the learner has, needs to operate within some given parameters. I would suggest that the more flexible or community based the parameters are, the more ownership the learners operating within that community will have. Because web 2.0 technologies often align so well with good pedagogy and increased participation it could be argued that there is an increased sense of ownership with technology-enhanced learning (Conole, 2008). Technology-enhanced learning environments perhaps allow students to have more ownership over their learning because of the variance and freedoms not afforded by purely face-to-face contact. It is the blend of learning, diversity and richness of environments that allow for choice and ownership and therefore has implications for practitioners in how they design and construct environments that allow this.

Although using personalised tools does not guarantee integration and full ownership within institutions, which Conole (ibid) describes as a ‘mismatch’ between what the institution may offer and what students use, learners are able to blur the social function of devices and tools with formal learning. In the context of using discussion forums, Conole states that this suggests that social networks are being created to support learning ‘tailored to their particular needs and using the technologies which suit them rather than being constrained’ (Ibid). Within the tutor group on H800 we produced a wiki page on tools and technologies, identifying whether we used them socially and/or formally.

Ownership image

Fig 1 snapshot from H800 group wiki ‘uses of mobile devices’

The section of the wiki (figure 1) shows formal and informal ways the Ipad/tablet has been used and how it crosses professional and social uses.

With many of the activities I have completed on H800 like constructing wikis, contributing to forums and blogging I would agree that collectively as a group we had more ownership over what and how we were learning together. In this sense we are learners and we have ownership over our learning so collectively as learners we have ownership but do not own it. If we consider a learners’ use and ownership of technology within the wider context of the course content, teacher and other students, which influence outcomes, the strength of ownership emerges from the strength of the content, other students and/or the teacher, ‘fundamental to Web 2.0 practice is that no one individual is expert, rather they are part of a social network’ (ibid).

I find Etienne Wenger’s (1998) ideas on communities of practice engaging and convincing, particularly that ‘communities of practice are already involved in the design of their own learning because ultimately they will decide what they need to learn’, his relationship between the local and global: ‘no community can fully design the learning of another. And at the same time: No community can fully design its own learning’ demonstrates the complex nature of relationships within the community (ibid). Applied to students’ ownership of technology-enhanced learning, students have ownership over their learning and technology-enhanced learning within the context and emerging contexts of the community of practice they belong. But the issues with this are ones ownership of learning is dependent, to a certain extent, on others in the community. When others have choices and ownership of their learning they may not be compatible. It appears that there is a tension that exists within communities that is managed outside of student choices and preferences, ultimately the role of the teacher and the assessment criteria own the process as well.

There needs to be a balance between learners having choice and freedom to construct their Personalised Learning Environments and what will work in the context of the activity, course or institution. H800 has introduced many different tools and technologies both in the context of how others learn and teach as well as how I can enhance my own learning. The ownership I have over my own technology-enhanced learning has come from the choices I have made, what I use and what I have rejected. What I choose is based on what I find appropriate at the time as well as what suits my own style of learning. However it is the guidance and structure of the course that has introduced me to most of these and it is the action of making selective choices that gives me a sense of ownership. My reasons for taking to some applications rather than others is similar to Martin Weller ‘it is a complex mix of personality, emotional response to interface, perceived need, timing, motivation’ (Weller, 2007)

With vast choices made by learners, David Hopkins (2009) blog has a collection of peoples PLEs demonstrating the diversity of PLE profiles, one of the key issues is how to integrate students constructed PLEs into institutional VLEs/LMSs to enable continued ownership over tools, resources and processes in the learning experience. The difficulty is whether this is possible, and if not, considering ways in which to make different systems work to benefit the learner. Niall Sclater describes the interoperability of PLEs into Managed Learning Systems as a ‘utopian vision’ however it is in the strategy at policy level that institutions should be prioritizing ‘enhancing flexibility and choice for learners’, (Sclater, 2008), which would suggest a shift in how students take further ownership over their own learning environments. Even if full integration is a way off, it should not be an all or nothing approach but there are implications for how the integration is designed for in activity design and assessment. One of the key issues is the loss of ownership that can occur in the transition between informal and formal learning and that it is important to examine how learners’ PLEs and learning preferences can be accommodated in the context of institutions VLEs/LMSs. This might be regarding the compatibility of tools, decisions about which tools to use or whether to minimise the functionality of a tool.

Mobile technologies and web 2.0, as previously discussed can blur the boundaries between formal and informal learning, John Pettit and Kulkuska-Hulme uses the metaphor of territories but questions whether the two can be bridged because of issues such as ownership. He makes the point that ‘being driven by users’ is one of the more distinctive and interesting aspects of web/mobile 2.0 and asks us if students are able to bridge the territories ‘will they sill enjoy- and still own – what they find on the other side? ‘(Pettit and Kulkuska-Hulme 2011 p.205) I think it could be the overlap, blurring, dovetailing or invisibility of the difference between the professional and personal that shows ownership of the learning process because it indicates the distinctions and choices that learners are making about what works best for them, what tools they use, what they use them for and with which devices and methods they access them.

The idea that ‘the curriculum becomes whatever you are interested in’ (Weller 2009), is interesting and outside of the context of an educational institution I would agree with this, web 2.0 and mobile learning have enabled learners to construct their own learning and be part of communities much more easily. However, the issues arise when you are trying to manage a group of students and/or make sure that assessment objectives are met through the learning outcomes. Students may have more ownership of the technology that enhances their learning because the methods and experiences align well with good practice, but unless this can be recognised in more formal ways to meet assessment and learning outcomes it becomes problematic. (Conole 2008). In a recent white paper it was stated that ‘the challenge of education is no longer about delivery of knowledge: it is about designing environments, tools and activities for learners to construct knowledge’ (Mwanza-Simwami et al, 2011 p.5) the key issue is how to design for students so they can construct their learning.

Therefore, ownership of technology needs to be guided and facilitated ‘Learners can, of course, interact directly with content that they find in multiple formats, and especially on the web, however many choose to have their learning sequenced, directed, and credentialed through the assistance of a teacher’ (Anderson 2003 p.9). The teacher through quality control, support, assessment, guidance, structure, motivation, organisation, navigation and signposting help the learner to take ownership over their technology-enhanced learning. It is teachers who design or provide the initial context for learning to happen; ‘a context has to be reconstructed and participation invited through the use of activities, structured formats (…) these opportunities for new modes of learning and engagement require a conceptualisation of technology as embedded in practices through which contexts for learning are constructed’ (Thorpe, 2009 p. 130).

The implications are that levels of support need to be robust but sensitive enough to cater for the differing needs of learners and give students confidence so that increased autonomy and ownership can be developed. There are an overwhelming amount of technology tools on the web and learners need to be introduced to them in order for them to make their choices, this in a sense is helping learners to construct their own PLEs – ‘The process and tools are overwhelming to students if presented all at once. As with any instructional design, the teacher determines the pace at which the students best assimilate each new learning tool.’(Drexler, 2010). Students need to be introduced to different tools and methods and encouraged to take ownership outside of their usual choices, skills for improved ownership;

  • Networking presence
  • Collaborating
  • Triangulating evidence
  • Contributing to forums/online discussion
  • Drilling down into sources
  • Using digital libraries
  • Using social media for research

In the context of learning that will be assessed within an institution, ownership is something that needs to be permitted, supported and perhaps negotiated to some extent. John Pettit describes this as ‘complexities of power and ownership that practitioners need to negotiate if they are to create institutional spaces where learners can find their own voice.’ (Pettit, 2009).


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