copyright yayha

A worried student was the protagonist of the first topic scenario in the online connected learning course I am taking. Were I myself worried? Unsure? Uncomfortable? And was it because of the technology? Or because of working with people I have never met? And not only working, but also having to collaborate and produce a result by only meeting a few times for one hour (and never really having enough time to discuss through everything).

As we learned during the past week, it may be too simplistic to blaime the technology. David White convincingly argues that it is naive to talk of digital natives. As he suggests, we could think of people being visiting certain digital platforms and media, using the them as a tool to do something, and people being residents in the digital, leaving traces and developing identitity as they use certain digital platforms. Online learning is thus not really a matter of tools, but a matter of practices. Such a view resonates with what in organisation theory and information systems we call sociomateriality, which is a perspective according to which tools do not enable/constrain actions, but rather as they enacted in ways that set certain constrains and enable certain possibilities (Orlikowski, 2000).

This makes sense in relation to how I have experienced the first two weeks of this course. We have being introduced to a number of different tools: blogs, google drive, padlet, infographics, screen-capturing video presentations, zoom, etc. Some of them were new, while others were familiar to me. But I would argue that, although it may take some time, the challenge with these tools is not as complicated as the challenge with learning the practices. I would argue that uncertainty is the challenge with the digital tools. Uncertainty can be resolved by more information that provides answer to what I do not know.

A different thing is to get comfortable with the practices. In this case I would argue that the challenge is ambiguity. It can’t be solved by more information. It needs to be handled in the practicing and it might never go completely away. Referring again to David White, one aspect of such ambiguity is which knowledge is legitimate. If we value everyone’s experiences and thoughts, both when consuming and relating to knowledge present in different forms online and when discussing in our groups, who has the “precedence”? Which voices become strong and are we comfortable with that? And where do we look for knowledge when we no longer use a sequential way of reading as in books? Opening and connecting does not necessarily mean more evenly distributed power, it means that power is exercised in another way. And also, how does the use of technology support the enactment of power? What happens in a zoom-seminar compared to IRL-seminar? Who owns documents? Are documents shared or used sequentially? I think that this is the real challenge in a learning situation in online connected learning. How is power exercised and how do we all contribute to that?

Orlikowski WJ (2000) Using technology and constituting structures: A practice lens for studying technology in organizations. Organization science, 11(4): 404-428.

Online learning tools and practices – uncertainty, ambiguity and power