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Reassembling practice: a relational approach to online learning in higher education
thesisposted on 11.11.2021, 03:52 by John HannonJohn Hannon
This thesis sets out to investigate the transformative effects of networked technologies on work and sociality through an enquiry into the practice of online learning in higher education. It develops and documents a critical approach to the deployment of technologies in practice. The research enquiry of the thesis locates online learning within the context of technological change in the “network society” (Castells, 1996), and challenges many existing arrangements under which technologies are implemented in educational institutions. The thesis proposes a relational approach, with its origins in actor-network theory (Latour, 1987; Law, 2000), in which people, objects and technologies are viewed as having significance not in themselves, but in their social and material relations. In this investigation, I focus on practice in terms of material effects of activities organised around a set of shared understandings and discourses. Practice, therefore, is analysed as action-oriented and not as intentional and human-centred. For evidence, the thesis draws on the experience of practitioners, and also addresses practitioners as its audience. Its goal is formative (Scriven, 1991): to improve and recover practice in the complex field of online learning. I attempt to meet this goal through two approaches: an ethnomethodological study of how a sample of practitioners across three universities negotiate their practice, and through a relational analysis of practice contexts in the form of case studies. The approach I develop for this enquiry takes as its object of study the sociotechnical assemblages of learning, and applies the relational principle of heterogeneity to all constituent elements – human, technological, material and discursive – tracing their associations in the expression of agency. The thesis argues that a relational analysis can act as an intervention, an opening of blackboxes, a reassembling of how agency is delegated, ordered and claimed through its institutional actors: people, discourses, and technologies.