Looking at conceptual problem(s) with TEL: Activity 0.1: Big and little questions from #ocTEL

*Just a little general disclaimer that I am no expert on the postdigital, posthuman or for that matter Bruno Latour;his focus on networks and connections and critiques of categories and boundaries. But I can get onboard with the idea that dichotomies like nature/culture and virtual/real that conceptualise categories as ‘reified’ bounded entities are not very useful in terms of understanding how people live in and make sense of the world.

At the moment I am very aware of the need to keep a reflective and critical frame of mind when it comes to technology and education and I guess educational technology. Once upon a time the term ‘e-learning’ was popular but – as I think many have pointed out – it is about learning not about technology. See for example JISC Effective practice with e-learning: a good practice guide in designing for learning – I think it is very telling that they added a subtitle that has no reference to technology at all.

One of the problems with the TEL concept is that it appears to have an underlying assumption of technology as a separate bounded area/tool that can be used on/in education – also seen as a bounded area. Talking about it in this way can lead us to think that technology is something that can be ‘applied’ and this is perhaps reinforced by the use of ‘enhanced’ which seems to imply the notion of ‘adding value’. Now this would appear to be rather far from the complexity of people’s lives and messiness of our everyday practices and so we need to be continually reminded to insist on the ’embeddedness’ (if that is a word) and socially situated/mediated reality of these terms that we use. As you can no doubt tell from this perhaps rather crude ‘thinking-out-loud’ type post I have lots of reading and further thinking to do.

My perspective has been influenced by recently attending the Networked Learning Conference where I enjoyed a presentation by Siân Bayne in which she examined some of the assumptions that are inherent in the way that the term ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’ is used.

“The very term ‘technology enhanced learning’, I have argued, works to entrench a very particular – and reductive – understanding of the relation between technology, education, individual and world. As researchers and practitioners of digital education, we need to move away from our over-emphasis on how technology acts on education, or how education can best act on technology. Let us rather acknowledge that the two are co-constitutive of each other, entangled in cultural, material, political and economic assemblages of great complexity.” (Bayne 2014: 349).

Reading the excellent (and funny) blog Hackeducation by Audrey Watters has also contributed to my rather sceptical mindset when it comes to claims of how technology will revolutionise education. You should definitely read it.

The need to understand the complexity and contexts of the how and why of people’s practices is part of the ‘visitor and resident’ approach and this makes sense to me:

We need to understand the larger, more complex contexts that surround individual engagement with digital resources, spaces, and tools before we can think constructively about how to (if, indeed in some cases, we should) provide institutionally-based digital resources and services


What’s wrong with ‘technology enhanced learning? by Siân Bayne from the Institute for Education, Community and Society, School of Education, The University of Edinburgh. In: Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Networked Learning 2014, Edited by: Bayne S, Jones C, de Laat M, Ryberg T & Sinclair C. ISBN 978-1-86220-304-4

Jisc infokit: Evaluating digital services: a Visitors and Residents approach

A collaborative project between Jisc, the University of Oxford, and OCLC Research, and in partnership with the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. The content for the infoKit was created by David White (University of Oxford), Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D. (OCLC Research), Donna Lanclos, Ph.D. (UNC Charlotte), Erin M. Hood (OCLC Research), and Carrie Vass (OCLC Research).


About kshjensen

Anthropologist. Ethnographic research and user experience. I craft, bake, like real ale and stacking stones.
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8 Responses to Looking at conceptual problem(s) with TEL: Activity 0.1: Big and little questions from #ocTEL

  1. Thanks for your reflection and the references. Will definitely follow-up in these!

  2. Hi Kathrine, thanks for posting this via the #ocTEL twitter feed, such an interesting discussion, really got the old brain cogs turning! Alison (@AlsNickson)

  3. balimaha says:

    wow excellent set of resources (some of which I had been planning to read but never got round to – so thanks! very useful stuff). Your post also got me thinking, as someone who identifies herself as both “digital agnostic” (read this term by Sean Michael Morris and love it) and also a “cyborg” (use it in the way Bonnie Stewart does) – i.e. I am hyperconnected and use tech a lot for my own learning but at the same time I remain skeptical about its potential; I’m not overly determinstic on its pros or cons, I think it’s all contextual and dynamic. I don’t know what term to use, though, when referring to this intersection/interaction between education and technology that would not be value-laden. Tech-enhanced-learning sounded like a good one until I read your post :)) Back to the drawing board!

    • kshjensen says:

      Thx for the comments. I agree that it is hard to find a term that is not laden with value, well, impossible surely as meaning is situated, negotiated and constructed…so perhaps we can use TEL but just make sure that we don’t use it uncritically?

  4. Great stuff, Kathrine! I’ve had several brushes with Bruno Latour’s work over the last 25 years without ever feeling that I fully grasped it (but, I console myself, that’s the nature of French intellectuals ;-). Lots of fascinating, critical insights here. How do they influence your work practice?

    • kshjensen says:

      I suppose it means that I don’t foreground technology or tools in my work practices. I use facebook w students to communicate practical arrangements and prompt collaboration and it is very useful but the focus of the work is building conversations, confidence and partnerships…

      • Thanks. Building conversation and partnerships is often the hardest/most rewarding part of many enterprises, not just learning. Do you think there’s a craft or an art or a science to doing this better? With or without technology?

  5. Pingback: #ocTEL Week 5 on Leadership, Partnership and Equality | kshjensen – always learning

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