Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

The STIN in the Tale: A Socio-Technical Interaction Perspective on Networked Learning

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

The STIN in the Tale: A Socio-Technical Interaction Perspective on Networked Learning

Article excerpt

Introduction

The learning landscape is becoming increasingly complex. In part this is due to technological developments such as Web 2.0, virtual worlds and social networking practices, alongside other factors such as widespread national and international policy changes, changing workplace skill requirements and growing learner demand for flexible learning arrangements. To understand this complexity, educators in diverse contexts require models and concepts which can help to make sense of, and to capitalise on, the interplay between people, technology, learning artefacts and learning processes. Networked learning provides a useful framework which encompasses not only pedagogy, but also the broader social, technical and cultural forces at play (Jones, 2004). The network metaphor which Jones describes as, "... a unifying concept allowing us to bring together apparently disparate elements of the field" (p81) remains compelling. It underpins our thinking as we explore models of networked learning which extend beyond the traditional confines of the formal tertiary education sector.

Designing and participating in effective networked learning are significant accomplishments in which educators and educational technologists 'orchestrate' groups of people using technology, tailored learning activities and a range of learning resources to enable learning (e.g. Barab et al, 2004; Walker & Creanor, 2005). Educators frequently need to integrate practices associated with networked learning alongside those of face-to-face learning, creating a 'blended' environment. Learners participate in individual and collaborative activities through which they can develop new meanings, skills and knowledge. In doing so they may use technologies which are new to them or, increasingly, they may be integrating their e-learning activities into an 'underworld' of communication through personal social and mobile technologies, of which tutors may be unaware. (Creanor et al, 2008). In this paper we draw on the social informatics and sociotechnical traditions of research into information and communications technologies (ICT) to highlight the complexity of interactions between people and technology in networked learning situations, and the consequent potential sensitivity to apparently trivial difficulties. Our primary contribution is to demonstrate how a particular approach from these traditions, the sociotechnical interaction network or STIN (Kling et al, 2003; Scacchi, 2005; Meyer, 2006) can be used to think about these complex interactions.

Sociotechnical studies have established that technology design and use are complex outcomes of multiple, interacting influences operating at different levels. At the micro-level for example, organisational and social influences include incentive structures and local working or learning cultures (e.g. Orlikowski, 1993; Kling, 2000). Simultaneously at macro-level, influencing factors identified by, among others, Agre (1998) and Williams (2000), include social (e.g. in the way particular communities of practice are embedded within institutions), political (e.g. how technologies may be promoted or regulated) and economic (e.g. the various cost factors associated with particular types of transaction). Studies of networked learning in these traditions (e.g. Hara & Kling, 1999; Kling & Courtright, 2004; Dutton et al, 2004) offer an alternative approach to understanding the evolving relationship of learning and technology to those 306 which comprise what Diana Laurillard has referred to as a historically dominant 'mechanistic' account of change (Nash et al, 2004; Laurillard, 2005). The weaknesses of mechanistic models can be seen in discrepancies between claims made about learning technologies and the reality of their use. These have been demonstrated both at the micro-level of student responses to technology enhanced learning (e.g. Hara & Kling, 1999; Sharpe et al, 2005; Creanor et al, 2008) and at wider institutional and political levels (Selwyn, 2007). …

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