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Digital education

Networked Learning with Dr Ben Kehrwald

25 May 2016
Image of Ben Kehrwald
This week, we are very thankful to Mike Johnson from the School of Healthcare Sciences who has written about the visit of Dr Ben Kehrwald (Charles Sturt University) to Cardiff. Ben joined us to present his paper entitled ‘Social presence and impression management: Understanding networked learners’ cultivation of learning networks’, and his talk on the 18th May can be viewed by logging in to Learn Plus via this link.
Image of Ben Kehrwald
Last week I attended the Networked Learning Conference and this week, another delegate, Dr Ben Kerhwald, kindly agreed to present his conference paper to a Cardiff audience. As well as a bit of sightseeing, I organised meetings with colleagues here who felt they could benefit from some ‘no-strings’ advice. Some of these had recently been awarded ‘seed-corn’ funds to explore aspects of innovative practice, sponsored by the Centre for Education Innovation.
The Networked Learning community, in terms of the conference’s core adherents and protagonists, is not just about ‘promoting connections‘. The conference’s working definition of networked learning dates back to 2001 and does include that term but this is backed up by the following phrase:
Some of the richest examples of networked learning involve interaction with on-line materials and with other people. But use of on-line materials is not a sufficient characteristic to define networked learning.
Although NL clearly implicates information technology, what sets it apart for me are the values that underpin the exploration of theory, pedagogy and practice. While information technology may grab headlines and promise much, it is people who fulfil that promise for each other. Networked learning has noted the rise of two competing discourses at work in education and society, ‘political-ethical discourse on the one hand and the economic-pragmatic discourse on the other’ (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012, p.292). This can be seen this year in Chris Jones’ paper about ‘the student experience’. For some, this amounts to a metric, a management tool to drive towards higher league-table positions, efficiency and effectiveness (especially cost-effectiveness).
Image of Ben Kehrwald

For others, in a view of learning that includes socio-cultural aspects, ‘student experience’ has been a cornerstone and a resource for their research into understanding the process of learning and trying to make it better. Ben’s paper falls into the latter category, considering how we can help learners to collaborate and develop relationships when their interactions are online.

Thanks to the curse of the (debunked) “digital native” meme, it is assumed that students arrive knowing all about media that is ‘social’, but this, it was argued, is far removed from knowing how to learn ‘socially’ and develop knowledge collaboratively: these are some of those useful ’employability’ skills which we might espouse but actually not embed successfully in our programmes. And so, in the discussions we’d had during the week, some were (still) looking to technology for solutions to problems created by flawed assessment strategies or associated with the sheer volume of students… solutions to these kinds of problems were out of reach no matter what technology is thrown at them: fixing them will require some decidedly human activity. For example, in the seminar, Ben suggested that strategic digital education leadership was key before the learning design issues his paper touched on would find their place in everyday discussions around programme development.

Hodgson, Vivien, David McConnell, and Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012 The Theory, Practice and Pedagogy of Networked Learning. In Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning. Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Vivien Hodgson, and David McConnell, eds. Pp. 291–305. New York, NY: Springer New York.