A computerised monastery school

Himanen (2001, 75-76) on the ‘Net Academy’:

It is a continuously evolving learning environment created by the learners themselves. The learning model adopted by hackers has many advantages. In the hacker world, the teachers or assemblers of information sources are often those who have just learned something.

… this hacker model resembles Plato’s Academy, where students were not regarded as targets for knowledge transmission but were referred to as companions in learning (synetheis). In the Academy’s view, the central task of teaching was to strengthen the learners’ ability to pose problems, develop lines of thought, and present criticism. As a result, the teacher was metaphorically referred to as a midwife, a matchmaker, and a master of ceremonies at banquets. It was not the teacher’s task to inculcate the students with pre-established knowledge but to help them give birth to things from their own starting points.

It is ironic that

the current academy tends to model its learning structure on the monastic sender-receiver model. The irony is usually only amplified when the academy starts to build a ‘virtual university’: the result is a computerised monastery school.

Pedagogy, Technology and Student as Producer

I was recently asked to present a paper to the university’s Teaching and Learning Committee about the role of technology in the context of Student as Producer. The paper was well received by the committee and I have been asked to draw up a Business Case  which will be presented to the Academic Board and then, hopefully, for final approval by the Executive Board. Unlike this paper, which is pretty high level, the Business Case will go into more detail about what we actually propose to do and how. Comments very welcome. Thanks to my colleague, Sue Watling, for  help with the section on ‘digital inclusion’.

Pedagogy, Technology and Student as Producer


Student as Producer will have a significant impact on the work of both students and staff at the university and this paper briefly addresses the strategic role of technology and teaching and learning within the context of Student as Producer. In summary, we argue that the university can lead the sector in re-engineering knowledge creation and sharing through the open development of edgeless social learning networks, based on a methodology of peer-to-peer innovation and a commitment to digital inclusion and critical, digital literacy.

Student as Producer

Student as Producer is underpinned by progressive pedagogical theory which asserts that students can and should be producers of their social world by genuinely collaborating in the processes of research, teaching and learning. Student as Producer has a radically democratic agenda, valuing critique, speculative thinking, openness and a form of social learning that aims to transform the social context so that students become the subjects rather than objects of history – individuals who make history and personify knowledge. Student as Producer is not simply a project to transform and improve the ‘student experience’ but aspires to a paradigm shift in how knowledge is produced, where the traditional student and teacher roles are ‘interrupted’ through close collaboration and a recognition that both teachers and students have much to learn from each other. Student as Producer is not dependent on technology but rather on the quality of the relationship between teacher and student. The extent to which technology can support, advance and even progressively disrupt this relationship is therefore key.

Critical, digital literacy

Increasingly, the language of digital networks is that of ‘users’ who produce and consume ‘content’. With the availability of ‘free’ Web 2.0 tools, we are told that anyone on the web is a potential publisher of content for someone else to consume. The message from The Edgeless University (2009) is increasingly typical: In the world of Web 2.0, universities are being positioned as distinctive “resource providers” i.e. research outputs, lectures and podcasts on iTunesU, Open Access institutional repositories and and Open Educational Resources, with the expertise to “validate learning”. Student as Producer both challenges and leverages this ‘abundance’ of open resources by articulating a “pedagogy of excess”, whereby the student is encouraged and supported in being not just a student-consumer but rather a productive, critical, digitally literate social individual. In this view, technology is inclusive and understated, advocated by the institution primarily to develop the individual’s critical, social understanding and abilities which they apply to their learning and in this way technology does not become an end in itself.

Digital inclusion

Digital divides, both within higher education and beyond our institutions, derive from the social shaping of technology where technical design and implementation is influenced by organisational, political, economic and cultural factors (Bjiker and Pinch 1984, Williams and Edge 1994). Technological ‘innovation’ is often the subsequent means whereby wider social inequalities are reproduced and reinforced. For example, operating effectively within a Web 2.0 environment privileges a narrow range of access criteria and assumes pre-requisite levels of digital confidence and competence. Those who fall outside of these parameters are digitally excluded and disempowered. In the development of critical, digital literacy, Student as Producer can raise awareness of the nature and effects of inequitable digital practices and in doing so, encourage socially responsible individuals who are then able to challenge exclusive practices and ensure inclusive ways of living in society.

Learning landscapes

In itself, technology arguably has no direct bearing on educational outcome. It is the extent to which technology is understood, developed and employed within the overall social and political environment that it contributes to the social wealth, education and overall well-being of society (Downes, 2010). The typical use of technology in higher education ranges from the mundane to the instrumental to the experimental, enabling, for example, the management of courses and assessment through the Learning Management Systems (LMS), the increasingly collaborative cross-institutional nature of research through discipline-specific Virtual Research Environments (VRE) and the creation of Personal Learning Environments (PLE) where teachers and students choose technologies appropriate to their own needs and capacities. Similarly, technologies such as Blackboard, are thoroughly embedded in critical institutional functions penetrating deep into the overall ‘learning landscape’ of the university. Networked technology is now ingrained in the very ‘idea of the university’ and the social production of knowledge. It is used to both intentionally effect change (i.e. innovate) in higher education and respond to change taking place in society (i.e. facilitate). Arguably, it is not a matter of asking “what is the role of technology in higher education?”, but rather “what is the role of the university in a networked world?” (Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, 2009)

A pedagogy of excess

Student as Producer is perfectly timed to engage with what The Edgeless University states as a “time of maximum uncertainty and time for creative possibility between the ending of the way things have been and the beginning of the way they will be.” At a time when the higher education sector is being privatised and students are expected to assume the role of consumer, Student as Producer aims to provide the student with a more critical, more historically and socially informed experience of university life, which extends beyond their formal studies to engage with the role of the university and their own role in society. Pedagogically, this is through the idea of ‘excess’ where students, undertaking a critical evaluation of their subject and of their role in society, are anticipated to become more than just student-consumers during their course of research and study (Neary and Hagyard, 2010). In practice, a pedagogy of excess re-orientates the roles of staff and students to become producers of an edgeless university and creators of social wealth.

Student as Producer responds to calls for ‘edgelessness’ by asserting a radical agenda for the development and support of technology, extending the networks and spaces that we maintain to become social learning networks or, in Vygotsky’s term, ‘Zones of Proximal Development’ (ZPD), in which social learning has the potential to change the individual and their social context (Neary, 2010). We recognise the centrality of staff and students in “driving further innovation without losing the strengths of the traditional academic environment” (Learning Landscapes, 2009) and this should be coupled with the benefits that networked technology brings to the learning landscape, not only in advancing ubiquitous access to information but also the potential for challenging and re-engineering the relationships between teacher and student engaged in collaborative research.

Peer-to-peer production

To undertake this, we recommend that a flexible, cross-departmental team of staff and student peers are convened to further the research, development and support of technology for research, teaching and learning at the University of Lincoln. The team’s primary remit will be to support the objectives of Student as Producer through technology. To achieve this, it is proposed that the team has an acknowledged research and development role, and that the work of the team is theoretically informed by the progressive pedagogy of Student as Producer so as to engender critical, digitally literate staff and students. To this effect, the team will consolidate and extend the existing collaborative work taking place between CERD, The Library and ICT Services by inviting staff and students from across the university to openly contribute. The team will offer incentives to staff and students who wish to contribute to the rapid innovation of appropriate technology for education at the university, through work-experience, research bursaries and internal and external applications for funding. A core principle of the team will be that students and staff have much to learn from each other and that students as producers can be agents of change in the use of technology in education.


This proposal is supported by recent NUS data, which highlights the need for greater choice in how students learn, concerns around staff ICT competency, and the appropriateness of technology used across courses. (HEFCE/NUS, 2010). Overall, recent reports support the creation of a learning landscape where the distinction between teacher and student is increasingly fluid, emphasising the role of technology to enable collaboration and the co-production of knowledge. The multi-faceted nature of the institution remains highly valued, as does the multifarious role of the teacher. However, due to changes in the production and consumption of information in society, the student’s role is being reasserted in a new form of peer collaboration; one which we might call the ‘student as producer’.

Annual Budget Required

Digital Development Co-ordinator (Grade 8 )

Student/graduate developers (Grade 4/5) x 4

Student bursaries £4000

Staff research grants: £7000

Hardware/Software: £10,000

Conferences: £4000


Bradwell, P. (2009) The Edgeless University, DEMOS. http://lncn.eu/dpq

Downes, S. (2011) Better Education Through Technology. http://lncn.eu/c57

JISC (2009) Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World. http://lncn.eu/kp7

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. Continuum, London. http://lncn.eu/xz2

Neary, Mike (2010) Student as Producer: A Pedgogy for the Avant-Garde. Learning Exchange,Vol 1, No 1. http://lncn.eu/aq2

Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life. The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Eds. Molesworth, Scullion and Nixon. Routledge. http://lncn.eu/e23

NUS/HEFCE (2010) Student Perspectives on Technology. http://lncn.eu/uvw

Pinch, T. J. and Bijker W. E. (1984) The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: Or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology Might Benefit Each Other. Social Studies of Science 14, 399-441. http://lncn.eu/cwz

University of Lincoln (2010) Learning Landscapes in Higher Education Final Report. http://lncn.eu/buy

Williams, R. and Edge, D. (1996) The Social Shaping of Technology, Research Policy Vol. 25, 856-899. http://lncn.eu/e49

The relationships between technology and open education in the development of a resilient higher education

Richard Hall and I are presenting at the OpenEd10 conference next week. Here’s a few slides that Richard has just put together. The paper can be downloaded here.

UPDATE: Here’s the video recording of our session. We ditched the slides.

Conference paper for OpenEd 2010 on technology, resilience and open education

I have written a paper with Richard Hall for the Open Education conference in November. You can download it here: Technology, open education and a resilient higher education. Of course we welcome all comments and criticism. Here’s the conclusion from the paper:

Open forms of HE are crucial in our overcoming of socio-economic disruption, and in framing spaces for personal and communal resilience. A key role for open curriculum development is the critique of hegemonic discourses and the contexts in which they emerge so that they can be challenged, and so that co-governance as well as co-production can be enabled and tested. A key role for technology, in a world of increasing uncertainty, where disruption threatens our approaches, is to enable individuals to engage in authentic partnerships, in mentoring and enquiry, and in the processes of community and social governance and action.

There is still a risk that the provision of frameworks for free associations between individuals will leave some people marginalised, and the creation of appropriate contexts that spark or forge opportunities for participation is pedagogically critical. Equally, the tensions evoked within institutions around, for instance: the ownership of technology; the openness of networks and practices; the structures of management data; engagement with communities at scale; and the validation/accreditation of curricula; need to be addressed. Despite these tensions, the capacity of technology to improve the opportunities for people to work together to shape and solve problems, and to further their critical understanding of themselves and of the world they live in, is significant.

Technology underpins the development of an open curriculum for resilience in three key areas.

I. The enhancement of student-agency, in producing both relationships within and across open communities, and open, socially-situated tasks is important. The student’s power-over the tools she uses and her power-to negotiate agreed socio-cultural norms is fundamental here, although issues to do with social anxiety, difference, self-conception and allegiance within closed groups, and the marginalisation of certain users, form potential risks. However, a modular approach to the use of technology for agreed tasks in meaningful networks is one aspect of defining resilience.

II. Re-framing HE experiences as open, in order to allow learners to test their self-concept is critical. Educational technologies offer an array of supportive networking contexts where learners can model practice and self-expression. Formative development is ongoing and demands a range of open engagements on a range of tasks with a range of roles in a range of networks. This diverse learning approach is a second aspect of defining resilience.

III. Feedback for learning from multiple perspectives underpins authentic personal development. Technologies facilitate near real-time feedback and enable the student to recognise the impact of her actions, which is a third aspect in the definition of resilience.

In this tripartite approach, the production and re-use of artefacts is of secondary importance to the social relationships that are re-defined by educators and students, and the focus on people and values that is in-turn assembled through open education (Lamb, 2010). In overcoming alienation and disruption, a resilient open education enables us to critique institutionalised forms of education. The challenge is to develop such a critique.

Reading ‘The Edgeless University’ and ‘HE in a Web 2.0 World’ reports

I have been asked to present the recent Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World report to the University’s next Teaching and Learning Committee. The report came out shortly before, and is referenced by, The Edgeless University. Why Higher Education Must Embrace Technology, which was launched by David Lammy MP at the end of June. I’ve been going through both reports, pulling out significant quotes and annotating them. Here are my notes. It is not a comprehensive nor formal review of the reports, nor a statement from the University of Lincoln. Just personal reflections which I will take to my colleagues for discussion. I don’t whole-heartedly agree with every statement made in both reports or even those quoted here, but I do take government promoted reports, and the funding that accompanies them, seriously.

I include quotes from David Lammy’s speech, as it can be read as a formal statement from government on the recommendations of the ‘Edgeless’ report and a commentary on future funding priorities.

If you’ve not yet read the reports, my notes might provide a useful summary, albeit from the bias of someone charged with supporting the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.  I am also an advocate of Open Access and Open Education on which the Edgeless report has a lot to say. Methodologically, the writing of both reports combined both current literature reviews and interviews across the sector and as I write, they are the most current documents of their kind that I am aware of.

If you have commented on either of these reports on your own blog or have something to say about the excerpts I include here, please do leave a comment and let me (and others) know.  Thanks.

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