Monday 17 January 2011

Thinking about roles: Universals and Particulars of practice

What do you do? Teacher? Learner? Learning technologist? Administrator?

ok... but what does that mean? What's the first thing you do in the morning? What do you really do? How do you go about doing it? How do others respond to you doing it? How does what you do relate to what they do? What's important to you in what you do? Do you enjoy what you do?

I think we have a very one-dimensional view of what people do... As learning technologists (what sort of a role is that???) we make judgements about what other people do: notably teachers and learners. If we're the kind of learning technologist that makes technology, then we may well build that technology with our ideas of the role of individuals built into it.

But where the description of "what I do in my job" might be very fluid and flexible and depend on circumstances, the technologically-defined "what we think you do in your job" is rigid and inflexible. This can make for difficult conversations as we try and encourage users to use the things we make.

We say "Here's some technology for you. You can upload your resources (e.g. Powerpoints); learners can access them; you can sequence activities here, etc" They might say "What makes you think my job involves uploading Powerpoints? I don't have Powerpoints... that's not how I do my teaching." At what point might the learning technologist (or the manager) say "you ought to!"; to what extent is that conclusion shaped by the technology we created? .. and the idealisation of the role of the teacher that fed into the technology in the first place?

The problem with all this is the 'positioning' that's implicit in the discussions that take place. The presentation of technology, with idealised roles programmed into it can leave the teacher with little room for manoeuvre. The technology is a big attenuator of practice; but the actual practice with existing technologies poorly understood.

The real issue I think is to do with Universals and Particulars with regard to understanding real practice. Learning technology theory favours universal idealisations for categorising practice, but those idealisations bear little resemblance to the lived experience of performing a role. The central question may concern where theory is best placed: is it best placed informing the design of technology? Or is it best placed attempting to understand and situate the particulars of experience so that more effective conversations about existing technology might be conducted?

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