Critical Perspectives in Practice

I’m playing some kind of crazy catch up on the blogging here. I have a whole host of things I want to try write up before they disappear. This will hopefully be a quick one to jump on.

Amongst the maelstrom that has been the last few months there have been a few small moments of respite from the intense craziness. One of these was the opportunity on 4 May to chat to students at Royal Roads University studying on LRNT 526: Inquiry into Contemporary Issues in Learning Technologies. This is one of the courses within the MA Learning and Technology, and is led by my very dear friend Irwin DeVries.

Students on the course learn to critically analyse learning technologies through a combination of group work and individual study. As groups they chose a particular online or learning technology to investigate and as individuals they take an issue connected to that choice and do a deeper dive. They have a series of readings to get them started on unpacking some of the issues around learning technologies, and are encouraged to dig deeper and do their own reading around and beyond as well.

Irwin very kindly invited me in to one of the class meet ups of an evening and I offered up a little of my practical exerience as a learning technology practitioner, and as a senior administrator. I am a very firm believer that working in learning technology it’s my responsibility to be research-informed as well as I can be. It’s not appropriate to simply take the marketing hyperbole of any learning technology at face value (commercial or open source); at the very least I need to be able to assess suitability for my institution which involves more than pedagogical fit. Thinking about implementation practicalities, sustainability, risks, benefits all requires the ability to think critically and interrogate below the surface.

I shared three examples of where various critical perspectives have helped me when implementing learning technologies or developing policies. I spoke a little about ideas of instrumentalism and essentialism and how that related to my experiences with lecture recording; with ideas of privacy, surveillance, and the platform university and how that has shaped learning analytics policy work that I’ve done; and using post-humanist thinking as a framing to reconceive ideas about technologies like chatbots or data-driven feedback tools to move beyond seeing them as instrumentalist efficiency tools.

I have been lucky enough in my career to work alongside some incredible digital education scholars and have to give credit where it’s due – many of these critical perspectives were introduced to me by them, and I was aware when I was talking with the students that not all of them work in HE educational settings. I imagine it must be harder to keep an eye or an ear on this stuff if you are outside academia. Not least because the nature of scholarly publishing isn’t exactly a hotbed of open and free access.

I really enjoyed the conversation with students after I waffled on for a bit. There were some great questions and more than anything I really enjoyed having direct contact with a group of students again. Since moving to a new University, and a fully online one at that, I have much less contact with the student body at large and I realised it’s something I missed, and I was grateful for the experience.