Chapter 2: Hinterlands

Chapter 2 introductory graphic

Given the continuing references to the city through the flanography, titling what might normally be called the literature review as ‘Hinterlands’ seemed more appropriate. For a city the hinterland is the region surrounding it which sustains and supports it, but which is itself influenced by the city. Supporting and sustaining my study are the literatures which precede and inform it, but to which I hope my study will also contribute. I refer to hinterlands in the plural since they are not only the inscribed outcomes of previous research, but include the methods which were employed to bring them into being, but I shall discuss them at greater length in a later post.Read More »


Thinking about workplace learning

“Women operators at Midvale Company payroll machine in Time Office, April 29, 1949” flickr photo by Kheel Center, Cornell University Library shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

This is one of those posts where I need to get something out of my head and see what it looks like ‘on paper.’ I’m trying to rewrite a section in the literature review chapter of my thesis. I’ve explored workplace learning in a rather narrow way, mainly by distinguishing it from the PD literature in the way it emphasises the informal or non-formal nature of learning. I’d like to expand that into a more rounded consideration of how the literature informs my study. In this post then, I want to explore some of the definitions and conceptualisations of workplace learning, but specifically in the context of TPD – Twitter Professional Development [footnote].

The term ‘learning is used in a number of diverse and diffuse ways, compounded by the fact that it is often deployed when referring to a process and a product. Broadly speaking, there are also two competing and largely incompatible theoretical paradigms: cognitive, and socio-cultural or situational. There is no single, general account of learning and different conceptual lenses are needed, each employing different metaphors and assumptions (Hager & Hodkinson, 2009). Learning is a contested concept, so relying on a single conceptualisation will limit understanding. In what follows, I attempt to lay out some of the ways that learning has been conceptualised, and whether they may be applicable in the context of TPD.

Table of contents
Sfard’s (1998) two learning metaphors
Beckett & Hager’s standard and emerging paradigms
Fuller & Unwin’s Restrictive-Expansive framework
Lave & Wenger’s situated learning
Jacobs and Park conceptual framework
Final thoughts

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Interviewing the nonhumans

“Researching a Posthuman World” flickr photo by IaninSheffield shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Choosing to approach my research with a sociomaterial sensibility requires me to challenge the division between the human and material elements I encounter and with which I work. Since Twitter and the online world is highly mediated, it would be remiss, I’d argue, to fail to adequately account for the material actors. Bringing actor-network theory (ANT) to bear does not, however, mean that I should consider the social and then the material. Instead they are completely entangled and mutually constitutive (Fenwick, 2014), so what they are and what they do is not in isolation, but co-constituted. Herein lies somewhat of a dilemma, since at some points it might be necessary to talk about the effect of particular practice on a teacher or what a specific aspect of materiality (like a hashtag) achieves. What’s important though is not to forget that both of these are themselves actor-networks, or assemblages, and are also part of other actor-networks. For the purposes of analysis, it is sometimes necessary to narrow the focus to a single entity, provided we don’t forget the assemblage that is also being performed.

In the methods section of my thesis I’ve discussed the semi-structured in depth interviews, participant observation (as it is manifest in this context), the blog posts I read and the exchanges with their authors. In reviewing this section and how it fits into the thesis as a whole, it’s clear how anthropocentric my writing was. The transcripts, blogs and even tweets were the words of the human participants … but where was the materiality? To be fair, I hope I’ve managed to surface some of that as a result of my observations and ‘following the actors,’ but once more it’s the (my) human voice that is privileged. How then to do justice to the nonhumans? How to give them a voice?Read More »

Busy as a … hashtag?

“Hashtag” by Kejava is licensed under CC BY-NC

The hash (#) sign may only be a symbol, but when combined with a folksonomical tagword, it becomes one of the hardest working actors within the Twitter ecosystem.

It’s generally accepted that the origin of the hashtag can be traced back to a single tweet

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Dissonance between teachers’ beliefs and practice … and what that might cause

I was reading an edited collection over the weekend (Teachers Learning: Professional Development and Education, McLaughlin, 2012) and a connected pair of papers particularly struck a chord. Authored by Darlene Opfer and David Pedder, they discuss observations arising from the large-scale State of the Nation review of teacher CPD, and in which they explore teachers’ likelihood of change as a consequence of their orientation to learning. In particular, whether dissonance between teachers’ values and beliefs, and their experience and practice acts to stimulate or repress the need to undertake professional learning. This was precipitated by the observation that, though we know quite well now those features associated with effective professional development, we still find occasions where even when those features are present, some people don’t learn, yet at other times, in absence of those features some people still learn.

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Mess of methods

flickr photo by kara brugman shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Earlier today was the first reading group that I’ve convened. My Director of Studies suggested it might be useful to unpick themes I’ve been wrestling with, as exemplified through a particular text – After Method, John Law, 2004. The idea that three learned people would give up their time to discuss a text with me was a complete but delightful surprise. Discussing an entire book was unlikely to be manageable in the available time, so I settled on one particular chapter; the one that had proved most challenging for me.Read More »

Affordances … just one little word!

flickr photo by edoardocosta shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

At the last supervisory meeting whilst going over my RF1 submission, my supervisors asked me about one of the words I used – ‘Establish the features and affordances within Twitter that enable professional learning’ – wondering whether I realised that it was such a contested term. I didn’t! Nor had I appreciated how easily one could be undone by such a (notionally) simple term. One word, in one objective -> can of worms!Read More »

Search strategy

searching the literature
flickr photo by malik ml williams shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Yesterday’s workshop, ‘Literature searching for researchers’ delivered by members of our library team provided the kick in the pants I needed to fettle my approach to literature searching. Until now, I’ve never had any trouble finding literature; rather it’s more a case of finding ways to manage the vast quantities which have emerged. What became clear to me during the session however was that I need to develop a more systematic strategy; one which is planned, clearly articulated and open to scrutiny. I haven’t been worried that I’ll not have covered sufficient ground to bring the significant themes and important issues to the surface with my ad hoc, piecemeal literature searching. However, at this level, I need to be sure that there’s not something I might have missed which might come back to bite me during and future presentations I might give, or worse still, during a viva.Read More »

Researching and Understanding Educational Networks

flickr photo by ianguest shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Based on the Learning How to Learn project, this book explores the issues around how networks can help improve teacher learning and practice.

The authors seek to distinguish between communities, which are useful in knowledge creation, and networks which have the power to share knowledge more widely. The intent was to shed light on factors such as network technologies and infrastructure, policies and practices, teacher capability and confidence (in using networks), whether new forms of networking are driven by the demands for knowledge sharing and if new networking practices reflect current patterns of collaboration.

They employed a hybrid model of analysis, assembled using concepts/interpretations such as social network analysis (SNA), social capital, small worlds, actor-network theory (ANT) and in so doing, sought to determine whether it is appropriate to use networks as analytical tools or simply as metaphors. Participants in the project were invited to illustrate how they visualised the project-related networks in which they were involved. The diagrams generated provided the initial data for analysis. Despite being widely disparate in form, the illustrations lent themselves to being interpreted largely as ego-centric networks in which certain individuals are key. Although SNA would seem to be the most obvious lens to bring to bear, the authors drew from it only those terms and concepts which proved more informative, leaving behind the more quantitative elements which were felt to be less revealing.Read More »

“Ethnography for the Internet” – Hine … #2

flickr photo by ianguest shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

The E3 Internet

Hine sees the Internet manifest in three ways which are likely to challenge the ethnographer’s talents:

Embedded: rather than the separate domain associated with views of ‘cyberspace’ as a place where people ‘went’ and became part of a separate culture, another view is of the Internet embedded in and a natural part of people’s lives. The Internet can now travel with you, forming part of whatever experience you are enjoying. Here it is no longer a single cultural artefact, but different and multiple depending on the people using it. This shifts the focus for the ethnographer onto the people using it, the context within which that use is made and the practices that develop. The Internet both complements and is embedded in analogue media, whether being integrated in newsprint, referenced in urls on products bought in the supermarket or extending the lexicon of our dictionaries.

Embodied: The Internet is a place where we, as embodied social beings, can express ourselves in different ways. Early studies explored how people entered this new, virtual world, becoming disembodied and adopting dislocated alternative identities. Whilst this may still be true for some, we can now conceive of the Internet as sitting alongside, contributing to and enriching our embodied experience, rather than replacing it. Our Internet experiences run both in parallel to our offline experiences, but are consecutively interwoven with it and manifest in multiple ways. Social media provide us with the opportunity to present our embodied selves in different ways, rather than leaving the body behind to assume an alternative online identity (though some people in some circumstances still of course do that).

Everyday: Here the Internet is viewed as unremarkable, mundane and is no longer a distinct aspect of our lives. It challenges the ethnographer to tease out what has become hidden by being amalgamated into our daily existence and no longer on the surface. To find out what is some actually doing when they say they ‘Facebooked him’ requires us to reopen the black box. The ethnographer will need to coax from the participant how they achieved a remarkable act, whilst being unaware of the unremarkable means used to achieve it.

The consequence of these views is that our approach must leave behind the notion of online and offline, since the themes we explore will either traverse that boundary, or not even perceive its existence.