Monday, August 22, 2016

Networked Learning metaphors #23432: The Synapse

It seems like a classic ivory tower pursuit.... a bunch of academics coming up with metaphors for networked learning, and especially getting whimsy about it. But this was one of the memorable aspects of the conference back in May. However, as ideas, metaphors can spawn insights, hone analysis or enhance practical organisation of learning and teaching. Perhaps it is something we need to do more of...
I want to publish some work I did last year but I have lost access to a book I need to refer to. It was an expensive library acquisition from Lancaster. I guess, for a small charge, they'd send it to me again as a distance learner. But I thought I would see if I could get it at home. Apparently not. This would be best done through an inter-library loan, so I was told. This conjures up the horrible chain of events that is the British Library's secure download system. It is the information management equivalent of traveling by slow-motion train crash.
At the networked learning conference I cheekily added some bits to my presentation that were not in the 'full' paper - especially the postscript:

I think I mentioned 'chain of weak links' back in 2008. In this slide though, I've likened the network in networked learning, to a neural network, especially the aspect of neural networks that sees a weaker messages fail to arrive due to synapses. In my 'resource' example, the library has proved to be a synapse too far, for now... In competition with everything else I have going on, the added hurdle to access the resource I need, although only requiring a small further push, is crowded out. I found time to write this instead of submitting the ILL request!
For me, motivation is one of the things that strengthen the signal, allowing it to traverse synapses. Motivation is a key aspect of learning, and the intentionality which actor-network theory is said to lack, by the way.

I should just add that the other two points on this slide refer to the following:

  • One of my reviewers had ironically charged me with failing to heed my own advice. I would love to have given 'more attention to the 'textual practices around learning and less on the technologies and their applications'. The charge was not entirely fair, since technology has a habit of stealing the limelight. However, I have commitments to the way my participants' data is presented in a narrative form and this takes up a lot of space in an 8 page limited article. 
  • When I mentioned contradictions between the high-level narratives, the 'political-ethical' and 'economic-pragmatic', it was to draw attention to the way in which these play out in the case I was depicting. Networked learning privileges, even prizes, certain kinds of relationships, and these form the basis of a critical stance in relation to some of the pressures on academic work. Digital scholarship can open a range of possibilities up in terms of new ways of working. However it can also be integrated into new managerial schemes of surveillance and accountability that pressure academic staff to perform in ways that destroy the autonomy that is symbolic of academic freedom.

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