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How would you describe the environment in which we interact, usung technology,in order to learn?

Is it an ‘ecology’ or a ‘community’?

Two years ago studying ‘Innovations in e–learning’ we read three chapters from Nardi, B.A. and O’Day, V.L (1999) in Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart, Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, pp.65–75.
  1. ‘Information ecologies’  pp.49–58
  2. ‘Values and technology’ pp.59–64
  3. ‘How to evolve information ecologies’

This tied into considering the use pf metaphor, a theme we return to in other modules and course.

Like others I am unconvinced however by the idea of an ecology metaphor where ‘community’ is more appropriate.
Whilst significant change seems to be upon us, how far removed are we yet from an Edwardian classroom when you consider that whilst a slate has been replaced by a tablet, the relationships between the child students and the adult teaching staff hasn’t changed a jot.  What is more, there isn’t yet the kind of student centred focus that new approaches snd the technology should permit.
Listening to my children (13 and 15) talk about school and recalling my own schooling 40+ years ago in conversations online I don’t find anyone talking about the kit, or the classes, rather it is the human interactions. In other words, whilst Nardi et al think these things should be seen as living entities within an ecosystem, I do not. Whilst a plant grows, a computer does not.
Here’s a simple test that I couldn’t have done then
I’ve chosen a few eBooks on eLearning full of all our favourite authors and did a search for ‘ecologies’ or ‘ecology’: nothing. I then did a search for ‘communities’ and found this term used very often. What happens is that words and phrases come into parlance to explain what is going on, some have a ressonance and stick, others are rejected. There is no sense or logic to the term ‘ecology’ in this context as the learning environment is both about and concerning interactions that lead to learning between people.
‘People, practices, values and technologies’
I have to look up a definition of ecologies:
  1. The science of the relationships between organisms and their environments. Also called bionomics.
  2.  The relationship between organisms and their environment.
The branch of sociology that is concerned with studying the relationships between human groups and their physical and social environments. Also called human ecology.
Perhaps I’d be satisfied if the authors referred to ‘human ecologies’ but they don’t, they want to see people only as organisms in an environment.
I don’t go along with the idea of an ecology to describe the relationship between people in and around an operating theatre, however I would run with the ‘activity systems’ model developed by Engestrom to describe such interactions and in his case to analyse interactions across ‘communities’ within say medical practices in a city to solve failures in communications.
‘The interplay between these groups are the consequential objects of learning that in turn transmogrify in the presence of other objects. Solving problems, dealing with contradictions, may come about as these learning systems slide or shift’.
REFERENCE
Engeström (2001) article, Expansive learning at work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualisation
Nardi, B.A. and O’Day, V.L (1999) ‘Information ecologies’  pp.49–58; ‘Values and technology’ pp.59–64; and  ‘How to evolve information ecologies’ in Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart, Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, pp.65–75.

1 Comment

  1. Fergus Timmons says:

    Hi Jonathan, thanks for your interesting comments on my Blog on ‘Information Ecologies’. I agree Engestrom’s Activity Theory seems far more plausible and also more dynamic, reflecting the complexities of human interactions.

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