Questioning the character and significance of convergence between social network and professional practices in teacher education


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This paper captures and characterises the interplay between a group of student teachers’ narratives of social network practice and their emergent professional practice with technologies. Teachers on an Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programme in the
  See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: Questioning the character and significance of convergence between social network andprofessional practices in teacher...  Article   in  British Journal of Educational Technology · September 2012 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01358.x CITATIONS 6 READS 30 1 author: Keith TurveyUniversity of Brighton 21   PUBLICATIONS   120   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE All content following this page was uploaded by Keith Turvey on 16 July 2015. The user has requested enhancement of the downloaded file. All in-text references underlined in blue are added to the srcinal documentand are linked to publications on ResearchGate, letting you access and read them immediately.  Questioning the character and significance of convergencebetween social network and professional practicesin teacher education Keith Turvey KeithTurveyisSeniorLecturerinTeacherEducationattheSchoolof Education,Universityof Brighton.Addressfor correspondence: Dr Keith Turvey, University of Brighton, School of Education, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9PH, UK.Email: Abstract This paper captures and characterises the interplay between a group of student teach-ers’ narratives of social network practice and their emergent professional practice withtechnologies. Teachers on an Initial Teacher Education programme in the UK spent asemester studying a module that synthesised university-based lectures with a profes-sionalinterventionusingonlinecommunicationstechnologiesinalocalprimaryschoolinvolvingaclassof 30children(8–10years).Anarrativemethodologywasdevelopedtocapture and conceptualise the teachers’ perceptions of the experience. Teachers’ dispo-sitions towards the appropriation of technologies were found to be as ubiquitous acrosssocialnetworkandprofessionalcontextsasthetechnologicaltoolsthemselves.However,the distinctly nuanced ways in which the teachers experienced the process of conver-gence raises questions with regard to the significance of such convergence and how webothcaptureandcharacteriseconvergenceasatechnological,culturaloragent-centredprocess.Thefindingssupporttheneedforanagent-centredviewof convergenceembed-ded within the wider socio-cultural ecology that incorporates individuals’ engagementwith media and social network practices. From techno- to teacher-centricity In the UK, the last two decades have been characterised by a tendency towards techno-centricperspectives on the appropriation of technological tools to enhance pedagogy. During the previ-ous 1997–2010 Labour government’s tenure, much policy (Becta, 2009; Department for Edu-cation and Skills [DfES], 2005) was focused on the potential of new technologies to “transform”schooling, echoing Postman’s claims that “once a technology is admitted, it plays out its hand; itdoes what it is designed to do” (Postman, 1993, p. 7). While not refuting the fact that media andnew technologies “change[s] the mindscape of the user,” (McLuhan & Zingrone, 1995, p. 9) andto a significant extent, shape the potential scope and forms of human action and interaction(McLuhan, 1964), such techno-centric perspectives also negate the influence and agency thatindividuals exert as they appropriate technological tools according to their own “concerns andambitions” within particular socio-cultural contexts (Säljö, 2009, p. 316). As Bruce and Hoganhad also noted, technologies can equally play an important role in emancipation or “reinscribeexisting inequitable power relations” (1998, no page).Thus, the aim of this paper is not to proveor indeed disprove some kind of causal link between teachers’ informal use of social networkingtools and their professional practice. Rather, it is to explore some of the nuanced ways in whichprofessional contexts and social network contexts interrelate from a teacher-centred perspective. British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 43 No 5 2012  739–753doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01358.x © 2012 The Author. British Journal of Educational Technology © 2012 BERA. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, OxfordOX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.  For the purpose of this paper, I use the terms social network and social networking practicesinterchangeably and more loosely than Boyd and Ellison (2007) to encapsulate the variablemeans by which agents use technologies including mobile devices to sustain and extend acomplex ecology of connections through active engagement with networked communications.Cuban’s(2001)studyof theintroductionof “newtechnologies”inschoolsinCalifornia’sSiliconValley questioned the assertions often made by policy makers regarding the potential of newtechnologies to transform pedagogy and education.The Silicon Valley teachers in the study whowere able to integrate “new technologies” into their “instructional repertoire” proved to be theexception rather than the rule (Cuban, 2001, p. 53). A key point to note from Cuban’s study isthat all of the teachers remained in control to the extent that they all adopted an approach to the“new technology” that enabled them to “sustain rather than transform” the philosophical prin-ciples guiding their pedagogical actions (ibid). This suggests that what affects the way someteachersintegratetechnologiesintotheirpedagogicalpracticeandothersnotisfarmorecomplexthan a straightforward causal relationship between their professional use of technologies andhow they make use of such technologies in their wider social and leisure lives. Despite this, Jenkins suggested that the cultural convergence brought about through the proliferation of newformsof masscommunicationremainssignificantinthat“theskillsweacquirethroughplaymayhaveimplicationsforhowwelearn”(Jenkins,2006,p.23).However,whataretheseimplicationsand how do we capture them? Boyd and Ellison (2007, np) called, inter alia, for “richer, ethno-graphic research” in order to “aid scholars’ ability to understand” the implications of socialnetwork tools and mobile technologies.Consequently, I argue here that the influence of social network and mobile technologies “has tobe established by observation, not proclaimed as fate” (Sey & Castells, 2004, p. 364). Moreover,such observations need to take into consideration actors’ unique perspectives and agency overany process of technological appropriation in order to be “more explicit about the complex andproblematic nature of what it is that teachers know and how they come to know it” whenintegrating technological tools into their professional practice (Fisher, Higgins & Loveless, 2006,p. 8). This has implications for the kinds of conceptual approaches we adopt to encapsulate the Practitioner Notes What is already known about this topic• The development of professional practice and pedagogy with new technologies is acomplex process.• Teachers’ professional learning with new technologies is mediated by wider socio-cultural contexts and the affordances of technologies.What this paper adds• This paper provides fine-grained empirical evidence of some of the ways in whichprofessionals exert user agency over the technological tools they appropriate in theirprofessional practice.• A new narrative ecology methodology to make sense of how teachers might incorpo-rate social networking technologies into their professional development and practice.Implications for practice and/or policy• The need to recognise the significance of user agency in the ways in which technolo-gies are appropriated into professional practice.740  British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 43 No 5 2012 © 2012 The Author. British Journal of Educational Technology © 2012 BERA.  multiple perspectives of new forms of mass media communication, and the agency that actorsexert as they engage with such tools across different contexts; formal, informal, professional andsocial. Furthermore, how do we characterise convergence? In order to begin to address theseissues, I define convergence from an agent-centred perspective as a process towards congruentdispositions that individuals display across different contexts; the antithesis to this being incon-gruence between the dispositions that individuals adopt across different contexts. I will explorethe rationale for this further now. Towards an agent-centred concept of convergence Cook, Pachler and Bachmair (2011) argued strongly for a cultural ecology theory of “mobileand convergent mass communication” (p. 181) in which agency is defined as actors’ ability toappropriate technological tools to actively impact upon a range of socio-cultural contexts(Pachler, Cook & Bachmair, 2010). The strength of such a cultural ecology model of appro-priation is that it offers the potential for a richer understanding of the process of technologicalappropriation than more techno-centric models that look to the affordance of technologies andcontingencies for learning built into their design (Luckin, 2008), useful though these can be. Inrecognition of the interdependency, convergence and mobility of technological tool use betweenvarious socio-cultural contexts, Pachler  et al  questioned the validity and appropriateness of dis-tinctions between sites of learning, proposing that “from our cultural perspective, this divisionis increasingly artificial, even counterproductive” (2010, p. 1). The constant blurring of cul-tural and institutional boundaries brought about by the “perpetual-contact” character of socialand mobile network practices is a recurrent theme within the literature (Baron, 2008; Horst,2008; Jenkins, 2006; Katz & Aakhus, 2002). Thus, arbitrarily categorising contexts of learning by site such as formal/informal, social/professional, virtual/face-to-face, is increasingly scruti-nised and questioned. The interconnected and ubiquitous nature of the Internet and mobiletechnologies bring opportunities for authentic experiences and learning in whatever context.Such convergence, it can be argued, raises questions regarding outdated notions of schooling aspreparation for delayed entry into the “real” world. Traditional context-specific sites for school-ing are seen as increasingly redundant as the “fluidity, provisionality and instability” (Pachler et al , 2010, p. 1) of the world is constantly made explicit and present to us through a perma-nently connected state of interaction with media. In such a state, the train compartment canbecome an office or a less than engaging lecture might provide opportunities to send some textsabout a later social engagement, ie, contexts are in a constant process of convergence, chal-lenging their established order and function. However, focusing mainly on convergent contextsis also problematic for it could be argued that contexts have always converged but such con-vergence has remained within the private space of the intra-psychological (Vygotsky, 1978:Wertsch, 1998). That is, individual’s inner thought processes are not bound by context. Thisraises the question of whether such interconnectedness yielded by always-on (Baron, 2008)new mobile communications technologies and social networks represents a fundamental shiftof paradigm or merely makes more explicit a process of agent-centred convergence that hasalways been present, just less visible. Indeed, if convergence is seen from a more agent-centredperspective, the ways in which individuals sustain “a sense of their own identity across con-texts” as they participate in multiple communities both online and offline is significant (Wenger,White & Smith, 2009, p. 59). Baron argued that the “near real-time window on the worldrestructures our time together” (2008, p. 7) and marked what she calls “the end of anticipa-tion” as people use mobile technologies to share their experiences in the moment rather thanafter the event. However, this assumes a common approach to the ways in which individualsappropriate such tools. Jenkins is more circumspect assigning evidence of convergence broughtabout as people exploit new modes of mass communication as part of “a period of prolongedtransition” (2008, p. 11). Questioning the character and significance of convergence  741 © 2012 The Author. British Journal of Educational Technology © 2012 BERA.  On the nature of convergence, Jenkins reminded us that it “refers to a process, not an end point”(Jenkins,2006,p.16).Similarly,asDavydovsuggested,allformsof communication“existonlyinthe process of different kinds of activity realisation by people” (1999, p. 47).Thus, is there a riskof becomingtoofocusedonconvergenceasaphenomenonrelatingmainlytocontextsasopposedto convergence as a cultural process enacted and experienced by agents appropriating tools? Jenkins distinguishes between technologies as delivery systems and media as cultural practice,although both are inherently interrelated ( Jenkins, 2006). Jenkins also gives less credence to thetechno-centric obsession of developers with technological convergence, implying that culturalconvergence and the way that agents appropriate technological tools is of more significance. Asnoted,fromthisagent-centredperspectiveadoptedinthispaper,Idefineconvergencewithregardto the congruent dispositions that individuals display and sustain across different contexts bothonline and offline. However, this is not to deny the importance of context. I also adopt anecological perspective arguing that any isolation of parts such as the technologies or specificcultural practices from the broader perspective or the individual at the centre of the process is of limited use in attempting to gain a fuller understanding of phenomena such as mobile technolo-gies or social networks and their implications for education. There is little question that thetechnologiesthemselves“enhancethelevelanddegreeof communication,leadingindividualstocommunicate”acrossconvergentcontexts(Horst,2008,p.2).However,asWertschargued“anyaccount of mediated action that focuses exclusively on one or another of these moments inisolation is bound to be incomplete, if not seriously misleading” (1998, p. 74). Fuller (2005, p. 1)also extrapolated in relation to media ecologies that practices incorporating forms of technologi-calcommunicationandmedia“setinplayaprocessof mutualstimulationthatexceedswhattheyare as a set.” Given such claims, teachers’ use of online communications technologies withinprofessional contexts need also to be viewed as constituent episodes within a broader narrative of technological appropriation in informal and leisure contexts. Such socio-cultural and ecologicalperspectives, which also give prominence to actors’ individual agency, have led me to formulate anarrative ecology conceptual approach to the exploration of teachers’ pedagogical developmentappropriating technological tools (Turvey, 2012), which I will discuss in the following sections. Methodology and conduct Context and participants In this paper, I present two out of five within-case summaries in depth––Joe and Karen––beforegoing onto a cross-case discussion, which also draws on some limited aspects of the other cases. Joe was in his early 20s (20–25 years) at the time of the study (2007–2008) and had entereduniversity without any career breaks. In contrast, Karen was a mature student (30–35 years)whose route into higher education contrasted significantly to Joe and the others. Maria, LauraandHeatherwerealsointheirearly20s(20–25years),andsimilartoJoe,hadentereduniversitywithout any significant career breaks since compulsory schooling. At the time of the study(2007–2008), the five participants were all in the third year of a 4-year undergraduate degreeleading to qualified teacher status in primary education in the UK with a subject specialism ininformation and communication technology. It is recognised that in terms of social networkpractices,thisdatesthestudy.However,accordingtoabaselinesurveyconducted,allfivestudentteachers were actively engaged with using social networks sites such as Facebook and Micro-SoftNetworks Messenger (MSN), the likes of which continue to dominate the social network land-scape. From this perspective, I believe the study remains valid. Fourteen student teachers in allwere enrolled in the module, which was the vehicle for the research. All 14 students attendedpractical and theoretical sessions based at the university, focusing on e-learning and hands-onsessions learning about various online communication tools such as blogs, wikis and discussionforums.Aspartof themodule,theyalsoworkedwithaclassof 30children(ages8–10),creatingonline resources and activities in a shared virtual learning environment (VLE). The student742  British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 43 No 5 2012 © 2012 The Author. British Journal of Educational Technology © 2012 BERA.
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