critical thinking about digital learning

Connecting, Open education

Connecting Higher Education

Connecting.jpgI’m struggling more than ever to find time for my blog, though I have a couple of drafts that are nearly ready for me to press ‘go’. Meanwhile here’s an easy one to get out there. I’ve had a paper accepted for the Connecting Higher Education conference at UCL. My abstract was pretty much a brain dump on the topic of digital education and connectivity, drawing on a couple of past keynotes (e.g. this one on the ed tech haunted house from Halloween 2012, and this on digital identities from last year). It’s looking likely that I’ll have to think about and address ‘connectivism’ head-on in the near future. For now, this is my abstract, and I look forward to discussing connections – and making some – in London.

Connected, hybrid, disruptive, haunted: perspectives on the digital curriculum

In developing a connected curriculum for the C21st, digital practices and networks have a particular role to play. This paper examines how the connections or border crossings between research and teaching play out in digital spaces, looking at four ways they can be theorised, and drawing on examples from a number of research-intensive global universities.

  1. Digital forms of learning and teaching are often gathered together under the rubric ‘the connected classroom’. This sees learners connecting in a purposeful way with resources, and with people relevant to their learning (peers, experts, mentors, tutors, assessors and audiences), beyond the physical and psycho-social space of the classroom. Some educational theorists have suggested that this ‘connectivity’ or ‘connectivism’ (Siemens 2005) constitutes a radically new way of learning and constructing knowledge. This paper argues that it is not a property of networks to connect forms and practices of knowledge, but of concerted work by scholars and students within networked spaces. The connected classroom becomes then an extended arena of knowledge work, rather than simply a node in a network of knowledge flows.
  2. The idea of connectivity is not often extended to the curriculum itself. But if finding information on the internet is ‘research’, and if research data and publications can be found as readily as educational content in that process, then digital practices in the curriculum can become hybrid forms of scholarship, with properties of ‘learning’ and ‘research’ at once (Weller 2011). Hybrid forms are not of course confined to digital spaces, but features of digital spaces that promote hybridity include the open availability of high value knowledge to relatively novice learners, and the tendency for knowledge construction, communication, and re-construction to become conflated in rapid cycles (the ‘constant beta’ state of knowledge outputs). These present challenges to our received academic practices and pathways of student development.
  3. When connectivity becomes ubiquitous and pervasive, when connections do not simply complement or amplify the curriculum but challenge and even negate it, and when the rapid cycling of knowledge undermines the structures and processes through which knowledge has previously been legitimated, the situation is less comfortable for classroom practitioners. Boundaries that classrooms keep in place are abolished in the open spaces of the internet. So the different roles of teachers, researchers and learners may be contested, and the authority of curriculum knowledge may be challenged. Some of these ‘disruptions’ (Christensen 2008) can be turned to learning advantage, particularly if teachers are working in a radical or critical tradition of pedagogy. Others risk the entire enterprise of the university (Selwyn 2016). This paper offers examples of digital disruption from both perspectives.
  4. Finally, Bayne (2010) has described digital knowledge practices as ‘uncanny’: ‘defamiliaris[ing] teaching, asking us to question and consider anew established academic practices and conventions’. This ‘haunting’ of the curriculum by its digital other is seen by Bayne as a largely positive, revitalising encounter. But in today’s climate of disdain for evidence and expertise, the other’ knowledges of the internet seem increasingly dark: trolling and hate speech, deliberate distortion and confusion, echo chambers, fake news. And as digital technology penetrates our institutions and practices ever more deeply, its own shadow side – the production of knowledge as data, the drive for standardisation and surveillance, the capture and commercialisation of attention – break out into the curriculum too. A truly connected curriculum must give students resources to thrive in this environment, and must give its own knowledge practices some hope for survival.


Bayne, S. (2010) Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education, Vol 8, No.1. pp. 5-13.

Christensen C., Horn, M.B. & Johnson, C.W. (2008) Disrupting Class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns. New York: McGraw Hill.

Selwyn N. (2016) Is Technology Good for Education? Cambridge: Polity Press.

Siemens G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for a digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1).

Weller M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. London: Bloomsbury.

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