Technology Learning Environments as Nonhumans: about delegating.

Our last telic session was very interesting and clarifying. Not only did we have two great presentations on this Bruno Latour paper, we also had to brainstorm in little groups on different items. One discussion was about this image, and how it relates to the Latour paper.

Interesting to me was how Danny en co. looked at this picture from the ‘delegating’ point of view. What do humans delegate to the nonhumans in this picture.We delegate force to the cranes. Without the cranes, putting together the iron framework would be very hard or even impossible. This delegating to nonhumans was an important idea in the Latour paper. An idea that I didn’t take up in my previous reflection on the Latour paper.

What is this ‘delegating’ all about?

How a door-closer relates to Technology Learning Environments.

Strange reading assignment for #telic1 this time. The paper is called ‘Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer’. The author is Jim Johnson but that actually is a pseudonym for Bruno Latour. Latour is a French sociologist of science and anthropologist, and is best known for withdrawing from the subjective/objective division1. The reason for this pseudonym was his opinion that no American sociologist is willing to read things that are not American.

To illustrate the sometimes rather strange language constructions (to me), I cite a paragraph from the paper:

For the umpteenth time I have screamed to Robin, “don’t sit on the middle of the rear seat: if I brake too hard, you’re dead.” In an auto shop further along the freeway I come across a device made for tired-and-angry-parents-driving-cars-with-kids-between-two-and-five (that is too old for a baby seat and not old enough for a seat belt) and-from-small-families (that is without other persons to hold them safely) and-having-cars-with-two-separated-front-seats-and-headrests.’

This sentence illustrates the metaphoric style of the author. He uses the example of a new type of child car seat to illustrate how we constantly invent technologies to cope with growing complexities in our society. Complexities, by the way, that we create ourselves and are not necessarily of major importance. Do we use/invent technologies because of the lack of discipline of humans? If we would all have the discipline of driving carefully, we would not need car seats, we would not need to brake too hard? This idea of being undisciplined and therefore in need of new technologies is very present in the paper. People need to be disciplined to close the door behind them. But since people are unreliable, we might find a better solution in disciplining one person or a technology to close the door after all the others.2

The example of the car seat also illustrates the main purpose of the author: drawing our attention to the work of Nonhumans (technologies) in social situations and that there is actually no division between the technology and us operating the technology (Bruno Latour is best known for withdrawing from the subjective/objective division).

Some other blogposts were very useful in unpuzzling this metaphor of the door-closer, and the purpose of it in our road to master technology enhanced learning environments. I share them here:

Read this article as a summary of the paper:

So, what are my conclusions after having mixed this paper with my instincts, with other readings, and with the content of our current Technology Enhanced Learning module?

Three ideas:

When using technologies in teaching environments, the teacher is very much related to the technology. There is no division between the technology and the teacher. We must be aware of how we ‘delegate’3 fundamental elements of good teaching to technologies. When we are undisciplined in certain areas, we cannot rely on the technology to solve our own lack of discipline. Take ‘effective communication’ for instance. Effective communication starts or ends with competences of the teacher. In our school we use GooglePlus as ad-valvas for our students. It is not due to the technology that we communicate ineffectively, but sometimes the technology is seen an easy scapegoat?

Teachers facilitate as hinges for effective learning. A hinge is a very small but effective technology that allows a door to be easily opened and closed. It seems a very minor invention, but it has a great impact on the use of the door. The hinges are important to bridge ‘in’ and ‘outside’ the house. The teacher and how he uses technology seems to be very small in the complex environment of educational systems and structures, but this has major impact on the effect of learning.

The technology is invented, designed by people who assign different scenarios and roles to the technology. We must be aware of these scenarios in-scribed to the technology by those who create them. Most likely other people (teachers) will come up with different scenarios and roles of their own.4 Which can be great. People like manipulating powerful technologies5. An example in my school: we have a culture of professional development of teachers in small design teams. This happens quite organically, which is a problem when an external ‘inspector’ is asking us how we encourage professional development. The balance of actually doing (professional development) and putting it in paper (words, words, words) is a constant tension in education. We now use to visualise our initiatives in teams that lead to professional development. We assigned a different role to pearltrees from our own needs. We needed a very user-friendly, quick way of curating professional development activities that emphasize the relations between people and roles. We use six roles (Lunenberg, Dengerink, Korthagen, 2013) as a basis for the professional development in the pearltrees. I’m quite sure that the people who invented this great tool pearltrees did not have teacher professional development tool in mind.

The pearltree (in Dutch):


Knowledge, morality … are not properties of humans but of humans accompanied by their retinue (effect) of delegated characters. Since each of those delegates ties together part of our social world, it means that studying social relations without nonhumans is impossible (Latour, 1988a). There is no division between the teacher and the technology he uses.

1. Bruno Latour on Wikipedia


3. to delegate: from de- "from, away" (see de-) + legare "send with a commission"

4. Madeleine Akrich

5. Empowered learners – Manipulation Gee paper


What are technology learning environments? #2

My first post for Wiki task 1 was very fruitful. The process of getting into it was meaningful. But I am not entirely satisfied with the answer on ‘What are technology learning environments?’. It was good to write about the different terms that are in use, and the different perspectives of how people talk about learning environments. So, it brought clarity. I even added something about TELE. Koen pointed me out that this wasn’t so clear.

I investigated some further and found this interesting paper. I fully agree that an increased interest in the notion of learning environments has emerged. It explores some of the ways in which technology-based learning environments may act potentially as trojan horses and, as such, drastically alter the educational landscape. 1

About being hungry, feedback and seeing differently #telic1

Reflection after session 3.

At the end of each #telic1 session we are asked to give a keyword that expresses our feeling. Last Thursday I said ‘hungry’. Not only because I really was hungry :-), but mainly because the word expressed my feeling of wanting answers to the difficult Lave paper. This paper contains a lot, and we all read the paper, reflected on it, created digital artefacts and presented them.

But what do Richard and Guy think of this? What is the essence of this paper we should take with us? Should we try to grasp everything in this paper? Are we on track? Etc.
Feeling in need for feedback…  A feeling I’m expressing in this post, but will also mention that to R & G  in person.

It is a fundamental fact of human nature that we are inquisitive. We want answers! 1

Why is that?

Because having answers creates order in our conscious minds. The scientific quest is to discover the order in the external world of space, time, energy and matter. The spiritual quest is to discover order in our consciousness.2

On feedback.

Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative. (Hattie, 2007)3 It is essential how I  look towards this experience. I can either push this towards an opportunity to learn, or I can point towards R & G for not giving me feedback.

Not ‘what’ overcomes us, but ‘how’ we look at it makes us feel as we feel.

Secondly, the type of feedback is less important. Nearly any type of feedback can be valuable, only if there is a logical link with the challenge in which my mental energy is invested.4

Two types of feedback brought me back to the optimal experience of flow in the telic Msc programme:

1. I looked differently at the reading assignments. It is not per se about “all” the contents in the papers, but they contain links with the summative assignment of writing a paper: 'Learning always takes place in social contexts but is inevitably an individual achievement'.

2. My fellow-in-critical-reading-three Claire was smart enough to ask for feedback. After having contacted her (thanks Claire) she told me it was better to focus on one aspect in a paper than trying to tackle the whole thing. And relying on our common sense and instincts is more important.

I’m looking forward to reading the next paper this week.

It’s a puzzle, Richard said. Well, let’s start with the corner pieces: instinct and common sense, learning, social, individual achievement.  




4. (freely translated from) Csikszentmihalyi, Optimal Experience of Flow, 1999, p.85

What are technology learning environments?

Wiki formative task 1 is:

What are technology learning environments?  Create hyperlinked pages that outline the types, characteristics, terminology, application and uses of TEL environments.

This seemed easy at first and I started gathering resources from my network enthousiastically. I googled, collected, curated. After selection, it boiled down to the following diigo list.

But when I was trying to put this together in a blog post, I got more and more confused.

I struggled to putting this in a coherent blogpost. At first I thought it was simply not clear to me, but then I realised that a lot of these articles, notions, terms are being used with different and mixed interpretations and perceptions. On top of that it is not always clear if people mean ‘learning’ or ‘pedagogy’ or ‘instruction’ or even ‘education’. So, a clear notion about the use of terms is important before going any further. Take blended learning for example. Blended learning is the integrated combination of traditional learning with web-based online approaches. (Whitelock & Jelfs, 2003)

Critical reading: Teaching, as Learning, in Practice. Jean Lave #2

When reading the paper I was wondering about the concept "learning" some more, and about some of the learning theories she is criticizing. If they indeed see learning as a merely individual mental process.

Some definitions of learning

* Definition of learning on Wikipedia: “Learning is acquiring new, or modifying and reinforcing existing knowledge, behaviors, skills, values, or preferences”. I agree with Lave that this impoverishes and misrecognizes the importance of relatedness in the learning process…
“Learning is not compulsory; it is contextual. It does not happen all at once, but builds upon and is shaped by what we already know. To that end, learning may be viewed as a process, rather than a collection of factual and procedural knowledge. Learning produces changes in the organism and the changes produced are relatively permanent.” (1)

Conclusion: the relatedness and social character is not really present. Perhaps one could think of “contextual” as “in relation to the other” but that is my interpretation.

* In a previous blogpost I wrote about Twitter as a learning environment. In that post, I also thought about the process of learning, and I came across another article (also pretty difficult) that gives following definition of learning:

“Learning can be defined as ‘changes in the behavior of an organism that result from regularities in the environment of the organism.” (2)

Conclusion: this explicitly mentions the relation to the environment.

Which seems correct to me.

* Burns (1995, p99) "conceives of learning as a relatively permanent change  in behaviour with behaviour including both observable activity and internal processes such as thinking, attitudes and emotions." (3)

Conclusion: interesting definition of learning with both activities and internal processes, but no mentioning of the relation. So, indeed individual process according to him.

Learning theories

An overview:

* Sensory Stimulation Theory > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Reinforcement Theory (Skinner)  > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Cognitive gestallt approaches (importance of experience) > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Holistic Learning > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Humanist approach (Rogers) > mentions the relation teacher-learner. But this relationship is more seen as one of creating the right conditions for the learner. So no meaningful, reciprocal relations.

* Experiental learning (Kolb) > no mentioning of social, collective character.

* Adult learning > no mentioning of social, collective character

* Social Constructivism (Vygotsky)

> more emphasis on the social context and on culture. Explicit mentioning of the “others” involved, but still a relation that is not entirely on equal level.

Lave p. 150 “... learning is an aspect of changing participation in changing “communities of practice” everywhere. Wherever people engage for substantial periods of time, day by day, in doing things in which their ongoing activities are interdependent, learning is part of their changing participation in changing practices.”

p. 153 “ is not difficult to imagine them (i.e. the law masters) as changing learners themselves … both are participants in a larger, varied constellation of participants.”

--> This goes further than Vygotsky.


Considering some general definitions and most of the learning theories, Lave is correct in her dualistic view on learning theories. They do underestimate the reciprocal, meaningful and equal relations.

Critical reading: Teaching, as Learning, in Practice. Jean Lave #1

Download the paper here.

The main purpose of the paper (to me) is challenging a number of theories that see learning as merely an ‘individual’ mental process. These theories marginalize people for being ‘not so good at learning’. Secondly, these dualistic theories create divisions: successful in learning <-> not successful, normal <-> subnormal, good results <-> bad results, ideal <-> not ideal.

Therefore she (and Wenger) reconsider learning as a social and collective phenomenon.  Her understanding of learning as a social practice is developed on two major researches: one on tailor’s apprenticeships in Liberia, and one on learning in 19th-century mosque schools in Egypt.

Lave doesn’t suggest that the entire system should turn towards an education of apprenticeship, but it is valuable to look deeper into learning as a social practice so that education can benefit from these new insights on learning in practice.

Both perspectives on learning have effect on teaching in schools. “Learning, taken to be first and principally the identity-making life projects of participants in communities of practice, has a crucial implication for the teaching in schools.”

Mere classroom instruction versus a process of facilitating the circulation of school knowledgeable skill into the changing identities of students. In this second viewpoint, teachers should be intensely involved in communities of practice in which their identities are changing as well. Teachers should be ‘premium’ learners themselves. It made me think of this video:

Great Teachers Are Great Learners - AITSL from Innovation Unit on Vimeo.

Juliun and I are putting together our thoughts in this Google Doc.

We will again collaborate on a Prezi as a digital artefact.

Creative interchange for session 2 - the Gee paper

In preparation  for session 2 on October 24th, we were asked to work in pairs. Each pair had to read and discuss a paper (more on the Gee paper in my previous post) and then present a digital artefact with the outcome of our ‘blended’ ideas. First, Juliun and I worked in a shared Google Doc. Adding our thoughts and posing some questions, remarks to what we both had added in the doc. Then we created a Prezi, that we also discussed in the online Collaborate session. Thanks to Juliun this online presenting with Prezi worked out great. Actually, I found it a better way of presenting to the others, instead of sharing our screen through the Collaborate environment. We provided the link in the chat room, and people followed the Prezi while we were talking through the Collaborate.

The Prezi:

What I particularly liked about the way Juliun and I were working together was the authentic interaction and creative integrating of ideas. The process was a good example of how people can blend thoughts, how we inspired each other  to go further, to challenge each other. I felt openness between us, and we were able to express thoughts about the paper and I could add some links to my own experience.  As a result, creatively integrating ideas between the two of us uplifted the quality of the outcome.

#satisfaction would be the hashtag if I had to tweet about it …

Secondly, I not only learnt about the content of the paper, I learnt from the interaction with Juliun as well.  How he outlined the three purposes in the Gee paper made me value the importance of pinpointing the purpose while reading. Seeking the purpose behind the words. Thanks Juliun.

Asimov The Fun They Had. About curiosity ...

In session one we read a short story of Asimov, The Fun They Had. The story is about how education is shaped in the future..

You can read the entire story here:

Two thoughts I want to share here. First, the future of teaching as Asimov describes it is quite depressing. I really, really hope this does not become a reality. It would be aweful if the relationships between students and teachers would disappear.

Secondly, what did not change in the future of Asimov is that children still have their natural curiosity. Phew, kids are still naturally curious. Margie still wonders, wants to know more! Reassuring :-).

Does your classroom inspire and cultivate curiosity in children?

Check out this Youtube video about Curiosity (quite an uptempo speaker, that Hank, by the way).