Convivial technologies and networked learning

In the process of drafting a recent paper ( NLEC 2020 “Networked learning: inviting redefinition” ) I suggested to co-authors that it might be an opportune moment to revive Ivan Illich’s concept of “tools for conviviality” (Illich 1973). 

To be honest, we were stuck – we were facing a conundrum about how to refer to technology as part of the definition of Networked Learning. 

The “customary definition” of Networked Learning runs as follows:

We define networked learning as: learning in which information and communications technology (ICT) is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources. (Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson & McConnell, 2004, p1, original emphasis)

The first formulation of this definition is found in a research proposal we submitted in 1998.

We define ‘networked learning’ as learning in which C&IT is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources. (Goodyear, Hodgson & Steeples, 1998, p2, original emphasis)

At the time, ‘C&IT’ (Communication and Information Technology) was the preferred acronym used by the funding body to whom we were bidding (the UK’s Joint Information Systems Committee – Jisc). Our proposal was a response to a call from Jisc for R&D projects addressing three aspects of what Jisc had labelled ‘Networked Learning’. The definition we wrote into our proposal was a deliberate strategy to insert into Jisc’s conception of ‘Networked Learning’ the kinds of human, social and community interactions in which we were interested, and which we particularly valued. The text we wrote into our proposal, immediately after the words above, helps establish this point.

Some of the richest examples of networked learning involve interaction with on-line materials and with other people. But use of on-line materials is not a sufficient characteristic to define networked learning. (Goodyear, Hodgson & Steeples, 1998, p2, original emphasis)

In the circumstances – late 1990s, UK Higher Education – it was quite likely that Jisc would fund proposals that focussed only on individual use of online learning materials (given the interest in personalised learning and more efficient “delivery” of education). We were keen to create other opportunities: a more ambitious conception of what was possible and worthwhile. We weren’t introducing the term “Networked Learning” – we were expanding what it meant and beginning to shift the core of its meaning. (There’s more on this history, if you are interested, in the first two chapters of the The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks . 

Wind forward to 2020, and we find ourselves trying to construct a better definition – or at least a better concise description – of Networked Learning. The reasons for this are in the NLEC paper.

We struggle with an appropriate way of talking about what had previously been referred to as “C&IT” or “ICT”. One complicating factor is that none of us wants to say that the use of contemporary digital technologies is a necessaryfeature of Networked Learning – for at least two reasons. Firstly, in the 20 years or so since the definition was first written, use of “ICT” has moved from esoteric to everyday. Secondly, we’ve become much more conscious of hybridity – no longer wanting to make sharp distinctions between “digital” and “analogue” or (heaven forfend) “virtual” and “real”. Rather, the tools and infrastructures used by people in learning and other activities are better understood as assemblages or networks of people and things: material, digital and hybrid. This is well explained in a number of places. See, for instance, Chris Jones’s Networked Learning book (Jones, 2015) or papers by Fawns (2019) and Carvalho & Yeoman (2018). 

Tim Fawns, for example, argues for 

a postdigital perspective in which all education—even that which is considered to lie outside of digital education— takes account of the digital and non-digital, material and social, both in terms of the design of educational activities and in the practices that unfold in the doing of those activities. (Fawns, 2019, p132)

One of the strongest motives for revising the Networked Learning definition was that the older “customary” version did not foreground the critical and emancipatory commitments that are found widely in the Networked Learning literature. In finding an alternative to “ICT” or “digital technologies” we remembered Illich and his “tools for conviviality”. Hence, the text in NLEC (2020) says:

Networked learning involves processes of collaborative, co-operative and collective inquiry, knowledge-creation and knowledgeable action, underpinned by trusting relationships, motivated by a sense of shared challenge and enabled by convivial technologies. Networked learning promotes connections: between people, between sites of learning and action, between ideas, resources and solutions, across time, space and media.

In settling on these words, we were conscious of the fact that “convivial” is used by Illich with a special meaning and that anyone looking up dictionary definitions might be misled into thinking that “tools for conviviality” are the stock-in-trade of people who organise parties – bottles of wine, plates of food, music systems and balloons. Illich himself was conscious of this linguistic issue – that his readers might associate the term with “tipsy jolliness”. 

After many doubts, and against the advice of friends whom I respect, I have chosen “convivial” as a technical term to designate a modern society of responsibly limited tools. In part this choice was conditioned by the desire to continue a discourse which had started with its Spanish cognate. …  I am aware that in English “convivial” now seeks the company of tipsy jollyness, which is distinct from that indicated by the OED and opposite to the austere meaning of modern “eutrapelia,” which I intend. By applying the term “convivial” to tools rather than to people, I hope to forestall confusion. (Illich, 1973)

Illich uses the term ‘tool’ broadly, to include

“…simple hardware such as drills, pots, syringes, brooms, building elements, or motors, and not just large machines like cars or power stations [but also] productive institutions such as factories that produce tangible commodities like corn flakes or electric current, and productive systems for intangible commodities such as those which produce “education,” “health,” “knowledge,” or “decisions.” I use this term because it allows me to subsume into one category all rationally designed devices, be they artifacts or rules, codes or operators… School curricula or marriage laws are no less purposely shaped social devices than road networks.”

Illich explained the value of convivial tools in contrast to those provided by a centrally or hierarchically managed industrial society: one in which people are obedient workers and consumers.

Convivial tools are those which give each person who uses them the greatest opportunity to enrich the environment with the fruits of his or her vision. Industrial tools deny this possibility to those who use them and they allow their designers to determine the meaning and expectations of others. Most tools today cannot be used in a convivial fashion (Illich, 1973)

People need not only to obtain things, they need above all the freedom to make things among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others. Prisoners in rich countries often have access to more things and services than members of their families, but they have no say in how things are to be made and cannot decide what to do with them. Their punishment consists in being deprived of what I shall call “conviviality.” They are degraded to the status of mere consumers. (Illich, 1973)

He drew firm connections between conviviality and justice:

In an age of scientific technology, the convivial structure of tools is a necessity for survival in full justice which is both distributive and participatory. … Rationally designed convivial tools have become the basis for participatory justice (Illich, 1973)

In the NLEC 2020 paper we make connections to more recent work that is capturing the imagination of many people who are deeply concerned about contemporary challenges of climate change, sustainability, poverty and social justice, but who are uncertain about how to act. These feel, to me, to be close to the spirit of Illich on conviviality, and concerned with tools for joint inquiry and action. See especially Manzini (2015), Raworth (2017), Cottam (2019) and Krznaric (2020).

The connections to Networked Learning are most apparent in situations where people come together to both (a) analyse and understand a problematic situation and (b) decide what action to take together, and take it.

(a) is the homeground for people working in a critical tradition. If I wanted to be provocative, I might say that some people working in a critical tradition offer no tools for (b) – they write as if it is enough to name a problem and its causes. Planning and sustaining complex action in the world needs more than this.

Consider “expansive learning”. The following is taken from Engeström. Other examples where people come together to design processes of inquiry and action can be found in Chapter 19 of Markauskaite & Goodyear (2017).

“An ideal-typical sequence of epistemic actions in an expansive learning process can be condensed as follows.

The first action is that of questioning, criticizing or rejecting some aspects of the accepted practice and existing wisdom. For the sake of simplicity, this action is called questioning.

The second action is that of analyzing the situation. Analysis involves mental, discursive or practical transformation of the situation in order to find out causes or explanatory mechanisms. Analysis evokes “why?” questions and explanatory principles. One type of analysis is historical-genetic; it seeks to explain the situation by tracing its origins and evolution. Another type of analysis is actual-empirical; it seeks to explain the situation by constructing a picture of its inner systemic relations.

The third action is that of modeling the newly found explanatory relationship in some publicly observable and transmittable medium. This means constructing an explicit, simplified model of the new idea that explains and offers a solution to the problematic situation.

The fourth action is that of examining the model, running, operating and experimenting on it in order to fully grasp its dynamics, potentials and limitations. 

The fifth action is that of implementing the model by means of practical applications, enrichments, and conceptual extensions. 

The sixth and seventh actions are those of reflecting on and evaluating the process and consolidating its outcomes into a new stable form of practice. 

Together these actions form an open-ended expansive cycle. In practice, the learning actions do not follow one another in a neat order. There are loops of returning and repeating some actions, as well as gaps of omitting or stepping over some action.” (Engeström, 2020, p37)

Most of Engeström’s examples arise from locally-situated work in “Change Laboratories”. For geographically dispersed communities committed to joint inquiry and action, Networked Learning offers some convivial tools.

In a recent Twitter exchange, Marianne Riis asked for some pointers to publications in the Networked Learning literature reporting use of “convivial tools”. (She and her colleague Anna Brodersen were working on a revision of the paper they presented at the 2020 Networked Learning Conference: “Development of a Pedagogical Design Matrix for ICT-based Boundary Crossing in Dual VET”. You can find it in the proceedings here.)

This is a very fair question, but it is not easily answered. One reason is that many of us would have to admit that we have/had begun to forget about Illich. 

He visited my university and gave a talk in the mid 1970s. At the time, I found many of his ideas captivating. (I went to university to learn about environmental science and development studies and I became very interested in ideas about “appropriate technology” – the “small is beautiful” paradigm advanced by Ernst Schumacher and so on.) And I guess that as I immersed myself in the areas where technology and education overlap, I found myself thinking in ways influenced by Illich and others, without necessarily making direct connections. (I wrote a chapter on “convivial learning environments” for a book on learning and affect technologies about 10 years ago. My inaugural professorial lecture at Sydney University (2004) also drew on Illich, conviviality and learning spaces.) 

So … how best to answer the question posed by Marianne and Anna?

1) Take a look at some of Petar Jandrić’s writing on Illich, conviviality, deschooling and the internet (e.g. Jandrić 2014).

2) And also some of the writing in the NL community on Illich’s notion of “learning webs” which was picked up by Christopher Alexander (“Pattern 18: Network of Learning”). 

3) And then I would suggest some of the chapters in Part 2 of the Carvalho & Goodyear (2014) APLN collection – in which we chose to focus on networks that were consciously engaged in various forms of social action.

We mention Illich on the first page, where we set up Networked Learning, in part, by framing formal education as an aberration. But after that we neglect to mention him at all.

Looking across the history of our species, one sees much more experience of learning from networks of family, friends and acquaintances than of learning in formally constituted educational institutions, such as schools and universities. Indeed, some would argue that schools, colleges and modern universities will turn out to be a short-lived aberration – that they are suspect inventions that seemed to serve the needs of rapidly urbanizing and industrializing populations, but that soon turned out to be expensive and ineffective ways of meeting human needs (Illich 1973, Illich and Verne 1976,Varbelow and Griffith 2012). (Goodyear & Carvalho, 2014, p3).

However, I think it can be argued that a number of the chapters in Part 2 of APLN portray networks of people using technologies in a convivial manner. Other examples that spring quickly to mind come from the teaching of Viv Hodgson, Dave McConnell, Michael Reynolds and others on the MA in Management Learning at Lancaster – approaches and underpinning values that are reflected in their various contributions to the NL literature. (See for example Hodgson & McConnell, 2019.)

As a closing point, it should be clear by now that to label a tool or technology “convivial” is to speak mainly about how it is being used, and for what kinds of purpose. It is not saying much about what one might call the intrinsic or inherent properties of the tool. Illich implies that some tools are hard to use in convivial ways. 

There’s an interesting line to explore here, concerning convivial technologies and the distinctions made in the instrumental genesis literature between the properties of a tool and the schemes for its use. (See, for instance, Rabardel & Beguin, 2005; Lonchamp, 2012; Ritella & Hakkarainen, 2012; Carvalho et al., 2019.) 

References

Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S., Silverstein, M., Jacobson, M., Fiksdahl-King, I., & Angel, S. (1977). A pattern language: towns, buildings, construction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Carvalho, L., & Goodyear, P. (Eds.). (2014). The architecture of productive learning networks. New York: Routledge.

Carvalho, L., Martinez-Maldonado, R., & Goodyear, P. (2019). Instrumental genesis in the design studio. International Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, 14, 77-107. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11412-019-09294-2

Carvalho, L., & Yeoman, P. (2018). Framing learning entanglement in innovative learning spaces: connecting theory, design and practice. British Educational Research Journal, 44(6), 1120–1137. doi:doi:10.1002/berj.3483

Cottam, H. (2019). Radical Help: How we can remake the relationships between us and revolutionise the welfare state: Little Brown.

Engeström, Y. (2020). Ascending from the abstract to the concrete as a principle of expansive learning. Psychological Science and Education, 25(5), 31-43. 

Fawns, T. (2019). Postdigital education in design and practice. Postdigital Science and Education, 1, 132-145. 

Goodyear, P. (2011) Affect, technology and convivial learning environmentsin Calvo, R., & D’Mello, S. (Eds.). (2011). New perspectives on affect and learning technologies. Berlin: Springer.

Goodyear, P., & Carvalho, L. (2014). Networked learning and learning networks. In L. Carvalho & P. Goodyear (Eds.), The architecture of productive learning networks. New York: Routledge.

Goodyear, P., Banks, S., Hodgson, V., & McConnell, D. (2004). Research on networked learning: aims and approaches. Chapter 1 In P. Goodyear, S. Banks, V. Hodgson, & D. McConnell (Eds.), Advances in research on networked learning. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Goodyear, P., Hodgson, V., & Steeples, C. (1998). Student experiences of networked learning in higher education. Research proposal to Jisc: Lancaster

Hodgson, V., & McConnell, D. (2019). Networked learning and postdigital education. Postdigital Science and Education, 1(1), 43–64. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0029-0.

Illich, I. (1973). Tools for conviviality. London: Marion Boyars.

Jandrić, P. (2014). Deschooling Virtuality. Open Review of Educational Research, 1(1), 84-98. doi:10.1080/23265507.2014.965193

Jones, C. R. (2015). Networked Learning: An educational paradigm for the age of digital networks. Dordrecht: Springer.

Lonchamp, J. (2012). An instrumental perspective on CSCL systems. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(2), 211-237. doi:10.1007/s11412-012-9141-4

Krznaric, R. (2020). The good ancestor: how to think long term in a short-term world. London: WH Allen.

Manzini, E. (2015). Design, when everybody designs: an introduction to design for social innovation. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (2017). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer.

Networked Learning Editorial Collective. (2020). Networked Learning: Inviting Redefinition. Postdigital Science and Education. doi:10.1007/s42438-020-00167-8

Rabardel, P., & Beguin, P. (2005). Instrument mediated activity: from subject development to anthropocentric design. Theoretical issues in ergonomic science, 6(5), 429-461. 

Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. London: Penguin Random House.

Riis, M & Brodersen, A (2020) Development of a Pedagogical Design Matrix for ICT-based Boundary Crossing in Dual VET, Proceedings for the Twelfth International Conference on Networked Learning 2020, Edited by: Hansen, S.B.; Hansen, J.J.; Dohn, N.B.; de Laat, M. & Ryberg, T. pp175-182.

Ritella, G., & Hakkarainen, K. (2012). Instrumental genesis in technology-mediated learning: From double stimulation to expansive knowledge practices. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 7(2), 239-258. doi:10.1007/s11412-012-9144-1

Schumacher, E. (1974). Small is beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered. London: Abacus.

Our new paper on helping students prepare for the workplace

 

TITLE: PREPARING STUDENTS FOR THE WORKPLACE THROUGH DESIGNING PRODUCTIVE ASSESSMENT TASKS: AN ACTIONABLE KNOWLEDGE PERSPECTIVE
Lina Markauskaite & Peter Goodyear
ABSTRACT

Preparing students for the workplace and assessing their readiness are often major challenges for university teachers. What kinds of concrete tasks help students develop professional capacities needed for situated knowledgeable action in a broad range of possible future workplace settings?

Our research examined assessment tasks that university teachers set for students in courses that were preparing them for work placements in five professions: nursing, pharmacy, teaching, social work, and school counselling. We combined ‘actionable knowledge’ and ‘objectual practice’ perspectives and investigated what students were asked to do, what they were expected to learn and how. Specifically, we analysed the nature of the objects that teachers selected for assessment tasks and the nature of the concrete artefacts that students were asked to produce.

Our results show some fundamental differences in teachers’ choices of objects. They ranged from basic and very specific aspects of professional work to some of the hardest and most broad-ranging challenges in the profession. The tasks also required students to engage in the production of a wide range of artefacts. We classified these as ‘cultural artefacts’, ‘conceptual artefacts’ and ‘epistemic artefacts’. Our discussion draws parallels between these three kinds of artefacts and the notions of ‘work ready’, ‘work knowledgeable’ and ‘work-capable’ graduates, respectively. We argue that teachers, through task designs, shape ways in which students learn to link action (skill) with meaning (knowledge). Our findings raise some important questions about the kinds of authentic tasks that help prepare work-capable graduates for future learning.

Keywords: Objectual practice, knowledge artefacts, assessment

The full paper is available in the HERDSA proceedings here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the underling ideas, see our book on Epistemic fluency in professional education and our Epistemic Fluency website.

Deakin University, Learning and Teaching Conference

The slides and notes for my lecture at the Deakin University Learning and Teaching conference last week – Thriving in higher education: how does good design help? – can be found here.

On the day after the lecture, Lina Markauskaite and I led two workshops.

Morning: Assessment as boundary work: between the discipline and the profession

Summary: This workshop is for academics, learning designers and academic leaders who work with developing assessment tasks across the spectrum of work integrated learning initiatives. Participants are asked to come with an assessment task that they have used, or plan to use, for students preparing for, or reflecting on, a work placement, practicum or simulated work experience. The workshop will explore how these types of assessment tasks create a dialogue at the boundary between academic discipline knowledge and the reflexive knowledge of a skilled practitioner. Peter and Lina will draw on their recent work on epistemic fluency to introduce the workshop. They have analysed a range of assessment task designs in a variety of professional education contexts to try to identify the multiple forms of knowledge and ways of knowing with which students have to become fluent in preparing for professional practice. Many aspects of professional work involve the creation of new understandings – such as in inter-professional dialogues or client consultations. Often this epistemic work goes unnoticed, though sometimes it involves conscious problem-solving and innovation. The workshop will be a hands-on investigation of how these ideas about epistemic fluency, knowledge work and actionable knowledge can be applied in designing better assessment tasks.

Afternoon: Working in the third space: how do we explain and strengthen what we do?

Summary: ‘Design for learning’ is still not a widely or deeply understood concept in universities, even though most universities employ a variety of people with titles like “Learning designer”.
The capabilities that underpin good design work are rarely articulated and have little institutional visibility. This workshop is for learning designers, academics and academic leaders who need to explain the role of design in learning and teaching. The workshop will explore the following questions: How do we articulate what we have to offer in and through design? How can we further strengthen the university’s design capabilities – given what we can see about the future of learning and teaching and new insights emerging from research across the learning sciences?

Some of these issues are being pursued, at a national level, in the ascilite TELedvisors SIG.

Discussion, collaborative knowledge work and epistemic fluency

G&Z2007

I received a request for this paper earlier today. It started life as a keynote at the Networked Learning conference in Lancaster in 2006. Maria Zenios visited us in Sydney later that year, and we were able to work together and develop a more extensive treatment of the issues. We used a recent paper in BJES by Effie MacLellan as a springboard. We combined ideas from Stellan Ohlsson, Allan Collins, Dave Perkins and Carl Bereiter to introduce epistemic tasks, forms, games and fluency. Then we linked this with research on learning through discussion by Helen Askell-Williams and Michael Lawson and by Rob Ellis and myself, to distinguish between weaker and stronger forms of collaborative knowledge building. If you’re serious about helping students prepare for work in complex knowledge creating jobs, then you need the stronger form.

I hadn’t reread this paper for a while, and I think it still stands up quite well. As of today, it’s had 87 citations, not all of them by me. I’m also glad to see that research on learning through discussion in higher education has been growing in the last 10 years. The literature was quite thin in 2006/7.

In 2008, Lina Markauskaite and I wrote a grant proposal that allowed us to do some of the ‘cognitive anthropology’ hinted at in this paper. The outcomes, and a much richer understanding of matters that were only sketched in the BJES paper, can be found in our ‘magnum opus’ – Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (2017). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer.

 

Epistemic resourcefulness and evaluative judgement

Epistemic games

In October 2016, David Boud and colleagues at Deakin University (Melbourne) held a symposium on evaluative judgement in higher education. I gave a brief presentation connecting some of the ideas that Lina and I have been developing on epistemic games and epistemic resourcefulness to evaluative judgement. We’ve written a chapter for the “book of the symposium” which Routledge should be publishing in 2017. Here’s the abstract for that chapter:

This chapter examines the development of evaluative judgement from the perspective of professional education, with a focus on the abilities needed to deal with problems that are both complex and novel. Professional work regularly entails engaging in knowledgeable action in previously unencountered situations and formulating methods, on the fly, for making judgements about the adequacy of one’s actions. On this view, evaluative judgement is an epistemic (knowledge creating) activity. We show how developing evaluative judgement can be understood as learning to play a range of epistemic games, and how epistemic resourcefulness enables one to frame complex judgements in principled ways.

Understanding the nature and impact of wicked problems and unpredictable futures on employability

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September 2016 – a brief presentation at Joy Higgs’s EPEN seminar (Education, Practice and Employability Network). Videos here.

The Kilpi quote is from

Kilpi, Esko. (2016). Perspectives on new work: exploring emerging conceptualizations. Retrieved from: http://www.sitra.fi/en/julkaisu/2016/perspectives-new-work-1

Activity centred analysis and design in the evolution of learning networks

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A talk at the 10th International Conference on Networked Learning at Lancaster University in the UK (May 2016).

Abstract

This paper provides an overview of, and rationale for, an approach to analysing complex learning networks. The approach involves a strong commitment to providing knowledge which is useful for design and it gives a prime place to the activity of those involved in networked learning. Hence the framework that we are offering is known as “Activity Centred Analysis and Design” or ACAD for short. We have used the ACAD framework in the analysis of 20 or so learning networks. These networks have varied in purpose, scale and complexity and the experience we have gained in trying to understand how these networks function has helped us improve the ACAD framework. This paper shares some of the outcomes of that experience and describes some significant new refinements to how we understand the framework. While the framework is able to deal with a very wide range of learning situations, in this paper we look more closely at some issues which are of particular importance in networked learning. For example, we discuss the distributed nature of design in networked learning – acknowledging the fact that learning networks are almost invariably co-configured by everyone who participates in them, and that this aspect of participation is often explicitly valued and encouraged. We see participation in (re)design as a challenging activity: one that benefits from some structured methods and ways of representing and unpicking the tangles of tasks, activities, tools, places and people

Here’s a pdf of the paper, which is also freely available online as part of the conference proceedings. Cite as: Goodyear, P., & Carvalho, L. (2016). Activity centred analysis and design in the evolution of learning networks. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Networked Learning, Edited by: Cranmer S, Dohn NB, de Laat M, Ryberg T & Sime, JA. Pp218-225. (ISBN 978-1-86220-324-2) http://www.networkedlearningconference.org.uk/abstracts/pdf/P16.pdf

And a copy of the slides, though not all were used in the presentation.