Participatory technologies and cultures are a dominant trend impacting scholarship. Despite arguments for the schooling sector to incorporate networked participatory media into learning, the uptake of this form of scholarship has been slow and remains, just as it does in the academic context, in a phase of ongoing development.
Technological changes and widespread internet connectivity have transformed contemporary life. Specifically, it is argued that the transition from the read-only Web 1.0 to the read-write Web 2.0 has resulted in an environment that facilitates participation and values the user as much as the content they share (Greenhow, Robelia & Hughes, 2009, p.247). Research indicates that it is the participatory, collaborative and distributed facilities of the Web that have changed everyday life (Greenhow et al., 2009, p. 247 & Rheingold, 2012, p.148) including the nature of information, forms of media, business models, social environments and modes of civic engagement (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison and Weigel, 2006, p.3). Consequently, it has been suggested that one label for contemporary society is the “Age of Participatory Media” (Bull et al., 2008, p.100).
Such societal changes are increasing the need for schools to change their pedagogy and learning areas so that students are prepared for ‘tomorrow’s world’ (Murray, 2007, p.19). Jenkins et al. argue that the digital divide between those who will succeed in twenty-first (21st) century futures and those that will be left behind is determined not by access to technology but by access to opportunities to participate and develop the cultural competencies and social skills necessary in new media landscapes (2006, p.3). Crockett, Jukes and Chruches (2011, p.14), O’Leary (2012, para.18), and Seely Brown (2012, p.15) are also among those advocating the necessity of educating for participation because individuals who find themselves lacking such skills are at risk of being on the wrong side of the divide and left behind in academia and the workplace. Many of the skills and mindsets outlined by these authors, require schools to transition from a scholarship practice that uses technology as a tool to enhance research to a social scholarship practice “in which the use of social tools is an integral part of the research and publishing process and is characterized by openness, conversation, collaboration, access, sharing and transparent revision” (Pearce et al. & Cohen as cited in Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012, p.767).
This interpretive discussion paper begins by defining networked participatory technologies and cultures and then considers the existing and potential implications that they hold for scholarship. Following this, the paper explores the arguments surrounding the requirement for schools to embrace this form of scholarship. Finally, the investigation discusses how schools have responded to the advocated necessity of incorporating networked participatory scholarship into programs and practices.
The Age of Participatory Media
Numerous authors point to the explosion of new media technologies and correlate these to changes in the way people operate and interact (Bull et al., 2009, p.101; Greenhow et al., 2009, p.247 & Katz, 2010, p.3). Others, however, point out that attributing the causality of cultural change to technology may not reflect a reality that is somewhat more complex and interrelated. Veletsianos and Kimmons label this a “fuzzy area” stating that technology does not exist in a vacuum and “may just as validly be seen as a reflection of cultural trends as a cause of them” (2012, p.769). This is reinforced by Gee who states that digital tools cannot be studied in isolation (2010, p.32) and Jenkins et al. who believe that technology tools and the activities they support, only become widespread if they fulfill a cultural need (2006, p.8). Regardless of causation, all of these authors suggest that participation is a dominant trend in both contemporary technology and culture.
Participatory culture may be defined as a culture in which the community provides strong incentives for artistic expression, sharing creativity, collaborative problem solving and civic engagement (Jenkins et al., 2006, p.3). In such cultures, members feel their contributions matter (Greenhow et al., 2009, p.247) and a degree of social connection to one another (Jenkins et al., 2006, p.7). In contemporary society, it is argued that interactive technologies are enablers of participation (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2011, p.771) through affordances such as online social networking communities, content and media creation mechanisms, publishing platforms, large scale collaborative projects and prominent personal profiling (Jenkins et al. 2006, p.8 & Greenhow et al., 2009, p.247). Some examples of popular platforms that provide these affordances include Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, WordPress, Flickr, Diigo, Skype, Blogger, and Wikipedia.
Implications for Scholarship
A discussion about digital scholarship necessitates exploring how participatory technologies and cultures are impacting concepts of knowledge. On this point, Veletsianos and Kimmons identify that the emergence of participatory and collaborative approaches to knowledge building within dominant cultural practices are leading to new theories of knowledge construction (2011, p.769). This point is reinforced by Buckley and De Toit who argue that new economies value tacit knowledge that is community-based and derived from experience above explicit knowledge that is a personal and individual activity derived from content (2010, p.495). Starkey similarly maintains the impact of connected environments is changing the nature of knowledge. Her research finds that “ideas about ‘knowledge’ appear to be changing from something that is found in the heads of individuals or in books to something that is not fixed, is debatable, accessible through a range of media and created through networks, connections and collaboration” (2011, p. 22). That these approaches to knowledge building pose important changes to scholarship is further evident in the emergence of learning approaches such as conectivist and constructivist theories (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2011, p.770).
Investigating scholarship on another level, several authors discuss how participatory technologies and cultures are impacting the functions of scholarship (Scanlon, 2014, p.13, Katz, 2010, p.5 and Pearce et al., 2010, p.35, Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2010, p.766). These functions, originally identified by Boyer, include discovery, integration, application and teaching (Boyer, 1990, p.17-25). Significantly, those who share this view, highlight that all four functions of scholarship are impacted by an “openness” resultant from developing digital communication and networked technologies (Pearce et al., 2010, p.37). On this point, Katz claims such technologies provide scholars with open content, knowledge and learning (2010, p.5). The scholarship functions of discovery and integration, it is argued, are being changed by the availability of rich content and large datasets equally accessible through search engines by both professional and amateur researchers (Katz, 2010, p.6, and Pearce et al., 2010, p.37). Commentators in this area also believe that open publishing, evidenced by the growth of platforms such as blogs, is impacting the scholarly function of application. Consequently, long held traditions and non-negotiable scholarly artifacts such as journal publications and peer-review are being questioned (Pearce et al., 2010, p.38, and Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2011, p. 770). The function of teaching is also being challenged by open education and new communication channels that are opening up the boundaries between faculties, institutions and even between academia and the ‘real world’ (Scanlon, 2014, p.15, Katz, 2010, p.7, Pearce et al., 2010, p.40 and Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2011, p.771). According to Katz, these changes are liberating for the scholar and scholarship but will reshape scholarly enterprise and nearly all our institutions, including colleges and universities, will undergo fundamental alterations (2010, pp.7-14).
What about schools?
Changing ideas about knowledge and scholarship also have implications for schools. Starkey asserts that the digital age necessitates a changed focus in this sector from one that has been centered on learning prescribed knowledge “towards a focus on critical thinking skills, knowledge creation and learning through connections” (2011, p.19). Seely Brown agrees that schools can no longer restrict learning to explicit and prescribed knowledge. He argues, that as the world is now in a state of constant flow, the knowledge that is created is tacit because the pace of change does not allow such information to be distilled, encoded and re-communicated before the next shift happens (2012, p.14). Others, such as Rheingold (2012, p.53), Jenkins et al. (2006, p.7) and Veletsianos & Kimmons (2011, p.769) state that participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement and as such, schools need to focus on the literacies, cultural competencies and social skills necessary for success in the age of participatory media.
A key authority on future trends that will impact learning and teaching in the schooling sector is the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report: K-12 Edition. The 2015 publication of this report agrees that participatory technologies and cultures are important future considerations for the schooling sector. In particular, the report identifies that two of the trends and technologies that will drive education over next five years include: (1) collaborative learning approaches (2015, pp.12-13); and (2) a shift from students as consumers to students as creators (2015, pp.14-15).
The Reality in Schools
When it comes to the uptake of participatory technologies into curricula, pedagogies and assessment instruments, schools have been slow to react (Bull et al., 2008, p.102, Greenhow, 2009, p.43, Jenkins et al., 2006, p.4 & Selwyn, 2010, p.66). This slow uptake is not restricted to schools and the research of both Scanlon (2014, p.20) and Pearce et al. (2010, p.34) indicates that the extent to which academics have embraced participatory technologies and cultures is also a long way behind the uptake of individuals and industry. Jenkins et al. note that while there are examples of individual schools and educators experimenting with participatory technologies and processes, a more systemic change is required for all students to develop the literacies they need to function in today’s hyper-mediated environments (2006, p.57).
A number of initiatives to bring about change can be identified on both an international and a national level. At an international level, such provision for participatory literacies is reinforced by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), who have composed standards to support twenty-first century learning with clear guidelines for the skills, knowledge and approaches students need to succeed in the digital age (2016). On a national level, the responsibility for schools to create learning environments that provide students with opportunities to be global, digital citizens was agreed upon by Australian Education Ministers with the signing of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians in 2008. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) established the general capabilities, including the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) capability in order to realise the goals of the Melbourne Declaration (ACARA, 2016). It is specified in the ICT general capability that, “to participate in a knowledge-based economy and to be empowered within a technologically sophisticated society now and into the future, students need the knowledge, skills and confidence to make ICT work for them at school, at home, at work and in their communities” (2016, para 2).
These international and national directions have made teachers increasingly aware of the necessity of using technology to support both higher-order and future-proof learning in their practice, yet what is often overlooked are the difficulties experienced in altering pedagogy and curricula to reflect these needs (Lindsay, 2015). Jenkins et al. identify one such difficulty is that the school day is already “bursting at the seams” and teachers feel they cannot cram any new tasks into their instruction (2006, p.57). Bull et al. also identify a number of challenges to the application of new techniques of knowledge production and participatory learning in schools. These include time constraints, limited access to online media tools by some educational bodies, an increased complexity of classroom management when technology is introduced, limited research available to guide best practice and limited models of effective integration for teachers to follow (2008, p.102). The reality, however, is not all negative, and both Greenhow and Bull et al. suggest trends in social scholarship are connecting traditional or formal scholarship with informal, social networking tools to integrate participatory learning into existing subjects and assessments (2009, pp.43-45, & 2008, p.104). Greenhow provides the use of social bookmarking tools and social bibliographic sites as evidence of this type of scholarship in practice (2009, pp.43-45). Other research, provides evidence that blogging is an emerging academic practice that is becoming more prevalent and provides scholars with the opportunities for sharing, conversation, collaboration, “soft” peer-review and building an academic identity (Scanlon, 2014, p.18, Weller, 2011, p.4, Kirkup, 2010, p.81, Greenhow et al., 2009, pp.249-251). According to Jenkins et al., this mixed reality “functions as a new form of the hidden curriculum, shaping which youth will succeed and which will be left behind as they enter school and the workplace” (2006, p.3). If these authors are correct, then a failure by individual schools to develop a suitable approach to networked participatory scholarship puts their students at risk of being significantly disadvantaged and unprepared for lifelong learning beyond school.
This paper has discussed the impact of networked participatory technology and cultures upon scholarship. Moves towards tacit knowledge construction, openness and collaborative practices have been identified as key trends impacting scholarship. The research for this discussion paper suggests that the take-up of digital scholarship in the schooling context has been slow and inconsistent. As such, commentators in the field are concerned that the next digital divide will between those have developed the skills and competencies to participate in networked environments and those who do not. This is an important consideration for all educators and those who care about the academic and working futures of today’s youth.
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