Institutional and Outstitutional Digital Scholarship

Breaking Down Walls by tamaraR on DeviantArt  

I am in the process of reading through and editing an assignment that is due for my Master of Education course about issues in digital scholarship, while my son signs off on a chat that he has just had with a person in Korea he has connected with via conversation exchange, with the aim of improving his conversational Korean.  It is a perfect scenario to use as a context for a description of  the possibilities that digital technologies are offering to learning and scholarship.

I am learning within the confines of a formal course in a formal institution and my learning will be formally accredited with a degree once I complete my studies.  My moderately gifted son could not wait to break free from formal educational institutions once he finished high school in 2014, and has spent the past two years learning informally in areas that are of interest to him.  One of his learning journeys at the moment is learning Korean, because he likes the sound of the language, and enjoys K-pop (in fact he is attending a K-pop “meet and greet” in Sydney as I write this.)


Both of us are reliant on digital technologies to facilitate our learning.


I choose to study via distance education as it suits my lifestyle.  Gone are the days when huge reams of readings would arrive in my mailbox, and I would need to go to the post office to post off assignments.  Nowadays, distance education = online education.  I access subject outlines and content via a LMS, access digital and print resources through the university library, and read and view additional, open resources via the web.  I interact with my teachers and colleagues in digital spaces facilitated by the university such as forums, blogs, adobe connect sessions, wikispaces, Diigo groups and Goodreads groups.  I also connect and collaborate with colleagues in other digital spaces such as Facebook and Google apps.   I am both an institutional and outstitutional scholar.  Only a small part of my learning in these digital spaces is credited towards my results in my subjects (eg. contributions to my own and colleagues blog posts; a reflective blog post submitted at the end of each subject).

My son is currently an outstitutional learner.  He is pursuing learning in areas that he is interested in.  He has a burning desire to be a global citizen, and wants to expand and enrich his worldview by learning about and immersing himself in other cultures so that he can appreciate how there are different ways to live in the world.  Last year, he enrolled in a Saturday class to learn Korean at UNSW, a course he discovered through an online search.   Unfortunately, due to a lack of numbers, the course was discontinued, however, he was keen to continue learning on his own.  He sourced and purchased online a book about learning Korean, and has been accessing various websites to support his learning.  He saw joining conversation exchange as an opportunity to practice what he is learning in theory with native Korean speakers, and has made connections with 3 or 4 different people living in Korea who he is currently communicating with.  He is also communicating with a person living in Ukraine who is keen to learn to speak English with an Australian accent.  My son has applied to enrol in a course at UNSW next year in International Studies.  I wonder if any of the informal learning he has done in the past few years will be acknowledged and credited in that course?

Neither my son’s or my scholarship could have progressed as it has without digital technologies.  We have both been able to bring our preference for collaborating and communicating in online spaces to our scholarship; we have used digital technologies to more easily access resources needed for our learning; we are fostering open and social scholarship in our formal and informal practices of blogging and conversing across time and space as we make use of online social networks to share, reflect on, improve and validate our scholarship.

We are digital, social, networked participatory, open, generative scholars.  Both of us; within and without formal educational institutions.

9 thoughts on “Institutional and Outstitutional Digital Scholarship

  1. Jo your post really resonated with me regarding informal digital learning. In this ‘brave new technology enhanced world’ we are engaging more and more in a digital space on a daily basis, however, in the education space only a small portion of that work will ever contribute to our formal education results.
    We do have an ivory tower mentality when it comes to education that shields many academics from the ‘real world’. Have you read Melissa Gregg’s ‘Feeling Ordinary: Blogging as conversational scholarship’ (2006). It is a very interesting piece that deals with academic blogging in a easy to read way. The other reading that I think you might find interesting is J. Walker’s ‘Blogging from inside the ivory tower’ (2006). This is an academics personal reflection oh her journey from being an academic blogger to becoming a Head of Department and having to review how blogging has impacted on her role and reputation.

    • Hi Yvette. “Thanks for stopping by” (a nice message I saw in response to a comment on a blog I was reading recently. I like it, so I’m going to pinch it). I have read Gregg’s article, and made use of it in my essay. I thought I had read Walker’s too, as I recognised the “Ivory Tower” reference, but on further investigation, I hadn’t, so thanks for the tip. Will add that one to my reading list.

  2. Hi Jo
    Like Yvette, your post resonated on both the personal and professional level. I really like the concept of “outstitutional scholar” and could have definitely included that within my interpretive essay 🙂 I came across this description by Amateur Scholar:
    “An amateur scholar is one who carries out the pursuit of knowledge without incentive. Amateurs derive accreditation from experience and works alone, rather than rank/institutional affiliation. Experience can be gained through reading field literature, participating in research, and disseminating finished works.” I would extend this definition though to include the informal learning that your son is undertaking. I think the definition above is too narrow. I would like to think that traditional institutions are taking into account the informal learning that people undertake. I know that universities allow for credit based on experience, but that experience tends to still relate to formal qualifications and experience within the workforce (as far as I am aware, I may be wrong, I hope so). One of my twin sons, is reflecting a lot at the moment as he starts his ‘formal’ university journey…which path is the best one to take, and even now, he is still unsure of the direction, except to leave as many possible pathways open as possible. Your son is taking steps before he even begins that journey.
    And as you say, ours and our children’s learning journeys could not have achieved the level of collaborating and communicating, without digital technologies. I have expressed it elsewhere, but it is a far cry from the ‘distance education’ I experienced in my high school days. Digital technologies is definitely breaking down walls.
    Finally, the strongest reflection that I connect with is:
    “we are fostering open and social scholarship in our formal and informal practices of blogging and conversing across time and space as we make use of online social networks to share, reflect on, improve and validate our scholarship.”
    Again thanks, a great reflection.

    • Thanks Yvonne for your thoughtful remarks about my latest post, and for the link for me to follow up on. I like the term “outstitutional scholarship”. I think it captures nicely learning in informal environments, and learning across institutions where we mix a subject from here, with a subject from there to tailor-make the kind of formal tertiary education that best suits our interests and passions.

  3. Interestingly, I was having a conversation with my daughter about passions leading to learning, her “bestie” is Korean, she was saying that 2 girls in her grade last year (grade 8 – i.e. 14 year olds) had learnt Korean just to be able to enjoy K-pop and K-TV series. One has perfected reading and writing and speaking, while the other just reading (the level verified by her native speaking friend). This is not a subject offered at school, but they’d done it of their own volition which I think is just fantastic.

    • Hi Nadine.

      Agreed. A perfect illustration of learning for authentic purposes. I came across this idea recently which relates to this – the horizontal relevance of just-in-time learning, where we acquire information to solve an immediate problem (eg. learning Korean to enjoy K-pop and K-TV), vs the vertical relevance of just-in-case learning where we acquire information that MIGHT be useful in the future. The idea mirrors informal vs formal learning.

  4. Hey new blog buddy

    Sometimes my sons and I communicate totally through virtual means, and one of them still lives at home! He has a vast array of online friends all over the world, and in fact visited Norway all by himself to meet up with a girl! I found that to be very brave.

    (it didn’t last long).

    My other son, in the army is a great texter when he wants something. So there are often long moments of silence.

    (not such a big problem, really).

    Those of us born in the 60s and 70s lived through our young adult and early adulthood without online communities, and yet I can’t remember not having this level of access.

    (actually, yes I can).

    Trisha B

    • Thanks for stopping by Trisha. Like you, I can remember a life when access and reach was not readily facilitated by digital technologies. I don’t miss the mammoth white and yellow pages, trips to the local library to find resources to use for high school assignments that would add to the information that I had gleaned from my family’s set of Funk & Wagnall’s encyclopedias (I remember them being quite a hefty investment for my parents at the time), or yelling at my sisters to get off the phone so that I could make a call. I was a latecomer to Facebook, seeing it as a time waster for quite a while, yet now I use it for both personal and professional purposes and my life is the better for it. And don’t get me started on how much Twitter has added to my growth as an educator…

  5. Hi Jo,
    This is a really interesting post and I guess it is resonating with quite a few of us. My daughter is in year 12 at the moment and my son in his second year at uni so they are both quite caught up in formal learning but I hope they continue to learn informally. As for me, quite some time ago I had the good fortune to work in Korea for a while and found the language fascinating. I am heading back in a few days time and am trying to reacquaint myself with the language so this time around will be relying a bit on some apps in my phone.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *