INF537 – Initial Reflections

This is my first blog for INF537. Readings by Selwyn (2010) and (2014), Ross (2012) and Ray, B., Jackson, S. & Cupaiuolo, C. (Eds).(2014) and (2014_a) have all challenged and stretched my thinking. However, my introduction to the course was the video, Is Technology a Threat to our Education?, which reminded me that “the real secret of education is learning how to learn, not bits of data in your head.” It also reminded me that learning, “is about how to discover thing yourself” and, “coming up with the questions which actually generates wisdom.” All the time I was watching the video, and in the moments which followed, my thinking automatically reverted to my long held belief that we continue to deliver an outdated curriculum; however, we use technology to deliver it differently.  My hunch is that principals, teachers and schools have not slowed down enough to explore the pedagogies which facilitate best use to technology to enrich and extend student learning.

Selwyn (2010) challenged my hunch when he contested that research on digital technology in education usually focuses on the pedagogic possibilities of technology, specific tools or applications. I thought this was a good thing; however, Selwyn (2010) argues for a ‘critical study of educational research’ which seeks to address the use of digital technology in terms of ‘state-of-the-actual’ by using questions such as:

  • What is the use of technology in educational settings actually like?
  • Why is technology used in educational settings the way it is?
  • What are the consequences of what happens with technologies in educational settings?

In answering these questions, it may well be that we also consider how young people use technology. Selwyn (2014) makes reference to a book Teenagers and Technology by Chris Davies and Rebecca Eynon. This book is based on surveys with over 1000 young people alongside over 200 interviews from a three-year research project. According to Selwyn (2014), the book suggests

digital technologies: enable and extend the kinds of social relationships and interactions that have always happened between teenagers in ways that are valued and valuable in their lives, but at a cost in terms of their capacity to attend to other things going on around them” (Teenagers and Technology, 59).

And goes on to write, “it is reasonable to contend that there is such a thing as a specifically teenage technology sub-culture” (135).  

It is here that I refer to my hunch that digital technology is being used to repackage learning through a different medium (computers instead of books) for the curriculum which, in NSW, concludes with the Higher School Certificate. As part of their education continuum, students have learnt that assessment ranks are all important going into the concluding examinations. Teachers have learnt to often teach to a formula, one that best prepares students to answer questions on an individual basis. This approach shapes learning prior to the HSC years, from Years 7 to 10. So too does the competitive nature of NAPLAN and the continued government rhetoric about our nation being internationally competitive. Basically, students are encouraged to find the right answer for the test with a ‘yes/no, ‘either/or’ culture. It may well be that we take the advice in  Teenagers and Technology by Chris Davies and Rebecca Eynon as quoted by Selwyn (2014); that is for teachers and parents to acknowledge that young people “deserve some support, interest and even guidance from adults” in developing uses of digital technology that are genuinely meaningful and empowering rather than an all consuming chase for the best result!

Davidson and Theo (2010) encourage us to ask how this paradigm, a paradigm which values individual (student, schools, national) effort and success, actually supports the learning styles of today’s youth and prepares them for increasingly connected world which awaits them. In fact, Davidson and Theo (2010) forthrightly argue that the days of conventional learning institutions are over, “unless those directing the course of our learning institutions realize, now and urgently, the necessity of fundamental and foundational change.”

Ross (2012) suggests that practices that are characterized with ‘reconfigurability’ and ‘remixability’ are central to digital culture, and this may be ‘the way in’ when looking for the foundational change required. They urge education to look at rearranging the elements of learning and reshaping audience expectations about the learning experience when discerning the possibilities of digital education. Furthermore, they look at online learning and reflection in terms of a ‘spectacle’ and ‘placeholder’ approach. Most particularly, Ross (2012) talks about the ‘placeholder’ “as a taggable, searchable, reconfigurable fragment of content…… (which) ……“stands alone as an expression of a thought, idea or moment” (and) “can also be combined and recombined with other placeholders to create a spectacle of reflection.” Such creations, “should be created in spaces that are not highly structured, the way most e-portfolio environments are” (Ross, 2012:262). Such thinking may even lead to John Spencer’s Ten Alternative Assessment Strategies being undertaken more and more in the school setting.

Participatory Learning acknowledge e-portfolios and other digital learning environments as places where  people can make meaning through collective engagement. Davidson and Theo (2010) articulate participatory learning “begins from the premise that new technologies are changing how people of all ages learn, play, socialize, exercise judgment, and engage in civic life” Davidson and Theo (2010:12). Furthermore, they write,

“Participatory learning includes the many ways that learners (of any age) use new technologies to participate in virtual communities where they share ideas, comment on one another’s projects, and plan, design, implement, advance, or simply discuss their practices, goals, and ideas together” (2010:12).

Ray (2014) highlights clear links between participatory learning and Maker movements. I always (incorrectly) saw makerspaces as physical places where physical products were produced. In a digital virtual world I understand that is it about, “students building the next generation of web applications” (Ray 2014:8) through platforms such as Scratch where students can create and collaborate in building web-based projects and products, all while learning code.

Participatory Learning allows for self-guided informal learning which is recognised, for example, with digital badges through  MacArthur Foundation. Furthermore, games like ‘Quest Atlantis’ are characteristic of participatory learning. Challenges within this game, “require students to make choices that affect how events unfold and impact on other characters” (Ray 2014_a:13). Furthermore, there have been documented learning improvements with greater engagement, higher test scores and “54% play because they want to, not because they have to” (Ray 2014_a:13). There is also Whyville online Civics game where teens and pre-teens learn and play together with their own elected officials, town square and beaches. Such games offer,  “a place where the actions of a 10 year old can have a significant impact on the world” (Sasha Barab in Ray 2014_a:13).

Above all else, what I note regarding participatory learning is that hierarchies are negated and failure is encouraged and seen as part of the learning process. This encouragement, acceptance and acknowledgement of failure as being valued rather than despised, presents a welcomed challenge around the traditional the ‘pass or fail’ syndrome associated with standardised tests and numerous summative assessment tasks. In saying this, there is thinking we may need to ‘reframe’ failure. Our young people associate terms such as ‘Epic Fail’ and ‘Massive Fail’ with people who have fun poked at them through the production of videos such as Top Fails 15 and 12 Funny Massive Fails. Therefore, it may well be that we speak about the “iteration and process of one’s way of making it to the answer through errors and connections” (Ray, 2014:19). Whatever the case, wouldn’t it be great to see Andrew Miller’s Freedom to Fail Rubric, become commonplace in schools.

In conclusion, I am both challenged and excited by the fact that, even in the early stages of this course serendipitous learning has led me to subscribing to YouTube channels such as The Brainwaves Video Anthology and FW: Thinking, and the ‘extra’ (part) reading of The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age by Davidson and Theo. However, in putting together the thoughts and reflections for this blog I am unsure what all this means for the Case Study Research Proposal. I suppose this means reading, reading and more reading!

Your comments are most welcome,




Davidson, C, & Theo, D (2010). The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age  MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England.

FW: Thinking. (2013, June 19). Is technology a threat to our education? [Video file]. Retreived from

Ray, B., Jackson, S. & Cupaiuolo, C. (Eds).(2014). Civics: Participating in a digital world. MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

Ray, B., Jackson, S. & Cupaiuolo, C. (Eds). (2014_a). Participatory learning. MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Initiative.

Ross, J. (2012). The spectacle and the placeholder: Digital futures for reflective practices in higher education. InProceedings of the 8th International Conference on Networked Learning (pp. 227–244). Retrieved from

Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65–73. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x.

Selwyn, N. (2014). Education and ‘the digital’. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35(1), 155-164. doi: 10.1080/01425692.2013.856668.