Culture of Use of Moodle in Higher Education: Networked Relations between Technology, Culture and Learners

Culture of Use of Moodle in Higher Education: Networked Relations between Technology, Culture and Learners

M. Shuaib Mohamed Haneef (Pondicherry University, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8598-7.ch014
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In this chapter, the use of Moodle, an open source Learning Management System (LMS), by the Department of Electronic Media and Mass Communication in Pondicherry University, as a means to supplement classroom teaching has been examined drawing on Actor Network Theory (ANT). This chapter reveals that the use of Moodle gives rise to a new digital culture which is inscribed on the prior cultural template that students, instructors and institutions bring to have a bearing on their teaching and learning activities. However, the rise of such a digital culture is due to the human and material assemblages constituted by how students and instructors inscribe their manifestoes on Moodle and how Moodle inscribes its manifestations on them. Further, the performative potential of Moodle is explained by its networked interaction with other social, human and non-human actors such as the culture of using technology for learning, digital literacy skills, emergent digital divide, access issues among students and teachers, educational and economic background and institutional media ecology among others.
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Higher education is the lynch pin of intellectual capital and hence it has an essential role to play in the evolution and development of an information society. Technological innovation in the contemporary era points to the emergence of ‘informationalism’ era wherein knowledge production is predicated on collaborative, interactive and networked technologies (Castells, 1996). Universities and colleges are required to incorporate internet technologies into teaching and learning. While adoption of technologies and infrastructure do not indicate a widespread embracing of e-learning practices, government norms prescribing understanding of technology-mediated learning as one of the eligibility criteria for teaching posts in higher institutions have brought about substantial changes in the pedagogic practices. The survival of educational institutions will be determined by the technology capital or resources and infrastructure they would invest in for augmenting teaching and learning (Mlitwa, 2005).

This is apart from the internet cultures adults grow up in. With the introduction of computer into education and its use in social life, reading as a performative activity has found new meanings in the digital environment. Reading text as an enterprise depends on the materiality of the medium. The material affordances of the digital medium require users to possess literacy or competency to not only read and construe content but also know how to engage with the remediated content (Bolter, 2000).

While emphasis is laid on technology, the social and cultural contexts in which technology is placed cannot be excluded or studied in isolation. Since the digital technology’s invasion, assumptions about its application in education and society have been either to invest in the precepts of technological determinism or the oppositional social determinism. Technological determinism essayed the position of medium as an omnipotent influencer having unassailable impact on events in society and on people. On the other hand, social determinism posited that technology is shaped by society.

However, both approaches seek to advance their claims discounting their mutual influence. There is a systemic failure to understand the need for interleaving technology and society. The discourse of technology (Foucault, 1988) expounds on how self is shaped and honed by technology and the interaction between the self and society whereby governmentality of technology over the self and the self over technology is mediated through symbiotic relations built between the humans and non-humans. Extending this concept, what one would find in web 2.0 is an empowered reader whose agential potential to interact and influence a communicative and cognitive ecology is sustainable and tenable.

In the specific domain of education and ICTs, research on learning is dependent on human and non-human actants. “Purposeful action and intentionality may not be properties of objects, but they are not properties of humans either. They are the properties of institutions, of apparatuses, of what Foucault called dispositifs” (Latour 1999, p.192). According to Latour, the ability of a human to ‘act’ is made possible through a distributed system of human and non-human actants that are both tangible and intangible. The inscription of human actions on infrastructure and the imposition of programmed actions of technologies on humans interweave and mesh together producing fibrous, rhizomatic and fluid networks.

Use of digital artifacts in learning is an intersection of infrastructure, institutions and their policy, preparedness of teachers to adopt technology-mediated instruction, users and their varied cultural background, power structure in operating a technology such as LMS, use of open sources and peer-peer learning. The type of institution, its policy, and perception of using technology for imparting instruction and the culture of teachers and students in using technology or willing to shift the pedagogy from traditional to technology-mediated practice are essential parameters of e-learning adoption (Holt & Challis, 2007; Weaver Spatt & Sid Nair, 2008).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Collaborative Learning: Collaborative learning is an instruction method in which learners participate in small groups working towards achieving a common goal. The small groups work at various levels based on their performance and knowledge levels. The groups of learners supplement one another in their learning activity besides learning on their own. Such a shared learning practice gives learners an opportunity to participate in discussions.

Technological Affordances: This term is used to refer to new technologies and what tasks users can possibly perform with technologies at their disposal. The term technological affordance was coined by Ian Hutchby as a reaction against social constructivism. He used it to describe the material constraints of a technology and their specific applications. For example, we perceive staircase in terms of what it facilitates – climbing floors – which constitutes its affordance(s). Similarly, Google Plus or Kindle has its own affordances; Kindle is used for reading books and cannot be used the way we use an iPad. Thus, affordances are linked to material-constraints of technologies in question.

Dematerialized Digital Artefacts: Digitality of information and artefacts is the spinoff of the internet era. With digitalization, the authenticity and centrality of information is destabilized. A book is a material artifact and the material form of the book not only stands for the cultural meanings contained in it but also for the attendant material authority. Digital artefacts are stripped of such canonical laws as everyone participates in the creation of digital texts. In that sense, digitalization has led to increasing dematerialization of texts and information artefacts. Materiality of a digital artifact is an emergent property and is not inherent in the information or the device that contains it ( See Writing Machines by Katherine Hayles ). Materiality is therefore not a technological feature but what the user/reader does with both technology and information contained therein. Further, the meanings of information are derived from the users’ interaction with both medium and content. The meaning making practices are therefore material and performative.

Participatory Culture: Participatory culture is a broad-based term that subsumes a wide array of activities that users perform in the digital age. Henry Jenkins has contributed a lot to the popularity as well as for the uptake of participatory culture as a theoretical framework. Some of the activities users perform frequently such as Do IT Yourself mashing up of music to create identities, crowd sourcing, blogging, fan cultures, community organizing exemplify participatory cultures. Jenkins defines participatory culture as one which allows free expression of artistic talent and civic engagement sharing one’s creations with others. In the process, everyone becomes a produser (producer and user). Users also establish social connection with others by sharing their creations. Participatory cultures are productive, creative and collaborative. For more, read The Participatory Culture Handbook edited by Aaron Delwiche and Jennifer Jacobs Handerson and also Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century by Henry Jenkins.

Performative Potential of Digital Technologies: Drawing on Judith Butler’s performativity, Science and Technology Studies posits that the materiality of things as well as the man-machine interactions is produced in social performances. Science and Technology Studies (STS) offers a different ontology of performativity, which is neither overly discursive (as Butler argues) nor does it overemphasise materiality at the cost of discursive constructions. This outlook therefore commingles both human and non-human entities in socio-technical frameworks such as online learning environments that put together offline and online contexts besides bringing together learners and technologies. The non-human actant represents material conditions while human entities account for social action with utterances. Technological failures apart, human entities can also be held responsible for the failure or success of a performative action that a technology ought to be facilitating in combination with the social action to be performed by the learner or the teacher. The performative potential of online exams of several entrance tests held for higher education or for admission to higher institutions posit the necessity of social-technical agencies wrought by both students who take exams and institutions that conduct them, teachers who prepare the exam, technicians who control the system and facilitate the smooth conduct of online exams. The failure of the performative potential of the technologies in this context is due to the assembly of socio-technical agencies, that is human and non-human entities.

Immutable Mobility: Immutable mobile is a term coined by Latour (1986) AU24: The in-text citation "Latour (1986)" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. and he used it to describe things that are easy to reproduce and transport without changing their inherent characteristics. Latour explains this term by drawing on the printing press. The printing press, for the first time, allowed ideas to move out of local and temporary places and spaces and spread across the world unlike the primal way of information dissemination that circulated within small territories. Besides, the printing press reproduced messages without distortion unlike face-to-face communication in which the message gets modified from person to person. We encounter immutable mobiles in internet technologies when the objects have the properties of being mobile (technologies and textual mobilities) but also immutable.

Media Ecology: The inspiration for media ecology comes from Marshall McLuhan although it was introduced by Neil Postman in 1968. It is being used an optic to understand media environment that we live in today. According to Neil Postman, media ecology refers to the media environment human beings encounter. He explains that media ecology deals with the interaction between the technology and human beings as the interaction defines the culture and the existence of human kind in a media-saturated environment. Further, media ecology examines how media is affected by culture, language, technology in line with Latour’s actor network theory. In the course of our interaction with media, it structures how and what we see, perceive and conduct ourselves. For instance, a research that explores how text messaging or Skype affects intimacy and love draws on media ecology.

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