Networked Learning Conference 2010 
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Life Behind The Screen: Taking the Academic Online

Stuart Boon, Christine Sinclair
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom


The prospect of taking academic life online offers a range of challenges and opportunities for staff and students in higher education. This paper focuses on some of the many transformative experiences encountered by academics in adjusting to, and participating in, networked learning environments. Moving on from our initial reluctance to ‘inhabit’ social networking spaces, we adopt the well-used metaphor of the screen to find a framework for evaluating and developing questions raised in an earlier paper. We use personal experiences of becoming disconnected from traditional practices while at the same time drawing on the familiar to enable an effective transition to networked learning. We have conceptualised our route as involving a projection towards a screen, adjusting our focus to negotiate barriers and optimise enablers. But before we are fully immersed in a virtual world, we still have a stake in the ‘real’ one. This has implications for our identity as academics when we find ourselves operating in both kinds of environment simultaneously. It affects language too as existing expressions become transformed or superseded to refer to new kinds of practice. It entails new relationships with time, where speed and lag both change the nature of the activities engaged in. And academic engagement itself must be looked at anew, amid competing demands for attention. Identity, language, time and engagement are viewed as both barriers and enablers in the movement from behind the screen to full participation online. We illustrate in the paper how we ourselves are adjusting to networked learning. We aim to capture snapshots of these transitional states to support our work as educational developers, anticipating a future where we have to take on roles as projectors of new forms of practice. The process is raising questions about the extent to which academics can or should replicate old practices, and how we disaggregate and re-aggregate academic habits and values. In exploring transformation in transition from traditional spaces to networked learning environments, we seek to highlight how academics are variously encouraged or discouraged, inspired or hindered, empowered or disconnected. A future paper will consider the implications of our roles as ‘projectors’ and complete our analysis of life behind, on and through the screen.

Full Paper - .pdf




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