That technologies will have a major impact on society is no longer in question. Instead, current debates look at how far this impact will be positive or negative, for whom, and in which ways. Therefore, a more pertinent question nowadays is how that impact can be such that it improves the quality of our lives? That question, I believe, has agency at its core thus it is an inextricable part of the answer.
What I want to share and reflect with the audience is how the use of open and participatory tools (Hergarty, 2015) can support student’s agency in digital practices, and thinking more broadly, I question how a sophisticated open digital practice can promote human flourishing (Floridi, 2018), an integral feature when we think about students’ well-being in a digitally mediated society. This, in turn, I argue, will foster self-realisation and serve as an antidote to digital inequality. I aim to extend on these connections further in my talk.
The aim of the presentation is then to deconstruct, with the audience, the idea of agency and how it is articulated in open educational practices?
I use Realist Social theory (Archer, 2007) to explore agency, looking at the interplay of culture/structure and agency and how they shape one another. From that exploration what is certain is that explaining the lack of agency observed in student’s academic (closed) digital practice as a straightforward matter of choice would be an epistemic fallacy (Bhaskar, 1989; Sayer, 2000). It would be failing to consider the culture and deeper structures that individuals exist within, particularly in light of other tendencies or patterns such as those observed in my data: the lack of control over the tools, lack of background knowledge and social support, as well as an inability to make sense of the open digital space in the academic context, this complemented with the lack of a ‘real’ need to endure the struggle that tinkering with any new tool implies (Valetsianos, 2002) . Realist social theory reminds us how agency is shaped by structural constraints that are part of the institutional culture within which students operate, stressing the importance of structures in their own right preventing us to collapse them with the activities of individuals, in this particular case, students in HE.
As a complement to this reflection, I want to present an idea I have been tinkering with as a way to define agency in digital spaces, namely, reflexive engagement, a combination of Archer’s concept of reflexivity and Donati’s (2013) idea of relational engagement. Reflexive engagement is thought as the way in which students articulate their agency in digital practices, hopefully, to be able to move from a closed and rudimentary academic digital practice to an open and sophisticated one.
My work builds on the work of other scholars interested in open educational practices, such as Catherine Cronin, Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams, Glenda Cox, Henry Trotter, Laura Czerniewicz, and others. This text is just a snapshot of a bigger study I am involved in.
I will share theoretical and empirical findings with the audience hoping to share ideas and get feedback. A padlet wall will be created for further suggestions that the audience could not share during the session. Agency is not so much resarched in open practices and even less in the academic context, so I hope to bring some new ideas into the community looking to shed some light into some of the constraints students experience in their academic practice and together find some implications for the design and craft of open learning spaces.
– Archer, M. (2007) ‘Introduction: reflexivity as the unacknowledged condition of social life’, in Making our Way through the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–22. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511618932.001.
– Bhaskar, R. (1989) The Possibility of Naturalism: A Philosophical Critique of the Contemporary Human Sciences. 3rd edn. London and New York: Routledge.
– Hergarty, B. (2015) ‘Attributes of Open Pedagogy : A Model for Using Open Educational’, Educational Technology, July-Augus(August), pp. 1–13. doi: 10.1016/j.calphad.2007.10.001.
– Floridi, L. (2007) ‘A Look into the Future Impact of ICT on Our Lives’, The Information Society, 23(1), pp. 59–64. doi: 10.1080/01972240601059094.
– Floridi, L. et al. (2018) ‘AI4People – An Ethical Framework for a Good AI Society : Opportunities , Risks , Principles , and Recommendations’, Minds and Machines. Springer Netherlands, 32(December), pp. 1–24.
– Sayer, A. (2000) ‘Introducing Critical Realism’, in Sayer, A. (ed.) Critical Realism and Social Science. First. London: Sage Publication, Inc. Available at: https://profs.basu.ac.ir/spakseresht/free_space/realism and social science (introduction).pdf (Accessed: 7 July 2017).
– Veletsianos, G. (2010) ‘A definition of emerging technologies for education’, in Valetsianos, G. (ed.) Emerging Technologies in Distance Education. Athabasca University Press, Chapter 1, pp. 3–22. Available at: http://www.aupress.ca/books/120177/ebook/01_Veletsianos_2010-Emerging_Technologies_in_Distance_Education.pdf.