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"We are all learners and teachers." Is technology blurring the boundary between the two?

Does the form of collaborative learning that takes place with Web 2.0 resources now tend towards a...

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Edmund Peston
14 July 2010

Does the form of collaborative learning that takes place with Web 2.0 resources now tend towards a blurring of the boundary between teachers and learners?  On the Open University H800 Technology Enhanced Learning course we have been asked to consider whether learners now have ownership of technology enhanced learning.   Does this question imply a hierarchy and suggestion of "them and us" which no longer applies?  Do learners learn as much from their peers as from staff, and do staff learn as much from students as from their peers?  Are there situations where a rigid division between the two still applies?  Discuss these and other relevant issues, and post resources relevant to the debate here.

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Kevin Amor
7:52am 16 July 2010

As educators do we assume that learners want the 'them & us' removed? Is there not a case that learners (I'm now typing this as a  H800 student) like having a boundary between their 'learning' world and their 'real' world. The difference helping to impose a helpful discipline  - "now I'm going to put on my learning head..."  

Edmund Peston
9:01am 16 July 2010

I would agree that learners may want boundaries between their learning world and the rest of their lives for the reason you state.   I wonder whether it's also partly about preferences for style of communication - being able to communicate with whoever, however one most feels comfortable.  Is there perhaps more scope for this sort of variety of communication in educational situations using technology than on a traditional course?  For me, on H800 there seems to have been a lot more humour in learning spaces than I've encountered on previous courses, albeit mostly from the students, but not all. But then again some might prefer to communicate more formally with educators than with fellow learners.   It might be interesting to look at the style of communication on Cloudworks as a whole and see what conclusions could be drawn.

Melanie Burton
9:20pm 25 July 2010

I'm also a fellow H800 student and this is my first formal posgraduate module learning experience after being in a work environment for over 20 years (not as an educator).

Student context: I think the student context must play a significant part in whether a learner wants boundaries or not. As a mature student I have quickly adapted to the technology enhanced learning of today and that used on H800. My experience has been a very positive one and very enlightening in terms of the collaborative learning with both fellow students and also my tutor, who I see as facilitator but also as a learner in this context, learning from the students.

The fact that I keep my study very separate from my working day means I naturally 'put on my learning head' when I settle to study at home.

Impact of the medium: I find my interations with my tutor are mainly via the asynchronous discussion forums which are relatively informal in style, incorporating humour although I do feel that in our tutor group all contributors adopt a certain level of 'professionalism' in their postings. However, when we adopted new technologies such as Twitter these afforded a much more informal style of communication between students and tutor and I would say from this experience it is the medium that has led to a breaking down of the boundaries that still exist in other mediums.

Teacher/tutor: Maybe there is a place for boundaries and from my experience, and perhaps partly directed by the tutor, both student and tutor together recognise this? I certainly appreciate the distinction in our roles but see that we are both learning and that the tutor is a facilitator and moderator now more than a 'teacher' as I remember from school days. I am learning more from my collaborations with fellow students than from a tutor. Technology enables self-directed learning with support from the tutor, rather than being teacher-led. However, first time undergraduate students may desire more of a teacher role than facilitator in supporting them in their learning development.

Kevin Amor
9:52am 29 July 2010

I wonder also if there might be a subject bias. Do certain subject require a more 'teacherly' approach? For example the natural sciences or maths, where it might be difficult to facilitate learning - possibly the acquisition metaphor is more applicable?  

Julie Carle
7:19am 30 July 2010 (Edited 7:21am 30 July 2010)

An interesting topic Edmund. Personally I don’t believe there are explicit boundaries between formal and informal learning.  I am learning all the time with new technology. I agree with the comment that there is more scope in a technology enhanced learning environment.

However, I see inevitable boundaries between student and tutor in that the tutor has insights into the learning that the student/learner is still coming to grips with and still forming their own interpretation. This is why the peer-peer engagement is so important, and the tutor there as a supportive/facilitative element in the learning journey.

I also agree that humour is essential in learning. This was a key factor in developing my Bob and Sue video characters to contextualise H800 learning through technology by using dialogue and humour. I can teach from my learning, so inorder to teach effectively I need to continue learning.

Gráinne Conole
10:57am 30 July 2010

Think this is a great topic and very pertinent. Giota Alevizou and I are just completing a review of web 2.0 tools and practices and this is one of the recurrent issues that comes out from the literature. 

Tom Franklin
11:45am 30 July 2010

Of course there are boundaries; one may wish to pretend that they do not exist, but there is (at least on an assessed course) a power relationship that cannot be avoided.  That is especially true in higher education where the teacher and the assessor are the same person.  It may therefore be less true where the assessment is externally handled.

Because there are boundaries and power relationships does not mean that one should try to reduce the boundaries, only that if one does not recognise that they exist then one may be in a worse position than when they are explicitly recognised.

Gráinne Conole
12:01pm 30 July 2010

Yes I agree Tom the power dimensions are very real particularly in a formal, assessed context. I think there are always two sides to learning i) how it is structured/set out/design/supported ii) the actual enactment of the learning. Traditionally these were distinct and separate but now increasingly there is more of a blurring BUT its still important to recognise they are both there even if it is the learner setting up i) for themselves.

Sui Fai John Mak
12:08pm 30 July 2010

Hi Tom,

You are suggesting that boundaries do exist - the power relationship that cannot be avoided.  How will power be perceived by the teacher and students? What is the role of the teacher in the handling of power in higher education?

"Because there are boundaries and power relationships does not mean that one should try to reduce the boundaries,"  Why can't one reduce the boundaries?  Would a reduction of boundaries help the students (adult learners in particular) in learning?  If we reflect on what has happened in social networked learning, what happens here?  Aren't we all learners and teachers to each other?

So, what is the goal of educator? Would it be to support our learners (and ourselves) become better educator and learner?  How could we set up a successful education environment if the learners perceive their educators staying far away from them?  If we look at any religious education, does the "educator (or the leader) set himself or herself from the learner (or follower)?  Would a narrow down of boundary help in bridging the power gap?




Gráinne Conole
12:12pm 30 July 2010

I think the goal is to set up meaningful learning pathways and provide support when needed. Meaningful pathways become even more important when helping learners to navigate today's complex and rich digital landscape.

Sui Fai John Mak
12:41pm 30 July 2010

Hi Grainne,

All agreed. Meaningful pathways. Are we modelling these ourselves too?

Sui Fai John Mak
12:55pm 30 July 2010 (Edited 1:25pm 30 July 2010)

Hi Grainne and others,

How about the findings and discussion here Is it reflective of the reality of teachers and professors in Higher Education.  If teachers or professors don't "feel" the need of introducing or using Web 2.0, or PLE/PLN in the teaching and learning, how would the learners be "convinced" that they should also learn using the tools?  I have often heard or got feedback from students and educators that students prefer simple, well explained lessons by instructors, rather than going through the complicated and complex process of learning through the social networks, or Web 2.0, etc.  May be some students found social networking a waste of time, or that they could easily be distracted from studies if they spend too much time in the social media and social networking.  So, it is not a simple solution, when it comes to learning pathways, especially when students would like to see how and why their teachers and professors are using the technology (VLE, PLE/PLN & Web 2.0) in the teaching and learning process.  If teachers are not recognising the importance of blogging, wiki or forum discussion in teaching and learning, would students think that they should also embark on such learning pathway or learn about them?

Would there still be many myths about technology based learning in an open networked learning environment? Are there boundaries between teachers and students relating to technology based learning? Many of our students still "believe" that they could learn better in a "safe and closed 4 walls classroom" environment where they pay their fees to "listen and learn" from their expert professors.  There may be some "truth" to this for young learners who have little or no experience in online and networked learning.  Is it the belief in some of our (your) students in HE?  How could we move forward to help them in understanding the needs and expectations of "future learning" in a more open learning environment - the internet and social networks?


Antonella Esposito
8:28am 2 August 2010

Hi all,
I am inclined to interpret the question that has prompted this cloud within the tensions being produced between course designers, faculty and students, when using social media in elearning course design. It is not easy to split out hype about social media and real use in real educational contexts. We need more empirical studies and less ideological and market-driven pressures, to make informed choices. These pressures even create a sort of ‘moral panic’ – as Martin Oliver has recently highlighted – in teachers, who feel themselves as inadequate to cope with a tech-savvy and autonomous student model that not always matches students' behaviours in real educational contexts.
Two years ago I wandered for my ECA for H807 “What is the impact of Web 2.0 tools on elearning course design practices in higher education?”, in order to investigate if and in which ways power relationships  are changing in elearning design teams in university. I found that (at that time) was a quite unresearched topic. Here just some thoughts considering faculty’s standpoint.
Actually, the new generation of tools seems to convey the tacit belief that “we all are learning designers” (Waller, 2007), potentially distributing the design function towards different subjects, such as teachers and students. Therefore the professional role of course designers/learning technologists is being questioned, as well as the responsibility of quality control.
A teacher piloting social media is not likely to need a course designer and/or an ICT centralized support service: social media are easy and ready-to-use. However, it is necessary not to forget that social media are mere components in a complex digital landscapes, as Grainne Conole shows us. In a university to date the digital landscape has been dominated by the institutional VLEs (or LMSs), that usually support teaching practices more than learning needs and personalizations. So, on the one hand the gained ‘autonomy’ of teachers using ICTs can create potential conflicts beween early adopters and centralized support services; on the other hand no wonder that faculty mainly use LMSs.
In fact, the individual adoption of social media implies a shift attitude: as Dave White suggested with his metaphor ‘digital residents/visitors’, social media should be intended more as “spaces to inhabit” that mere tools to be selected in a tool box, when they are needed for a specific purpose. This produces a new, subtle and deeper digital divide, that can affect both teachers and students and can’t be overcome merely by a technical training.
Of course also one’s own teaching approach and epistemological position influence the way we apply social media in teaching practice: Twitter can be used as a broadcasting medium and a wiki can be used as a mere means to publish a syllabus, if the implied teaching approach is trasmissive. On the other hand a successful learning experience using Twitter to foster discussion and manage teamworking is likely to be successful if knowledge production and collaborative knowledge building are the basis of the teaching approach, beyond the technology being used.
In addition, faculty have always seen ICTs either as tools to enhance existing practices in teaching or as instruments to innovate teaching and learning (OECD, 2009). This is a key issue referring to social media, because these tools embed “powerful ideas” as architecture of participation, user-generated content, openness, etc. Faculty who are open to intend ICTs as instruments of innovation are more likely to fully embrace social media and harness its enabling power to give control and responsibility to students. 
However, for Tony Bates (Bates, 2005) one of the embedded risk in the fast adoption of Web 2.0 tools is just to increase the “Lone Ranger” attitude in teachers who operate as self-taught designers of short-term and impromptu experiences. Bates often underlines in his blog the need of faculty training as a pre-condition in the incorporation of ICT-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education. Beyond the brave pioneers, it is up to institutional committment to define long-term strategies and provide support and guidance to facilitate the innovation of the traditional higher education asset.

Oops. too long post, but the topic is intriguing ;-) To be continued...


Anderson, P. (2007), ‘What is Web 2.0? Ideas, technologies and implications for educations’, JISC – Technology & Standard Watch. Available online from: 
Bates, A. W. (2005), Technology, e-learning and distance education, (2nd ed.), Abingdon, UK, Routledge
JISC/HEFCE (2009), Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience, UK.URL: 
Waller, V. (2007), ‘Are we all learning designers now?’, Inside Learning Technologies [online], January. Available from:

Rob Mossop
2:19pm 2 August 2010

For "technology" one could easily just interpose "books" - this isn't exactly a new question is it? I'm sure there were similar discussions when the printing press came along, though with rather more alarmist concerns regarding the general populace.

In any case, regarding the 'blurring', Socrates was forever attempting to bounce his interlocutors off one another, asking for a general questioning rather than a specific teacher-learner dialectic. The amount of blurring you can get away with (and still achieve an improvement in knowledge) is, I would've thought, entirely context dependent. In the cloud anyone can pretend to authority (just like me, here), so there's a dissipation of the power relation (c.f. Wikipedia, though less so these days) and an accompanying incitement to argumentation (the cloud is the forum, to stretch the comparison with Socrates further). In a standard classroom situation it's normally clear where the boundaries lie, which is useful and probably necessary as well, if you actually want any knowledge to pass between teacher and student.

As I say, I'm not sure that these questions have any kind of intrinsic relation to 'technology' understood as 'Web 2.0' or some-such, except perhaps in the degree of its effect (i.e. books take longer to get through than a Google search; meeting up and discussing over coffee is more time-consuming than discussion online.) Students have always discussed their learning, whether classroom-based or independently lead, with their peers and again, depending on the learning context, someone who is a 'learner' may gain knowledge solely from their peers despite authoritarian attempts to deliver the same content formally (e.g. "behind the bike sheds" sex education at school level). More recent technology may exacerbate some of this, but I'd hardly say it was something new, nor that it is particular to 'Web 2.0'

It strikes me that what's really being discussed here is a matter of authority and who a learner will accept as an authority on a given subject, whether it's the external source (which might lead to this 'blurring' of teacher and learner, purely because the learner has given up on their teacher), or the teacher (where the learner brings source material to the teacher for arbitration as to its value). Again, though, I really don't see how this is a Web 2.0 question. A book might just as easily coalesce a learner or group of learners in opposition against a teaching (or other) authority as something found and discussed in the cloud. Likewise a book might just as easily be brought to a teacher for discussion and clarification as could a discussion on a Facebook group, or here. 


Tom Franklin
4:05pm 2 August 2010

Dealing with the ludditical professors in this post.

I think that there are a number of pertinent things.  Firstly, the vast majority of teaching staff in universities have no, or almost no,  training or education in teaching.  Therefore what they do is what they learnt when they were a learner.  Anything else is liable to take them out of their "comfort zone" because they do not have any theoretical structures to hang it on.  Without these structures new methods become a threat.

Secondly, the benefit may be to the learner rather than the teacher.  I am aware of one university that has been trying to get its staff to accept electronic submission (and marking) of text based assessments.  Many staff have been coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why this shouldnt happen from privacy through it is too difficult.  There are some courses which now require students to bring in the script and then submit it electronically (honestly).  Now this might not be so bad if the students were campus based; but they are not with the result that they have to come in - in some cases over 25 miles - using car or public transport just to hand in an essay if they dont have any classes that day / week.  What is more when they do get there they may have to queue up for quite a while to hand it in.  Now, this does not affect the teacher at all; but it has a big impact on the students.  So, what incentive is needed (other than care for your fellow human beings and students) to make these staff change their behaviour?

And, if they won't do it for something that is as simple as this then how do we get them to reflect on their teaching practice and improve it? and improve it with, or without the use of technology?

Gráinne Conole
7:42am 3 August 2010

@antonella thanks for the detailed summary and links - I like Martin Oliver's phrase 'moral panic' and I totally agree with you that it is complex, there is no simple right or wrong. Also agree that we need more empirical studies, but even then we need to be cautious as of course the majority will be within a particular context. So yes of course social media has immense potential, but I don't see the need for 'traditional' teaching roles disappearing overnight.

@Tom er: educational training of course now new lecturers at least do get this. However I think a bigger issue if enabling them to have the time to experiment and explore the potential of these new technologies and how they can be used in their context.

Sui Fai John Mak
1:35pm 3 August 2010

@Tom @ Grainne There are numerous educational training available on web, networked course and conferences.  The issue relates to enabling them to have time to experiment.  Yes.  How would the professors, teachers and students respond to those experiments?  As Grainne has mentioned, though social media has immense potential, the traditional teaching roles could still exist for sometime.  Are the expert learners (professors) ready for the changes?  There are huge implications here - that relate to how professors perceive their roles and the need of technology in their teaching, as revealed in the survey.  Would educational training be enough?  What would our professors like to say?


Tom Franklin
4:27pm 4 August 2010

@Grainne Yes, new academic staff in the UK (but as far as I can see not generally) get some very limited training in how to teach.  However, with the exception of programming I cannot think of another profession where you are allowed to be a supposed expert with 40 hours training in how to do the job.  And 40 hours is all that many universities offer / require their staff to do.

To get on one of my hobby horses HE is one of the last areas of amateurism and in HE's case this also amounts to rank hypocrisy.   HE tells teachers that they need a teaching qualification BEd, MEd, PGCE or whatever - unless of course they are teaching in HE in which case because they have been pushed hard new staff have to have 40 hours training.  It offers vast numbers of qualifications in management, but how many of the SMT of most universities have any qualifications such as MBA?  very very few?

So, HE offers these qualifications, but does not believe in them.  Why, in that case should we believe in any of the other qualifications that HE offers or requires people to have in order to practice? </rant>

Chris Follows
3:33pm 26 August 2011 (Edited 9:23am 27 August 2011)

Categories of variation in practitioner tutors’ experience of the relationship between practice and teaching in art and design. this is number 5 - " Integrating - There is a holistic relationship between practice and teaching. There is an elision between practice and teaching knowledge and they become one and the same thing" worth a read ... Extract of thesis by Alison Jane Shreeve Transitions: variation in tutors’ experience of practice and teaching relations in art and design.

Shreeve, chapter 4 (2008) helped me reflect on my practice and general approach to teaching, I strongly relate to the paralleling and collaborating strategies associated with category 5: Integrating:

Paralleling: ‘The tutor is in effect carrying on their own practice whilst teaching and sharing that with students’

Collaborating: This strategy is about joint activities that remove the distinction between the tutor and the student. It recognises that there is little to separate the neophyte practitioner and the tutor and the sense of power relations between them is diminished’

 Shreeve’s strategies have influenced conceptual change in my practice

Jemma Buck
11:42am 5 December 2011

Sorry this may come up twice - I clicked the wrong button - learning curve in action

Hi to all

I teach in a French university, sometimes to what is known as the LANSAD sector, which means that I am teaching English to specialists of other fields. I have taught in Maths, Physics, Sports Science, Geography, and so many other fields. I am a long way from being an expert in any one of the fields.

For a long time, I've deliberately blurred the boundaries, at secondary and now at tertiary level.  pretend, and sometimes it really isn't a pretence, to not know something or to need to confirm something, and I use that as a trigger for student who asked, other students in order to scaffold the first, or us all to go check. Learner as expert helps to motivate them.

It's also deliberate on my part to blow away the myth that teacher knows everything!

Interesting discussion this, I will follow it with interest.


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