22 SES 09A, Widening Participation in Higher Education (Part 2)
Laurence Edward Lomas
The topic of this paper is a critique of the concept of learning communities, particularly in relation to Higher Education. It seeks to develop a new conceptual framework whereby we can both understand and promote learning and sense of belonging in university contexts, particularly for currently undererepresented groups. This paper draws on a range of research studies in HE settings, with non-traditional learners, for example working class and migrant learners. It uses interdisciplinary theory from Education, Cultural Studies and Human Geography to explore the related issues of belonging, learning and community. It critiques dominant ideas of how learning communities should be created in HE as simplistic and regulatory.In current HE practice it is common to see universities described as learning communities, as espoused for example in Mission statements. This tends to depend on an erasure of difference and an adherence to a common set of values, often imposed at a corporate level.At a pedagogic and curricular level notions of 'communities of practice' see learning and belonging developed through shared activities and identities. This paper argues that learners in fact gain most benefit from creating their own symbolic communities and networks and that part of this process is recognising and vaildating the 'stranger' who is different, rather than trying to absorb them within a shared community. Such symbolic relations help to produce 'imagined' social capital, benefits that bring intellectual growth and new ways of learning as well as new ways of belonging in the university.It demonstrates how such imagined social capital works, using a rich variety of empirical data.It then considers how these new critical perspectives can help us to retehink educational as a cultural practice.
A range of qualitaitive research studies in HE settings
Learning communities and communities of practice are not conceptually adeqaute to create belongin and learning for nontraditional learners in HE. Symbolic networks and imagined social capital are more important.
Quinn, J. (forthcoming 2008) Learning Communities and Imagined Social Capital, London: Continuum
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