19 SES 09 A, Young People, Digital Identities and Online Places
This paper discusses the complexities of using ethnography to investigate the experiences of students on formal learning courses who use digital and hybrid (online/offline) spaces to develop their learning and create networked communities that complement their face to face experiences on formal courses. Formal and informal learning by students takes place online as well as offline or face to face (Leander & McKim, 2003), individually and in collaboration with others, peers/ colleagues and older or younger people, some of whom are in positions of authority in an institution, such as tutors/ teachers. To make full sense of the challenges, learning and changing identities that students experience in these circumstances, researchers have to be able to follow students’ interactions through the interstices of the online as well as the offline and face to face spaces of their education.
Educational institutions increasingly use online technologies to make learning resources available and encourage students to develop their capacities as independent learners (James et al., 2013). They make use of a range of multimodal technologies to develop formal learning, sometimes called blended learning (Littlejohn & Pegler, 2006) creating a complex relationship between online and offline interactions between people (Coffey, Renold, Dicks, Soyinka & Mason, 2006). Online communications can be used to enhance the physical learning spaces of a course and extend, “social interactions, storage and dissemination of knowledge” (Gaved & Mulholland, 2005, p.1) although to benefit fully from these opportunities, students, need to develop their digital technology skills through their courses (Beneito-Montagut, 2011). For example in a study of Access to Higher Education (AHE) students (James et al., 2013) all the vocational colleges used VLEs (Virtual learning environments) to support students’ learning and encouraged students to use email and telephonic communications with their tutors (Busher et al., 2014). Further, students set up their own Facebook groups to help them with learning tasks out of college hours. The AHE courses only met for formal lessons on two or three days each week during term time because many of the AHE students also had to have jobs to sustain their families and pay their course fees.
The hybrid communities that develop through the use of online and offline communications to complement face to face learning help students to begin to transform their identities as learners (Busher et al., 2014). These spaces can be considered liminal or ‘third spaces’ (Bhabha, 1994) that new members have to explore before they can assert their agency effectively. When moving in to new spaces, new participants do not have a clear understanding of institutional processes or other participants (Pierce, 2007). Understanding who are the “others” in those spaces, the notion of alterity (Amoamo, 2011) and who are the ‘same’ (Youdell, 2012) is important for helping new participants to recognise with whom they have to interact in what ways and what are the asymmetrical distributions of power in these spaces.
Drawing on studies in educational ethnography in online and hybrid spaces, this paper shows how researchers can investigate participants’ use of online media on its own or in conjunction with face to face communications for learning by using a range of multimodal research tools to collect data. However, carrying out research into the interactions of the ‘here and now’ as well as the ‘there and now’ of multimodal communications amongst groups of learners gives rise to ethical issues because of the complex nature of the relationship between online and offline processes in their participants lives (Busher and James, 2015).
Amoamo, M. (2011).Tourism and hybridity: Revisiting Bhabha’s third space. Annals of Tourism Research, 38(4) 1254–1273. Beneito-Montagut, R. (2011). Ethnography goes online: Towards a user-centred methodology to research interpersonal communication on the internet. Qualitative Research, 11(6) 716-735. Bhabha, H. (1994) The location of culture. London: Routledge British Educational Research Association (BERA) (2011). Revised ethical guidelines for educational research. London: BERA. Busher, H., James, N., Piela, A. & Palmer, A-M. (2014). Transforming marginalised adult learners’ views themselves: Access courses in England. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35(5) 800-817. Busher, H. & James, N. (2015) In pursuit of ethical research: Studying hybrid communities using online and face-to-face communications. Educational Research & Evaluation: An International Journal on Theory and Practice, Special Issue on Ethical Issues in Online Research 21 (2) 168-181. Coffey, A., Renold, E., Dicks, B., Soyinka, B., & Mason. B. (2006). Hypermedia ethnography in educational settings: Possibilities and challenges. Ethnography and Education, 1(1) 15-30. Gaved, M. & Mulholland, P. (2005). Grassroots initiated networked communities: A study of hybrid physical/ virtual communities. Proceedings of the 38th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-38), Hawaii, USA, 2005. Page(s): 191c James, N., Busher, H., Piela, A., & Palmer, A-M. (2013) Opening Doors to Higher Education: Access Students’ Learning Transitions Final Project Report - Phase 2. Leicester: University of Leicester, November 2013 Leander, K. M. & McKim, K.K. (2003). Tracing the everyday ‘sitings’ of adolescents on the internet: A strategic adaptation of ethnography across online and offline spaces. Education Communication and Information, 3(2) 211- 240. Littlejohn, A. & Pegler, C. (2006). Preparing for blended e-Learning: Understanding blended and online learning. London: Routledge. Piela, A., Busher, H., James, N. & Palmer, A-M., (2013) Agency and future life trajectories in accounts of access to higher education students in England. In B.Käpplinger, N. Lichte, E. Haberzeth & C. Kulmus (Eds.)(2014), Changing Configurations of Adult Education in Transitional Times: Proceedings of the 7th European Research Conference (pp.165-179). Berlin: Humboldt-Universität. Youdell, D. (2012). Fabricating ‘pacific islander’: Pedagogies of expropriation, return and resistance and other lessons from a ‘multicultural day’. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(2) 141-155.
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