Monday, March 7, 2016

Book Review: Chris Jones "Networked Learning" 2015

So I review books occasionally for the British Journal of Educational Technology. Last year I put my hand up to review Chris Jones' new book and they sent me my copy. I am a busy guy and things do not always get the right priority. By some happenstance, Springer also sent a copy of the book to a scholar in Iran who has clearly got his act together better than me because when I eventually sent my review in (having actually read the book - it's a conscience thing) I was told by the reviews editor that BJET had already published a review on it!! So I thought I'd look elsewhere. Seems not many learning tech journals bother with book reviews now. I found one that did and I'm giving up on emailing them a third time. I have a blog. That'll do nicely. Here it is...

I was excited to see that Professor Chris Jones had published a substantial contribution to this topic. He was my personal tutor in Lancaster from 2002-2008 and I have since followed his published work with interest. He is one of the only scholars I would trust or expect to take this project on and carry it off. 
As soon as possible I asked the library to make the electronic book available and made time to begin reading. However, a deep sigh of relief and a mild thrill combined when the hardcover book arrived since I found this is a challenging read. For me, with any work requiring similar levels of concentration, e-books fall short, and Springer’s platform is better than some. I strongly recommend getting a paper copy for the library (which seems to be what over-priced hard-backs are for these days!) or wait for the paperback.
Chris Jones' depth of analysis and breadth of perspective are rare, and when he writes, in my opinion, anyone with a role in learning technology policy, practice or scholarship, particularly within higher education, should pay close attention. He does not shy away from teasing apart the contributions of some big names in educational technology: Conole, Weller, Siemens, Oliver. Nor does he become lost in the morass of complexity that characterises such a multi-faceted area. As networked learning researchers have found, it is difficult to circumscribe networks in order to isolate a unit of analysis. But limiting the scope of enquiry to where IT is used does not stymie the field, it rather attunes its focus, allowing research to coalesce. Networked learning’s values are at the heart of sustaining its vision, meaning that while social theories of learning are preferred, it has avoided collapsing into privileging a particular version of that. Nor has it obsessed over the latest ed-tech fads, such as MOOCs. Yet it does have an informed view on all these things and, indeed, most aspects of the entire learning landscape, underpinned by critical and humanistic values. Indeed, some pages make networked learning more ‘movement’ than ‘paradigm’. For example,
“Good learning involves discourse, mediation and interaction between people and their learning resources. As a consequence networked learning has a view about the university as a public institution. This view of networked learning supports strong institutional public provision… [which] separates [this view of networked learning]… from those who see institutions as barriers to good learning and technology as a means to undermined current institutional provision.” (page 132)
Prof Jones argues for a clear distinction between networked learning and e-learning, reiterating claims dating back to at least 2001, for a definition of networked learning that deliberately homes in on networks mediated by information technology (IT) (see In spite of seismic technological change since the late 1990's, this definition has proved remarkably robust and fruitful as the basis for a field of research spanning 20 years. Prof Jones' writing is typical of the best that the networked learning field has to offer: not founded upon mere fascination with technology and its assumed agency, neither does networked learning lapse into mere tirade at the many shortcomings and fault-lines in learning technology's history and literature. Instead the networked learning tradition has picked out a careful line of positive scrutiny. Prof Jones own recent research demonstrates the importance of empirical work to counter wooly theories like ‘Net Generation’ and ‘digital natives/immigrants’, yet the persistence of these educational memes is like a microcosm of networked learning's ongoing battle for a stake in learning technology conversations at all levels. I was reminded of the 2001 JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee) ‘Effective Networked Learning in Higher Education: Notes and Guidelines’ (see a brilliant contribution but one that was hard to translate. Similarly, I hope this book’s strength and message will not be its weakness. 

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