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Title: The 'whole of the wall' : a micro-analytic study of informal, computer-mediated interaction between children from a marginalised community
Authors: Burgess, Michael
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: As a prominent symbol of the free-market, liberationist approach to International Development (ID), the Self-Organised Learning Environment (Mitra, 2006) has been presented as a bona-fide revolution in primary education provision, a means by which the global poor can finally gain a legitimate foothold in modernity with nothing more than a computer and an internet connection (Tooley, 2006). Naturally, the notion of a credible, teacher-less environment characterised by a spontaneous and coherent pedagogy of enquiry is a remarkable yet, highly emotive hypothesis with potential consequences far beyond the domain of ID. Indeed, a review of the associated literature attributes a raft of learning claims to the SOLE, not to mention supplementary social and psychological benefits (Mitra 2012). On the other hand, an overtly foundational approach to SOLE research is neither supported by an empirical study of participant interaction nor a coherent definition of learning, presenting the participants as nothing more than `ghosts with a machine`. On the understanding that self-organisation can only truly exist as an emergent practice, where talk-in-interaction is presumed to reside at the heart of social order (Boden & Zimmerman, 1991), this thesis represents a detailed micro-analysis of SOLE participation among children from a marginalised community resident in Boyacá, Colombia. In direct contrast to a large-scale, etic approach to educational research founded on a priori concepts, testing, statistics and generalisation (Mitra, 2006), the learning space is reconceived as a distinctly intimate, Community of Practice (Wenger, 2000). In which case, computer-mediated activity is characterised relative to an interactional paradigm (Hutchby, 2001) and Page 3 the canonical features of mundane conversation, including; turn-taking, repair and topic management (ten Have, 1999). To begin with, it is argued that SOLE interaction can be arranged in terms of the following series of interrelated routines: Entry; Challenge; Search; Tutorial; Evaluation; Outage; Fly-Solo. As Sacks anticipated (Silverman 1998), micro-analysis reveals that participation and computer-mediated multi-activity is broadly consistent with the exigencies of context. Self-organisation then is shaped by the social realities of identity and the seemingly paradoxical features of group belonging (sharing) and individual autonomy (control) manifest in practices of opposition, assessment and insult (Goodwin & Kyratzis, 2009; Corsaro, 2005). Secondly, the SOLE organisational and learning structure is distinctly intra-personal and autocratic in nature. Thereafter, peer-to-peers relations are subject to situated distributions of epistemic authority coupled with unilateral demonstrations of the deontic equivalent. Moreover, Mitra’s idealised representation of a learning environment free from institutional/ideological interference i.e. outdoctrination, is challenged by a conspicuous, politicisation of the SOLE by the participants themselves. Thirdly, the dyad is the principle mode of operation where participants orient towards the computer as a limited resource/object rather than an active participant or product of social construction. Forthly, interaction is broadly consistent with the principal features of canonical talk where accountability is sustained through a combination of linguistic and para-linguistic activity (Atkinson & Heritage, 1984). To this effect, participant intersubjectivity is produced and sustained through mutually supportive acts of mediated coherence relative to a recognisable series of emergent procedures, namely: dispute; action-listing; effectuated repair; reciprocal exchanges; place-saving. Finally, the Page 4 detailed linguistic features of interaction point to an object-oriented, `mobilising` speech-exchange system operating directly at the interface between talk and social action. Whilst the precise flow of interaction is virtual-activity dependent, the system is consistently characterised by abbreviated forms of talk, most conspicuously; deictic reference, directives and response cries supplemented throughout by embodied gesture/metanarrative. Irrespective of these linguistic shortcuts, not to mention limitations of computer affordance i.e. ambivalence, overload and diversions, the general absence of breakdown suggests a degree of communicative competence between the participants. In which case, notions of situated learning and knowledge are not so much cognitive and mechanical in nature but distinctly social and interactional (Hutchby & Moran-Ellis, 2001) with the principal aim of CoP assimilation: learning is not so much related to the acquisition of arbitrary, content-centric knowledge, as it is about play, identity and situated competency as part of an emergent social practice within an unfamiliar mediated context In conclusion, it is argued that a liberationalist approach to ID research and education is definitively and inexorably deterministic in nature. In the absence of interactional data, Mitra is seemingly obliged to co-opt the principle symbols of an alternative, social-cultural paradigm i.e. collaboration, agency, democracy, equality, criticality, in order to add intellectual ballast to the otherwise empty claims of self-organisation i.e. a `Trojan Mouse` approach to social and educational change (Selwyn, 2011). In broader terms of development policy, the issue of authentic representation is viewed as a priority. Thereafter, the study Page 5 recommends a context-sensitive paradigm of ID research as a meaningful supplement to the prevailing logo-centric orthodoxy. Consistent with the rhetoric of post-colonialism, emphasis is shifted to a post-structural sociology (Heritage, 1984) and educational curriculum (Slattery, 2006) supported by a counter-balancing emic approach to research i.e. micro-ethnography, one that seeks to give authentic voice not only to SOLE participants but to the multitude living extreme poverty as a relentless, day-to-day reality.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

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