Where are you taking me? Thinking about the politics of network


The transcript of ‘Learning Networks, Not Teaching Machines’, a keynote delivered at EDEN 2015 in Barcelona by Audrey Watters in 2015, is a good read for anyone interested in networked learning, media-enhanced learning, and the use of social media for learning. I’d not read it before, but it exists to be discovered!

It’s timely for me as I am convincing myself that learning communities have relatively little value compared co-operative learning networks. While recognising that the idea of community membership still has value (as collaborative learning still has value) ideas to do with co-operative learning networks explain my own thinking about pedagogy in higher education.

Watters asks us to think critically about the politics of networked infrastructure. I recognise that my own interest in networks as educational and sociological phenomena cannot be seen as being politically neutral, even if we leave the agenda that drive higher education to one side.

Watters charts how valiant attempts among educators to create or adopt new media have methodically been thwarted by commercial interest. She says, “Education has not historically fared well when it comes to competing with commercial providers – not on the radio, not on the television, nor I’d argue on new computer-based technologies. These networks have triumphed commercially, politically. In turn, they frame what we mean by network – what we expect them to do, who gets to participate in them and how.”
She says we need to ask, “Who owns the “pipes” and “the wire”? Who owns the means by which content is transmitted? Who owns the satellites? Who owns the spectrum? Who owns the cables? Who owns the network? What networks – what infrastructure – have we inherited?”

I would add, “Who owns context?” – that sense that gives each one of us our rationale for the things we think and do.

I aspire to a higher education environment enacted as networked space in which our role is to develop learner agency and promote self-direction and challenge students to become self-determined. The networked space in my mind is a fluid idea of social learning network. Nevertheless, such space is dependent on infrastructures and infrastructure, is an essentially political concept for the student and the graduate that requires navigation and negotiation. Watters acknowledges this space,
“The Internet – and the Web in particular – enable a readable and a writable platform, where a multitude of voices can express themselves as creators not just consumers and not just through text but through a multitude of media – audio, video, still images, code. These new wires have powerful implications for self-organized learning, some argue – a new participatory culture of learning that need not be managed or monitored by formal educational institutions or by traditional sources of information. The new networks, like the Web itself, ostensibly act as this very postmodern sort of technical infrastructure whereby power is decentralized, distributed.”
So, as we continue to develop learner agency and ideas like co-production, and even digital literacies, we need to develop the critical acuity of our learners to use such space well.


Watters, A. (2015, 10 June). ‘Learning Networks, Not Teaching Machines’. Hack Education: The History of the Future of Education Technology. [Blog] Online at: http://hackeducation.com/2015/06/10/eden2015

About Andrew Middleton

NTF, PFHEA, committed to active learning, co-operative pedagogies, media-enhanced teaching and learning, authentic learning, postdigital learning spaces. Key publication: Middleton, A. (2018). Reimagining Spaces for Learning in Higher Education. Palgrave.
This entry was posted in Academic Innovation and Possibilities, Learning Space and Place, Media-enhanced learning, Open Learning, Social Media for Learning and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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