Structure and Agency

My colleague Jutta Pauschenwein and Jenny Mackness will be presenting a paper at the Networked Learning Conference in Lancaster later this year – Jutta, who is also responsible for the ZML Leseclub I am proud to take part in, asked to put their paper on the agenda for our next meeting. It covers an interesting topic, namely the tension between structure and agency in learning environments – and this especially from the instructors perspective.

In reading through this paper I get the feeling for the need to discuss several topics:

  • agency of the learner depends on internal, personal habits as well as on the designed and presented structure of a course
  • agency on the learner side can only be managed to a certain degree from the instructors side
  • agency of the learner is an indirect result of the design of the course and the relationship between participants (and instructor)
  • As an instructor I have to take care of an environment that suits a maximum of learners
  • and I have to be aware that role identities change, but according to a given expectation management roles do not vanish and shouldn’t be expected to do so

Although this paper refers to our COPE15 experience and so covers a MOOC learning environment, I believe that as an instructor I have to navigate through the dichotomy between structure and agency (of the learner) in designing every single learning experience – in my case, in the field of journalism, public relations and public communication – every single course. In a lecture as well as in a seminar. Accepting and recognizing that (e)-learning takes place everywhere and always.

 

Ein Gedanke zu „Structure and Agency“

  1. Hi Gudrun
    Jutta has pointed me to your blog post about our paper which will be presented at the Networked Learning Conference in May. Thank you for discussing the paper in your reading club. What a great idea to have a reading club associated with your faculty.

    Jutta has probably told you that the conference only accepts submissions of no more than 8 pages, including the references, so we were a bit short of space. The Footprints of Emergence, which as you know, is the tool we used to examine the relationship between structure and agency in cope15, are difficult to explain briefly ☺

    We did look at the relationship between structure and agency from the instructor’s perspective, but more from the instructor as MOOC designer perspective – so we didn’t get into MOOC facilitation/teaching in any depth. I’m sure we could have written more about this with more space.

    You say : ‘I have to navigate through the dichotomy between structure and agency (of the learner) in designing every single learning experience’, but I don’t see structure and agency as a dichotomy – more as a ‘balancing act’. Also I don’t see them as being on either side of a see-saw, i.e. if structure goes up agency goes down and vice versa. There will be cases where lots of structure is needed for learner agency and so on.

    And you have written: ‘agency of the learner depends on internal, personal habits as well as on the designed and presented structure of a course’. Yes, I agree. In a paper that I wrote with Carmen Tschofen a few years ago, we discussed how personality traits will affect learning in a MOOC.

    Tschofen, C. & Mackness, J. (2011) Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl

    For me what the footprints tool enables is the opportunity to take a holistic view of the relationship between structure and agency in a MOOC, or to explore structure and agency separately; but to know more about agency we would need to interview users of the footprints drawing tool, which we didn’t do for this research. Hopefully we will be able to do this in future work.

    Thanks for writing about our paper. Jenny

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