learning landscapes in southern africa


Technology for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education Contexts: the AT and ANT Analytical Perspectives

Nhlanhla Mlitwa, University of Cape Town
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Technology for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

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There is a growing body of literature to argue that technology enhances teaching and learning process in higher education. In support of this model of thinking is an increased adoption of teaching and learning technology such as e-Learning and the learning management systems (LMSs) among higher education institutions. The ever growing trend of technology adoption however, is paralleled by a lack of clarity on conceptions of relationships between ICT and learning processes in academia. As a result, it is difficult to understand motivations for, and to make sense of ICT adoption patterns within and between higher education institutions. The patterns of the growing trend of technology between and within higher education institutions are also incoherent and inconsistent, and in the midst of the existing conceptual stampede – it is difficult to explain emerging patterns. This paper explores a possible framework that can enhance the analysis of objective (goal)-directed application of technologies in a teaching and learning environment, and implications thereof. The work of Miettinen, of Rajkumar, and as well as Miettinen and Hasu encourages the consideration of an Activity Theory (AT) for this purpose. Three case studies are drawn from technology usability studies, and put into the AT analytical framework. Attempts to apply an Activity Theory (AT) into this analysis are handicapped by its bias towards the instrumentalist view of technology as a neutral tool. Both an AT and ANT subscribe to the contextual embedded nature of technology but differ on implications and the status of technology in a socio-technical process. The ANT supports the critical view of technology as value-laden, thus encouraging the critical engagement with a technology in social environments. Its symmetrical assumptions however, limit its scope in accounting for differences between human cognitive capabilities and the non-cognitive nature of artefacts. The verdict therefore, is that the learning management systems should be conceptualized and treated as socio-technical networks. This will enable coherent engagements between humans, artefacts, tools, rules, communities, and resultant learning processes in the network. In turn, it will contribute to the realization of intended benefits of e-Learning -- within varying contexts in which it is engaged. An AT and ANT should supplement each other. Technical artefacts do not need to be relegated into neutrality, or afforded a symmetrical status with human actors. In closing, the paper recommends additional studies towards an AT and ANT framework of contextualising e-learning and LMSs.