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Thesis: Online teaching practices

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Karin Bolldén
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The aim of this study was to describe and analyse online teaching practices in the Swedish higher education context. The study had an online ethnographic approach and was based on empirical data on the teaching in two university courses. The study rested primarily on observational data but interviews and available documents also formed the basis for analysis. Empirical data were analysed with a perspective of practice theory – a perspective within a sociomaterial account. The results showed that online teaching was characterised by an embodied sociomaterial practice. The teacher’s body could be understood as both multiple and closely interwoven with technology. Furthermore, the teacher’s body was used in the teaching situation to reduce technological complexity but also, along with other forms of materiality, to prefigure what kind of teaching would take place. Teacher interventions in online environments could furthermore be understood as relational to both technology (that is the virtual material arrangement) and teachers’ doings and sayings (that is the teaching practice). Teacher interventions were aimed at making the arrangement intelligible for the students. The study showed that teacher interventions arranged both students and information and communication technology (ICT) in order to make them work as a teaching practice. The teaching practice that emerged was characterised as an interplay between virtual materiality and social practice, where asymmetric relations between teachers and the ICT prevailed.
The aim of this article was to analyse relations between online teaching practices and their virtual material arrangements. Two higher education online settings were studied using an online ethnographic approach in which observation of the teaching process was of central importance. The first setting was a course in education carried out on itslearning© (a learning management system) and the second setting was a language course in Second Life® (a virtual world). A socio-material perspective based on practice theory was used in the analysis, and the focal point was the co-constitutive relation between teaching practices and material arrangements in online settings. A number of relations between practice and arrangement were identified and analysed in the results section. It is argued that the relation between online arrangements and practice is not fixed and determined beforehand, but emerges and alters as the teaching unfolds.