ChapterPDF Available

Introduction: A Postdigital Position on Online Postgraduate Education

Authors:

Abstract

This is the introductory chapter to our book, Online Postgraduate Education in a Postdigital World: Beyond Technology. Online postgraduate education is a growing form of education that allows people from around the world to come together and learn with and from each other, building knowledge and skills that contribute to personal and collective development. The quality of these programmes can, however, suffer from approaches that have been developed for on-campus and undergraduate education or, alternatively, conceptions of the relationship between education and technology where learning is seen as instrumental and independent of the practice and influence of educators. We begin this introductory chapter with a look back at the commentary with which we launched the call for chapters for this book, where we conveyed our view of online learning as an embodied, socially-meaningful experience. We then consider what has changed since then, during a year in which the Covid-19 pandemic has influenced higher education in ways few of us could have imagined, and resulted in an unsettling period for all educators. Online education has been brought under the spotlight as never before, with recent developments influencing our thinking and about the context of online postgraduate taught education. We explain our own postdigital positionality, which underpins our teaching as well as our aspirations for this book. For us, this involves considering how our goals and our philosophy relate, not only to the complex needs of postgraduate students, but also to the wider community that online postgraduate programmes inhabit. From there, we set out the terrain that is covered in the subsequent chapters of the book.
Pre-print to appear as: Fawns, T., Aitken, G., & Jones, D. (2021). Introduction: A Postdigital
Position on Online Postgraduate Education. In T. Fawns, G. Aitken, & D. Jones (Eds.).
Online Postgraduate Education in a Postdigital World: Beyond Technology. Cham: Springer.
Introduction: A Postdigital Position on Online Postgraduate Education
Tim Fawns, Edinburgh Medical School, University of Edinburgh,
tfawns@ed.ac.uk, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5014-2662.
Gillian Aitken, Edinburgh Medical School, University of Edinburgh,
Gill.Aitken@ed.ac.uk, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5492-1943.
Derek Jones, Edinburgh Medical School, University of Edinburgh,
derek.jones@ed.ac.uk, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2197-7657.
Abstract
Online postgraduate education is a growing form of education that allows people from around
the world to come together and learn with and from each other, building knowledge and skills
that contribute to personal and collective development. The quality of these programmes can,
however, suffer from approaches that have been developed for on-campus and undergraduate
education or, alternatively, conceptions of the relationship between education and technology
where learning is seen as instrumental and independent of the practice and influence of
educators. We begin this introductory chapter with a look back at the commentary with which
we launched the call for chapters for this book, where we conveyed our view of online learning
as an embodied, socially-meaningful experience. We then consider what has changed since
then, during a year in which the Covid-19 pandemic has influenced higher education in ways
few of us could have imagined, and resulted in an unsettling period for all educators. Online
education has been brought under the spotlight as never before, with recent developments
influencing our thinking and about the context of online postgraduate taught education. We
explain our own postdigital positionality, which underpins our teaching as well as our
aspirations for this book. For us, this involves considering how our goals and our philosophy
relate, not only to the complex needs of postgraduate students, but also to the wider community
that online postgraduate programmes inhabit. From there, we set out the terrain that is covered
in the subsequent chapters of the book.
Keywords: postdigital positionality, online postgraduate education, Covid-19, postgraduate
taught, online learning, online teaching
Why online postgraduate education?
Online Postgraduate Education in a Postdigital World: Beyond Technology is an edited
collection building on the premise that online learning is not separate from the social and
material world, and is made up of embodied, socially meaningful experiences. It is founded on
a ‘postdigital’ perspective, in which, much more than interactions with keyboards, computer
screens, hardware or software, the learning that happens on online postgraduate programmes
spills out into professional and informal settings, making connections with what comes before
and after any formally scheduled tasks.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, online postgraduate taught (PGT) education
1
(e.g.
Master’s, and Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas) was growing rapidly, as professionals
around the world looked to build knowledge and skills that contribute to personal and collective
development. As argued within a number of chapters of this book, online PGT education has
been recognised within higher education as a key area for economic growth, yet it remains
under-theorised, and the quality of these programmes often suffers from approaches that have
been developed for on-campus and undergraduate education or, alternatively, simplistic
models of e-learning where learning is seen as instrumental, and relatively independent of the
1
The term ‘taught’ is used to distinguish from postgraduate research programmes such as PhDs.
practice and influence of educators. This book explores the ways in which online PGT
programmes extend beyond digital spaces, and the implications for educational policy and
practice. The book ties together a range of themes to create a rich picture of what happens on
online postgraduate programmes, the factors behind successful practices, and how these can
contribute to individual and collective change. It combines empirical and theoretical chapters,
underpinned by critical perspectives that resist instrumental assumptions about technology.
Unlike other books relating to online education, Beyond Technology combines a
theoretical perspective, in which the digital, physical and social are all interconnected within
complex educational ecologies, with a focus grounded in postgraduate practice. This focus has
important implications for the kinds of students and learning that are explored in the chapters
of the book. These students are, predominantly, studying part-time, while working as,
potentially, senior professionals with significant practical responsibilities. They are diverse in
terms of location, cultural backgrounds and settings, material infrastructures, age and life
circumstance. They are often studying advanced concepts and developing capacities for critical
appraisal, engaging with issues of social justice and ethics, and questioning the structures,
policies and politics of their workplaces and disciplines. These characteristics influence the
considerations of teaching, course design, evaluation, policy and governance, and faculty
development, and it is these considerations that constitute the primary contribution of this book.
Our aim is to provide a holistic picture of these various considerations and their combination,
in relation to what is required to produce good quality, online postgraduate programmes.
Our focus on the postgraduate context differentiates our offering from other books,
because of the important implications for the kinds of students (part-time, professional and
potentially experts in their field, internationally dispersed, different life circumstances). It also
caters for the needs of both those new to online education, more experienced practitioners who
are looking to expand their repertoire of approaches, and those seeking more critical and
theoretical perspectives.
Before giving an outline of the contents of the book, we look back at the commentary
article (Fawns, Aitken, and Jones 2019) with which we launched the call for chapters. First, we
include the commentary as it was published in May 2019, and then consider what has changed,
during a particularly unsettling year for online education due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in
terms of our thinking and about the context of online postgraduate taught education. In doing
so, we explain our own postdigital positionality that underpins our aspirations for the book, as
well as our teaching. For us, this involves considering how our goals and philosophy relate not
only to the complex needs of postgraduate students, but also to the wider community that online
postgraduate programmes inhabit. From there, we set out the terrain that is covered in the
subsequent chapters of the book.
Online Learning as Embodied, Socially Meaningful Experience
2
If there is no soul in computer-music then it’s because nobody put it there.
(Bjork 2019)
Two common views about online learning are that communication and relationships are
inherently poorer online; and that online learning can be scaled up without significant
additional cost. Online learning has been identified as a key growth area for the higher
2
This paper was originally published as Fawns, T., Aitken, G., & Jones, D. (2019). Online Learning as
Embodied, Socially Meaningful Experience. Postdigital Science and Education, 1(2), 293-297.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-019-00048-9.
education sector, often without a realistic consideration of resource requirements, or an
appreciation of the transformative value that online education can have for students.
In our context of taught postgraduate programmes, ‘online’ is a place where meaningful
relationships, based on trust, can develop. Our students, through dialogue with an
interdisciplinary and international online community, have developed critical and analytical
ways of thinking that have extended their capacity to influence practice and policy in their local
settings (Aitken et al. 2019). However, building an academic community takes time, and
becomes increasingly difficult amidst a global, market-led, neoliberal drive for Universities to
dramatically increase numbers of students (Jones 2019). This puts considerable pressure on
teaching staff, and poses risks for the quality of education. In this commentary, we take a
critical postdigital perspective (Fawns 2019), in which all forms of education must account for
a complex integration of digital, social and material elements, to reject reductionist approaches
to growth in online learning.
We challenge the perception that the experiences of online learners are limited by
distance or technology. Rather, we argue, the limiting factors are time, policy, infrastructure
and pedagogy. The blunt depiction of online learning as a unified concept, with inherent
properties, can be seen in policies, advertisements, blog posts, social media comments, and
even in educational research. Take this statement from Bergstrand and Savage on why,
according to them, online tutors treat students with less respect: ‘…by separating students from
teachers in space, online classes prevent the face-to-face interactions critical to the student-
teacher relationship’ (Bergstrand and Savage 2013: 303).
We are aware of many cases in our programme (the MSc Clinical Education), and
others, where face-to-face interactions are absent, yet there are still strong and trusting student-
teacher relationships. We have developed practices over time that make use of our
technologies, and their accumulation of digital traces (email trails, online discussion postings,
printed lists of student names, photos, occupations, locations, websites and search engines,
etc.), to support social presence, communication, and understanding of our students.
On the other hand, the assumption that face-to-face is inherently social and supportive
is easily refuted by cases where on-campus students have not managed to build meaningful
relationships with their teachers. We suspect that everyone reading this can imagine many such
cases. Of course, even the claim that there are no face-to-face interactions in online learning is
problematic, since communication through videoconferencing, Skype, FaceTime, etc., could
be described as face-to-face, even if the faces are not present in a shared physical space (Fawns
2019). Where then does the material boundary lie between meaningful and meaningless
interactions? We suggest that there is no boundary.
We would not argue that teaching online is the same as teaching face-to-face. Published
literature (Kebritchi et al. 2017; Ryan et al. 2005), and our own interviews with staff new to
teaching online (Aitken and Loads 2019), shows that there is a significant adjustment and
learning curve involved. However, the differences are often oversimplified. The primary
challenge is in adapting principles and practices of teaching to encompass new and multiple
contexts, rather than because online is a separate domain, or because it is inherently more
socially-impoverished, isolating, or flexible than face-to-face teaching. For us, the instrumental
views highlighted above signal a need for the development of a wider repertoire of approaches
and practices, and a more critical conception of teaching. We see teaching, not in terms of
crudely categorised approaches such as ‘traditional’, ‘problem-based learning’ or ‘online
learning’, but as a potentially unbounded mix of diverse, subversive, and unpredictable, digital
and non-digital interactions. This is as true for a face-to-face, lecture-based, ‘traditional’ course
as it is for a ‘fully-online’ course (Fawns 2019).
Just as our online teaching is not temporally or spatially bounded, ‘online learning’ is
not a separate domain, because learning does not really happen online. True, some of our
students may sit alone at a desk with a computer in a room that is thousands of kilometres from
the nearest physical campus of our institution, but their learning is still physical and embodied.
Furthermore, our students do not do all of their learning at such desks. Learning carries on,
away from the virtual learning environments of the programme (Fawns and O’Shea 2019). It
filters into the physical settings of home, cafes, and workplaces, and in transit between them.
For example, it is not unusual for some of our students to engage with materials whilst on call
in an emergency department, or during family dinner time.
The material aspects of education are easily forgotten (Fenwick 2015; Hetherington and
Wegerif 2018), even in face-to-face classrooms, and so it is not surprising that online learning
is often discussed as if it is a disembodied experience that happens in a separate reality. Yet
material objects and environments make significant contributions to online learning. There are,
for example, many subtle acts of material configuration that play an important role in how
students learn. In our video tutorials, we can see some of the ways in which students do this:
positioning a fan nearby to cool the air, the pre-tutorial ritual of making a cup of tea, the closing
of doors to mute the sounds of children or pets, the moving from one device to another to work
around technological constraints. Others can see and react to these material elements, even if
the view of them is limited (e.g. by two-dimensional video, photos or, in some cases, textual
descriptions). These experiences make it clear that online learning happens in physical spaces
(Bayne et al. 2014), and understanding the contribution of both social and material elements of
online learning will help our students get the most out of their programme (e.g. by engaging in
discussion with peers, learning to configure their technologies, etc.).
The assumption that online learning can be unproblematically scaled up without
significant additional cost or increased pressure on staff is implicit (or, sometimes, explicit) in
a number of policies and initiatives in higher education (Selwyn 2007, 2010). In our
experience, such instrumental conceptions of teaching do not fit many of the practices that
happen in online learning. Whilst the same applies to face-to-face teaching, policies relating to
workload, ‘contact time’, or appraisal, often based on a traditional, lecture-based timetable, can
significantly misrepresent online teaching activity (Tynan et al. 2015). Whilst online courses
are likely to feature a timetable, teaching is often not structured in such formal, scheduled
terms; as either happening or not happening at a particular time. Online teaching is potentially
always happening, in the sense that teachers can dip in and out of fora, respond to emails, and
post guidance or prompts that can be engaged with at any point in time.
The astute observer might argue that this has always been the case; teachers have
always had to communicate with students about some aspect of their studying outside of
scheduled teaching hours and formal communication channels. Perhaps this is just part of the
job, for which teachers do not get much credit. Indeed, the thinking that we have to do as we
develop online spaces prompts us to reconsider issues that have, in fact, always been there,
surfacing largely hidden practices of teaching. Perhaps most importantly, this includes
foregrounding the extent to which teaching involves activities of preparation and pre-
configuration before scheduled activities (design), and of reaction, reconfiguration and
subversion during them (orchestration) (Fawns 2019). However, pedagogical approaches that
have developed alongside the evolution of technology in education shift the balance of the
formal and informal (McWilliam 2008) such that elements that do not fit neatly into the official
record may actually constitute the majority of an academic’s teaching activity.
If the current success of our programme is to be maintained, our teaching must respond
as much to the contexts of our students as to the online spaces in which our interactions take
place. We must give them opportunities, and appropriate support, to adapt their learning
practices to suit the constraints of their settings (e.g. internet bandwidth, working
environments, job demands, time zones). Elements of infrastructure can help or hinder, by
changing teachers’ and students’ capacity to act effectively with the social and material
resources available to them. As such, inflexible systems and tools, and standardised policies
that do not account for the different needs of a diverse range of part-time, mature, professional
or international students, compromise our ability to develop meaningful relationships and
communities.
In our view, successful online programmes are the result of students, teachers and
administrators learning to work effectively within and around the constraints of infrastructure
and policy. It follows that these collaborators should be supported to develop practices that
work for them, both individually and collectively. The effective running of programmes
requires a range of complementary expertise, and so the support and development of staff,
along with the time requirement for that development, needs to be taken seriously. As such,
evaluations of teaching, or of courses or programmes, should not only include, but foreground,
developmental aspects (Fawns, Aitken and Jones 2020). Further, evaluation should not just be
focused on individuals and their particular performances, but also on how different people,
technologies, resources, environments and structures come together in social, material and
digital activity. On our programme, we work hard to engage in regular, ongoing dialogue to
reflect on emerging ideas, discuss approaches and practices, support each team member’s
development, and develop a shared vision and values. All of this takes considerable time and
expertise.
In online learning, just as in any other context, shared histories of practice foster
emotive interdependence (Sutton 2018). Through a rich constellation of past encounters, a
learning community is established in which embodied, emotive experiences take place and
teachers transcend the mode of delivery, becoming ‘authentic’ (Kreber et al. 2007) through
meaningful dialogue with students. This kind of online learning cannot be scaled up without
significant additional cost because, while, technology can replicate resources and provide rich
(or poor) possibilities for communication, it cannot solve the fundamental requirement of
skilled staff spending time on, and with, each student.
Taking a view of all education as consisting of experiences in which material and digital
activity combines in social and embodied encounters (Fawns 2019), we can guard against
attempts to position online learning as a ‘cash cow’ (Feenberg 2019), where technology is seen
as the solution to problems of scalability (Selwyn 2007), and where human meaning is
incompatible with the logic of efficiency (Feenberg 1999). A critical postdigital perspective
helps us to make judgements, not about ‘online learning’ in general, but about the particular
combinations and configurations of diverse elements that make up an online learning
programme. By understanding how these configurations create rich or impoverished
communication and relationships, we can see how increasing student numbers might change
the parameters of design and influence our capacity to respond to the situated practices of
students.
What’s new?
The above commentary reflected on our collective experience of running a large, well-
established, online postgraduate programme in health professions education: the MSc Clinical
Education at the University of Edinburgh. The commentary received a warm reception from
the higher education community, with thousands of downloads in the first few weeks and
plenty of attention on social media. This was pleasing to see, because we felt at the time that
our approach to online learning was radically at odds with the dominant narratives we read and
heard from colleagues, within and beyond our University. Postgraduate online learning was
poorly understood and seen as something that existed in a separate reality from traditional and
on campus education, even though it was obvious to us that digital technology had already
permeated the physical classrooms and study environments of all forms of higher education.
Our postdigital perspective (see Fawns 2019 for an in-depth discussion) made accounting for
such entanglements relatively straightforward.
Fast forward to 2021, and online learning has become mainstream, perhaps even the
dominant form of higher education at this moment of writing. Suddenly, formerly fringe online
postgraduate educationalists like us have become sought-after experts, as lecturers frantically
look for advice on how to teach online because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The reception to
our earlier commentary and a number of other publications and blog posts has demonstrated a
rise in visibility of online learning specialists—the newly-discovered experts who had been
hiding in plain sight all along. Yet there is an important reason that online education specialists
like us had been largely ignored by the majority of teachers up to that point: some of what we
have to say is uncomfortable and inconvenient. Challenging, not just to teachers, but to
University leaders in our questioning of current academic practices and regulations.
Perhaps it seemed strange to those lecturers who sought our help as they adjusted to a
new model of education, to hear us say that ‘a “course” cannot be moved online, because it is
not a simple static, portable, thing’ (Fawns, Jones and Aitken 2020: 2). Those who were
primarily seeking technical insights might have been frustrated by our explanations that they
should not attempt to use technology to re-create the kind of teaching in which they were
experienced, and that their approach should not focus on what they, the teachers, would do but
on what the students would do. They might have been alarmed to hear us say that teachers have
very little control over what students do, and that the teacher’s role is primarily to configure
environments that are conducive to community and relationship building, and that allow
students agency in determining what and how they learn. It might have been even more
unsettling as we gently tried to persuade them that much of this had also been true for their on
campus teaching all along, and that tradition and culture had made these principles invisible.
The novelty of designing for online education simply shines a light on some assumptions and
fundamental principles that apply to all teaching, whether online or not.
As challenging as this change in mindset is, it should also be liberating. As we also
explained, whenever we got the chance: online teaching can be used primarily as a springboard
from which students can depart the virtual learning environment and learn in physical settings,
with physical as well as digital materials. The reverse is also true for on campus teaching—it
is a catalyst for learning as students depart the classroom and learn in dispersed locations, often
with diverse technological devices and software. For us, separating the digital from the material
(by thinking that the learning in online programmes happens in a computer, or that the learning
in on campus programmes happens in the classroom) constrains the possibilities of what
teaching can be, and neglects how it can set students up for flexible and idiosyncratic ways of
learning that fit with their lives, preferences, learned habits and preferred social groupings. The
assumption that what happens while the teacher is present is the most important part of any
given course is, for us, the great mistake of much higher education, whether on campus or
online. This insight is particularly important in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, as the
ability of students to connect at specific times in particular ways (e.g., high-bandwidth, on
camera, at specific times) is even more constrained than usual. Using contact time as a means
of providing signposts and clarification to students makes much more sense to us than
attempting to deliver content that can easily be pre-recorded.
The embodied and social aspects of online education are more important and
pronounced than ever, and the pandemic has demonstrated the need to interrogate our
assumptions about students. The chapters of this book do just that, considering a range of
important and interrelated facets of online postgraduate education, teasing out themes that can
help us to understand how quality is constituted and enacted in this domain.
What’s in the book?
In Chapter 1, Charles Marley, Arfang Faye, Jeremy Moeller, Angi Pinkerton and Elizabeth
Hurst give us insights into the diverse conditions and challenges of online postgraduate
education from the student perspective. They show the impossibility of predicting which
students will show up or what they will need, and the relevance of an ethic of hospitality
(Derrida, 2000; Ruitenberg, 2011), where programmes do not just cater to different needs but
actively make space for each student to make contributions to the course on the basis of the
differences they bring. It is through such a position that diversity becomes a positive principle,
not a deficit to be overcome (see also Chapter 9 by Stone, Dyment and Downing).
In Chapter 2, Sharon Boyd considers examples of place-based pedagogy and forms of
assessment focused on each student’s location in order to reclaim the embodied and materially
situated aspect of online postgraduate education. Boyd’s consideration of how the land and
ecosystems to which students are connected can positively contribute to courses based
elsewhere, and how they might help teachers and peers attune to the local conditions and
elements of others. For us, there is a broader lesson in Boyd’s work that is relevant to the book
more generally, which is that online learning happens in material settings, and those settings
matter emotionally, socially, materially and pedagogically.
In Chapter 3, Dai Hounsell takes up the considerable challenge of marshalling some
key studies from the disparate field of feedback and formative assessment in online
postgraduate education. Beyond the direct contribution of pulling together these dispersed yet
valuable studies, Hounsell synthesises and draws out valuable lessons and considerations for
online postgraduate study, and highlights ways in which these differ from on campus and
undergraduate, in terms of practices and goals.
In Chapter 4, Kyungmee Lee presents her own autoethnographic narrative as teacher of
a module on an online Doctoral programme, to convey her emotional journey, and how it
relates to those made by her students as they develop authentic ways of being in a shared online
space. She highlights the value of mutual vulnerability, in promoting trust and community in
online, professional programmes.
In Chapter 5, Tim Fawns and Christine Sinclair discuss the limitations of standardised
evaluation practices that focus on student satisfaction surveys and outcome measures. Arguing
for an ecological perspective in which all aspects of education (e.g., technologies, methods,
resources, systems, policies) are entangled, and responsibility is distributed between teachers,
students, and the institution and its infrastructures and environments, they propose developing
thick descriptions of practice and purpose. These descriptions convey not only the details of
what happens on a course, but embedded ways of interpreting those details that relate to the
purpose and context of the course.
In Chapter 6, Sonia Bussey considers the ways in which online teachers can be
marginalised, particularly those with caring responsibilities, health conditions and disabilities.
As Sonia notes, ‘online teachers are still acting in physical, embodied ways, even when they
conduct their work outside of the university classroom’ (PAGE). Thus, teachers deserve the
same attention in relation to diversity and disability as do students, yet this is often neglected
in online education. In the online postgraduate context, teaching often takes place outside of
normal work hours in order to fit with the busy lives of working postgraduate students.
In Chapter 7, Rachel Buchanan uses postdigital theory to highlight some ways in which
Twitter use in education is entangled in economics, politics, and other contextual elements.
Buchanan critically examines her own practice of using social media within her teaching,
raising a number of concerns in relation to the perpetuation of problematic practices. She
concludes that such technology should not be used uncritically within education, but that it can
also not be ignored, particularly in an online learning context, and particularly at postgraduate
level where engagement with technology and digital media are increasingly part of professional
development.
In Chapter 8, Gill Aitken and Sarah Hayes review policy and strategy documents
relating to online postgraduate education to highlight a marginalisation, within the discourses
of online and digital education, of the value and labour of teachers. They argue that beyond
demotivating and devaluing teachers, such rhetoric impedes faculty and pedagogical
development, and leads to an administrative emphasis on solutionism and investment in the
procurement of technological systems at the expense of investment in programme staff. They
conclude that re-finding the teacher in institutional and wider discourse is necessary to
preserving and improving the quality at course, programmes and institutional level.
In Chapter 9, Cathy Stone, Jill Downing and Janet Dyment reflect on issues of diversity
within online education. They argue that online postgraduate education must take account of,
and adjust in relation to, the busy and complex contexts of the lives of the cohorts of students
on those programmes. Arguing for a whole-of-institution approach in which practitioners at all
levels understand the diverse needs of online postgraduate students, and attune their practices
accordingly, Stone and colleagues offer useful recommendations for those involved in
teaching, design, administration, student support, infrastructure, and policymaking.
In Chapter 10, Derek Jones argues that we are now in a ‘postcurriculum context’, in
which multiple, competing conceptions of the purpose and structure of education co-exist. The
absence of a consensus around what a curriculum is or how it should be organised, allows
educators space for interpretation and negotiation of the complex interrelations and overlap
between different ideas about education and its outcomes. At the same time, Jones proposes
that acknowledging this ambiguity is crucial to understanding the implications of the different
approaches. At a programme level, thinking about the tension between those approaches helps
us to see the options we have for responding.
In Chapter 11, Tim Fawns, Michael Gallagher and Siân Bayne examine what would be
necessary for a whole-of-institution approach to improving the quality of online postgraduate
education. Analysing two different initiatives at the University of Edinburgh aimed at
developing digital education at an institutional level, they ask ‘who is the institution?’ By
articulating decision-making and policy-making structures in terms of the negotiation of
centralised and localised practices, they argue that coherent approaches to improving
postgraduate education must involve both policy and culture that aligns central and local aims
and values, while retaining sufficient ambiguity to allow appropriate, but not free-range,
discretion of programme-level educators.
As a whole, the book conveys valuable theoretical and practical insights into how
various stakeholders of online postgraduate education might develop practices that
contribute—directly or indirectly—to better quality experiences for students. We editors—Tim
Fawns, Gill Aitken and Derek Jones—ourselves teachers and leaders of an online MSc in
Clinical Education, have found that our postdigital position has both shaped and been shaped
by the chapters of this book, and our work with the chapter authors has been valuable to us in
several ways that we return to in the concluding chapter. In addition, the staff and students of
two online PGT programmes, in particular, have had a significant influence on the book and
on a number of the authors. The MSc Digital Education, on which a number of authors have
taught (Bayne, Fawns, Gallagher, Hounsell, Sinclair), is recognised worldwide for its quality
of design, community and the critical perspective of its educators. The MSc Clinical Education,
on which all editors currently teach, serves as a case study and inspiration for much of the
content of this book. The planning and teaching of this programme has significantly shaped the
development of the positionality we share here. For us, good online postgraduate education is
a collaborative activity, and while we hope that the ongoing development of our practice does
benefit our students and colleagues, we must also acknowledge the benefit that they have on
our practice.
During the production of this book, our colleagues from the Centre for Research in
Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh released their book of The Manifesto for
Teaching Online (Bayne et al. 2020). As the authors of that book note in the opening pages,
‘[i]t is relatively rare for large teaching teams to come together to define and agree on a shared
political and pedagogical stance on the act of teaching’ (xiii). What counts as a large team is
debatable, but, as a team, we have developed (and, indeed, must continue to develop and
renegotiate) a shared philosophy and a ‘shared political and pedagogical stance’. We can attest
to the value this has in driving our practice forward on our own online PGT programme, in
ways that we believe are of benefit to our students and to the wider networks of which they are
a part. However, as the chapters of this book show, we must not simply impose our own ideals,
aims and intended outcomes upon our students and colleagues, but also allow our practices,
courses and, indeed, our political and pedagogical positions, to be influenced by their voices.
In what follows, a range of valuable examples are presented that attend in different ways to the
complex considerations of online postgraduate students, teachers, administrators, learning
technologists, managers, and institutions, all of whom contribute in crucial ways to this diverse
form of education.
References
Aitken, G., Jones, D., Fawns, T., Sutherland, D., & Henderson, S. (2019). Using Bourdieu to
explore graduate attributes in two online Master’s programmes. Advances in Health
Sciences Education, 24, 559–576. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-019-09885-6.
Aitken, G., & Loads, D. (2019). Experiences of staff new to teaching postgraduate students
online: implications for academic staff development. Journal of Perspectives in Applied
Academic Practice, 7(1), 37-46.
Bayne, S., Evans, P., Ewins, R., Knox, J., Lamb, J., Macleod, H., et al. (2020). The manifesto
for teaching online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
https://doi.org/10.7551/mitpress/11840.001.0001.
Bayne, S., Gallagher, M. S., & Lamb, J. (2014). Being ‘at’university: the social topologies of
distance students. Higher Education, 67(5), 569-583. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-013-
9662-4.
Bergstrand, K., & Savage, S. V. (2013). The Chalkboard Versus the Avatar: Comparing the
Effectiveness of Online and In-class Courses. Teaching Sociology, 41(3), 294–306.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0092055X13479949.
Bjork. (2019). Technology with soul. http://www.bjork.fr/technology-with-soul,2605.
Accessed 22 May 2019.
Derrida, J. (2000). Hostipitality. Angelaki, 5(3), 3–18.
https://doi.org/10.1080/09697250020034706.
Feenberg, A. (2019). Postdigital or Predigital? Postdigital Science and Education, 1(1), 8–9.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0027-2.
Feenberg, A. (1999). Questioning technology. London: Routledge.
Fawns, T. (2019). Postdigital Education in Design and Practice. Postdigital Science and
Education, 1(1), 132–145. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-018-0021-8.
Fawns, T., Aitken, G., & Jones, D. (2020). Ecological Teaching Evaluation vs the Datafication
of Quality: Understanding Education with, and Around, Data. Postdigital Science and
Education, 3(1), 65–82. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00109-4.
Fawns, T., Aitken, G., & Jones, D. (2019). Online Learning as Embodied, Socially Meaningful
Experience. Postdigital Science and Education, 1(2), 293-297.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-019-00048-9.
Fawns, T., Jones, D., & Aitken, G. (2020). Challenging assumptions about “moving online” in
response to COVID-19, and some practical advice. MedEdPublish, 9(1), 83.
https://doi.org/10.15694/mep.2020.000083.1.
Fawns, T., & O’Shea, C. (2019). Evaluative judgement of working practices: Reconfiguring
assessment to support student adaptability and agency across complex settings. Italian
Journal of Educational Technology, 27(1), 5-18. https://doi.org/10.17471/2499-
4324/1027.
Fenwick, T. (2015). Sociomateriality and Learning: a critical approach. In D. Scott & E.
Hargreaves (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Learning (pp. 83–93). Los Angeles: SAGE.
Hetherington, L., & Wegerif, R. (2018). Developing a material-dialogic approach to pedagogy
to guide science teacher education. Journal of Education for Teaching, 44(1), 27–43.
https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2018.1422611.
Jones, C. (2019). Capital, Neoliberalism and Educational Technology. Postdigital Science and
Education, 1(2), 288–292. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-019-00042-1.
Kebritchi, M., Lipschuetz, A., & Santiague, L. (2017). Issues and Challenges for Teaching
Successful Online Courses in Higher Education. Journal of Educational Technology
Systems, 46(1), 4–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047239516661713.
Kreber, C., Klampfleitner, M., McCune, V., Bayne, S., & Knottenbelt, M. (2007). What do you
mean by “authentic”? A comparative review of the literature on conceptions of
authenticity in teaching. Adult Education Quarterly, 58(1), 22–43.
https://doi.org/10.1177/0741713607305939.
McWilliam, E. (2008). Unlearning how to teach. Innovations in Education and Teaching
International, 45(3), 263–269. https://doi.org/10.1080/14703290802176147.
Ruitenberg, C. W. (2011). The empty chair: Education in an ethic of hospitality. In R.
Kunzman (Ed.) Philosophy of Education Archive (pp. 28-36). Urbana, IL: Philosophy of
Education Society.
Ryan, M., Hodson-Carlton, K., & Ali, N. S. (2005). A model for faculty teaching online:
Confirmation of a dimensional matrix. The Journal of Nursing Education, 44(8), 357–
365.
Selwyn, N. (2007). The use of computer technology in university teaching and learning: A
critical perspective. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 23(2), 83–94.
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2006.00204.x.
Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: Notes towards the critical study of educational
technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65–73.
https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x.
Sutton, J. (2018). Shared remembering and distributed affect: Varieties of psychological
interdependence. In K. Michaelian, D. Debus, & D. Perrin (Eds.), New Directions in the
Philosophy of Memory (pp. 181–199). New York: Routledge.
https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315159591.
Tynan, B., Ryan, Y., & Lamont-Mills, A. (2015). Examining workload models in online and
blended teaching. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(1), 5–15.
https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12111.
... It was quite clear that a 'one size fits all' approach wasn't going to work. At that time, we were reading very widely around the educational literature and, quite early on, we had discussions about Derrida's (2000) ethic of hospitality that that crops up in the book (Fawns et al. 2021c;Marley et al. 2021) and how we could make space for people coming from lots of different backgrounds. ...
... These reconfigurations of biology, information, and society are closely related to our understanding of postdigital humans (Fuller 2020;Savin-Baden 2021), and to new transformations of belief and religious practice (McLaren 2020; Reader and Savin-Baden 2021; Trozzo 2020). Perhaps less obviously, but just as importantly, these new reconfigurations underlie 'traditional' research topics as diverse as epistemology of truth/deceit (MacKenzie et al. 2021), online behaviours (Koole et al. 2021), and learning (Fawns et al. 2021;Gallagher et al. 2020;Goetz 2020;Networked Learning Editorial Collective 2020). They also have implications for postdigital thinking (Ryberg et al. 2021), living (Lacković 2020), postdigital spaces (Calder and Otrel-Cass 2020), political economy (Arantes 2020), and activism (Bauwens and Jandrić 2021). ...
Article
Full-text available
Article
Full-text available
COVID-19 is forcing many Universities to close for some time and programmes for medical, allied health, and nursing students are moving online. Based on our extensive collective experience teaching a variety of health professionals in clinical and academic settings, and of online learning, we want to question assumptions that seem apparent to us in some of the discourse around "moving teaching online". We write from the perspective of a team delivering a postgraduate programme for professionals working full time (in most cases) from around the world and different professions; however, we believe the issues raised are applicable to online education in general. There is a practical purpose to confronting these assumptions. It is our aim to help those delivering health professions education avoid some pitfalls that we think would result in poor quality experiences for all concerned. We do not believe that online education is inherently poorer nor, indeed, fundamentally distinct from on-campus education. However, there are certainly important considerations for learning to teach online, and we attempt to highlight some of these. We also provide some advice to those new to teaching online based on our experience, research, and the literature.
Article
Full-text available
Current evaluation of higher education programmes is driven primarily by economic concerns, with a resulting imbalance towards the summative assessment of teaching and away from faculty development. These agendas are advanced through datafication, in which the transformation of social and material activity into digital data is producing a narrow, instrumental view of education. Taking a postdigital perspective on contemporary practices of evaluation outlined in higher education literature, we argue for an ecological view, in which evaluation must take account of those aspects of teaching, learning, and educational context, missing from digital data. We position quality as distributed across teacher, student, institution and context, arguing for the cross-fertilization of diverse kinds of data and non-datafied understandings, along with greater involvement of teachers and students in ways that enhance their agency, and develop their evaluative judgement of the quality of educational practices. We conclude that datafied practices can complement expert judgement when situated within a trusting, formative environment, and informed by an understanding of both pedagogy and technology, and clarity of educational purpose.
Article
Full-text available
OPEN ACCESS (https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-019-00048-9). Two common views about online learning are that communication and relationships are inherently poorer online and that online learning can be scaled up without significant additional cost. Online learning has been identified as a key growth area for the higher education sector, often without a realistic consideration of resource requirements or an appreciation of the transformative value that online education can have for students. In this commentary, we take a critical postdigital perspective (Fawns 2019), in which all forms of education must account for a complex integration of digital, social and material elements, to reject reductionist approaches to growth in online learning.
Article
Full-text available
Reference for published version: Jones, C. (2019). Capital, Neoliberalism and Educational Technology. Postdigital Science and Education. DOI : 10.1007/s42438-019-00042-1 https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-019-00042-1 --------- I have been asked by experienced colleagues what neoliberalism means and why it is relevant in educational technology. To me the link seems obvious but let me set out some of the links between neoliberal political economy and educational technology. Educational technology has a relatively long history (Cuban 1986) and this commentary is restricted to computing and digital technologies in education. Currently digital technologies are established features throughout education. Indeed the core digital presence of many educational institutions is the Learning Management System (LMS) (Virtual Learning Environment, or VLE, in the UK). These systems retain many of the features found in early applications of computer conferencing and even their look and feel hasn’t moved on significantly since the introduction of a graphical user interface (GUI). The really significant advances in technologies have been in devices, networks and memory, with a movement from desktop personal computers and mainframe computers to mobile phones and tablets connected to high speed networks and the cloud. Institutional islands and dial up facilities have changed to high speed broadband networks accessed via mobile and Wi-Fi connections linked to extensive storage. Technological changes are sometimes seen as the dominant driver of social change, a kind of technological determinism. However in the same time period that technology changed there was a political and economic transformation of the world economy from a competition between capitalism and socialism, with a developing ‘third world’, to a single global system differentiated into geographical regions and nation states. Capital is triumphant, the economy is global in scope, and the state has been reduced in the face of resurgent markets. Perhaps surprisingly there has been little focus on the relationships between the global resurgence of capital, in market led neoliberal forms, and the characteristics of those educational technologies and institutions that emerged at the same time (for an exception see Selwyn and Facer 2013). This commentary addresses that perceived gap by outlining possible connections between capital, neoliberal politics and educational technology and suggesting a revised educational response.
Article
Full-text available
Within the expansion of postgraduate educational qualifications for health professionals, graduate attributes have become important markers of outcomes and value. However, it is not clear how or when graduate attributes develop, or how they are applied in professional practice after graduation. We interviewed 17 graduates from two online Master’s programmes to explore their perceptions of how postgraduate study had influenced their practice and professional identity. Our thematic analysis produced three main themes (academic voice, infectious curiosity, and expanding worldview) which reflected changes in the participants’ confidence, attitude, perspective, and agency across professional and academic settings. We then conducted a secondary phase of analysis using Bourdieu’s concepts of ‘field’, ‘capital’, and ‘habitus’. While graduate attributes have been conceptualised as the context-independent acquisition of traits that can be employed by individuals, Bourdieu’s framework highlights their relational qualities: they are caught up in the cultural history and context of the student/professional, the reputation of the awarding institution, and the graduate’s location within a network of professional peers.
Article
Full-text available
Article
Full-text available
Digital education is one of a number of terms (including e-learning, technology-enhanced learning, online learning, blended learning) that have seen increasing use in educational discourse and in the branding of educational programmes. A lack of conceptual clarity around such terms makes it easier for different groups to appropriate them in the service of conflicting agendas. In this paper, I discuss the pros and cons of the tendency to distinguish between digital and non-digital, arguing that while concepts like “digital education” can be useful insofar as they encourage people to look closer at the design and practice of teaching and learning, they become problematic when used to close down ideas or attribute essential properties to technology. Considering the implications for understanding institutional initiatives, student practices, and the interplay between teaching design and orchestration, I argue for a postdigital perspective in which all education—even that which is considered to lie outside of digital education—takes account of the digital and non-digital, material and social, both in terms of the design of educational activities and in the practices that unfold in the doing of those activities.
Article
Full-text available
Dialogic pedagogy is being promoted in science teacher education but the literature on dialogic pedagogy tends to focus on explicit voices, and so runs the risk of overlooking the important role that material objects often play in science education. In this paper we use the findings of a teacher survey and classroom case study to argue that there is a gap in the way that science teachers think about the role of materials and that this could be addressed by changes in the theory base of teacher training, augmenting the current constructivist and dialogic theory with the addition of new materialism in the form of Barad’s ‘Agential Realism’. Our findings suggests that science teachers do not regularly explicitly consider the relationship between the material resources they deploy and the dialogic learning taking place. We argue that science teacher training and professional development should pay more attention to the material-dialogic relationships in the learning that emerges in science classrooms.
Article
Full-text available
Online education changes all components of teaching and learning in higher education. Many empirical studies have been conducted to examine issues in delivering online courses; however, few have synthesized prior studies and provided an overview on issues in online courses. A review of literature using Cooper’s framework was conducted to identify such issues. Three major categories of findings were identified: issues related to online learners, instructors, and content development. Learners’ issues included learners’ expectations, readiness, identity, and participation in online courses. Instructors’ issues included changing faculty roles, transitioning from face-to-face to online, time management, and teaching styles. Content issues included the role of instructors in content development, integration of multimedia in content, role of instructional strategies in content development, and considerations for content development. To address these challenges in online education, higher education institutions need to provide professional development for instructors, trainings for learners, and technical support for content development.