Chapter 12: Epistemic tools, instruments and infrastructure in professional knowledge work and learning

“And when I start talking about LAMS and Moodle and Wikis and they just go ‘ohhhh’ – and I think that that’s another area – that’s one of the reasons I pushed the Wiki is for them to overcome some of their technophobia – and actually think more technological and digital. I think some of them get that when they go to school where there’s lots of Notebooks and they realise that the Notebook is just a resource that they can keep modifying. It’s a template for learning. And when then they keep playing with it and save it and keep it. Rather than a lesson plan. If I had a choice between writing a lesson plan and doing a Notebook or a LAMS, I’d take the digital one any day.” (Education Lecturer; edited for clarity)[1]

In Chapter 11 we focussed on inscriptions – and their semiotic features – as epistemic artefacts in professional work and learning. In this chapter, we turn from artefacts to the instrumental ensemble (or epistemic infrastructure) in which the artefacts are produced; from the semiotic features of inscriptions to epistemic features of tools and arrangements within which this inscriptional work is done.

Our aim is to use this instrumental perspective (12.2) to develop a framework for rethinking professional learning as epistemic practice in the hybrid spaces of higher education. Universities are hybrid spaces where diverse histories, and the varied intellectual, social and political agendas of professional communities, disciplinary communities, and society more broadly, coexist. These sites are imbued with distinct sets of physical and conceptual tools, forms of language, social relations and material arrangements conducive to particular kinds of learning and knowing. Such hybrid sites do not and cannot provide students with a full range of authentic professional experiences: there are some ways of knowing that only exist in workplace settings. We accept that this is an important challenge, but argue that this is not necessarily an obstacle to preparing fluent, capable graduates who are able to engage productively in diverse work practices. Rather, we suggest that university courses can be sites for some important kinds of epistemic practices involving epistemic fluency, such as mindful problem solving, everyday creativity and professional innovation. We argue that much of this fluency is grounded in mastering epistemic tools that underpin such work.

In this chapter, we provide a foreground for our focus on physical and mental tools, instrumental ensembles and infrastructures as carriers of professional practices. We start with infrastructure: such an essential part of everyday professional work that it often goes unseen. We move on to look more closely at tools – material and epistemic – and then start to link tools and the ways they are used, drawing on notions about instrumental genesis to explicate key tool qualities that are conducive to different kinds of knowledge work. Then, broadly following Goodwin (2005) and Håkanson (2007), we focus on three key elements – tools, infrastructures and work practices – that constitute heterogeneous sites of knowledge work. In section 12.4, we illustrate the key ideas by returning to the example of the school counsellor’s behavioural assessment of a child, that we used in Chapter 10.

[1] LAMS – the Learning Activity Management System – is a system for designing and managing collaborative learning activities; Moodle is a learning management system used by many educational institutions for developing, managing and delivering online courses; a Wiki – is a web-based application for collaborative creation of digital online content. (e.g., Wikipedia); Notebook – SMART Notebook, is an application for creating interactive lessons for teaching with interactive whiteboards and managing lesson content, including storing and sharing lessons in online repositories.

Source: These are extracts from Chapter 12 of Markauskaite, L., & Goodyear, P. (forthcoming, 2015). Epistemic fluency and professional education: innovation, knowledgeable action and actionable knowledge. Dordrecht: Springer. This is a close-to-final draft. Please check the final published version if you are going to quote it. The book  is available from Springer’s e-shop.

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