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Open education platforms and their modes of dis/appearing: A critical account from science and technology studies

Boek - Dissertatie

This dissertation critically investigates the platformisation of open education practices, disentangling its compositions and consequences for education stakeholders. Open education, broadly defined as a collection of practices aiming to increase and widen access to education and knowledge resources, frequently relies on dedicated universities and digital platforms. As more and more digital platforms organise this sort of practice, their ambivalences have also become apparent: platforms are not only opening education but equally closing it in various ways. Drawing on four case studies and theoretical as well as methodological insights from science and technology studies (STS), this dissertation seeks to take open education platforms seriously by scrutinising their operations, meanings, and values in everyday life. Part 1, The platformisation of massive open online courses, investigates how two digital platforms shape different modes of accessing education practices from the user's perspective. Both platforms have close connections to the Open University of the United Kingdom. The first case study, which zooms in on a well-known commercial platform named FutureLearn, addresses how 'access' appears in recent literature, and how it is made possible and impossible in practice. The second case study, focussing on a free, not-for-profit platform called OpenLearn, analyses the phenomenon of flexible learning pathways and shows several ways these pathways also entail inflexibilities. Part 2, The platformisation of an open and distance university, scrutinises the sociotechnical conditions in which digital platforms are situated to organise (access to) higher education. The platforms are tied to a university in the Netherlands that will be referred to with a pseudonym, 'Learniversity'. The third case delves into Learniversity's learning management system and infrastructure, elucidating several modes of operating in open and distance education: the visible and invisible ways humans and non-humans work together to exchange data, information, and content for educational purposes. It also sheds light on what it means for data and data-driven technologies to become invisible or self-evident aspects of education. The fourth case scrutinises the production and employment of data visualisations at Learniversity, specifically in the format of dashboards, and shows different modes of learning from the perspectives of designers and users. The dissertation concludes that besides considering platformised education as 'open' or 'closed', it is worthwhile to consider how it depends on the appearing and disappearing of certain actors simultaneously - dis/appearing. In the first mode of dis/appearing, and in a literal sense, digital platforms make some knowledge resources present in education practices, predominantly course materials such as texts and videos, and other resources absent. Specific groups of humans (e.g., family members), animals (e.g., pets) and technologies (e.g., source code) are supposed to stay out of sight and out of the education practice. In the second mode of dis/appearing, and in a figurative sense, digital platforms look like visible surfaces that the user can traverse to access knowledge resources but soon turn seemingly invisible when the user's attention shifts to the course materials. Although it may sometimes look like open education platforms and their auxiliary actors are becoming irrelevant, they can still foster and foreground their own educational resources, theories, organisations, and technologies. Open education platforms, with their different modes of dis/appearing, have real consequences for how education and knowledge resources can or cannot be accessed and, therefore, require the attention of researchers and practitioners alike.
Jaar van publicatie:2024