Bennett, Elizabeth (2012) Learning from the early adopters: Web 2.0 tools, pedagogic practices and the development of the digital practitioner. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The radical and transformative potential of Web 2.0 tools to impact on learning has been widely discussed. Their promise is of participative, collaborative learning in which students are producers of knowledge, connected in learning communities. This thesis examines Web 2.0 tools in use in teaching and learning in a ‘post 1992’ university in the United Kingdom between 2009 and 2012. The focus is on how lecturers make use of the tools in their teaching; how the radical potential of these tools is harnessed in practice and how tensions and contradictions between Web 2.0 and traditional ways of learning are mediated. This phenomenological in-depth study utilises a small sample of lecturers, the ‘early adopters’ of Web 2.0 technologies, and focuses on their personal journeys in relation to making changes in their pedagogic and broader academic and professional practices.

The study concludes that early adopters have similarities, independent of the subject that
they teach, in terms of their beliefs and attributes: they are willing to experiment with change: they are confident in their approach to Technology Enhanced Learning: they understand the radical pedagogical possibilities of the application of Web 2.0 tools: they balance risks associated with adopting new practices with an understanding of their potential: they are willing to invest time in exploring and evaluating Technology Enhanced Learning. The motivation that drives the early adopters to adopt new Technology Enhanced Learning practices is their commitment to enhancing their students’ experience by making the learning more participative and collaborative. They believe that Web 2.0 practices have the potential to support this objective. Whilst change can be ontologically challenging when adopting practices which are disruptive to existing norms and routines, these early adopters do not experience adoption of Web 2.0 tools in this way. This thesis argues that this is because the changes are concomitant with the early adopters’ orientation to teaching and learning. The study also highlights the complexities of the decision to adopt new practices which can be emotionally challenging, associated with feelings of uncertainly or liminality, and involve juggling conflicted notions of the self and ideas of ‘giving up’.

The study adapts Sharpe and Beetham’s Digital Literacies Framework and proposes the Digital Practitioner Framework depicting lecturers’ characteristics in relation to the adoption
of Technology Enhanced Learning practices. The model is holistic, in that it represents not
just the skills associated with being a digital practitioner, but also beliefs and values,
practices and access. The model is used to understand the process of adoption of technology mediated learning by the early adopters in this higher education institution. The implications for lecturers’ development are also discussed.

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