Towards an Ecology of Learning: Children Meaning-making with Digital Technologies in Out-of-school Settings

By Bronya Calderón.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

There are an increasing number of settings, including after school clubs, youth clubs, museums and libraries, where children can learn informally. However, there is a need for research into their pedagogic and social role as a complementary to formal learning in order to realise their immense potential. This paper presents an intervention action research that took place in two settings outside school; a computer club and a series of technology-enhanced workshops in a museum in London (UK). The research assumes a change of focus for studying learning more holistically; from viewing children as passive to consider them as social and cultural actors; from a content-based to a process-based pedagogy; from individual to group participation within an environment; from a focus on learning as a psychological phenomenon to one on ‘meaning-making’ as a social practice. It attempts to bridge the gap that exists between children’s uses of digital technology at home, at school and in other settings. The study, an intervention action research, developed a methodological framework around the idea of the ‘activity’ as a unit of analysis, which determined how the data was collected, analysed and interpreted. The ‘activity’ as a unit of analysis is a researcher tool developed by the practitioner; it aims to describe more inclusive ways to understand children’s participation, perspectives and the researcher/practitioner commitment to children’s agency. This view aimed to acknowledge children’s mutual engagement, joint enterprise, share enterprise (Wenger, 1998), their feelings and emotions. The term meaning-making reflects an integrated, contextualised and transformative way to understand social practices. This, at the same time, describes the connections between the micro and the macro aspects of the ‘activity’. My intention in this paper is to explain how this methodology could result in the development of a language of description that refers to an Ecology of children’s participation.

Keywords: Activity Theory, Multimodality, Digital Literacy, Meaning-making, Design of Spaces for Learning, Informal Learning Environments, Out-of-school Learning, Community of Practice

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 16, Issue 9, pp.153-168. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.030MB).

Bronya Calderón

PhD Student, Institute of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University, London, UK

Bronya Calderón has particular expertise in the areas of ‘Informal Learning Environments’ and the use of digital technologies in Education. She specialises in qualitative and action research, the design of learning environments and inclusion. She has worked as an Educational Technology Consultant on various international projects. Recently she has been working on several Informal Learning projects with different museums, libraries, after school clubs, play-schemes and schools in London, UK. Her research interests are located in the areas of New Literacy Studies, multimodality and meaning-making practices to account for the multiple paths to literacy as social practice. Her current project explores the design and implementation of learning spaces and the development of a Pedagogic of ‘Informal Learning Environments’ that enable boundary crossing between formal and informal learning environments. B. Calderón is an educator and a pedagogic expert who graduated from Complutense and UNED universities in Spain. After she received her Master of Research in Social Science at Manchester Metropolitan University (UK) in 2006, she started a PhD at the same university.

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