Cousin, G. (2005) musings

Week 6 of IDEL and I think we’re moving into more familiar territory. Although digital environments is a very broad term, and Minecraft is still very much an unknown, we’ve begun to start using terms such as VLE, which is a bit closer to home.

Cousin, G. (2005) has been a really interesting read, and a great way to kick things off. I’m quite surprised how relevant many of themes still are, given its relative age (12 years) and all that has changed since.

It seems the author had a remarkable amount of foresight too, for example:

“technologies are constitutive of our identities”.

Given it was 2005 at time of writing – when it could be argued social media was very much a novelty – little could she have known how our identities these days are as much online as offline.

There were some key themes that I picked out:

  • She argues that the instrumentalist viewpoint is widespread at the time that this was written. This concurs with Friesen’s observations (Friesen, N. (2013) that use of technology is been viewed as plugging into the existing pedagogy.
  • Cousin argues that pedagogy has always been intertwined with technology, and that the two are “mutually determining”.
  • Technology should not be viewed as inert or separate from technology. Terms like ‘toolbox’ add to this. She argues that “different media demand different levels and forms of engagement or our senses and social relations”.
  • Power or control is a contributor to the positioning of technology as an enhancement. Again this keeps on coming up in the readings, the most relevant here being Selwyn, N. (2011).
  • She argues that VLEs tend to be skewed towards the simulation of the classroom, again this is referring to the instrumentalist approach.

The paper echoes previous readings in parts on the debate around the approach to technology within education. The resistance to the adoption of technology in education also seems to be still relevant.

It was Interesting to read the author’s observations that to avoid protestations within the teaching community, technology was being positioned as enhancing what is already good about education. This reminded me of a twitter thread recently, about how the notion ‘practice makes perfect’ is flawed should actually be repurposed as ‘practice makes permanent’. The sentiment being here that practice only reinforces something, it doesn’t change its nature. In the same way, technology could also be used to enhance bad teaching practice if the underlying pedagogy isn’t sound.

I can’t help but think that the argument that VLEs mirror a classroom approach still tends to hold true. But I’m not sure if this is entirely unexpected, particularly given some of the VLEs I’ve experienced and the story of their development. Again this refers back to earlier conversations we’ve had on the forums concerning the educational community’s influence in technology.

From my professional experience, many of the VLEs in the workplace have been brought over from more educational or academic backgrounds. We’re starting to see this change, with the advent of more resource-orientated frameworks (such as Fuse), and the development of tools such as xAPI which aim to acknowledge the learning that happens outside of formal training experiences. Perhaps these will feed back into the more academic VLEs, and improve them for the better.

(On a side note, given Biesta’s criticism of the ‘learnification’ of education, should in some cases the VLE be re-titled as the Virtual Education Environment 😉 ?)

I’d argue that with regards to terminology, work environments are more orientated towards ‘learning’ than ‘being educated’. Simple reason being that at work people want to access information and guidance to support them in doing something, usually right then and then. Given that, it’s less about a separate educator or teacher, the learner themselves are taking on aspects of the teaching role themselves by sourcing and validating (to some degree – this could be as little as being top of a search query) a piece of content. A slide on Nick Shackleton’s recent presentation at World of Learning summarises this quite nicely:

I suspect when we look at digital environments and spaces over next couple of weeks this is going to be particularly useful in the ‘day job’, and am looking forward to finding out more!


  • Cousin, G. (2005). Learning from cyberspace. In R. Land & S. Bayne (Eds.), Education in Cyberspace. Abingdon: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • Hamilton, E., and Friesen, N. (2013). Online education: a science and technology studies perspective. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 39(2), 1-21.
  • Selwyn, N. (2011), Education and Technology: key issues and debates. London: Continuum.
  • Biesta, G. (2012) Giving teaching back to education: responding to the disappearance of the teacher. Phenomenology & Practice. 6(2), 35-49. journal article]