Participation in NERA 2017 with a paper about Boundary Objects in Networked Learning


My PhD-supervisor, Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (AAU) and I have a paper accepted for the NERA 2017 conference. The 45th Congress of the Nordic Educational Research Association (NERA) will be held on 23-25 March 2017 at Aalborg University (AAU) in Copenhagen, Denmark. The theme of the conference is: Learning and education – material conditions and consequences.

Our paper is entitled: Participation and reification through (dis)embodiment as resource and arena for networked learning, and the abstract reads as follows:

In networked learning information and communications technology (ICT) is used to promote connections and interaction: between people and between people and resources, and thus boundaries and boundary work is always prevalent in discussions on networked learning (Ryberg & Sinclair, 2016). Based on two different case studies conducted at the Danish online Master programme on ICT and Learning (MIL), this paper addresses the issue of participation and reification through (dis)embodiment in design for networked learning.

Basically teaching is about designing opportunities for people to learn (Goodyear, 2015, Wenger, 1998), and according to Goodyear, Carvalho & Dohn (2016) there is an important distinction between elements of a learning networks that can be designed (partially, or completely), and processes that are emergent. From a learning perspective, how participants respond to design through their activities and through their use of boundary objects, is interesting. Building on Wenger’s (1998) learning architecture, we analyse how the two designs for learning differ in terms of design dimensions and with regard to potential boundary objects.

In study I, the arena for learning was a 2D virtual learning environment (Dirckinck-Holmfeld, 2006), whereas the arena for learning in study II was a 3D virtual world (Riis, forthcoming). Carlile (2002) proposed a hierarchical typology for boundary objects, and in our analysis, we identify different boundary objects in the two learning arenas. Our findings show that all categories of boundary objects can mediate knowledge according to the typology, which suggests a relational rather than a hierarchical view on boundary objects. Nonetheless, certain boundary objects in the 3D learning arena (study II), in particular the avatar, seem to promote transformation in a more embodied manner, which has implications for identity formation of the participants. Furthermore, the 3D virtual space affords a concrete materialised, albeit virtual, opportunity for reification, which is different to that of the 2D environment. In the paper we will elaborate on these differences and based on the two cases provide a typology of boundary objects serving networked learning organised as problem and project based learning.

As seen in this abstract, we aim to analyse and compare findings from two different studies conducted at the Master’s programme on ICT and Learning (MIL) which is situated at AAU. Study I has been conducted by Lone, where she has focused on MIL students’ use of a conventional 2D virtual learning environment, whereas study II is based on my PhD-research with MIL students in Second Life (SL).

In our current research project on ICT, transfer and boundary crossing in vocational education and training at the Metropolitan University College, my colleagues and I have been inspired by Lone’s (2006) study in which she explores Carlile’s (2002) typology of boundary objects in networked learning. While the empirical settings in both Lone’s study and in my PhD study (forthcoming) differ from our current research project, there are several theoretical overlaps. In should be noted that I did not study boundary objects and boundary crossing processes in my PhD. Nonetheless, when revisiting my PhD-findings this fall, I’ve found it possible and highly interesting to identify and analyse my data from this “new” perspective. And so this paper constitutes my first attempt to combine findings and ideas from my PhD and our current research. Given the differences in terms of target groups, educational settings and research aims, this is not an easy task, but it is quite exciting, and I’m very pleased to be able to collaborate with Lone on this.

According to Star (2010) a boundary object is an artefact that inhabits and bridge intersecting practices. In other words, one could argue that the theory and concepts of boundary crossing and boundary objects actually functions as a boundary object between my different research practices .. very meta ;-)



Carlile, P.R. (2002). A Pragmatic View of Knowledge and Boundaries: Boundary Objects in New Product Development. Organization Science, Vol. 13, No. 4, July-August 2002, pp. 442-455.

Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L. (2006). Designing for Collaboration and Mutual Negotiation of Meaning: Boundary Objects in Networked Learning Environments. In Banks, S.; Hodgson, V.; Jones, C.; Kemp, B. & McConnell, D. (eds.). Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Networked Learning 2006: Symposium: Relations in Networks and Networked Learning, organised by Chris Jones. Lancaster University. pp. 1-9.

Goodyear, P.; Carvalho, L. & Dohn, N.B. (2016). Artefacts and Activities in the analysis of Learning Networks. In Ryberg, T.; Sinclair; Bayne, S. & de Laat, M. (eds.) Research, Boundaries, and Policy in Networked Learning. Springer. pp. 93-110

Goodyear, P. (2015). Teaching as design. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, Vol. 2, pp. 1-24.

Riis, M. (forthcoming). Avatar-mediation and Transformation of Practice in a 3D Virtual World – Meaning, Identity, and Learning. PhD-dissertation, Aalborg University.

Ryberg, T. & Sinclair, C. (2016). The Relationships Between Policy, Boundaries and Research in Networked Learning. In Ryberg, T.; Bayne, S. & de Laat, M. (eds.). Research, Boundaries, and Policy in Networked Learning. Springer. pp. 1-20.

Star, S.L. (2010), This is not a boundary object; Reflections on the origin of the concept. Science, Technology, and Human Values, 25(5), 601-617.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press.

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