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Advancing posthumanist perspectives on technology-rich learning

Kylie Peppler, University of California, Irvine

Picture your favourite childhood toy. What was it? What did you learn from it? How did you know it was for you?

These questions, and others like it, underpin the questions raised by posthumanist perspectives on learning and education. Posthumanism echoes what many indigenous peoples have known: humans are not the centre of the material universe, but rather entangled participants (Tuck, 2015; see also Kuby & Rowsell, 2017). As digital and physical tools take on an ever-increasing role in learning environments, posthumanist theory offers a way to understand the relations of human, tool and material intra-actions, which subsequently construct meaning. Humans intuit this meaning when they see an object or tool as ‘for them’, as proximal, and conversely, when they see an object or tool as belonging to someone/something else.

‘As digital and physical tools take on an ever-increasing role in learning environments, posthumanist theory offers a way to understand the relations of human, tool and material intra-actions, which subsequently construct meaning.’

Within education, there has been a new interest in the role of de-centering the human and unpacking the agency of the material world in the learning process. This emerging body of scholarship comes to us from emerging research in physics and related fields that define the ontology of matter as being in a constant state of reconfiguration. Up until this point, the posthumanist turn and other new materialist frameworks have seldom been applied towards the study of educational technologies.

The application of posthumanism to educational technology illuminates pressing challenges, such as:

  • How can we understand the complex situation of learners in object-rich learning environments, like makerspaces?
  • How might a fine-grained analysis of material environments impact how we design tools, materials and settings for learning intra-activity?
  • How does re-conceptualising humans as intra-dependent impact the epistemologies and methodologies guiding our research activity?

To lead this exploration, earlier this year we published a special section of the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET) entitled ‘Advancing posthuman perspectives on technology-rich learning’, co-edited by Drs Kylie Peppler, Jennifer Rowsell and Anna Keune. This special issue advances our understanding of the implications of materialism and other posthumanist views of learning within education with new and emerging technologies that are already part of the natural material world. More specifically, this special section seeks to reconsider the relationship between the human and the material world, and to explore methodological and theoretical implications and the ways in which materials shape both learning and participation, which have been undertheorised to date in educational research.

The section brings together an exciting collection of articles, including an editorial that frames the continued discussion of posthumanism and describes the relative contribution of each of these groundbreaking articles. Mehto, Riikonen, Hakkarainen, Kangas and Seitamaa-Hakkarainen (2020) argue that an overemphasis on knowledge and epistemic orientations to design work within STEAM and the learning sciences have held scholars back from a more expansive 360-degree perspective on what happens when young people make and design. Sintonen (2020), questioning the immateriality of digital divides and interfaces, explores the relational intra-actions to identify the affordances and constraints of digital and acrylic painting through an autoethnographic process. Additionally, contributions explore the role of indigenous epistemologies in new materialism (Eglash, Bennett, & Babbitt, et. al, 2020) sociomaterial activity in youth makerspaces (Kumplainen & Kajamaa, 2020), a critical literacies lens on new materialist analysis (Leander & Buriss, 2020), knowledge-building discourses (Oshima, Oshima & Saruwatari, 2020), and the potential affordances of new materialism for the learning sciences (Sheridan, Lemieux, Do Nascimento, & Arnseth, 2020).

We are excited for the way this special issue will advance the examination and theorisation of posthuman perspectives in education, and would like to thank both the authors and the British Journal of Educational Technology for supporting this important area of research with deep implications for the future of educational technologies.

We hope you enjoy and find inspiration for your future work!


This blog post introduces the special section ‘Advancing posthumanist perspectives on technology‐rich learning’, guest-edited by Kylie Peppler, Jennifer Rowsell and Anna Keune, which appeared in issue 51(4) of the British Journal of Educational Technology.  You can read their editorial here, and see below for links to individual papers, several of which are published on an open access basis.


References

Peppler, K., Rowsell, J., & Keune, A. (2020). Editorial: Advancing posthumanist perspectives on technology-rich learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1240–1245. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12979

Eglash, R., Bennett, A., Babbitt, W., Lachney, M., Reinhardt, M., & Hammond‐Sowah, D. (2020). Decolonizing posthumanism: Indigenous material agency in generative STEM. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1334–1353. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12963

Kumpulainen, K., & Kajamaa, A. (2020). Sociomaterial movements of students’ engagement in a school’s makerspace. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1292–1307. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12932

Leander, K. M., & Burriss, S. K. (2020). Critical literacy for a posthuman world: When people read, and become, with machines. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1262–1276. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12924

Mehto, V., Riikonen, S., Hakkarainen, K., Kangas, K., & Seitamaa‐Hakkarainen, P. (2020). Epistemic roles of materiality within a collaborative invention project at a secondary school. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1246–1261. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12942

Oshima, J., Oshima, R., & Saruwatari, S. (2020). Analysis of students’ ideas and conceptual artifacts in knowledge‐building discourse. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1308–1321. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12961

Sheridan, M. P., Lemieux, A., Do Nascimento, A., & Arnseth, H. C. (2020). Intra‐active entanglements: What posthuman and new materialist frameworks can offer the learning sciences. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1277–1291. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12928

Sintonen, S. (2020). From an experimental paper to a playful screen: How the essence of materiality modulates the process of creation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1322–1333. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12906