AbstractsEducation Research & Administration

Potentially disruptive IS innovation in UK higher education institutions: an actor-network theory analysis of the embedding of m-learning

by Peter William Bird

Institution: Manchester Metropolitan University
Year: 2014
Record ID: 1390386
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2173/332166


The use of mobile devices to support students’ learning experiences is a growing area of interest in higher education (Wankel & Blessinger, 2013). This study adopts an ‘umbrella’ term of m-learning to consider the use of mobile and wireless technologies to support students in a blended learning environment. Whilst m-learning pedagogy has received considerable attention (e.g. Attewell, 2005, Sharples et. al. 2007, Kukulska-Hulme, 2012), the process of adopting this potentially disruptive innovation within universities has been neglected. This study addresses this gap by attempting to answer the research question: How do university organizations (business models, modes of operation, people and processes) adapt to a potentially disruptive innovation like m-learning and what factors and working practices support or hinder embedding? Possible frameworks for studying innovation are reviewed, including Rogers’ innovation diffusion framework (Rogers, 1962), Actor-Network Theory (Latour, 2005) , Activity Theory ngestr m 1987), Structuration Theory (Giddens, 1984), theories of disruptive innovation (Christensen, 1997) and the Technology Acceptance Model (Venkatesh and Davis, 2000), Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is chosen as the most promising theoretical lens for an in-depth investigation of m-learning embedding, and a participative fieldwork approach is developed that uses Law and Callon’s ANT notion of ‘points of passage’ between local and global networks (Law and Callon, 1991) to illuminate factors and working practices that affect embedding. A framework based on Law and Callon’s work is developed through a year-long study of competing text messaging projects within a university and developed further through a three-year, longitudinal case study involving five universities using smartphone applications to assess students in medical practice situations. Several institutional issues are identified that help or hinder embedding, such as fragmentation of IT strategy and decision-making, and the need to provide students with a compelling offer of multiple institutional services on their mobiles. The role of people and artefacts in forming a link, or ‘point of passage’ between m-learning projects ‘local networks’) and institutional IT strategies and services ‘global networks’) is found to be of central interest for understanding processes of embedding. A clear path to an ANT analysis is demonstrated starting from interview and observation data, using coding techniques borrowed from grounded theory (Schatzman and Strauss, 1973) and finishing with Law and Callon’s local-global network model, which is used to compare and contrast embedding trajectories of the case study institutions. Systematic comparison enables a three dimensional model of embedding trajectories to be built, which extends Law and Callon’s work and places in sharper focus the importance of establishing a path by which local initiatives can be evaluated strategically and, where appropriate, incorporated in a timely manner into a university’s IT strategy. Grounded…