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Agency as an emerging phenomenon in the construction of massive open online courses: a discursive–material approach to the techno-pedagogical edX platform and its forums

Publié le 18 août 2023 Mis à jour le 13 septembre 2023

This paper demonstrates how agency emerges as the teaching team members of three social science and humanities massive open online courses (MOOCs) reflexively discuss the affordances and limitations offered by edX. Special attention goes to the entanglement of forums within their courses.

Learning, Media and Technology

This article seeks to enrich ongoing discussions about agency in online and hybrid educational platforms (e.g., Charlier, Deschryver, and Peraya Citation2006; Peraya and Peltier Citation2012). It is a response to the call for a finer lens to explore and encompass the complexity of agency in online discussions. Zienkowski and Lambotte agree with Ligorio, Impedovo, and Arcidiacono (Citation2017, 540) that further research is needed to determine the ways in which agency is expressed; however, they argue that agency is never a matter of mere expression or intent.

The authors argue that agency should be understood as a process outcome whereby material and discursive elements are knotted together in a deceivingly coherent way. Similar to Damşa et al. (Citation2021), they argue that a relational perspective is required to understand the types of agency emerging in massive open online courses (MOOCs). Teachers, learners, resources, tools, institutions, infrastructures, and communities find themselves in dynamic relationships where agencies emerge (Damşa et al. Citation2021, 3).

If one lifts the black box of the user-friendly interface, MOOCs (and their platforms) appear to be messy knots of human and non-human elements (see Perrotta, Czerniewicz, and Beetham Citation2016), the complex configuration of which invites, enables, and constrains specific forms of agency. To lift the hood of this black box for techno-educational platforms such as edX, Zienkowski and Lambotte draw on Foucault's understanding of dispositif. Dispositifs are heterogeneous assemblages of elements that serve a strategic function and operate across and through institutions and individuals (Bührmann and Schneider Citation2008).

The authors approach MOOC dispositifs as discursive–material knots: complex entanglements of signifiers, statements, narratives, bodies, processes, practices, institutions, machines, and other aspects of social, discursive, and material reality, through which specific forms of agency emerge (see Carpentier Citation2017). They provide a brief overview of MOOC research and online education agencies, explaining how the MOOC dispositif can be understood as a discursive–material knot. Our qualitative analysis focuses on the way teaching team members of three social science and humanities (SSH) MOOCs discuss, interpret, and configure their forums, and, based on this, they identify six forms of agency.

Published by : Jan Zienkowski & François Lambotte
In the Journal Learning, Media and Technology.

Financement: This work was carried out in the context of the research project MOOCresearch2.0 supported by Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles [grant number 19/24-099].
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le 18 août 2023

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