An inquiry into learning in rural community informatics: understanding, facilitating and accounting for learning in the GraniteNet Project

PhD Thesis


Arden, Catherine. 2016. An inquiry into learning in rural community informatics: understanding, facilitating and accounting for learning in the GraniteNet Project. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.
Title

An inquiry into learning in rural community informatics: understanding, facilitating and accounting for learning in the GraniteNet Project

TypePhD Thesis
Authors
AuthorArden, Catherine
SupervisorPostle, Glen
Reushle, Shirley
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages562
Year2016
Abstract

GraniteNet is a Community Informatics and Learning Community initiative that began in 2006 as a collaboration between USQ researchers and members of the rural community of Stanthorpe, a small town located in the Southern Downs region of Queensland, Australia. The project’s vision was the development of a sustainable community-designed, owned and managed web portal that would promote digital inclusion and support Stanthorpe’s development as a Learning Community. Emerging Education practice problems related to this researcher's desire to better understand the nature and dynamics of people's informal, community learning in this context led her to focus her doctoral study on an investigation into learning in GraniteNet.

Using phenomenography as the primary research approach within GraniteNet conceptualised as a single site instrumental case study, the study investigates the qualitatively different ways in which GraniteNet participants perceive and experience learning within the context of their community volunteering work. The experience of learning across various content domains is explored with a purposive sample of 20 community volunteers drawn from among GraniteNet’s diverse communities and networks of interest and practice. Particular emphasis is given to interrogating conceptions and experiences of learning about and learning to use digital technologies in GraniteNet’s face-to-face, virtual and hybrid community learning and working environments.

Seven qualitatively distinct, yet logically related ways of experiencing learning in GraniteNet constitute the study’s phenomenographic outcome space. These results are then interpreted in the context of the case study report to illuminate the experience of informal community learning in GraniteNet and to theorise about the nature and dynamics of this learning. As part of the elaboration of respondents’ conceptions of learning, reference is made to seven interrelated domains of learning content and their related learning processes and also to conditions for learning afforded by GraniteNet as the learning context and environment. A typology of learning grounded in the phenomenographic findings theorises the nature of individual and collective informal learning in GraniteNet and in so doing, contributes to emerging understandings of learning that enable us to 'think more creatively and
productively about learning in all of its manifestations' (Hager, 2004, p. 15), including how people learn about their own and others’ learning.

The findings thus contribute to knowledge in a number of areas of interest to researchers and practitioners in the fields of Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, Community Informatics and Community Development, with new insights generated about the diverse forms of learning in which people engage as they use digital technologies to learn with and from each other in the context of Australian rural community and associational life in the digital era. Firstly, the findings show how the significant educational effect of people's participation in rural community associational life is magnified for the digital era by a learning-based approach to Community Informatics. This knowledge will enable Adult Education and Community Development scholar-practitioners working in comparable settings to make more informed decisions about how to use digital technologies effectively for individual, organisational and community learning and development. Secondly, a comparison of the study's findings with conceptions of learning in selected phenomenographic studies contributes to our understanding of informal learning from the learner's perspective, confirming the enduring relevance of phenomenography to theorising about the nature of adults' everyday learning in the digital era. Thirdly, the study’s contribution to methodological knowledge is related to particular techniques and instruments that can be used to investigate the so-called ‘submerged iceberg’ of informal adult learning. Recommendations for policy, practice and further research emerging from the study include a philosophical and conceptual framework for a learning-based approach to Community Informatics with implications for adult community educators' roles and purposes, and concomitantly, for the further education of adult educators and community development practitioners.

KeywordsGranitenet; capacity building; community-university relations; Stanthorpe; university engagement; community website; lifelong learning
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020441003. Rural sociology
390301. Continuing and community education
460905. Information systems development methodologies and practice
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Linguistics, Adult and Specialist Education
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