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The managed learning environment in Scottish Higher Education: a socio-technical exploration

Edwards, David


David Edwards


This thesis presents a socio-technical account of the adoption and development of Managed Learning Environments (MLE) in three Universities in Scotland. The term 'development' is used here to refer to the way that MLE initiatives evolve over time as the MLE framework is introduced into the universities discussed here. MLE is a technology framework that has been advocated by Funding Agencies and the Joint Information Systems Committee (the government body responsible for developing information systems in UK Higher Education) as a way of creating an institutional technology platform through which a University can create more efficient and effective online teaching practice and student management processes. This involves integrating all University information and learning systems into one standardised institutional system.
Introducing a large-scale 1. T. initiative, such as MLE adoption and development, into the University is far from straightforward. Sectoral research indicates that MLE initiatives have not, in general, achieved the level of standardisation and integration of systems advocated in MLE policy. It suggests this may be because MLE initiatives have underestimated the social and technical complexity involved in MLE adoption and development. This has led to a call from within the Higher Education sector for more in-depth case study research of MLE initiatives in Universities in order to better understand what constrains them.
The research reported on within this thesis adopts a socio-technical approach to understanding MLE adoption and development. This aims to understand the processes of interaction between technical and social elements involved in MLE initiatives. In particular, it analyses the influence of the broad social, political and commercial context of MLE advocacy on MLE initiatives in the case studies as a way of accounting for their different trajectories of MLE development.
The thesis presents an examination of the way that actors in the case studies develop and construct expectations of MLE in practice that can drive MLE initiatives but, it is found, also constrain them. As a way of investigating how expectations for MLE adoption and development are constructed by participants in the case studies an analytical framework is developed that includes Technology Framing (Orlikowski & Gash, 1994), Computerisation Movements (Iacono, 2001) and an Ecology of Games (Dutton, 1995).
The study develops several key insights regarding MLE adoption and development in the case studies that relate to the influence of the broad social, political and commercial context ofMLE advocacy. It finds that advocates of the MLE framework bring MLE expectations and artefacts into the University through engagement with wider networks of influence in this broad MLE 'landscape'. In an alternative pattern of socio-technical interaction, some groups counter frame MLE and seek an organisationally autonomous approach to technology practice.
The MLE framework is found to be shaped in multiple locations, multiple levels and across a trajectory of events and interactions. In this pattern of technological development, the research demonstrates the key role of boundary dynamics and gate keeping within Universities, as MLE actors negotiate the boundaries between the University and the dynamics of the wider MLE 'landscape'. It is found that this process challenges established University gatekeepers and boundaries of socio-technical practice. In the Higher Education sector, rather than creating a 'level playing field' in UK Higher Education between well resourced and less well resources Universities, as first envisaged in MLE related policy, MLE adoption and development is found to be associated with defining distinctions between the case study Universities.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Sep 30, 2013
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords Managed Learning Environments (MLE); socio-technology; Information systems; higher education;
Public URL
Contract Date Sep 30, 2013
Award Date 2008-09


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