I have been long interested in the idea of boundary objects especially in relation to the use of technology for learning in the workplace. In general I think one of the issues with Technology Enhanced Learning is that we have tended to ignore the importance of physical objects in learning and practice.
Following the presentation by Alan Brown and myself on Technologically Enhanced Boundary Objects (for use in careers guidance) at the final Mature-IP review meeting, Uwe Riss kindly referred us to two papers:
This is Not a Boundary Object: Reflections on the Origin of a Concept by Susan Leigh Star
Boundary Crossing and Boundary Objects by Sanne F. Akkerman and Arthur Bakker.
Sadly neither is available for open access (I have university access but I find it very frustrating when there is no open access to important work).
I haven’t read Star’s paper yet, but found the paper by Akkerman and Bakker very useful. They define boundaries as “sociocultural differences that give rise to discontinuities in interaction and action.” They have undertaken an extensive literature review of the use of the idea of boundary crossing in education. In particular I think that Baktin’s idea of ‘dialogicality’ helps explain how learning takes place with multiple sources of ideas and knowledge (which some are referring to as ‘abundance’, through the internet as well as through structured, course based learning.
Bakhtin’s basic line of reasoning was that others or other meanings are required for any cultural category to generate meaning and reveal its depths:
Contextual meaning is potentially infinite, but it can only be actualized when accompanied by another (other’s) meaning, if only by a question in the inner speech of the one who understands. Each time it must be accompanied by another contextual meaning in order to reveal new aspects of its own infinite nature (just as the word reveals its meanings only in context). (Bakhtin, 1986, pp. 145–146)
This Bakhtinian notion of dialogicality comes to the fore in the various claims on the value of boundaries and boundary crossing for learning: learning as a process that involves multiple perspectives and multiple parties. Such an understanding is different from most theories on learning that, first, often focus on a vertical process of progression in knowledge or capabilities (of an individual, group, or organization) within a specific domain and, second, often do not address aspects of heterogeneity or multiplicity within this learning process.
In the second part of their research Akkerman and Bakker look at the “four dialogical learning mechanisms of boundaries”:
- identification, which is about coming to know what the diverse practices are about in relation to one another;
- coordination, which is about creating cooperative and routinized exchanges between practices;
- reflection, which is about expanding one’s perspectives on the practices; and,
- transformation, which is about collaboration and codevelopment of (new) practices.