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Boundary Crossing and Learning

August 13th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

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”:

  1. identification, which is about coming to know what the diverse practices are about in relation to one another;
  2. coordination, which is about creating cooperative and routinized exchanges between practices;
  3. reflection, which is about expanding one’s perspectives on the practices; and,
  4. transformation, which is about collaboration and codevelopment of (new) practices.

2 Responses to “Boundary Crossing and Learning”

  1. On this website there is a link to a toll-free version of the Akkerman and Bakker article:
    It is the online first version, directly available at:

  2. Graham Attwell says:

    Many thanks Arthur.

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    OEB Global (formerly Online Educa Berlin) has announced its Call for Proposals and the overall theme for 2018: Learning to Love Learning. The event will incorporate Learning Technologies Germany – a leading European exhibition on learning technologies in the workplace – for the first time this year. More details here.

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    According to the news report, the city plans to first replace all its user applications with alternative open source applications. This will go on until the only remaining proprietary software will be Windows where it will finally be replaced with a Linux distribution.

    To support the move, the city will employ 65 new developers to build software programs for their specific needs. they also plan the development of a digital market – an online platform – whereby small businesses will use to take part in public tenders.

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    The OER18 Conference takes place in Bristol, UK on 18 – 19 April 2018. OER18 is the 9th annual conference for Open Education research, practice and policy. The final keynote has now been announced: Dr Momodou Sallah is Reader in Globalisation and Global Youth Work at the Social Work, Youth and Community Division, De Montfort University.  More about the conference:

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    According to the University Technical Colleges web site, new research released of 11 to 17-year-olds, commissioned by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity which promotes and supports University Technical Colleges (UTCs), reveals that over a third (36%) have no opportunity to learn about the latest technology in the classroom and over two thirds (67%) admit that they have not had the opportunity even to discuss a new tech or app idea with a teacher.

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