Transformative agency for the collaborative and future-oriented redesign of activity in military higher education : empowering participants to change their boundary-crossing technology enhanced learning

Moffitt, Phil and Bligh, Brett (2019) Transformative agency for the collaborative and future-oriented redesign of activity in military higher education : empowering participants to change their boundary-crossing technology enhanced learning. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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The Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME) trains and educates the United Kingdom’s military engineers. The Professional Engineering Wing in Kent is responsible for the RSME’s higher education (HE) programmes. In recent years, boundary-crossing technology enhanced learning (TEL) has been practised on these programmes in response to increasingly contingent and unforeseen work and learning challenges which face the military engineering community. The prevalent situation is that boundary-crossing TEL has been constrained to isolated, transient and non-compliant outbreaks; they have lacked endorsement by defence strategists, compromised behaviourist military pedagogies, and violated policy directives that military personnel learn only with sponsored experts and only with defence’s information and communication technologies. Boundary-crossing TEL has thus been inadequately resourced and sub-optimal, in addition to contravening policy. In response, this thesis summarises an 18-month Change Laboratory intervention, where I have set out to empower participants to redesign boundary-crossing TEL. Guided by a theoretical framework of Cultural and Historical Activity Theory, a Marxist epistemology to take ownership of changing the social conditions of learning, and a Change Laboratory methodology, I designed and orchestrated a research-intervention with ten military learners, six civilian lecturers and three military managers. As a lecturer at the RSME’s Professional Engineering Wing, I was an insider-researcher. In fourteen sessions and two follow-up workshops the participants progressively undertook, redesigned and led double-stimulation tasks to collaboratively and sustainably change their own activity, first critiquing its historical evolution and then negotiating, enacting and testing proposals for change. Empowering participants of military TEL to change their own activity entailed three notable contributions to the extant corpus of literature. Firstly, the intervention exposed prevalent deterministic approaches to military TEL; defence’s indiscriminate implementations of technologies and policies for behaviourist training were found to impede critical military learning. Secondly, diverse perspectives for development were a lucrative source of critique yet challenged convention; very few related studies had examined the epistemic potential of contradictory and troublesome voices. Thirdly, examining cultural mediation challenged the dominant foci of TEL’s change endeavours on digital technologies; the mediating effects of rules and division of labour were considered in this intervention to be of higher importance than artefacts, particularly in concretizing and sustaining change. As participants negotiated, enacted and tested change to their activity my analytical focus was on their future-oriented and collaborative expressions, theorised as transformative agency. Six types of expressions were apparent. These have been documented in seminal works and were identified deductively: resisting; criticizing; explicating; envisioning; committing and taking action. Subsequent inductive analyses identified four or five different sub-expressions within each main expression; these sub-expressions are described in the thesis and are claimed to be original. A further claim of originality relates to the Marxist and Vygotskian orientations; the intervention described in this thesis is claimed to the first in UK defence to examine transformative agency. With the bounded context my claims are clearly modest, yet locally the Change Laboratory intervention has had significant qualitative impact which may be of moderate interest to other researchers.

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Thesis (PhD)
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18 Nov 2019 11:40
Last Modified:
17 Jul 2024 00:40