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An ethnographic investigation of the evolving dynamics of a learning ecology


In the past decade, collaborative technology has become widely integrated into many professional training settings, yet at present we lack a complete understanding of how new technology alters networks of social and technology- mediated interactions present in such environments. Boulos et al. (2006) note that many Web 2.0 applications offer many unique and powerful information-sharing features for collaborative clinical practice and learning. However, they point out that much careful thinking and research are still needed in order to find the best ways to leverage these emerging tools to boost teaching and learning efficacy and foster better 'communities of practice' (Wenger 1998). I have been engaged in a multi-year ethnography-for-design study in a dental hygiene training program in San Diego, CA. In this research project, I performed an ethnographic analysis of instructional practices used in hands-on, clinical instruction, and participated in the design of a new clinical training laboratory. The new lab was equipped with embedded digital media technology, such as flat-panel monitors, computer workstations and overhead cameras, through which students and instructors could access a video blogging ('vlogging') system while in the clinic. Chapter 2 discusses the field site in more depth, including a detailed account of the negotiation process and my ethical stance towards doing participatory ethnography with an intervention/design component. In Chapter 3, I explore the question of how expert bodies shape the bodies of novices. I look deeply into the special character of what's being learned in hands-on training environments like dental hygiene, and how instructors employ specific discursive practices to help in training the bodies of novices to perceive and act to professional standards. The fourth chapter details the implementation phase of the project, in which I helped design a new clinical training laboratory, equipped with embedded digital media technology, such as flat-panel monitors, computer workstations and overhead cameras. I describe how we implemented a collaboratively built video blog ('vlog') in the fall of 2005. As practitioners adapted to the new technologies and representations that were made available, they transformed their practices. A discussion of how organizational practices shifted makes up Chapter 5. In this chapter, I examine how interactions with videos structured the way students and instructors work with each other in the clinic. In Chapter 6, I investigate some of the organizational factors involved in the appropriation of the new technology implemented in 2005 and 2006

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