Supporting collaborative classroom networks through technology: An actor network theory approach to understanding social behaviours and design

Vishesh Kumar, Mike Tissenbaum

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents an implementation of Connected Spaces (CxS)—an ambient help seeking interface designed and developed for a project-based computing classroom. We use actor network theory (ANT) to provide an underutilized posthumanist lens to understand the creation of collaborative connections in this Computational Action-based implementation. Posthumanism offers an emerging and critical extension to sociocultural perspectives on understanding learning, by pushing us to decenter the human, and consider the active roles that human and non-human entities play in learning environments by actively shaping each other. We analyse how students in this class adjusted their help-seeking and collaborative habits following the introduction of CxS, a tool designed to foster (more inter-group) collaboration. ANT proposes generalized symmetry—a principle of considering human, non-human and more than human entities with equivalent and comparable agency, leading to describing phenomena as networks of actors in different evolving relationships with each other. Analysing collaborative interactions as fostered by CxS using an ANT approach supports design-based research—an iterative design revision process highlighting understandings about design as well as learning—by providing a temporal and informative lens into the relationship between actors and tools within the environment. Our key findings include a framing of technologies in classrooms as bridging agentic gaps between students and becoming actors engaging in different behaviours; learners enacting new agencies through technologies (for instance a more comfortable non-intrusive help seeker), and the need for voicing and teachers to connect help networks in CxS equipped classrooms. Practitioner notes What is already known about this topic Collaborative learning is a valuable skill and practice; opportunities to mentor others are critical in empowering minoritized learners, especially in STEM and computing disciplines. School norms solidify a power and expertise hierarchy between teachers and learners and fail to productively support learners in learning from each other. Additionally, lack of awareness about peers' knowledge is a common hindrance in students knowing who to ask for help and how. What this paper adds An example of a designed interface called Connected Spaces with potential to foster more inter-student collaboration, especially outside of mandated within-group collaboration—in the form of cross-group help seeking and help giving. A design based research study using actor network theory highlighting the limitations of Connected Spaces in sparking notable behaviour change among students by itself but being retooled as a teacher support tool in enabling cross-group collaborations. Presenting conceptions of collaboration through technologies as bridging agentic gaps and acting with new agencies in performing help-seeking related actions. Provoking the idea of testing emerging technologies in classrooms along with sharing our analyses and reflections with the classroom as a key idea in computing education—surfacing the gap between designed intentions and the different kinds of extra social work needed in the on-ground success of different technologies. Implications for practice and/or policy Designers and researchers should create and test more interfaces alongside teachers across different classrooms and contexts aimed at supporting different kinds of voluntary collaborative interactions. Curricula, standards and school practices should further center providing students with opportunities to engage as mentors and build communities of learning across disciplines to empower minoritized students. Researchers engaging in design based research should consider using more posthumanist lenses to examine educational technologies and how they affect change in learning environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1549-1570
Number of pages22
JournalBritish Journal of Educational Technology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • actor network theory
  • collaboration
  • computing
  • design-based research
  • learning
  • posthumanist theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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