Prof. Martin Oliver

Professor of Education and Technology at the UCL Institute of Education, UK


Of clouds and cables: what do students need when they learn with technology?

Discussions of technology and education often promise revolution, and freedom from the constraints of campuses and classrooms. There is less discussion of why such infrastructures were needed in the first place, or of the challenges facing learners when these are no longer available. In order to explore such critical alternatives, we can begin to ask different kinds of question. What is the cloud made of? What do learners work with, when they study? Where are they, and what places do they move between? From a sociomaterial perspective, such questions draw attention to the ways in which academic work is encoded, transmitted and stored; how the cloud, far from being nebulous, relies on undersea cables and server farms; and how learners try and coordinate all this as they take bus journeys, sit in class or meet with friends in the bar. These points will be illustrated with examples from a longitudinal study of University students’ uses of technology, in which they recorded and described how, where and when they studied. This analysis has implications for the design of e-learning, raising questions about whose responsibility it is to build the infrastructure that students need to learn, and introducing a note of caution to discussions about the transformational potential of technology.


Martin Oliver is Professor of Education and Technology at the UCL Institute of Education, in London. He leads the Institute’s Centre for Doctoral Education, both providing and researching doctoral programmes in education and related social sciences. His own research explores the links between technology, Higher Education, student experience and the design of curricula.