About DLRN 2015

Making Sense of Higher Education: Networks and Change

Learning introduces students to practices of sensemaking, wayfinding, and managing uncertainty. Higher education institutions confront the same experiences as they navigate changing contexts for the delivery of services. Digital technologies and networks have created a new sense of scale and opportunity within global higher education, while fostering new partnerships focused on digital innovation as a source of sustainability in volatile circumstances. At the same time, these opportunities have introduced risks in relation to the ethics of experimentation and exploitation, emphasizing disruption and novelty and failing to recognise universities’ long-standing investment in educational research and development.

The networking of higher education requires a research lens in order to make sense of its implications for learning and knowledge, particularly for learners who are not well served by the existing system. The Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, explores how digital technologies are impacting all aspects of education, including research, teaching, learning, assessment, and support for underrepresented students.

The dLRN Conference – Making Sense of Higher Education 2015 – hosted at Stanford University on October 16-17, will offer a state of the field assessment from top international researchers and educators. This conference will be of interest to researchers, academics, and practitioners who are exploring the many nuances of the complex and uncertain landscape of higher education in a digital age.

What are the most pressing uncertainties, and the most promising applications of digital networks for learning and the academy? What agenda should be set for research in the near term? How best can researchers develop and share insights that will achieve practical outcomes and address systems-level challenges facing higher education, while establishing and applying robust standards of ethical practice?

We are keen to invite participants to evaluate current practices in digital and networked learning, whether formal, self-regulated, structured, unstructured, or lifelong. In particular, we are calling for papers that help make sense of what networks mean for the changing environment of contemporary higher education.

dLRN 2015 Themes

The conference will focus discussion on five themes:


Digital networks have the potential to redraw the maps of global educational influence and enable new models of international collaboration. More commonly, however, investment has been directed towards the consolidation of existing relations of prestige and influence, extending the reach of elite institutions into larger and more dispersed markets. In this strand, we are interested in discussions that explore the ethical dimension of international digital learning initiatives, and in particular, that consider ways of advancing global learning through models of reciprocity and exchange.


In this strand, we are interested in discussions that examine the emergence of individualized digital and networked learning as an educational priority. What are the technical and strategic drivers of the shift to adaptive, personalized learning? How are new edu models designing frameworks for student agency? What can learners of the future be expected to manage for themselves over their life course, and what do we assume about the skills, devices and network access they will need to do this?


In this strand, we are interested in discussions that will provide insight into how faculty and institutional leaders are responding systemically to the use of digital networks. Examples might include: alternative assessment methods, prior learning assessment, competency based learning, partnerships with external capacity providers, changing forms of scholarship, academic innovation hubs (R&D), and so on. Research that assesses the impact of new systemic structures on student success will be of particular importance.


In this strand, we are interested in discussions that examine the impact of networked innovation on the experience of working inside and alongside higher education. How has digital learning affected the academic profession, whether for the minority with tenure, or the much larger number working insecurely? What does it feel like to work alongside higher education from within other industries and sectors? In this strand, we particularly encourage discussion that address the intersection of digital innovation, academic labour, and the education workforce of the future.


This strand invites discussion on the relationships between networks, higher education, and sociocultural inequalities both in local and global contexts. While digital and networked higher education initiatives are often framed for the media in emancipatory terms, what effects does the changing landscape of higher education actually have on learners whose identities are marked by race/gender/class and other factors within their societies? Papers exploring societal factors, power structures, and their relationships to networked higher education are encouraged.


  • Kate Bowles, University of Wollongong
  • Dave Cormier, University of Prince Edward Island
  • Matt Crosslin, University of Texas at Arlington
  • Justin T. Dellinger, University of Texas at Arlington
  • Kristen Eshleman, Davidson College
  • George Siemens, University of Texas at Arlington
  • Bonnie Stewart, University of Prince Edward Island
  • Candace Thille, Stanford University