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Third space

Blended professionals, technology and online learning: Identifying a socio-technical third space in higher education

White, White & Borthwick (2021)

Annotations (4/29/2022, 1:23:19 PM)

“Abstract” (White et al., 2021, p. 161)

“However, the role of technology in accounts of third space activity remains under-explored.” (White et al., 2021, p. 161)

“it is argued that both social and technical factors must be considered to understand, plan for and manage the third space roles and structures which emerge in such initiatives.” (White et al., 2021, p. 161)

“it also proposes the concept of a socio-technical third space in which blended professionals act as hubs in a metaphorical network of activity, using social and technical means to shape their own roles and those of others” (White et al., 2021, p. 161)

“INTRODUCTION” (White et al., 2021, p. 162)

“Studies of British, American and Australian universities have identified the concept of third space roles in higher education which straddle academic and professional functions (Whitchurch, 2008, 2009, 2013)” (White et al., 2021, p. 162)

“These projects are frequently identified as sites of third space activity, yet research in this area has yet to focus on the role of technology within these social contexts” (White et al., 2021, p. 162)

“Such research reveals how technologies become embedded and configured in their context of use and is invaluable in resisting technologically determinist characterisations of technologies as fixed entities which bring with them inevitable social effects (Selwyn, 2010)” (White et al., 2021, p. 162)

“Using ‘concise characterizations of technology’ alongside ‘relevant social theory’ (Kling, Rosenbaum, & Sawyer, 2005, p. 59), this multi-site case study of three UK universities produces nuanced depictions of MOOC development and the evolving roles of those involved” (White et al., 2021, p. 163)

“The findings reveal that learning designers carve out a significant hub-like role in MOOC development, in an environment characteristic of Whitchurch’s third space, yet constructed via both social and technological means. It is argued, therefore, that it is useful to conceive of a ‘socio-technical third space’, developed via skilled negotiation of roles and the strategic embedding and configuration of technology” (White et al., 2021, p. 163)


“Significantly for this paper, both studies highlight technology as having a part to play in many of these new roles” (White et al., 2021, p. 164)

“These observations also resonate with studies of conventional (non-MOOC) online learning roles such as Oliver’s identification of ‘hidden negotiation’ in online learning projects (2002, p. 246)” (White et al., 2021, p. 164)

“Indeed, research from the field of social informatics has long argued that technologies and their social contexts of use have a complex and co-constructive relationship (Kling et al., 2005; Sanfillipo & Fichman, 2013).” (White et al., 2021, p. 164)

“RESEARCHING TECHNOLOGY IN CONTEXT” (White et al., 2021, p. 165)

“In attempting to gain a nuanced view of technology in its social context, a multi-site case study approach is used. This primarily qualitative approach focuses on construction of meaning and experience in the complex context of educational organisations (Kirkwood & Price, 2014).” (White et al., 2021, p. 165)

“Following social informatics studies by Meyer (2006) and Villar-Onrubia (2014), data collection was initially guided by the STIN analytic strategy. Using a set of seven heuristics,1 the strategy aims to balance concerns with social and technical factors, allowing researchers to generate nuanced depictions of ‘a network that includes people (money, skill, status), documents and messages, legal arrangements, enforcement mechanisms, and resource flows’ (Kling, McKim, & King, 2003, p. 48).” (White et al., 2021, p. 165)

“hus, in line with Ashwin’s methodological thinking in education (2012, p. 944), the qualitative data and ‘concise descriptions of technology’ are used to ‘knock against’ socio-technical and third space theoretical concepts in order test or refine understandings of them.” (White et al., 2021, p. 166)

“Learning designers as hubs in a network of human and non-human actors” (White et al., 2021, p. 170)

“Although the online learning literature frequently highlights collaboration and teamwork as fundamental in course development, the STIN analysis reveals the role of learning designer as hub within a complex, dynamic network of social actors and non-human actants (see Figure 1)” (White et al., 2021, p. 170)

Understanding and debating the third space

Hall (2022)

Annotations (4/29/2022, 12:32:26 PM)

“The chapter argues, as the keynote did, that the third space could become no space at all if it remains hidden and invisible to the university, fails to tackle the barriers that have created the need for that space, and looks inward to notions of identity rather than outward to counter what Giroux (2019) calls the “pedagogies of repression”.” (Hall, 2022, p. 26)

“Whitchurch and others see third space as a resistance to the structural constraints that have seemed immoveable within universities.” (Hall, 2022, p. 27)

“rather bored, and demotivated because her time was no longer her own and she was expected to work in a wholly strategic way to ensure that lecturers met the university’s virtual learning environment expectations.” (Hall, 2022, p. 27)

“Third space conceived like this offers the hope of transdisciplinary connections and new relationships, perhaps unfettered by neo liberal notions of management and cultural and” (Hall, 2022, p. 27)

“Second, the race to create technologically rich learning environments at speed has prised open the Pandora’s Box of corporate e-learning, leaving universities vulnerable like never before and casting into the shadows any sense of a slow or creeping hegemony of neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and new managerialism within higher education (Cowden and Singh, 2013; Van Heertum, 2006).” (Hall, 2022, p. 28)

“Much of the scholarship focuses on issues of identity, the place of practitioner research and on tensions with pervasive neoliberal aims to measure effectiveness.” (Hall, 2022, p. 28)

“Ray Land (2001) introduced an ecological paradigm that suggested a range of orientations to the craft of educational development in universities across two axis “domesticating and liberating” and “systems and the person”.” (Hall, 2022, p. 29)

“In 2021 marketisation is truly with us, budgets are under greater pressure, metrics are more dominant and layered across these challenges, “third space professionals” or “para-academics” are caught in a web of commodified, commercialised education, often implicated in the use of high-cost tools to track and measure and “deliver” teaching.” (Hall, 2022, p. 29)

“As we move towards a post-pandemic future, it becomes clear that universities are neither the traditional custodians of knowledge nor the auditors or creators of it.” (Hall, 2022, p. 30)

“We have to ask what our universities can become at the same time as recognising or resisting a marketised, digitised future where there is even less control of the curricula and how learning happens, managed by learning platforms and privately created learning packages, monitored through data flows” (Hall, 2022, p. 30)

“As a Deputy Vice Chancellor of a modern university, education must be about the creation of agency.” (Hall, 2022, p. 30)

“Leading on creative curriculum design for example will bump up against academics’ traditional approaches and regulations designed to bring administrative coherence and perhaps even save money” (Hall, 2022, p. 30)

Third spaces and integrated practice - concluding reflections

Mcintosh & Nutt (2022) identify four main themes from their book

  1. Shifting spaces and contexts
  2. Leadership in the third space
  3. third space identities and ways of working
  4. supporting and enabling third space working

Annotations (4/29/2022, 12:13:33 PM)

“a need to revisit the organising principles of the academy, not least to account for the huge shift in focus caused by the Covid19 pandemic and the emergency pivot to blended learning and working.” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 265)

“As we move towards a much more dynamic, dialogic, and relational way of working, between members of staff and also between staff and students, flexibility, agility, and higher-level thinking skills will be of paramount importance to creating new “discursive” spaces where people can thrive” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 265) What the hell are “discursive” spaces

“For Grant, the fundamental feature of the New Power University is one where “holistic, institutionwide” approaches are taken, where staff are organised not by structure, systems or hierarchy but rather by “social purpose and values” (p. 119” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 265)

“‘professional reconfigurations that reflect the emergence of more pliable and permeable structures and more open knowledge systems’ (Scott, 2009, p75).” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 266)

“(1) projectbased working with both professional and academic features, (2) lateral interactions involving teams and networks of individuals making connections, (3) the pivotal role of relationships, (4) the development of language to facilitate communication, (5) investment in personal and professional development across both academic and professional divides, and (6) co-existing “safe” and “risky” spaces giving rise to both paradoxes and dilemmas for third space professionals (Whitchurch, 2013, pp. 144–145)” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 266) These seem (at least some) directly applicable to the role of relations

“Although the third space has always been one which has been defined by its state of flux, the context within which we are working as we write this, the pandemic prompts us to ask whether the first and second space has already shifted from where it was when Whitchurch conceptualised the third space?” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 267)

“Hall alludes to this in her discussion of the role of educational technologists during the pandemic, being thrust into a critical space” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 267)

“How we work, what we do, and how we make positive change happen in third spaces is not a simple, easily explained process or activity.” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 270)

“smaller scale examples of third space activity helping resolve problems; create new directions and solutions; make connections that otherwise either would not happen, or perhaps would only happen in small parts of an institution” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 271)

“Hilsdon (2011, p. 24) notes how “Learning Developers sit in mediating roles between the experience of students, the goals of academics, and the wider ambitions of our HE institutions”.” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 271)

“Cultures are created and changed through telling stories (Plummer, 1995). We have drawn here on the expertise of “lived experience” (Drumm, 2013)” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 271)

“to make more visible the work that takes place quite invisibly in third spaces and to consider the complexity, challenges, and value of blended working and to highlight the great potential of boundary crossing in contemporary higher education settings.” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 271)

“As this collection explores, the ways in which many third spacers have found home in the liminal and shadowy borderlands of common university structures, they have created for themselves a productive environment for facilitating change, and have created space to allow for creativity and the practice of core activities that do not easily fit into the usual day-to-day patterns of HE institutions.” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 272)

“Third Space may then become less a professional limbo and more of a deliberately constructed liminal space in which to enact a distinct pedagogy, as per Abegglen et al. (2019)”” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 272)

“Nevertheless, some existing literature suggests that educational developers, for example, who are often situated in clear integrated practice roles, can be fairly conventional in their thinking and behaviours and sometimes resistant to change (Thomas and Cordiner, 2014)” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 273)

“On the basis of the many accounts in this collection, we would argue that the roles of integrated practitioners working in third spaces are vital for universities in increasingly challenging times” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 274)

“but third spaces are likely to become even more important post-pandemic and in a fast-changing world; they are creative spaces where responses, actions, and solutions can be explored” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 274)

“Whitchurch suggested that “binary assumptions about “academic” and “non-academic” roles and identities are becoming increasingly unstable” (p. 137).” (McIntosh and Nutt, 2022, p. 275)

Building bridges and connections

Denney 2022

Annotations (4/29/2022, 12:40:59 PM)

“For the purpose of this chapter, the term “educational development” is used to describe those members of staff who work across their institution to support systems, processes, and individuals in order to enhance the educational experience of students.” (Denney, 2022, p. 50)

“Whitchurch defines third space professionals as “hybrid workers” in higher education who work across functional boundaries and tend to work mainly on projects (Whitchurch, 2006).” (Denney, 2022, p. 51)


Denney, F. (2022). Building bridges and connections. In E. McIntosh & D. Nutt, The Impact of the Integrated Practitioner in Higher Education (1st ed., pp. 50–62). Routledge.

Hall, J. (2022). Understanding and debating the third space. In E. McIntosh & D. Nutt, The Impact of the Integrated Practitioner in Higher Education (1st ed., pp. 26–32). Routledge.

McIntosh, E., & Nutt, D. (2022). Third spaces and integrated practice – concluding reflections. In E. McIntosh & D. Nutt, The Impact of the Integrated Practitioner in Higher Education (1st ed., pp. 265–277). Routledge.

White, S., White, S., & Borthwick, K. (2021). Blended professionals, technology and online learning: Identifying a socio-technical third space in higher education. Higher Education Quarterly, 75(1), 161–174.