Education policymakers, researchers and reformers are experimenting with “open” urban innovation hubs and ecosystems, calling upon teachers and school leaders to be more “entrepreneurial” in their approaches to change with technology. Open innovation networks are fundamentally multivoiced and participatory by design, but we do not know very much about how they work with technology or what we might expect from them in terms of educational change. Despite the democratic possibilities of open innovation networks, if the history of technology-driven educational reform in this country serves as any guide, we might well expect the status quo in terms of their impact on school-based learning and teaching.
The broad purpose of this revelatory case study is to characterize the composition and enactment of one nominally open, urban ed-tech innovation network, identifying how and why actors swarm and learn around goals and projects that exist in dialogic tension. I take a mixed methods approach to capturing and interpreting highly mediated network interactions, combining egocentric network analysis, computational topic modeling and multimodal narrative analyses. I show how and why individual entrepreneurs of the self position themselves around and become a part of the spectacle of the ed-tech network, and how a pervasive market form patterns identity and interest discourses in both digital and physical urban space. The ed-tech network is revealed to act, know and learn in different ways within a variety of distinct scenes, including an inter-institutional assemblage of loosely coordinated computer science education actors, a scene of commercial and social entrepreneurs and a precarious community of practice focused on the production of marketable ed-tech professional identities and futures. The study concludes that the ed-tech network as a social technology and a spectacle can indeed convene broad discourse and boundary-spanning activity around the changing goals of school and education for the common good, even as the network is deeply patterned by enterprise. A framework for carnivalesque innovation is presented as a way of thinking about how open innovation networks and contemporary open learning environments can better pursue social goals of equity and justice in a marketized context.