The digitalised spaces and cultures of schooling

This blog post was compiled by Sara Bragg ( University of Brighton and builds on a presentation delivered at the HEA Social Sciences annual conference 2014.


This paper presented findings from an HEA-funded study investigating ‘the distinctive contribution of HE to Initial Teacher Education’ and aiming to create ‘space and time for reflection and critical thinking away from the 'busy-ness' of schools’. The study will brought together colleagues from the University of Brighton School of Education with student teachers, to debate a key issue in contemporary education – ‘digitalisation’ – from multiple perspectives. The paper presented a range of material gathered as part of this project and considered its implications for potential futures.


Aspects of the ways schooling is currently being ‘digitalised’ seem to move us towards a World 2 future of ‘Loyalty Points’, or even a more dystopian version closer to ‘Apocalypse Now’. Data are constantly gathered on individual students’, teachers’ and schools’ performance, attendance, punctuality, achievement etc and then used for purposes of scrutiny, (self)-surveillance and regulation in processes of teaching and school improvement (Gillborne and Youdell 2000); surveillance technologies such as CCTV are being rendered ordinary and routine (Hope 2009); cybernetic metaphors of nodes, rhizomes, networks and so on are being built into policy, practice pedagogies, curricula and theories of learning (Loveless and Williamson 2013); powerful, vested corporate interests can be discerned behind the promotion of ‘technology-enhanced learning’ and other solutions to the alleged failures of the existing system. There is a move towards managed, contractualised, individualised learning relationships, with individuals ultimately assigned responsibility for their (or their pupils’) educational success or failure, and the state excluded from educational provision and instead monitoring services provided by others (particularly, corporate chains seeking economies of scale through market dominance). It is not a huge leap of the imagination to see, as some have done, a future in which teachers have been largely replaced by tablets pre-loaded with content developed by News Corporation or Pearson’s, through which pupils work at their own pace.  Meanwhile, however, children and young people’s digital media cultures and interests are often excluded by schools, which construct both teachers and students as ‘at risk’ from the refiguring of professional and personal boundaries they are seen to entail. As a result, educational institutions may be missing a chance to learn from young people’s creative, innovative and collaborative new media practices. The project described in this paper is based on the belief that developing reflective spaces in which to stand back and consider the wider contexts of practices and pedagogies and to debate the significance of contemporary shifts might contribute to resisting some of their potentially less desirable aspects. In this way it might move us towards a more sustainable, interdependent and ethically oriented future as envisaged in World 3, ‘Only Connect’.  The project therefore attempts to enact – to bring into being – authentic, democratic and distributed learning and mutually respectful co-creation of knowledge across institutional positions and locations discussed in the outline of Only Connect. Following Thomson (2013), it gathers researchers, lecturers, practitioners and student teachers from the University of Brighton School of Education around key principles of shared commitments, decentring expertise and respect for diverse ‘voices’ in order to generate genuine “research middlework” in theorising, conceptualising, investigating and representing multiple dimensions of the digitalised cultures and spaces of schooling. The paper will report back on its findings as well as on the challenges and experiences of working in this way.  


After the presentation there was a really interesting discussion around teacher professional identity, use of social media and what researcher danah boyd calls ‘context collapse’.   Some social media are being designated ‘strictly personal’ as part of managing boundaries, but which ones vary from person to person. Where do you draw the boundaries in your personal and professional use of social media? If you would like to contribute to the discussion, please use the 'leave a response' facility below.

Blog work area: