Promoting reflection on the digitalised cultures and spaces of schooling

Smile and PCsThis blog post was compiled by Sara Bragg, University of Brighton ( This project took place at the University of Brighton (UoB) School of Education (SoE), one of the largest schools of teacher education in the country. It includes a diverse group of active researchers, many of whom are also members of its large staff of teacher educators with deep knowledge of subject domains and of (often distinct) pedagogies for HE and for schools. The UoB has also invested in educational research, not least by appointing two Research Fellows in its Education Research Centre in 2012, with a remit to develop research and build bridges with lecturers in the SoE. The project discussed here built on earlier models of dialogue fostered by the author with colleagues about ‘creative methods’, which were a shared interest but approached very differently from pedagogic and research perspectives. This project aimed to extend the reach of earlier work by involving student teachers as well, and to assess the value of existing spaces in ITE provision for raising the kinds of issues that emerged from our discussions. The project aimed to:

  • extend and evaluate a ‘model’ of creating space for collegial reflection;
  • bring colleagues and student teachers together to debate a key issue in contemporary education – ‘digitalisation’ – from multiple perspectives;
  • in the light of these reflections, critically assess the value of existing spaces for reflection in ITE provision and consider how they might be further developed and strengthened.


The recent HEA publication, Learning to teach (2013), edited by Professor Lani Florian and Dr Nataša Pantić, discusses the ‘distinctive contribution of HE to initial teacher education’.  One of these distinctive contributions was argued to be ‘creating space and time for reflection and critical thinking away from the 'busy-ness' of schools’. Exploring how a university might do this in relation to a specific topic, the ‘digitalised cultures and spaces of schooling’, and the value of these (real or virtual) spaces, was the focus of this project. The ‘digitalised cultures and spaces of schooling’ refers to, for example:

  • The implications of computational or digital practices and modes of thinking for professional work and identities, e.g.: the increasing centrality of data to processes of teaching and school improvement, and its disciplinary function for teachers who engage in ‘educational triage’ (Gillborne and Youdell 2000); the rendering ‘ordinary’ of surveillance technologies such as CCTV and how this shifts student-teacher relationships (Hope 2009); how cybernetic metaphors (of nodes, rhizomes, networks) are being built into policy, practice, pedagogies, curricula and theories of learning (Loveless and Williamson 2013).
  • ‘Digital childhoods’ – young people’s media cultures and relationships with screens, social media, new technology and gaming – in schools; how various educational actors respond (e.g. by including or excluding; by constructing both children and teachers as ‘at risk’ from the refiguring of professional and intimate boundaries).

These are challenging issues that deserve to be considered away from enculturation into institutional routines, and where ‘research’ perspectives often differ markedly from practitioner-oriented ones. The proposed research aimed to encourage critical thinking about education, rather than the acquisition of skills, competences and knowledge of education associated with ‘service delivery’ models of teacher training (Czerniawski 2013).


[caption id="attachment_3624" align="alignright" width="320"]// Attribution:[/caption] Primarily the project involved a number of workshops, meetings and discussion groups bringing together student teachers, lecturers, library and other support staff and researchers. These discussions were used to draft  ‘vignettes’ for teaching and awareness-raising purposes (see below).This is a topic that promotes discussion!  There has always been a lot to say and share in and amongst the groups. The diversity of material gathered is, I hope, reflected in the vignettes and affirms the significance of the chosen focus. The project did showcase what HEIs can achieve, because student teachers brought back highly diverse reports from different schools, which could then be pooled and compared both during the process and in the vignettes. As the issue is about digital cultures rather than ‘using technology in teaching’, it has cross-curricular appeal and relevance, helping to promote debate at all stages of education and whatever subject. Student teachers’ willingness to engage, and what / how much they have to say, was although not unexpected, a delight.   These meetings were valued by those participating: "Meeting up was great.  I think that is what professionals need - a space where you can talk and laugh and be critical - sharing knowledge of how it is elsewhere is vital, technology is changing so fast and people are taking great leaps in so many ways.  We need to share this.  We need to get out of the slightly myopic 'my school does it like this' way and into the 'hey look what we just did over here' kinda way - imho. Meeting up with peers and discussing what's working and what isn't, for each of us, is so valuable, and it’s often only in these situations that we have to defend our decisions and can share solutions and ideas as freely.  And cross-curricular is so useful too - that was one of the best things about the course at Brighton - meeting people from all areas." [caption id="attachment_3627" align="alignleft" width="320"]// Attribution:[/caption] Student teachers identified some inconsistencies and dilemmas in ITE provision, which need to be addressed. For instance, students on ‘Learning in the Digital Age’ expressed satisfaction with its balance of theory, active learning and reflection. Students on the one-year PGCE courses were aware that there was less time for this; in addition, some courses seemed to allow more time to ‘play’ with resources than others, while in some cases students were assumed to have or to be able to acquire more familiarity with ICT and software than they had.  It was also acknowledged that digital technologies tend to highlight the need to reconceptualise the teacher’s role as a ‘facilitator’ and mediator of learning rather than source and possessor of knowledge. Nonetheless, although such a shift in identity is commonly discussed in research and literature, it appeared that it is considerably more challenging to achieve in practice, whether in schools or in HEIs. We identified a tendency for student teachers to adopt a ‘front of the classroom’ position in relation to young people’s online and digital lives (where these are, variously, derided, seen as threatening, or as primarily a matter of ‘technology-enhanced learning’). Taking a view ‘from the back of the classroom’, encouraging genuine curiosity about digital lives, is a key challenge with which the student vignette aims to assist. A surprising finding concerned student teachers’ own retreat from a digital presence, out of fear of its consequences for their professional identities. There are issues here around how teachers as well as young people might benefit from an approach more focused on ‘digital rights’ than personalised responsibility (as discussed in Hope, A. (2014). Schoolchildren, Governmentality and National E-safety Policy Discourse. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education). The richness of the topic area has tended to make it difficult to end the project once and for all: hence the vignettes are still a work in progress, and their final format has not been decided. It is hoped to find a way to present them where they can be edited, added to and updated in the light of further contributions from SoE staff and NQTs etc. If you would like to keep updated on any future developments please contact Sara.

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