Global technologies, Local Practices: redefining digital education with marginalised voices

We recently had some feedback on Twitter from Kate Bowles and Maha Bali about our recent call for papers for a special issue of Learning, Media, and Technology on digital education and marginalized voices. The basic gist of the feedback was the fact that our reference list in the call lacked the very diversity we are trying to get at in the issues itself. It was well received (as it is always is from this group) so many thanks to Kate and Maha. The thread can be read below in the tweet itself and I linked to the call later in this post for easier reading.

In particular, Kate emphasises, rightly, that “we could all learn from this: it takes work to think about diversity in your own sources.” I couldn’t agree more. Those sources were largely chosen precisely because they were insular: largely Western authors critiquing a largely Silicon Valley narrative of what digital education is. That was essentially the problem we were trying to surface. The critiques in them are largely valid, but the scope of the overall inquiry in the research needs to broaden. We want to provoke this discussion about what diversity means in this digital education context by treading out (and hopefully moving past) the largely Western bias in much of the literature, to really begin to draw some attention to local practices and digital education systems that make an attempt, at least, to some sort of cultural fidelity.

Difficult in the age of platform imperialism, where the code base of many national MOOC initiatives (my area of focus is Asia-Pacific so my apologies for this narrow take) is largely an American one: XuetangX in China, K-MOOC in Korea, IndonesiaX and many more all using an Open edX instance and the functionality and expected social practices contained therein. Granted, MOOCs aren’t the whole story (nor even much of it) but so many of these tensions between globalisation (really the Silicon Valley version of it) and diverse, local, largely non-Western practices are playing out in these spaces of hybridisation.

We know this isn’t representative (the sources in our issue rationale) and indeed want to suggest that this is part of the problem; a lot of this literature isn’t fully surfaced yet. Nevertheless, to create a representative reference list would seem to mask the very problem we wanted to surface. The prominent voices are not as diverse as they could/should be, and that should be acknowledged…although probably in a better way than we attempted.

Perhaps we were a bit too opaque about this problem in the call; we will need to work on that! But we want to stimulate the creation of more of this research, not less of it, and without being too prescriptive. We are looking for a multitude of perspectives here that challenge the Silicon Valley narrative of digital education. We don’t fully know what all of these are (some we do) so we kept the rationale intentionally non-specific.

But we are open about this process so please do chime in with representative sources. We have our own but are always looking for more. I am collecting what I learn through projects in digital education in diverse regions (largely through ICT4D and mlearning projects) and will share as we go through this process. Didn’t want to steal their thunder as many colleagues in these projects might be considering submissions themselves. We can adjust the call as needed. We are working hard to ensure this issue has impact; I’m not really that interested, nor is LMT, on simply going through the motions.

Many thanks for the feedback Kate and Maha!

Call for papers for special issue of Learning, Media and Technology- Global technologies, Local Practices: redefining digital education with marginalised voices  


By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

7 thoughts on “LMT Special Issue feedback: Some thoughts”
  1. Hi Michael and thank you for responding. I appreciate you taking the time. I hope you won’t be offended that I’m not… (ha, can’t find the appropriate Inoffensive English word for it, so…) mollified? Pacified? By this response. You mention there are voices on this but your blogpost doesn’t mention any of them. I don’t understand how using someone as a reference would deter them from contributing to the issue? I don’t at all see that. I do see myself as being deterred from submitting when I don’t find any global South, female, or POC authors in the reference list (which also means your call itself doesn’t account for the perspectives of marginalized people on their own marginality).

    I have tremendous respect for Jeremy Knox’s and U of Edinburgh’s critical digital work and cite it in my own postcolonial critiques of open and MOOCs (several of those are peer-reviewed and published, though some in press still).

    But you asking those questions in the CfP without citing non-white non-males makes it seem as if no marginal person has ever asked them…

    For an example of a post that intentionally
    a. Is authored by mostly non-dominant people
    B. Cites mostly non-dominant authors and work…
    see #BreakOpen

    Also, as I say in the thread, I’m oN LMT editorial board but I’m disappointed they won’t publish issues about openness and marginality as open access… It just doesn’t feel right. I’m ok, sort of, with books being not open because they’re originally a hard copy form. But not so much with digital articles… Even tho I am privileged to have access to most of what I need.

    1. No worries at all, Maha and I would never be offended by any of this; indeed I appreciate you (and Kate) taking the time to draft this out and it does indeed provide much by way of perspective. Let me mull this over and consider it carefully and let it seep into what we are doing here. More to come!

  2. Hi Michael

    Thanks for the invitation to respond. I’ve re-read the CFP and I’m not sure that this framing of “the reference list is the problem” works for me. You include both summaries and critiques of the problem, and all of them emerge from the same narrow professional demographic. This crafts the space within which all responses must now fit, and underestimates how much work is already being done by people not on this list.

    The specific issue that drew me in is that whether as strategy or oversight, every writer in your reference list is male. Because you’re not strongly focused on gender in the CFP except in this attentiveness to male writers as your reference points, I find it harder to read the reference list as ironic. Honestly, I’m still curious as to whether it was an oversight, something you both discussed, chose to pursue, etc.

    And that’s quite possibly the point worth making here: all publications emerge from tiny beginnings in conversations, assumptions, processes that are social, often fraternal, and that can leave gaps that are not designed — but that are useful to understand.

    In practical ways, this raises the question: do all reference lists have to be “representative”? I’m sympathetic to the question, and to everything it implies about our work as scholars. But maybe it really is the case that given what we know about how influence reproduces itself, then all our reference lists need to be looked at twice for the unintended consequential labour that they perform, and the imprint that they leave upon our future thinking.

    That’s a reflective habit we could also develop in the way that we teach. So thanks for the prompt, and thanks to Maha who more than anyone has pushed me to notice this in my own work. Who is missing? Who speaks and writes regularly on this topic, but isn’t included in my referencing because … because why?

    1. Hello there Kate!

      Your feedback/discussion around this much appreciated as always. We had indeed gone through several iterations of this call, did indeed have these discussions about representation, and not much of that is reflected in the call itself, which is unfortunate (and a call for us (editors) to work on this call!). I suspect a lot of this discussion, around representation, will make its way into the issue itself so it is well received.

      “But maybe it really is the case that given what we know about how influence reproduces itself, then all our reference lists need to be looked at twice for the unintended consequential labour that they perform, and the imprint that they leave upon our future thinking.” A real takeaway, for sure, and just good reflexive academic practice overall, particularly when we are trying to frame, as you say, future thinking.

      Much appreciated!

      1. I don’t know Michael, if you realize the hidden Curriculum of what you’ve done. You’ve written a CfP that effectively ignores marginalized voices and to be honest, will discourage some from submitting. How was this not a central question in your mind when you wrote it? Did you show it to a marginal person or two or five before publishing it? Did you realize that the two authors are white men, or is it that authority of white men on these topics is more objective and therefore women and people of color need not present their subjective views? I came back to this because it’s still bothering me. And, respectfully, I don’t feel respected by your blog response or youe response to my comment. Though I understand you need time to mull it over… I’m just deeply disappointed that you work on marginality and yet… This. I don’t know you,though, and I don’t want to make assumptions based on one piece of writing. Not every thing I have written is of the same quality.

        1. Hello Maha. Terribly sorry if my responses were not definite; I was liaising with the journal and fellow editors to edit the call so didn’t want to speak unilaterally there. We have asked Taylor & Francis to update the call and we are awaiting notification that it has gone live to the site. I do very much respect your feedback and this exchange. It has really helped us think through these issues and I am sure it is going to make for a better special issue.

          1. Fyi, I’m on the editorial board of that journal. Not that it helped any. Because no one sought my help there. What’s the point, really, of having an African scholar on your editorial board? Ticking diversity boxes? P. S. I wrote a piece for Prof Hacker a couple weeks ago on inclusive citation

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