Motivation for digital education research
I posted this the other day to the website for the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh and thought it might be worthwhile to share here as well. New beginnings force a bit of focus on why one is doing what they are doing so thought I might share those thoughts here.
What is your role in the Centre for Research in Digital Education?
I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre, with a particular remit for digital education in development contexts. With that focus, I tend to work in areas which are developing at scale digital education programmes and approaches to meet the educational needs of increasingly younger populations. This currently has me focused on research projects in Nepal, in a few countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and work with displaced populations (such as recent work in Turkey with Syrian academics on digital education). I tend to focus my critical research in digital education on the mobilities at work in these spaces and what actors are structuring them: INGOs, government organisations, policy, imported technology and the domestic practices expressed in its use, the aspirations and imagined communities of students, faculty, and universities, and more.
In my spare time, I am also Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, an ICT for Development (ICT4D) consultancy that specialises in gender inclusion and mobile learning. We do a lot of work with NGOs such as an ongoing project with UN Habitat, past work with USAID and more.
I work with Professor Sian Bayne on the Near Future Teaching project, a Senate Learning and Teaching Committee programme of work led by Sian and supported by a cross-University working group comprising staff and students, and conducted in partnership with the design and futures-thinking agency Studio AndThen. Its aim is to work across the university to co-design a values-based future for digital education at the University of Edinburgh, encompassing all on-campus and online teaching. We are fairly excited to release the results of this project, most likely in early 2019. There is plenty available online already at the project website.
I am also working on the Distance Learning at Scale project, a large university partnership with edX to design online Masters programmes redesigned from scratch, incorporating what we hope is innovative, research-based, and eventually evidenced technology use to support at scale pedagogies. We are set to launch the first courses in September 2019.
I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the MSc in Digital Education. I work largely behind the scenes with tutoring on ‘An introduction to digital environments for learning’, some involvement in the ‘Digital education in global contexts course’, and some input into the ‘Course design for digital environments’ course. But mostly I am happy with contributing whatever I can to a programme that has been near and dear to my heart for many years.
How do you see Digital Education and why do you think it’s important?
It is easy to lose sight of this sometimes in the exactness of the work we do here (the truly necessary critical work) but I am drawn to digital education for a number of reasons. It is the medium through which more and more of the world’s formal education will pass through and be structured by, particularly in the developing contexts in which I work. As such, it is critical to know the actors involved and how they entangle themselves and what effect those entanglements have on individuals, practices, and institutions. I tend to focus on mobilities that all of this generates, but there are many other critical perspectives that my colleagues here at the Centre focus on more (all of which I find complement my own research). So it is critical to focus on digital education precisely as it is increasingly becoming inseparable from education overall.
Despite digital education increasingly restructuring indigenous educational systems, redefining knowledge practices, exposing students to increasingly surveilled learning spaces, and stimulating, for better or for worse, particular types of mobility (some of which might erode community), I am drawn to it because it does represent, however contested, a mode of access to education for particular groups that might potentially never have access to it otherwise. With my teaching hat on, I see its potential as a force for good and probably will for the foreseeable future. Recent dark turns in general with the internet has tempered that optimism, though. With my research hat on, I know that digital education is a force that is incredibly contested and complex, with seemingly perfunctory shifts generating considerable impact: a change in code on an educational platform leading to significant exclusion in a particular low-resource context; default functionality that tends towards large, broadcast-style participation on discussion forums which directly dissuades particular modes of participation from underrepresented groups; and more. There are millions of relations, entanglements, and practices to focus on, research from which will hopefully lead to more equitable, more critical digital education. There is work to be done, but I still believe in the medium.
What piece of work are you most proud of?
It might sound a bit cliched, but I am most proud of the fact that I work at the University of Edinburgh in the Centre for Research in Digital Education with these people. I am inspired daily to push further and further than I might have otherwise; I have the privilege of working with the some of the best critical minds and some of the best people inside or outside the academy. So if I were asked where I hope to be in 20 years time, I would answer: hopefully right here. Doing the work I am doing now and doing it with the same people, driving towards the same purpose.