PhD Thesis abstract: ‘The role of theory in teaching with digital technologies in universities’

In spite of calls to address the lack of theory in our understanding of the use of digital technologies in education, much work remains to be done to mature the area as a scholarly, theoretically-rich domain. The advent of digital communication technologies has been heralded as an opportunity for educators to implement student-centred, socially constructivist approaches to teaching and learning, however, teaching practices can often be closer to behaviourist models. This study aimed to capture a holistic view of the realities of digital teaching, and question how educational theory, amongst other theories, fits with the innovation imperative discourse which can surround technology in education.

Qualitative data were gathered from interviews with 25 participants in two universities in Scotland and Ireland. Educators from seven disciplines were interviewed about their teaching with digital technologies, the rationale behind their practices, and the wider context of their teaching. Rhizome theory (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988) was employed as a theoretical framework to map connections between educators’ under-researched attitudes and untheorised practices.

Findings indicated a prominent role for non-educational rationales such as functionality, folk pedagogies and pseudo educational theories. Explicit educational theories were under-represented in the data, although many participants described teaching practices which could be said to align with them. Conceptions of technology demonstrated how participants balanced perceived benefits, risks and costs of technology use. This thesis argues for a more fluid understanding of digital teaching which recognises, and draws strength from, the constitutive entanglement of theory and practice. In a domain which is prone to over-promising educational transformation and reducing scholarship to sound-bites, there is a need for educators, and those who support them, to develop their own voices where educational theories can be challenged, re-worked and made fit for purpose.

DELEUZE, G. & GUATTARI, F., 1988. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Bound thesis