14 SES 11 A, Teacher Education and Schooling in Rural Communities Worldwide
Internationally people living in rural locations are less likely to have good levels of digital connectivity (Chinapah and Odero, 2016, Phillip et. al., 2015). For teachers in rural schools the lack of reliable connectivity has implications beyond their use of ICT for classroom teaching. While digital culture has the potential to overcome the challenges of geography (Green and Reid, 2014), many rural places still have patchy and unreliable broadband (Phillip et. al., 2015).
For teachers working in rural settings access to the wider professional community is hampered by factors such as distance and time. This can result in sense making becoming a process of internal reflection, closed to external influences (Muijs, 2015). Enabling the flow of professional capital across rural areas could enable external influences to impact on local sense making. This, however, can be challenging as rural teachers often work in relative isolation from their professional peers (Hargreaves et. al., 2015).
Rural education should enable pupils to ‘live well’ in rural areas (Gullov, 2017), engaging with the complex nature of rural living (Bartholomeus et. al., 2014) and the importance of place (Corbett and White, 2014). Digital participation has the potential to enhance the quality of rural education through enabling the flow of professional capital (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012). Digital spaces also have the potential to enable rural teachers to access professional learning opportunities and resources previously out of reach due to their geographical isolation.
This research acknowledged the importance of rural voice (Hargreaves, 2017, Roberts, 2017), capturing the experiences of rural teachers in Scotland. The research questions posed were:
How do teachers in rural schools access professional learning opportunities?
To what extent does digital connectivity enable rurally based teachers to engage with professional learning?
In what ways does technology mediate engagement with professional learning, formal and informal, in rural areas?
Rural schools educate ‘high proportions of the world’s children’ (Hargreaves, 2017). The role of the rural teacher, and their engagement with professional learning, is important to communities across the globe. Rural teachers, like rural children, should not be excluded from access to quality learning environments, because of the geographically disparate context in which they work. Digital participation has implications for social and economic equality (White, 2016). The experiences of teachers in rural settings potentially reflect the experiences of rural communities and have implications that are much wider than the individual engagement of teachers with their own professional learning. The digital inclusion of rural teachers’ has implications for the digital inclusion of the pupils they teach and the communities they work in.
In rural areas of Europe, broadband coverage is lower than in urban areas: less than 40% of rural EU households had access to next generation services in 2017 (European Union, 2017). In the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland broadband coverage increased from 4% at the beginning of 2013 to 86% in 2017. The current aim is 100% coverage by 2021 (HIE, 2017), reflecting wider EU initiatives (European Union, 2017). For teachers in rural schools access to connectivity will not necessarily result in successful engagement with digital resources. The online space mediates practice in a different ways to physical spaces (Coker, 2016) and the implications of digital inclusion for rural teachers are not yet fully understood.
The research aimed to capture the ‘voice’ of rural teachers, a narrative potentially overlooked in previous research (Hargreaves, 2017, Roberts, 2017). Using interviews, the qualitative methodology took a narrative stance, approaching the interviews as a co-construction of meaning. Focusing on teachers’ words, rather than actions (Gubrium and Holstein, 2012) and inviting teachers to share their personal stories the interviews actively constructed a shared understanding of rural teachers experiences (Gubrium and Holstein, 1998). Thirty teachers working in rural schools in Scotland were interviewed. The interview was semi-structured, inviting the teachers to share their experiences of professional learning and engagement with technology. As well as engaging with the traditional ethical process – storing data securely, respecting and valuing the participation of teachers and meeting the University’s ethical requirements - the research engaged with rural ethics through the 3 R’s framework (Anderson and Lonsdale, 2014); respecting participants, acknowledging responsibility and acknowledging the reciprocal relationship with research participants. Teachers were invited to participate in an interview, which lasted between 20 and 40 minutes. The interviews were carried out in person, at the teacher’s school, or by phone. Teachers were invited to choose which interview style they were more comfortable with. Following the interview a transcript was sent to the teachers, who were given the opportunity to remove any comments they did not want to be shared. Interviews were then anonymised. Transcripts were coded using a narrative approach and themes were identified. Interviews created breadth and depth in the evidence, enabling critical engagement with the complex nature of rural living, acknowledging and valuing rural voices (Corbett, 2015). Teachers were located in different schools and different places; these explored in the analytical process. Observations of differences and similarities in relation to the geographical places in which teachers worked were compared with the general themes, which emerged from the evidence as a whole. All data was stored securely and destroyed following completion of the study. All evidence used in publication were anonymised and presented respectfully, valuing participant’s time and their willingness to be involved in the study.
The research identified key themes in relation to the shared experiences of rural teachers’ engagement with professional learning and technology. Time and distance were a constraint to engagement with professional communities, and professional learning opportunities. Online learning opportunities had a tendency to be transmissive, providing limited access for dialogic engagement. Teachers accessed resources online, and engagement with social media and online communities were observed. Feelings of guilt were associated with the use of social media and a hesitancy to engage with online spaces reflected a potential cultural shift in relation to digital participation. Digital online technology was observed to mediate participation and blur the boundary between work and home. In a rural context where home and work were embedded within a small community, this was engaged with in different ways, evoking different emotional responses. While connectivity was more available than previously, engagement with digital spaces required more than just access to them. The mediating role of technology for rural teachers, and the potential of technology as a means to access professional communities suggested potential developments, rather than enacted realities. Further analytical work will explore the influence of local place, the role of cultural expectations and the dialogic potential of digital participation. It is expected that technology provides the potential for collaborative learning, and enables access to professional communities. However, the extent to which this is enacted varies depending on a range of explicit and implicit factors.
Anderson, M and Lonsdale, M,. 2014 ‘Three Rs for rural research: respect, responsibility and reciprocity’ in White, S. and Corbett, M. eds., 2014. Doing educational research in rural settings: Methodological issues, international perspectives and practical solutions. Routledge. Bartholomaeus, P., Halsey, J. and Corbett, M., 2014. A trialogue about method in rural education. Doing educational research in rural settings: Methodological issues, international perspectives and practical solutions, p.58. Coker, H., 2016. Understanding pedagogic collaboration in the online environment (Doctoral dissertation, University of Aberdeen and University of the Highlands and Islands). Corbett, M. and White, S., 2014. Introduction: Why put the ‘rural in research. Doing educational research in rural settings: Methodological issues, international perspectives and practical solutions, pp.1-4. European Union, 2016. Broadband Coverage in Europe 2016: Mapping progress towards the coverage objectives of the Digital Agenda. file:///C:/Users/in14hc/Downloads/FinalReport.pdf [accessed 29/01/2018] Green, B. and Reid, J., 2014. Social cartography and rural education: Researching space (s) and place (s)(pp. 27-40). Doing educational research in rural settings: Methodological issues, international perspectives and practical solutions. New York, NY: Routledge. Gubrium and Holstein, 1998 ‘Narrative Practice and the Coherence of Personal Stories’ The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 39 (1), pp. 163-187 Gubrium and Holstein, 2012 ‘Don’t argue with the Members’ The American Sociologist, vol. 43, pp. 85-98 Gullov, 2017 ‘Local traditions and renewal of rural education in Denmark’ ECER Conference, Copenhagen, August 2017 Hargreaves, 2017 ‘Primary Education in Small Rural Schools: Past, Present and Future’ In Life in Schools and Classrooms (pp. 223-243). Springer Singapore. Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M., 2012. Professional capital: Transform Hargreaves, A., Parsley, D. and Cox, E.K., 2015. Designing rural school improvement networks: aspirations and actualities. Peabody journal of education, 90(2), pp.306-321. HIE (n.d) http://www.hie.co.uk/regional-information/digital-highlands-and-islands/can-i-get-it.html Muijs, D., 2015. Collaboration and networking among rural schools: Can it work and when? Evidence from England. Peabody Journal of Education, 90(2), pp.294-305. Odero, J.O. and Chinapah, V., 2016. Towards inclusive, quality ICT-based learning for rural transformation. Journal of Education and Research, 5(5.2 & 6.1), pp.107-125. Philip, L.J., Cottrill, C. and Farrington, J., 2015. ‘Two-speed’Scotland: Patterns and Implications of the Digital Divide in Contemporary Scotland. Scottish Geographical Journal, 131(3-4), pp.148-170. Roberts, P., 2017. A curriculum for whom? Rereading ‘Implementing the Australian Curriculum in Rural, Regional, Remote and Distance-Education Schools’ from a rural standpoint. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 27(1), pp.43-61. White, D., 2016. Digital Participation and Social Justice in Scotland, Carnegie UK Trust.
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