23 SES 03 C, Digital Literacy, Curricula and Competence
While many educators and policy makers are enthusiastic about the use of digital technology in schools, little sociological knowledge exists about the creation of contemporary imperatives, their enactment in schools, nor the policy actors involved. This research project aims to fill this void and better understand the policy landscape, the impetus for the use of digital technologies in schools, and the actors and networks involved in these initiatives. The push for the implementation of technological-based educational solutions has become something of a global enterprise, permeating almost every curricular area (Spring, 2012). For the purpose of this study we specifically attend to the field of health and physical education (HPE) in contemporary Australian schools. Recently, school HPE has become a prime context for the promotion of health policies and behaviors that engage with digital technologies. However, the literature on the sociology of digital health has yet to consider the significance of schools to this area of knowledge creation and policy enactment. To this point, the scholarly work on the role of digital technology in HPE classrooms has focused largely on questions of technical and pedagogical efficacy; does it work and how can it be done better? While these are legitimate concerns, they leave unaddressed at least two important areas of knowledge; the social forces and policy networks that are shaping the forms digital HPE is taking and how and why teachers are responding to the emergence of digital HPE in their classes. With this as our context we explore the varied reasons why educators utilize digital technology in their HPE classrooms and situate this use within the broader social, political, and economic forces that influence these curricular and pedagogical transformations. We specifically consider the role of various actors, impetuses, and policy networks in the shaping of these initiatives. And while this is an Australia-based study the implications of this research are of international relevance. As the use of digital technologies in schools becomes a global phenomenon – pushed by wide-reaching policy networks – it is of great significance and import to understand the transnational nature of policy creation and enactment.
Theoretically, the paper employs the insights of Stephen Ball (2012) and others who have written about the various roles policy actors and networks play in the governance of schools. On the one hand Ball and his colleagues write that pedagogical transformations – such as the use of digital technologies – are often championed by ‘policy entrepreneurs’ or those who are personally invested in the changes they are advocating (Ball, Maguire, Braun, & Hoskins, 2011). Individual policy entrepreneurs, however, are often entangled in complex policy networks, or “join‐up government, think tanks and some individual interlockers, who ‘straddle sectors’ and policy fields and settings” (Ball and Exley, 2010). According to Player-Koro and colleagues (2017, p.3) understanding the relations among policy actors and networks is a “useful means of making sense of contemporary policy formation in education, especially in terms of the movement (global/local) of policy knowledge, the role of different policy actors (public/private) and the interactions, interdependencies and exchanges between actors.” With this recommendation in mind, our research is guided by the following questions:
1) What is the nature of specific knowledge claims around the use and imperative of digital technology in HPE classrooms?
2) In what ways do policy actors interact, share, promote, and produce knowledge claims around the use of digital technology?
In what ways do knowledge claims translate into classroom practice and policies (formal and informal) around the use of digital technologies?
The paper draws on data collected from observations of Australian-based HPE classes, interviews with teachers and technology advocates in the field of education, and field notes from attendance at professional organizations that promote the use of technology in classrooms. The different but overlapping data sources used in this project need to be seen as points of connection. They were chosen because they are assumed to be connected but not reducible to each other. Interviews and observations were carried out over the course of two years in three Australian states: Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. Observations of classes, interviews with teachers and field notes were collected in schools identified for their incorporation of digital technology in HPE. Attention was placed on the ways digital technology was used, represented, and rationalized. In an effort to better understand the influence of policy networks, interviews also attended to the various sources of digital technology as well as teachers’ interactions and involvement with diverse policy actors. Using standard qualitative methods, artifacts, interviews, and observations were coded and classified according to the guiding questions described above. This coding process created a matrix which was then interrogated for themes, consistencies, and key findings.
According to Neil Selwyn, it is important to recognize the “social and interaction circumstances in which digital technologies exist and through which they attain their meanings” (Selwyn, 2012, p. 92). Following Selwyn our interest is thus situated in the ways in which ideas about the need and imperatives around digital health are, “formed, reformed, and eventually consolidated into orthodoxies” both inside individual classrooms as well as within the larger policy environment (Player-Koro, Rensfildt, and Selwyn, 2017, p.3). Based on our initial fieldwork we hypothesize that there exist complex policy networks that promote the use of technology in schools and influence educators understanding, use, and implementation of a digitalized version of HPE. However, additional data analysis is needed to confirm this hypotheses, describe the form and function of these partnership arrangement and determine (if appropriate), “how this entrepreneurial work is embedded in the prevailing policy discourses” occurring in schools and professional organizations, and how this work is governing, transforming, or otherwise existing policy and pedagogy (Ball, Maguire, Braun, & Hoskins, 2011, p. 636). This work contributes to scholarship concerned with advancing a more sophisticated theory of the ways in which policy networks and agencies ‘work’ in order to better understand the complex ways that change and continuity occur in formal and informal educational policies. The results of this project will stimulate debate, inform practice and our knowledge about policy creation, its complex sphere of influence, as well as its enactment.
Ball, S. J., & Exley, S. (2010). Making policy with ‘good ideas’: Policy networks and the ‘intellectuals’ of New Labour. Journal of education policy, 25(2), 151-169. Ball, S. J., Maguire, M., Braun, A., & Hoskins, K. (2011). Policy actors: Doing policy work in schools. Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education, 32(4), 625-639. Ball, S. J. (2012). Global education inc: New policy networks and the neo-liberal imaginary. New York: Routledge. Selwyn, N. (2012). Making sense of young people, education and digital technology: The role of sociological theory. Oxford Review of Education, 38(1), 81-96. Spring, J. (2012). Education networks: Power, wealth, cyberspace, and the digital mind. New York: Routledge.
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