19 SES 02 A, SPACE: Mapping, Inclusion and Interactions
This paper looks at the possibilities of researching emerging spaces of education, especially in the context of classrooms and digital technologies. The case in point concerns students’ use of mobile phones in a Finnish upper secondary school classroom. We ask, how to account for the changes that digital technologies inflict on the concept of classroom space? How to approach the space as technologies extend it far outside classroom walls? We approach the classroom with Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari’s concept of assemblage and Anna Tsing’s concept of contamination. We ask if these tools give as a possibility to follow and account for the movements and agencies that take place in this new emerging classroom space.
After 2010, the use of students’ own mobile phones has multiplied in Finland. Nowadays practically every student in the upper secondary school (16-18 year old students) has their own smartphone. Their use during lessons is typically not encouraged and is sometimes even forbidden, but in our ethnographic fieldwork we have found that phone use is easy to conceal and hard to prevent completely. During our research which followed over one hundred hours in the classrooms during 2014-2016, students’ phone use during lessons varied between 5 to 20% of classroom time. Based on this, it seems that mobile phones have become a constant fixture in Finnish classrooms. Without taking a normative stance towards this, we ask what are the implications to the concept of classroom space?
If classroom spatiality used to be framed by features of disciplinary power mechanisms that Michel Foucault (1995) describes, we have long been moving towards a more open and flow-centric space. This was already proposed by Foucault in his 1977-1978 lectures and further developed by Deleuze in his essay on control societies (Deleuze 1992). But how to research these emerging spaces? For us, a starting point is provided by the concept of assemblage, which can be described as an open-ended and changing collage of elements. “In an assemblage, varied trajectories gain a hold on each other, but indeterminacy matters. To learn about an assemblage, one unravels its knots”, as Tsing (2015, 83) writes. The actors that make up classroom space are continuously on the move and cannot be taken for granted. A proposed way of researching an assemblage is to map its movements and flows. Taking inspiration from Tsing and her book “The Mushroom at the end of the world”, we seek to follow the entanglements that emerge with students’ mobile phone use in classroom.
One central finding in this process is that the agents or actors present in a classroom seem very different to the past. Lessons are transversed by something that could be called digital labour (Terranova 2004; Fuchs 2014; Paakkari & Rautio & Valasmo in process). While sitting in classrooms, students are contributing to global internet economy by updating content, using social media apps and seeking information. In many ways, school classrooms now resembles an office spaces where people labour on their cubicles. In order to account for this extending space, it is necessary to account for the digital movements that the technologies bring with them.
The research behind this paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork. We studied upper-secondary school students’ mobile phone use during three years, starting from 2015. In addition to a traditional video ethnographic setup, we experimented with a methodology that could helped us to understand students’ mobile lives. While doing ethnographic research in the classroom, we noticed that students often used their mobile phones. How could we gain an insight into what was happening on their phones? We decided to ask some of them to share their screens with us. With the help of an application, the students were able to momentarily mirror their screen contents to our laptops, and stop the mirroring whenever they wanted. This gave us a possibility to glimpse at some of the elements that make up this new extended classroom space. Students’ mobile phone data gave us a possibility to map the movements in the emerging digital space that extends far beyond the classroom walls. It seemed clear that students’ lives are not only taking place in the physical classroom space even if they are physically sitting there. Many simultaneous discussions extend far outside the classroom through their phones. As Tsing does, following the flows of mushrooms around the world and their positions in capitalist assemblages, we sought to map the movements made possible by mobile technologies. This produced interesting results as we could for example see a psychology lesson on puberty being accompanied by a Tumblr image feed that provided a counter-script for the puberty as described by the teacher (Paakkari & Rautio in process). At the same time, we wondered about the ethics of researching phone use since it is so intimate. We wanted to make sure that the students would not feel uncomfortable. In the end, many were wager to participate in the research, perhaps also because the research offered an environment where controlling privacy was fairly straightforward. This contrasts many social media apps such as Facebook or Snapchat, that have been known to change their privacy settings frequently and with short notice.
The space of “classroom” is constantly on the move. As surely these new technologies have changed it, there will be other technologies and actors that again redefine what a classroom is. We could say it is under a constant re-definition, in a process of being constantly re-negotiated. The methodologies for researching educational spaces like the classroom must therefore also remain attentive to change. Accepting that mess, entanglements or complexity are a permanent part of the terrain we do research on, might help us to develop methodologies that can account for present and future changes (Hohti 2016). As the agencies moving in the classroom space are multiplying, it is important to reflect on the effects of this process. Looking at the activities taking place in the extended classroom space focused our attention to the increasing number of commercial actors that have somehow become part of the classroom. This has happened quietly and seemingly out of convenience. As it is often easiest to let students use their own devices and distribute assignments through commercial platforms provided by Google or Apple, these companies now have a stake in Finnish classrooms and the decisions they make have an influence on the life in school. As schooling has been traditionally considered a public affair in Finland and private actors have not been looked favorably upon, this change is all the more surprising because of how fast it has taken place. This raises important questions on who actually controls the classroom? This emphasizes the need for ethnographic methods that keep an eye out for the changes emerging in educational spaces. As Tsing (2015, 66) writes, “to understand capitalism we need an ethnographic eye to see the economic diversity through which accumulation is possible”.
Foucault, M. (1995) Discipline and punish. The birth of the prison. London: Vintage Books. Foucault, M. (2007) Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the Collège de France 1977-1978. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Fuchs, C. (2014). Karl Marx and Internet Studies. London: Routledge. Deleuze, G. (1992). Postscript on the Societies of Control. October, 59, 3-7. Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and schizophrenia II. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press. Hohti, R. (2016). Classroom Matters. Research with children as entanglement. Helsinki: University of Helsinki. Hohti, R., Paakkari, A. & Stenberg, K. (in process). Dancing with digitalities? Exploring the human-smartphone entanglements of the classroom. Manuscript. Paakkari, A. & Rautio, P. & Valasmo, V. (in process) Digital labour in school: Smartphones and their consequences in classrooms. Submitted to Learning, Culture and Social Interaction. Paakkari, A. & Rautio, P. (in process) ”What is puberty, then?”. Smartphones and Tumblr images as de/re-territorialisations in an upper secondary school classroom. Submitted to Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education. Terranova, T. (2004). Network Culture. London: Pluto Press. Tsing, A. L. (2015) The Mushroom at the end of the world. Princeton University Press
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