ERG SES H 10, Ethnographic Approaches in Education
This paper presents the preliminary findings from a doctoral research that reflects on the impact of the introduction of digital media on a project-based school in Bogotá, Colombia. This introduction was carried out through the design and implementation of different curricular projects with the active participation of teachers and students, throughout one academic year. The preliminary results of the study show that before introducing digital technology, the school was already promoting interest powered, production centered, shared purpose and peer supported (Ito et al. 2013) projects. Therefore, the main aim of this ethnographic research is to analyze critically the impact of the introduction of digital media on the pedagogical practices in the classroom. The focus of the analysis is not only on the new spaces for participation, learning and communication promoted with the use of digital media opened, but also on the negative impacts it had.
In 2010, Ito suggested that “we’re living through a radical paradigm shift in how people engage with and circulate knowledge, but our models for teaching and learning, and our institutional accountabilities haven’t kept up with the world around us”. Since then, many of the efforts made by the educational community to respond to such circumstances, have had the use of digital media as an inarguable component. In line with this efforts, this research project was initially built on the consideration that the use of digital media would serve as a conveyor for learning and teaching spaces centered in the student, seeking to foster collaboration, and their agency and creativity. Digital technologies were understood as something that would “provide opportunities for producing and creating a wide variety of media, knowledge, and cultural content in experimental and active way” (Ito et al, 2013, p.2). Placing the focus on the student as producer, and not as a consumer, of media content (Gee, 2010).
However, the first months in the field revealed that this aforementioned conception was not in line with what was emerging from the design sessions with the teachers and the floating observations around the school. Firstly, the concerns of the teachers were focused on the dangers of the students as consumers: the excessive use, the dangers of accessing to not age-appropriate content, the interaction with strangers, amongst others. They did not express any direct interest in the role of students as producers or in introducing digital media as creative tools in their classrooms.
Furthermore, a lot of similarities began to emerge between the type of learning spaces the research was proposing to generate with the introduction of digital media and the school learning spaces.The school methodology is based on the development of one yearly project per classroom, that takes more than half of the teaching hours. This project is selected and carried on collaboratively by all the students, with the guidance of the teacher. This process involves not only inquiry practices, but also hands on practices inside and outside the classroom. In the learning spaces generated the participation of students is fostered and recognized and possibilities for experimentation and play are promoted.
All of the explained above, forced me to question my original research questions. It displaced my research interest from the possibilities of digital media as a conveyor of new practices, to the need of understanding critically the impact that the introduction of digital media in the pedagogical practices of a project-based school. Moving towards an understanding of digital technologies as “‘mediating ’non-digital processes and practices: making some new things possible while at the same time introducing new limitations and unintended consequences” (Selwyn, 2016, p. 5).
This ethnographic research (Hammersley et. al, 1994) was carried out throughout one academic year, where I had the chance to assist to the school on a daily basis. In this period, I observed and participated (Kawulich, 2005) with teachers and students in the development of different projects involving the use of digital media. The aim of this intervention was to promote an integration of digital media into the pedagogical practices that was able to respond to the needs, interests and strengths of this particular context. All of this, stemming from the belief in “ the capacity of those outside the academy to come to understand their contexts, and to direct those understanding towards actions that will improve them” (Nofke, 2013, p. 19). Following the agreement made with the school administratives, and seeking to foster the participants engagement, the research was introduced to the teachers as an open invitation to participate in a conjoint project. Therefore, the projects that emerged were not only developed with teachers that were participating voluntarily, but were also embedded in their curricular activities. The processes of design and implementation of these projects was carried out through the use of participatory methods with teachers and students, seeking to open spaces for learning and communication (High et al., 2012) regarding the use of digital media. The documentation was done through participant observation, accompanied by interviews and discussion groups. Also, all of the media products generated by students and teachers were collected. At this point, I’m starting the analysis phase of the research. Bearing in mind the need to revise the theoretical framework and the research question, I decided to start the process of thematic analysis by constructing new categories in an inductive matter.
This paper will present preliminary findings on the impacts of digital media introduction on the pedagogical practices of teachers and students in a school with a progressivist view of education. It will focus on the new spaces for participation, learning and communication that the use of digital media opened, but also on the ones that affected negatively. It also aims to explore the movements between the researcher frame and conceptions before and after the fieldwork. These movements are not understood as failures, but as an opportunity to create a more complex and critical view upon this relationship between digital technologies and pedagogical innovation. In line with what Selwyn (2014) advices: “digital technology is hardly the benign, neutral presence in education that we are often assured it to be. As such, this is a cornerstone of the politics and ethics of contemporary education that demands the closest scrutiny that the academic community is capable of”. (p.248)
Hammersley, M. and P. Atkinson (1994) Etnografía. Métodos de Investigación. Barcelona: Paidós Ito, M. (May 13, 2010). Peer-Based Learning in a Networked Age. Keynote address for University of Michigan's Enriching Scholarship 2010. [Blog post] Retrieved from http://www.itofisher.com/mito/publications/peerbased_learn_2.html Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., Watkins, S. C. (2013). CONNECTED LEARNING: an agenda for Research and Design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Kawulich, Barbara B. (2005). Participant Observation as a Data Collection Method. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 6(2), Art. 43, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0502430. Nofke, S. (2013). Revisiting the Professional, Personal, and Political Dimensions of Action Research. In S. Noffke, & B. Somekh (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Educational Action Research (pp. 6-24). London: Sage. Selwyn, N. (2015),Technology and education - why it’s crucial to be critical. In Bulfin, S., Johnson, N. & Bigum, C. (eds.), Critical perspectives on technology and education, p.245-255. New York, Palgrave Macmillan Selwyn, N. (2016). Is Technology good for education?. Polity press: Cambridge.
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