Education

Our education list focuses on education policy and politics and the inequalities that are both built into education systems and perpetuated by them. It speaks to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education. 

Our titles, including Arun Verma’s Anti-Racism in Higher Education, address the challenges in education, including those around technology and the digital divide. The list offers students and researchers internationally sourced evidence-based solutions that challenge traditional neoliberal approaches to learning.

Education

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Why Theory Matters and What to Do about It
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The field of digital technology in education has long been under-theorised.

This book will enable the reader to reflect on the use of theory when explaining technology use and set out ways in which we can theorise better. It explores the concept of theory and looks at how teaching, learning, and technology itself have been theorised. With relatable international case studies, it shows how theories underpin optimistic and pessimistic accounts of technology in education.

This innovative book will help readers to understand more deeply the use of digital technology in education, as well as the idea of theory and how to develop a distinctly educational approach to theorising.

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This final chapter looks back on what is meant by theory and theorising and suggests ways in which we can improve the way we theorise technology in education. It contains a proposal for a more distinctively educational research community focused on a critical exploration of digital tools and their contribution to education.

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This chapter explores a wide theme: how far should we see technology, including its impact on education, in positive or negative terms? As such this chapter takes in wider narratives about technology, in particular narratives of optimism and pessimism, before arguing for a balanced view which accepts the need for education reform while offering a more critical and focused strategy for technology use.

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In this chapter the take-up of technology is discussed. Here, there is a paradox, technology seems to offer considerable benefits to teachers and learners, teachers are generally keen, or say they are keen, on using it, but in practice technology often ends up under-used. To explain this paradox the chapter looks at research on: listing the factors in teacher take-up; school leadership and school reform; activity theory; and ecological approaches to change.

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Chapter 2 established the importance of drawing on what has gone on before when theorising. This chapter continues by looking at past debates about learning theory and asking how should we think about learning theory now. There are six sections covering: behaviourist theories (the mind as a closed box); cognitivism (and the learner as meaning maker); social constructivism (and the inheritance of tools); community of practice and related theory; theories specific to technology mediation; and the implications of Big Data for theorising learning.

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This chapter turns to the theorisation of technology itself. In an obvious way the whole book has been about technology but technology deserves a chapter in itself as researchers have not always been explicit or consistent when discussing the user’s relationship to digital tools. The chapter covers technocentric views of technology; the idea of an affordance; hybrid environments; assemblages of people and objects; the social shaping of tehcnology; and developing technology use in participatory ways.

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In Chapter 1 theory was described as a multi-faceted concept but carried within it a common idea: theory abstracted from the data in order to explain what was happening and why it was happening. Moreover, a theoretical explanation was expected to contribute to a discourse about technology and learning, and make justifiable, critically aware claims backed up with content knowledge and knowledge of research methodology. This chapter builds on Chapter 1 by showing how researchers might go about the work of developing theory and, more specifically, how they might move from describing to explaining what they have found. It is divided into three sections, which cover: differences between describing and explaining; how theorising requires another way of thinking; validity and reliability when making theoretical claims.

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If we are looking at the question ‘How can we theorise better?’, then we need to start by looking at the idea of theory. In fact theory is a slippery concept. So what then is theory? This first chapter addresses the following questions:

• What is the problem with theory?

• How theory appears in different types of research

• What is a theoretical contribution and are we making one?

• Is theorising then making it up?

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For some time there has been concern about the effects of children’s disconnection from nature. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term ‘nature deficit disorder’, suggesting that the increasing use of digital technology and parental fear have contributed to ‘endemic obesity, attention deficit disorder, isolation and childhood depression’ (Louv, 2005: np). The growth of Forest School in recent years has, in part, been driven by a desire to reconnect children with nature (Leather, 2018) and to provide an alternative to the digital world experienced by today’s children and young people (CYP).

Forest School was developed in the UK in the 1990s by early years practitioners at Bridgwater College, Somerset, who had visited Danish preschools and taken inspiration from Scandinavian models of friluftsliv (roughly translated as ‘open air living’). It further draws on a rich history of outdoor learning in the UK, from the Romantics (for example Wordsworth and Ruskin) to the Scout movement, Woodcraft Folk and adventure education, and from a range of progressive educationalists such as Pestalozzi, Steiner, Froebel, Dewey, Isaacs, Montessori and McMillan (Cree and McCree, 2012). Forest School has evolved through a network of practitioners and, via consultation, established six principles:

  • Forest School is a long-term process of regular sessions, rather than one-off or infrequent visits; the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each session.

  • Forest School takes place in a woodland or natural environment to support the development of a lifelong relationship between the learner and the natural world.

  • Forest School uses a range of learner-centred processes to create a community for being, development and learning.

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‘The health and wellbeing of today’s children depend on us having the courage and imagination to rise to the challenge of doing things differently’ (Marmot, 2010, p 29)

Children and young people’s mental wellbeing is one of the most critical health issues the world is facing today. Enjoying a mentally healthy life is inextricably linked to the environment in which we grow and develop. In the early decades of the 21st century, digital technologies are often tightly interwoven into everyday life from infancy, spawning a unique generation of new digital natives (NDNs). The digital realm is vastly networked and many children are exposed to a world far beyond their immediate family, school and friendship groups.1 The ubiquity of digital technologies and their mediating role across crucial aspects of children’s lives has generated keen interest in the implications for their mental and physical wellbeing. Studies which suggest a raft of nefarious effects on children’s wellbeing have been criticised for methodological flaws (Orben and Przybylski, 2019), yet such research has influenced key policy decisions including restrictive measures which attempt to limit children’s access to technologies. Nonetheless, powerful evidence, including research by Twenge et al (2019) linking mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes among younger generations with digital technology use, supports adopting a cautionary approach. Certainly, research in this area is still emerging and the relative benefits vis-à-vis the potential risks and harm to children continue to be fiercely debated.

In 2020, a deadly virus arrived in the midst of our everyday lives, spreading indiscriminately across the globe.

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