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Is technology changing learning habit(u)s?

Published in Bourdieu, Latest Posts, Pedagogy & Curriculum, Self and Identity by on January 13, 2016

Photo (CC) Flick ID Caribb

Photo (CC) Flick ID Caribb


This is a question I have asked myself since I have got interested in technology for education, first by applying it to my own teaching and then also by researching its impact on people’s practice. I agree with Graham Attwell who makes the rather bold statement that technology has had very little impact on education in the last decade (see his blogpost: Stagnation or innovation in Technology Enhanced Learning?). It is not that technology has not changed, but rather that people’s practices have not caught up with it. This is a bold statement in that much of the literature tries to argue the opposite, but as Selwyn (2012) asserts it is important to take a more critical stance when it comes to researching the impact of technology in (formal) education.

For the last two years I have been offering an optional module on Living, Learning and Working in the Digital Economy for second and third year students across the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and from the beginning I have been collecting data about students’ engagement in the module and their use of technology. The module relies heavily on technology not only during class (with sessions online, #tags, creation of memes, etc.) but also in relation to assessment which consists of blogposts and video essays.

What I have found so far could have not been further removed from what I had first anticipated. Led by readings of blogs, books and papers that present technology as a tool ripe for change and participation and students as keen to be active learners, I was surprised to learn through my own research that such findings did not apply to the majority of the individuals who took my module. I did learn that undergraduate students are indeed very proficient in using technology (the use of “how to” tutorial slots or step by step guides to create blogs is no longer necessary, nor is the need to explain what twitter is); yet they are less keen on making active use of those same tools for (networked and outside of the class time) learning, which in a way defeats the purpose of using this so called participatory media in the first place. It is a case to say that:

“New technology is common; new thinking is rare”. ~ Attributed to Sir Peter Blake

And so what started as a study on students’ digital practices is shaping up into research narratives of how students’ learning habitus (their histories/experiences with education) have not changed that much in the formal setting, even when they are presented with new pedagogical approaches. And so for my research – which I hope to publish later this year – I will be ‘enlisting’ Bourdieu to help me account for this difference (or conflict, dare I say?!) between formal and informal practices and why they do not necessarily transfer from one space to the other.

In relation to this phenomenon, two points come to mind. The first relates to these empowering, democratic, technologically enhanced pedagogical approaches we so often talk about. It does not suffice that these Freirean and Deweyan type of pedagogical approaches be adopted by those who teach; they also need to be embraced by those who learn. Only when both parties share a common ground regarding teaching and learning can change really happen. But for change to happen, as Bourdieu well remind us, a crisis of meaning needs to occur, i.e., we need to question our own (teaching and learning) practices. This then leads me to the second point, that of ‘playing the field’. It is not only academics who play the field. Students too have a feeling for the ‘academic game’ and do their best to adjust to the field’s rules in order to succeed in it. When faced with a different approach, they then find it hard to re-adjust because they do not recognise the norms that they (have learnt to) associate with the University.

I know this is a rather simplistic view of my current research, but I thought it might be useful to open these still rather ‘raw’ thoughts for discussion. Also, I am hoping to extend this research and I am looking for other researchers interested in this area. So please contact me if you are interested in collaborating or simply sharing ideas.

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About the author /

Cristina Costa

Cristina researches educational and digital practices and inequalities at Durham University


  1. Avatar
    Fanny Villagra

    Hi Cristina! I’ve read your article. It’s Very good. I agree with you in many points of view.
    I’m in this research also. I’m a Math teacher in high school, my work consist in finding better ways to teach.

  2. Avatar
    Phil Wade

    Great post Cristina. My students also have the “What? I can use my phone for learning?” response when I tell them to use dictionaries, google, read PDFs and take photographs of images on their phones. Suddenly I am removing the opportunity to check Facebook or WhatsSnappInstaPeriscopeter or whatever the latest ‘must use’ app is. With that, I am also taking back power so they cannot look ‘cool’. I am turning their best friend against them. But responses are very mixed. People say their batteries are low, they have no signal, they have no data plan etc etc. Unlike the vast majority of EdTech evangelists I know, my classes seem to exist in a dead zone of what can go wrong will. Students take time to understand my rules and the game and then evolve their student characters but some refuse. They won’t play along and refuse to even share phones or move to use laptops with others. This is their moment of rebellion but I’m sure it would be the same if we used books. In my class, the phones are only visible as ‘alien’ in lesson 1 and maybe lesson 2. By lesson 3, they have become reading or dictionary devices. They are part of the lesson and tools for accessing or finding or even translating.
    Over the 10 week period, I notice that the adaptation time of arriving, sitting and unpacking and getting into a tech friendly mindset gets shorter. It would not exist at all if all the department had a phone friendly policy. If we said on day 1 that phones were essential tools, gave students training and all agreed on how to utilise them, students might not even notice their phones ping with the latest gossip. Yet, as one student noted in her feedback, not every student can afford a phone and if they can’t, or it doesn’t work on the WIFI, they lose out and are not receiving the same quality as the others.

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