Researching Digital Education: the socio-material and interdisciplinary ‘grids of analysis’

This is my presentation on innovative approaches to researching informal digital learning for the Scottish Education Research Association conference in Edinburgh in November 2019.

This paper presents an innovative research approach to examining learning in professional learning communities on Twitter. The research approach draws on a socio-material ontology and assemblage theory (Law 2004) to engage with the complex social and material entanglements of digital learning. The research approach seeks to avoid reducing those complexities or positioning one component as determining the other. For this research project, I use assemblage theory to make sense of the ways this online community advances specific definitions of their professional domain and practices of learning while suppressing or ignoring others. In assemblage theory such privileged realities are not seen as being fixed and consensual but, rather, as contested and dynamic.

I discuss the development of a repertoire of research methods involving: descriptive statistics; social network analysis; content analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis. These different methods generate multiple ‘grids of analysis’ (Nespor, 1994) that identify and amplify different elements and effects of the research data. I go on to discuss how these ‘grids of analysis’ allow changes of focus between the whole network and specific components of these chat events. This approach has produced an original research framework for the analysis of learning practices in the digital domain and I discuss its potential for application to different learning contexts.

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