Oxford academics launch project to research the impact of technology in UK schools

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Category: News

Professor Rebecca Eynon

Researchers from the University of Oxford have been awarded funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), to look at the impact of technology on educational and social equity in schools in England.

Funded via the ESRC Education Research Programme, the project, which is being led by the Department of Education in collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute, was one of only nine to get funding.

Professor Rebecca Eynon, who is leading the project entitled ‘Towards equity focused approaches to EdTech: a socio-technical perspective’, said: “For decades, technology has been promoted as a way to address inequity in schools with advocates suggesting that more digital resources lead to greater educational and social equity. We know that the provision of resources, such as systems designed to provide students with extra support in and outside the classroom, or automating certain tasks to free up time for the teacher, can be highly significant. However, such a view tends to assume technology is a neutral tool that can be relied on to bring about uniformly positive effects for education.

“What is needed is more research that aims to theorise the technology itself – for example to unpack the implicit biases and values EdTech may encode and promote – alongside a richer understanding of how EdTech is actually used in the classroom, how it reconfigures pedagogical relationships, and how its use varies across different school contexts.”

Taking this socio-technical perspective, the study will conduct seven ethnographies in secondary schools in England to capture and explore the multi-faceted implications of the use of technology and the ways it can reinforce or reconfigure educational and social inequity.

The second central aim of the study is to engage with social scientists, data scientists, EdTech companies, policy makers, teachers, students and the wider public to inform the design and implementation of equity-focused approaches to EdTech in the future, through a range of activities including the creation of educational resources for data scientists and EdTech developers, and a series of futures workshops for all stakeholders.

Outputs to disseminate the work will also include blogs, videos, podcasts, academic papers, a book, conference presentations, reports and datasets for the UK data archive.

Rebecca continued: “The research hopes to significantly enhance academic, practice and policy understanding and shape future EdTech design and use in England and beyond.

“We’re thrilled to be undertaking this much needed rich ethnographic study which will contribute to academic understandings of the relationships between equity, digital technologies, teaching and learning.”

The research will be conducted by Professor Rebecca Eynon of the Department of Education and Oxford Internet Institute, supported by Dr Laura Hakimi of the Oxford Internet Institute, two post-doctoral researchers at the Department of Education – to be appointed – and an advisory group consisting of experts from policy, practice and academia. The advisory board will provide feedback on early stage research findings and facilitate knowledge exchange and impact.

Professor Alison Park, Interim Executive Chair of the Economic and Social Research Council, said: “Through the Education Research Programme, ESRC is funding important new research that will generate insights and help address ongoing challenges for the UK’s compulsory education systems, including how to attract, educate and retain excellent teachers, and how to adopt and harness the benefits of new technologies.

“The programme will support both teachers and children by tackling issues such as resilience, participation, recruitment, training and retention.

“The research will use the power of social science to generate a range of exciting outputs that have the potential to directly transform UK education and create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment.”

Professor Gemma Moss, Director of the Education Research Programme, said: “This is an exciting opportunity for the education research community to work in partnership with other stakeholders and find new ways of tackling some long-lasting challenges in school-based education.

“The programme recognises the devolved nature of education in the UK and in this context is looking to develop stronger links between research, policy and practice that can generate new insights relevant to local contexts.”