Scholarship ‘swimming in a sea of the digital’


Image copyright David Walker 2016 CC-BY-NC

In a world so infused with digital technologies how must our approaches to scholarship evolve to extend reach and impact?  What do you need to do beyond publication to ensure your audience listen and your publications are read?  How do we drive engagement with educational research, in particular research in technology enhanced learning (TEL)?  These questions formed an undercurrent of the recent Pedagogic Research Conference at the University of Liverpool where issues around digital scholarship formed a central theme. 

Professor Chris Jones, in his keynote address ‘Research, Scholarship and Education’ at the University of Liverpool’s Pedagogic Research Conference suggested that scholarship is ‘swimming in a sea of the digital’, that failure to consider the opportunities and limitations of the digital can result in surface activities and superficial engagement with the investigation of our learning and teaching practices.

Predictability, choice and agency

Talking about his role as an editor of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) journal Research in Learning Technology, Professor Jones emphasised the importance of educational research and the pursuit of understanding, where people are unpredictable, have choice and agency and as such replication of findings cannot be assumed.  He pointed to the growing importance of social media both as a digital capability and as a means of disseminating research, developing your ‘voice’ and establishing your academic profile.

Building a ‘go to’ support network

How though do we build capacity in educational research?  Where is this support to be located?  Professor Gavin Brown, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning and Teaching at the University of Liverpool again drew attention to the potential role of the digital.   Professor Brown highlighted that disciplinary research communities were well established but pedagogic research communities were less well defined. He asserted the need to establish a cross-institutional virtual community of individuals engaged in pedagogic research – a ‘go to’ group of people for support.  Importantly Professor Brown made clear that belief that pedagogical research is somehow less worthy is untrue, a powerful statement which framed much of the day’s ongoing discussions.

As part of their capacity building activities, a new Technology Enhanced Learning Research Group has been established by Peter Alston and Tunde Varga-Atkins at Liverpool to provide a forum and supportive network for early career academics/researchers whose work has a focus on TEL.  Significantly the group’s membership has been extended to other higher education institutions in the north-west of England to facilitate sharing and opportunities for collaboration among other colleagues with TEL research interests.

We’ll be exploring opportunities to establish similar pedagogical research groups for staff at Sussex over the coming months.  If you’d be interested in participating or helping to establish such a community please get in touch by emailing

Head of Technology Enhanced Learning, University of Sussex

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