Speaking into the Abyss: An Exploratory Study of Academics’ Use of Educational Technology and its Impact on Practice.

McSweeney, Daniel (2021) Speaking into the Abyss: An Exploratory Study of Academics’ Use of Educational Technology and its Impact on Practice.


This is a study of educational technology use in academic practice undertaken
in an Irish Higher Education setting. Based on interviews with fifteen
academics, the enquiry attempts to respond to Selwyn’s (2010) call for an
increase in social scientific accounts of technology use which pay heed to the
‘state-of-the-actual’, examining the actuality and consequences of technology
use on academic practice and identity.
Efforts to understand the socially constructed nature of technology use draw
upon the researcher’s own varied experiences as an educational technologist,
academic, and academic manager. The development of understanding is also
guided by a theoretical framework drawn from Pierre Bourdieu’s Theory of
Practice (Bourdieu, 1977) and its interlocking concepts of habitus, field, and
The key research questions addressed in the study highlight a varied and
meaningful integration of technology into academic practice. Academic use of
technology is shown to be strongly influenced by implicitly held knowledge of
teaching and underlying belief systems which are shaped by assumptions,
technological truisms, pseudo theories, and folk pedagogies. Technology use is
also shown to be shaped by the surrounding organisational culture and the
normative technological practices carried out within the academic disciplines.
In examining the consequences of technology adoption for the academic, the
research highlights impact on wellbeing, relationships, emotional state, and
sense of place. Technology is exposed as a site of tension as academics struggle
with fears, questions of ideology, discourse, challenges to identity and
destabilising shifts in practice.
Most importantly, the research exposes educational technology as a site of
struggle. In an effort to mediate between agency and structure, these academics
seek to hold autonomy over their own practices while also attempting to align
their practice with the broader organisational culture of technology use.
Tensions arise between academics, students, and academic management, as
each group seeks power over what forms of technology are used, how they are
used, and by whom they are used.

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