Researching education in the digital age arguably has become both more complex and more exciting in terms of the issues that need to be considered and the range of possibilities available. Today young people, small children and older adults are all using the internet and digital technologies in diverse ways and for different needs. In terms of research in education, the issues about what counts as learning, who decides this, and how it is changing and moving are also areas that bear consideration in the digital age. Two key issues in terms how we understand and implement research approaches are, the way in which technology is used (digital tethering) and the use of new methods for linking the arts, social sciences and the digital, one example of which is digital métissage.
Digital tethering is defined as both a way of being and a set of practices that are associated with it. To be digitally tethered would generally be associated with carrying, wearing or holding a device that enables one to be constantly and continually in touch with digital media of whatever kind1. Practices associated with digital tethering include the practice of being ‘always on’; ‘always engaged’: texting at dinner, or driving illegally while ‘Facebooking on the phone’. With the increasing use of technology across home, work and school, most of us are digitally tethered, but few links have been made as to how this affects the research approaches we use. Thus there are questions to be asked about the value and impact of digital tethering on research approaches and it is vital that researchers, in whatever context, consider its impact.
In terms of undertaking research it is vital to understand that what we are dealing with is different ways/forms of ‘reading’ and ‘interrogating’ that we have not yet come to understand, as well as different ways of being and managing left behind identities. The use of technology is already a culturally embedded practice, even if its impact on higher education is not entirely understood. For example, there is a sense that participatory culture characterised by the use of Facebook and YouTube prompts or encourages the democratization of media production, bringing with it the suggestion that young people are not only central to the digital age, but key players in its formulation and (re) creation. What appears to be important is to understand how students live and learn across the many digital media available to them and what is new, changed, or changing about how they live and learn today, and what evidence there is for these shifts.
Digital métissage is a research method, often used in biographical and narrative approaches to research. It is based on the idea of literary métissage2. Literary métissage is the process of creating stories that are braided together and rooted in history and memory, as well as being stories of be-coming. Literary métissage provokes engagement with dominant discourse(s) in order to challenge and change them. Digital métissage captures the idea of blurring genres, texts, histories and stories in digital formats that recognise the value and spaces between and across cultures, generations and representational forms. The notion of métissage (French meaning hybridisation or fusion) brings with it the sense of braiding, so that the process of digital métissage requires co-production and co-creation with participants in ways that braid data and stories. Through collecting stories, researchers and participants undertake digital braiding so the data and representation are both individual and collective. Such métissage is a method that enables researchers to work in innovative participatory ways that enable the creation and illustration of visual and emotional aspects of the stories, artefacts and research. The focus on ‘the digital’ also recognises the importance of connectivity as a complex and contested concept.
Notions of curriculum, language, culture, place and identity are explored: ‘Place and space, memory and history, ancestry and mixed race, language and literacy, familiar and strange are braided with strands of tradition, ambiguity, becoming, (re)creation, and renewal’3. Poetry, pictures, storytelling and narrative and mixed and braided genres are used. The linked examples in this text also illustrate how this can be transferred into digital forms online.
Thus when considering researching approaches for education in the digital age digital tethering is important in to understand how people live and learn across the many digital media available to them, what is new, changed, or changing about how they live and learn today, and what evidence there is for these shifts. Digital métissage offers opportunities to both explore, challenge and disrupt the status quo and ask questions about what is meant by ‘the digital’, what is meant by ‘research’, and what is meant by ‘education’.
1 Savin-Baden, M. (2015) Rethinking Learning in an Age of Digital Fluency: Is being Digitally Tethered a New Learning Nexus? London: Routledge.
2 Hasebe-Ludt, E., Chambers, C. & Leggo, C. (2009) Life Writing and Literary Métissage as an Ethos for Our Times. New York: Peter Lang.
3 Chambers, C. et al. (2008) Métissage: A Research Praxis, in G. Knowles & A. Cole (eds), Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research: Perspectives, Methodologies, Examples and Issues, 141 – 53, CA: Sage.
Research Methods for Education in the Digital Age by Maggi Savin-Baden and Gemma Tombs has just been published by Bloomsbury Academic.
Submitted by Maggi Savin-Baden, University of Worcester on Monday, 5th June 2017