An exploration of the underlying generative mechanisms that shape university students' agency in their educational digital practices

Kuhn, H.C (2022) An exploration of the underlying generative mechanisms that shape university students' agency in their educational digital practices. PhD thesis, Bath Spa University.

Repository Terms Apply.

Download (12MB) | Preview


Research in educational technology is often approached from an enthusiastic stance that emphasises questions related to 'what works', 'best practice', and 'efficiency', leaving the messy and nuanced lived digital culture and experiences of young people relatively unexplored. This study explores this gap, challenging deterministic therefore, reductive ideas such as young people being 'digital natives' and tools being naturally powerful drivers for change. The aim is to understand why and how undergraduates in Education Studies engage with digital tools and platforms? Rather than just accumulating facts and experiences about observable facts, emphasis is given not only to students' meaning making and decision-making concerning digital engagements with tools and platforms but also to explanations of the deeper levels of social reality. The overarching goal of the study is thus, to seek knowledge through scrutinising the level of the real where the generative mechanisms are found. The study was conducted at one small, post 92 university in the UK with 22 undergraduates attending the Education Studies course. For this empirical study, mapping was used as a means to inquire into students' daily entanglements with digital technology under a qualitative and critical approach. Whilst the philosophical anchor is critical realism, theoretical guidance is provided by Realist Social Theory. Under this framework, an explanation of the hidden and invisible generative mechanisms that shape students' reflexive engagement -their agency with digital technology was given. Through this viewpoint, the use of educational technology was addressed not from an individual perspective but in relation to the social structures in which students operate. The results of the study show how the institutional digital space is a space of struggle for many making it a structural barrier for students' agency. Emotions, one of the generative mechanisms at play, has a significant influence in shaping students' lack of engagement with open digital practices. It was also found that digital capability defined as a generative mechanism entails internal and external aspects such as the social position that students occupy in relation to others and technology, and the concomitant vested interest of students proves to have a strong impact in the digital practices that students engage with. Moreover, it was elicited that how the institutional culture operates has a powerful influence on students' reflexive engagement with open and participatory tools. In this study, three aspects of the institutional culture were addressed, the belief that students are digital natives, the assessment that prevails in the School of Education and the centrality of the VLE as the main digital technology used to manage learning and teaching. Through bringing these findings to light, I make an empirically grounded contribution to the ongoing theoretical debates about structure and agency in students' open educational practices.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: educational technology, digital culture, Education Studies, university undergraduates, UK higher education, realist social theory, student engagement, virtual learning environments, open education practice, critical realism, digital capability
Divisions: School of Education
Identification Number:
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2022 15:40
Last Modified: 21 Apr 2023 13:37
URI / Page ID:
Request a change to this item or report an issue Request a change to this item or report an issue
Update item (repository staff only) Update item (repository staff only)