Archive for the ‘My Learning Journey’ Category

Digital Identity and Employability

October 30th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

Last week, Dr Lisa Harris gave a talk to the Living, learning and working in the digital economy class.
Below are the slides and video with Lisa’s talk.

Although I have blogged about digital identities in the past, my thinking has moved (as it should, I want to believe), and so I will be blogging more about it sometime soon.

For the time being there are just some observations that I would like to make. It seems to me that the discussion around this topic has evolved to focus mainly on  how we manage our digital footprint to our own advantage, and which some people thought of as a form of  manipulation, rather than how our digital footprint provides evidence of our practice and defines us professionally. I need to reflect on this before I post again. Meanhwile I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

The digital divide is shifting, but is it for the better?

October 30th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

Photo by Flickr ID Kelayc (CC)

A study published by Deursen and Dijk (2014) provides a new angle on the Digital Divide debate which has often been guilty of a binary classification of technology “haves and haves not” (p, 14).

Placed in the Dutch context the research reveals that individuals from all social classes are now making use of the web. This contradicts arguments that the digital divide is directly related to high levels of economic capital, or lack of it. This is likely to be a direct result of new-ish policies that aim to make technology and broadband increasingly more affordable in Europe. So, with the “technology fix” sorted, what else are we missing?

When it comes to digital practices (and digital habitus), the history of social class division seems to reproduce itself on the online world. The authors report that individuals from a lower socio-economic status (and unsurprisingly with less education under their belt) are more likely to access the web to play games or engage in social interactions, whilst individuals from upper classes (and with higher levels of education) use the web mainly to access information and seek (professional) development opportunities.

In short, the study reveals the expected: simply put, people from upper classes seem to be able to strategise their activities online better. This unquestionably puts them at an advantage when compared to the online activities carried out by individuals in lower classes. The distinction herein presented is punctuated by a difference of (and in) practice(s). This is nothing more than a reflection of the cultural capital individuals embody and which they carry with them to the online world.

And so, even though the digital divide may well be shifting to differences in usage, when it comes to differences in social class, the digital divide only seems to be getting wider. In part, this comes as no surprise. Individuals transport their habitus from one field to another. The advantage of one group in relation to another is no longer in the technology they possess, but rather in the embodied cultural capital they transfer from the offline world to the online world. All of a sudden, the idea of ubiquitous access to technology no longer seems to provide an answer to the digital divide phenomenon. But Bourdieu (1986) seems to know where the issue lies. He reminds us that:

To possess the machines, [they] only need economic capital; [but] to appropriate them and use them in accordance with their specific purpose [they] must have access to embodied cultural capital, either in person or by proxy.


So the question remains: how can we narrow the digital divide gap? Can the introduction of digital literacies in the curriculum be a step towards a solution?



Bourdieu, P. (1986). Forms of Capital. In Handbook of Theory of Research for the Sociology of Education (pp. 241–58). Greenwood Press.

Deursen, A. J. van, & Dijk, J. A. van. (2014). The digital divide shifts to differences in usage. New Media & Society, 16(3), 507–526.


Bourdieu explains online memes

July 14th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

Julien, C. (2014). Bourdieu, Social Capital and Online Interaction. Sociology, 1–18.

While there has been much discussion in recent decades on the nature of social capital and its importance in online interactions, it is my contention that these discussions have been dominated by the American Communitarian tradition. In this article, I begin with an overview of American Communitarianism to identify the key elements therein that are found in contemporary theories of social capital. Following this, I expose some of the weaknesses of this tradition and apply Bourdieu’s distinctive theoretical framework to online interactions to demonstrate the fecundity of Bourdieu’s sociological perspective when applied to contemporary online interactions. To do this, I examine interactions online that involve ‘internet memes’, as digital inhabitants themselves colloquially define them. It is my contention that an agonistic model, rather than a communitarian one, best describes the online interactions of digital inhabitants.

It is interesting, and in a way inevitable, that Bourdieu’s sociology is increasingly being adopted to theorise online interaction. The paper mentioned above attempts to do just that by researching online memes. But in my opinion, it succeeds more in arguing why Bourdieu’s tool kit is useful in this context, than it does it proving an explanation of memes as a new online phenomenon. And so I found this paper useful because it tries to demystify online networks as an idealised space of democracy and interrelations ‘devoid of colonial intent or capability” (Coleman, 1999 as cited in Julien, 2014) as defended by the American Communitarians, as the author calls them.

For many years now, the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) world, in particular, has been guilty of such assumptions and that has created a lot of glowing reviews of the web, thus lacking more critical perspectives, as Professor Neil Selwyn pointed out at the Networked Learning Conference, but for which he did not seem to provide alternatives. Well, Bourdieu does provide a relevant research kit to understand social phenomena – even online -  that can be also further enhanced.

Julien also makes a very valid point about the fact that

Participation and exclusion in online interactions do not particularly refer merely to access or inaccess of IT, but rather to the ability or inability to act in particular ways online; in other words, to be able to differentiate and achieve distinction within online culture.

This is an important differentiation and an element of (voluntary/involuntary) digital exclusion that is worthy of note, because as he goes on to state ‘individuals online inculcate a unique habitus” (p.7).

Although I very much agree with this discussion of the literature, I was a bit lost about how it related to the use of online memes, first because the context of the empirical research on which the paper focuses is missing, and second because the paper ends up summarising the Internet (not the web!) as a field that can produce a ‘digitally oriented habitus” (p.13) instead of examining and acknowledging what role social capital plays in producing such changes, or distinctions in the first place. Yet, it supports a growing practice of looking at online phenomena from a critical lens.

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The world cup and academia: what do they have in common and what sets them apart?

July 4th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

WorlWorld Cup 2014 Ball, aka Brazuca. (CC)

I have written before about what in my opinion football and academic research seem to have in common: the constant struggle to achieve symbolic capital.  Football as a field of struggles is also a perfect metaphor to illustrate the Bourdieuian tool kit of investigation; one that Bourdieu himself used to exemplify his thinking.

In the last couple of weeks I have been following the worldcup and this has led me to consider some of the most pronounced aspects of this championship, sociologically speaking, that is.  Amongst them are the perceptions of identity, distinction, and power.

Football moves crowds. The passion for it, depicted mutually through accentuated enthusiasm and a certain sense of fury leaves very few indifferent to it. Even those less interested in the game, come out of their ‘shell’ to celebrate their country, or the country they choose to support for whichever justified reason when their (my!) ‘nation’ is out of the competition. And then there are also the teams one would *never* support, because…  (insert here your personal reason).

This interplay between a strong sense of identity and distinction is fascinating, to say the least. And so is the power dynamics displayed through these games. In terms of the worldcup these do not necessarily translate in the common forms of power that currently govern the world. Here power is (naively) more skill and luck at the game than it is economic capital. We could also throw the concept of ‘tradition’ in the mix. Look at the American team as an example. In comparison to south and central America, some may think they leave a lot to be desired …in football terms. This is however different in the context of the premier league or related championships, because there the economic power speaks louder (buys the best players), whereas the national teams “have” to make due with their ‘home grown players’. [Obviously this is a very simplistic, and possibly naive perspective, but this is often the first layer of interpretation by enthusiastic supporters].

Now, how does this relate to academia? In a way it does, and in another it does not. In the UK, in the period immediately before REF, the ‘transfer window’ was wide open and we saw many of the best players (academics) moving from one team to another (from one university to another) because of their playing skills and assets (research klout that is then translated into the prestige they will provide back to the institution). Although we emulate well this practice, we are less successful in drawing the crowds to support, and make use of our work. And so the question is, how do we adjust our academic playing strategies to make the game more exciting for our potential audiences?

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What comes first – the analytical framework or the data collection?

June 12th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

(CC) Photo by Gobetz

This is a bit of a chicken and egg question; one that I have often asked myself … out of fear that I, guided by the theory, might not allow myself to see beyond my theoretical assumptions. Classic grounded theory research shares this concern. And so does the romanticised view that many early career researchers bring to the job and which is usually epitomised by this famous quote (attributed to Einstein):

If we knew what we were doing, it would not be called research.

Grounded theory points out that pre-defining a theoretical framework is inimical to generating new knowledge (see Glaser’s work), because of our theoretical bias. That, however, is to assume that new theories emerge from a vacuum and not from prior knowledge. And although starting data collection without a framework of reference may bear incidental learning that otherwise might not be captured, there is a lingering concern that such process may lack the depth that a theoretical framework is able to provide. Both approaches present vulnerabilities and are known for dividing the research community. Yet, I think both approaches are viable.  What is important when doing research is to be able to justify our choices. This requires a reflexive endeavour to understanding the ‘researcher’s self’, i.e., our ontological, epistemological and methodological stances:

-          the ontological question: the essence of reality under study (how I, as a researcher, see the world in which I attempt to develop new knowledge, both in its form and nature);

-          the epistemological question: the essence of knowledge (how and where knowledge takes place, and what is the relationship between the knower and knowledge);

-          the methodological question: the source and tool of new knowledge (the means through which new knowledge can be attained).

Being able to answer these questions is to learn where we stand; the philosophical quest of every researcher. I dwelled on this long enough during my PhD to then find out that my research paradigm aligned well with the Bourdieuian lens, i.e., that I see the world as a fluid social construction within structured, structuring and symbolic structures, and that knowledge is a contextual interpretation of such structures. His influence is so strong that it now informs, and influences, my perceptions of my day-to-day experiences. Nonetheless, this take on the social world did not materialise right from the onset of my research project; it rather emerged and matured through the process of collecting and especially analysing data, even though I did survey existing literature as Frances Bell points out here.  What I realised was that the literature reviewed did not provide answers to the data I collected, thus creating the need to look for an analytical framework post data collection. Having said that, the literature review allowed me to create the background narrative that enabled my research project.

Now, post PhD, and after ‘discovering’  Bourdieu’s work, I face a different dilemma: that of allowing (or not) Bourdieu to frame my research. In the past I let Bourdieu help answer critical aspects of online practice that the learning technology literature had not anticipated. Do I now allow him to ‘ask’ the questions that frame my future research projects?

  • (CC) Photo by Gobetz

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Social Theory Applied Re-Launched

June 10th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

The Social theory Applied (STA) Blog/Website has a new face!

STA has just been re-launched, and now features new activities and initiatives; amongst them an open ‘Call for Contributions’ for those interested in writing for the site.

We would like to invite contributors from a wide range of backgrounds, disciplines and career stages to submit new blog-post style pieces (250-700 words) on, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • - The relationship between research and practice
  • - The application of research methodologies
  • - Reflections on theory as method
  • - The link between one’s research and current affairs
  • - The application of theory to practice and/or policy
  • - Book reviews
  • - Responses to publications
  • - Critiques and/or advancements of theory (questioning the ‘sacred cows’)


For further details link here:

There is also other activities in the horizon, such as calls for Academic Journal Special Issues, Book Chapters, etc.

We are also looking to establishing new links and make your ideas come to life. So, if you have ideas for future collaborations/joint ventures, do let us know. We would love to work with you.

To keep up to date with the future developments, please subscribe to the website and/or like our Facebook Page. Feel free to share it with your own networks.

Digital citizenship: creating a deliberative pedagogical context

May 17th, 2014 by Cristina Costa
Democracia y Libertad (CC) by Flickr ID Elisabeth D'Orcy

Democracia y Libertad (CC) by Flickr ID Elisabeth D’Orcy

Digital citizenship and digital literacies are topics with a growing popularity, given the impact of the so called digital economy debate on curriculum design. Obviously this is debatable and heavily reliant on the mindset of both individuals and institutions involved in it.  In trying to look for critical approaches to both the themes of citizenship and literacy I found the work of Habermas and of those associated with him. As already alluded to in a previous post, the combination of such topics with interpretations of the ‘digital world’ are however more difficult to find. This opens a research gap, and an area of study that I aim to explore with my students in my new Module on Digital Literacies: Living, Learning and Working in a Network Society.

Searching for key readings, I found a book chapter by Tomas Englund (2012) on ‘Educational implications of the ideas of deliberative democracy’.

Englund puts an emphasis on deliberative communication as a democratic form of life, of which the school should be part. Although he does not make explicit links to digital technologies, or the web in particular, as a potential forum of democracy, I can see how his arguments for ‘(…) an open and deliberative pedagogical context’ (p.21) could be enacted via the participatory web, given the communication channels it enables and the opportunities for learning through deliberative and democratic participation that can be created.

I am interested in the role of education in developing contemporary forms of citizenship literacy. Refocusing Englund’s argument on the digital context, what does it mean for institutions, educators, and learners alike to develop open communication between different perspectives that Habermas explains through the concept of Lebenswelt (life-world)?

Englund answers this question by stating that citizenship literacy

 …implies a certain responsibility on the part of professionals such as teachers and others who are in charge of teaching situations and who lead communicative interactions (p.21)

Yet the responsibility is mutually shared with learners who

…should have opportunities to expand their competence and literacy in terms of understanding and deliberating upon plural ideas and arguments in communication (ibid)

Englund calls this citizenship literacy through pluralism. The principle of pluralism, closely aligned to the characteristics of deliberative democracy – i.e, different views, tolerance, respect, collective will formation, and autonomy –  provide a good framework for interdisciplinary learning. And although, in Scotland, Curriculum for Excellence aims, to a certain extent, to serve this purpose, it fails to make explicit links between citizenship literacy and the participatory web. The same issue persists in other curricula around the world, I am sure…

Including the web as an integral part of the curriculum, not only means to create a space where the characteristics of deliberative democracy can be enacted through visible participation, but it also provides a way of activating Dewey’s idea of experiential continuum in that learning is directly related to practices that increasingly permeate our lives; especially that of ‘being’ online.

On reflection, the characteristics of deliberative democracy might be a more persuasive way to convince institutions, educators and learners to adopt the web as a space of interdisciplinary learning through democratic participation.  After all, life is one big lesson, in which different areas of knowledge supposedly interact to support (de)liberations.


Englund, T. (2012). Educational Implications of the ideas of deliberative Democracy. In M. Murphy & T. Fleming (Eds.), Habermas, Critical Theory and Education (Reprint edition., pp. 19–32). London: Routledge.
  • Democracia y Libertad

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The web and the academic divide

April 28th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

CC by Flickr ID mkhmarketing

Some blogposts ago I ruminated on what Bourdieu would have said about the Web. Without more concrete sources about his thoughts on which to draw – given that the web only emerged with its social and participatory features after his passing away – I was left to guess what Bourdieu would have said about the web. I based my judgement on his writings, especially those concerning Television. I saw myself tempted to say that Bourdieu would have not appreciated the web as much as I would have liked him to…probably because of my tendency to do so and his inclination to criticize popular media. At the core of his argument was the issue of power and who controlled the publication of knowledge…with him ironically using his own means and channels – the University – to share his message.

Lately, I have been engaging with the writings of other prominent scholars – namely Habermas and Wacquant – who have witnessed the effects of the participatory web on a global scale: the Obama’s campaign and the Arab spring, among others, come to mind. Their take on the web however is not so different from the one I had anticipated for Bourdieu, despite their advocacy for public scholarship. And so, it is almost a case to say that old habit(u)s do die hard.

Habermas, the father of the Public Sphere debate, for instance, has, for several times, declared his lack of understanding, and for that matter, interest in engaging online as a space of public communication (see here and here, for instance).  In a 2012 interview for the Philosophie Magazine, Wacquant also showed his disapproval for social media tools, especially twitter, for replacing reflexivity with immediacy.

I can understand where both thinkers come from given the initial judgement of such tools as superficial. That is often an argument of resistance amongst those who have not experienced the social web first hand. I have been guilty of it too, if I well remember my first reaction to Twitter. Nevertheless, many would argue that social media can be more than a tool or a trend; it can be a new conduit of information and create alternative, if not new spaces for discussion amongst distributed communities and dispersed individuals. Participation in these environments  potentially results in a change of both perspective and practices regarding how social media impacts on and changes the work of academics. Academics’ experiences with social media, or refusal to engage with it, often results in a divide between those who support it and those who discard it.

It could be argued that this apparent doxic approach to the web is a form of protecting their symbolic power as established scholars and thinkers, who ‘act’ in conventional, yet rather exclusive – and so far effective – spaces of academic debate that they dominate, i.e., high ranked academic journals and, especially, books. The classification of conduits of scholarly communication may well result in the misrecognition of the growing impact of the web on academic work. Nonetheless, it is also important to notice that as disposed as we may be to the web, we must not forget that it presents as much positive points as it does negative ones. The tendency to gravitate towards like-minded communities often results in unconscious bias, which could be regarded as yet a competing form of doxa…?

My question then is: to what extend do we take these thinkers’ approaches to the web seriously? And more importantly, how can we use it to engage in more critical debates, which is, to me, the main concern of such critiques in the first place.

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Narrative inquiry as intersubjective understanding

March 15th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

(c) highersights

(c) highersights

When it comes to use narratives as a form of social inquiry the research community is divided.  Narrative inquiry – the entwined process of elicited story-telling and reflection – extends as far back as Aristotle’s Poetics; yet its reputation is still uncertain. As a form of accessing social experience, it shares the assumption that social lives are woven from a personal and experiential continuum enveloped in a given social, cultural, political and economic context. For some researchers, this level of impending subjectivity raises concerns about the reliability, validity and generalisation of research, but for others it presents a tool of empowerment and/or for self-improvement that is perhaps less explicit in other methodologies.

Conle (2010) goes as far as to propose that research narratives are a means of personal and professional development. But she too acknowledges the vulnerability of narrative inquiry with regards to the trustworthiness of the information collected. This is an issue with which researchers wanting to access social realities through personal accounts are faced. I dwelled on this dilemma when conducting my PhD research. If on one hand, I wanted to understand social reality through the inner world of the research participants, on the other hand I wanted to make sure my research was seen as reliable both through method and analysis. The challenge to devise a process through which I could collect, understand and interpret the longitudinal and lateral aspects of the social phenomenon via personal perspectives was thus on. This raised two fundamental questions:

  1. How could I ensure the rationality of the data I collected? and
  2. How could I guarantee that my interpretation of the data was not confused with the perceptions of reality to which I was given access?

Conle (2001; 2010) suggests that observing the Habermasian principles of communicative action can provide narrative inquiry with the desired levels of research reliability.

Considering narrative inquiry as communicative action means to challenge the narrator about the truth being told through her/his ability to truthfully account for her/his state of mind, emotions and motives in producing a coherent narrative. Narrative inquiry thus becomes a process which, featuring different iterations, aims to establish a common understanding of the experiences narrated.

The goal of coming to an understanding [Verständigung] is to bring about an agreement [Einverständnis] that terminates in the intersubjective mutuality of reciprocal understanding, shared knowledge, mutual trust, and accord with one another. (Habermas, 1979, p.3)

That is not to say that such understanding is translated into interpretation. What it means is that the conscious application of communicative action to narrative inquiry will hopefully result in the intersubjective rationality of the research. In other words, understanding and interpreting research narratives are two different activities. Sharing a common understanding with the interlocutor means to recognise the meaning narrators ascribe to their narratives. To interpret narratives however implies to explore why narratives carry the meanings they carry in the social, cultural, economic and political context in which they are produced. That is when the application of social theory is called for given that it takes into account the wider context of the reality presented.

In order to achieve the intersubjective understanding of the narratives I used digital technologies as a contemporary conduit of communication that can support – but cannot on its own (re)produce – the principles of communicative action. Looking back, I think the intentional use of different tools to record participants’ narratives worked well. It enabled me to sustain the dialogue with the research narrators during an extended period of time, thus allowing me to cross check the constancy of their accounts on the different platforms in which we interacted. Looking forward, I have now started to see the web with new eyes. The web as a space where communication can be facilitated is conducive to the creation of rich narratives that are unintentionally produced via the practices of its users. The question that is then raised here is not only one of research trustworthiness but also one of research ethics.


Conle, C. (2001). The Rationality of Narrative Inquiry in Research and Professional Development. European Journal of Teacher Education, 24(1), 21–33.

Conle, C. (2010). Practice and Theory of Narrative Inquiry in Education. In M. Murphy & T. Fleming (Eds.), Habermas, critical theory and education. London: Routledge.

Habermas, J. (1979). Communication and the Evolution of Society. Polity Press.

  • Communicate
  • communicate2

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Beyond Bulimic Learning Improving teaching in further education

March 15th, 2014 by Cristina Costa

Beyond Bulimic Learning Improving teaching in further education – Frank Coffield with Cristina Costa,Walter Müller and John Webber

So here is a new adventure. Last year Frank Coffield asked me if I’d be interested in submitting a book chapter for his new book as he felt he was missing a trick for not including a chapter on technology. I wrote an article on designing for context, using examples from my own practice to illustrate the points I wanted to make. The result was a text entitled Teaching and learning in context … with a little help from the web (slides for a presentation based on it can be found here)

The Book will be released in May. The launch will take place in the bookshop on the first level of the Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London, WC1H OAL on Wednesday 7 May between 6 and 8pm.

* seeing my name in print never ceases to surprise me! :-)

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    News Bites

    Learning about technology

    According to the University Technical Colleges web site, new research released of 11 to 17-year-olds, commissioned by the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, the charity which promotes and supports University Technical Colleges (UTCs), reveals that over a third (36%) have no opportunity to learn about the latest technology in the classroom and over two thirds (67%) admit that they have not had the opportunity even to discuss a new tech or app idea with a teacher.

    When asked about the tech skills they would like to learn the top five were:

    Building apps (45%)
    Creating Games (43%)
    Virtual reality (38%)
    Coding computer languages (34%)
    Artificial intelligence (28%)

    MOOC providers in 2016

    According to Class Central a quarter of the new MOOC users  in 2016 came from regional MOOC providers such as  XuetangX (China) and Miríada X (Latin America).

    They list the top five MOOC providers by registered users:

    1. Coursera – 23 million
    2. edX – 10 million
    3. XuetangX – 6 million
    4. FutureLearn – 5.3 million
    5. Udacity – 4 million

    XuetangX burst onto this list making it the only non-English MOOC platform in top five.

    In 2016, 2,600+ new courses (vs. 1800 last year) were announced, taking the total number of courses to 6,850 from over 700 universities.

    Jobs in cyber security

    In a new fact sheet the Tech Partnership reveals that UK cyber workforce has grown by 160% in the five years to 2016. 58,000 people now work in cyber security, up from 22,000 in 2011, and they command an average salary of over £57,000 a year – 15% higher than tech specialists as a whole, and up 7% on last year. Just under half of the cyber workforce is employed in the digital industries, while banking accounts for one in five, and the public sector for 12%.

    Number students outside EU falls in UK

    Times Higher Education reports the number of first-year students from outside the European Union enrolling at UK universities fell by 1 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

    Data from the past five years show which countries are sending fewer students to study in the UK.

    Despite a large increase in the number of students enrolling from China, a cohort that has grown by 12,500 since 2011-12, enrolments by students from India fell by 13,150 over the same period.

    Other notable changes include an increase in students from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia and a fall in students from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.

    Other Pontydysgu Spaces

    • Pontydysgu on the Web

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      We will be at Online Educa Berlin 2015. See the info above. The stream URL to play in your application is Stream URL or go to our new stream webpage here SoB Stream Page.

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    Which is why we need alternance programmes bringing together learning in the workplace and in vocational schools…

    About 2 hours ago from Graham Attwell's Twitter via Twitter for Mac

  • RT @socialtheoryapp Bourdieu - « Si le monde social m'est supportable, c'est parce que je peux m'indigner »...

    About 4 hours ago from Cristina Costa's Twitter via TweetDeck

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