Derek Robertson – Keynote Abstract for #seraconf19

The promise of digital technology as a transformation agent in education: a promise met or missed?

Derek Robertson: School of Education and Social Work, University of Dundee


The past two decades have seen the rise of digital tools and spaces to the extent that their ubiquitous presence permeates many aspects of what happens in our schools and wider educational contexts. From 1-to-1 tablet deployment to cloud computing to online submission and marking the digital is here, there and everywhere. The backdrop to this rise is one that has long promised that our investment in this myriad of technologies would deliver in terms of transformed practice (Cuban, 2001; Buckingham, 2007; Selwyn, 2016). However, is it the case that this promise has been realised in education or is it that beneath this image of change, technology still hasn’t proved to be the revolutionary force that it was said to be (Conlon, 2006; Edgerton, 2006)? Even though education has invested in this promise of digital transformation for years now is it still a commonly held assertion that “despite the pervasive nature of digital technology, its benefits are not always fully felt within our education establishments” (Scottish Government, 2016, p.3).

The influence of the digital world in these past two decades hasn’t solely happened in formal educational contexts but also in informal learner-owned contexts outside of school. So much so that young people are occupying digital spaces and harnessing digital tools in such a way that their levels of digital skills, digital collegiality and creativity are flourishing in a world of little, if any, adult intervention. Is it the case that this informal learning may not be given the chance to be used, celebrated and embedded in their experience of learning in more formal settings? It is not an uncommon occurrence for primary school aged children to use an Elgato™ capture card to prepare video tutorial materials for their YouTube™ sites, to live stream their game-playing to a global audience via Twitch™ or to use Redstone to wire up a lighting circuit to illuminate a world in Minecraft™. Yet, can it be argued that aspects of their experience of digital education in school is one that fails to recognise the richness and potential in such contexts in favour of one that requires them to develop a skill-set designed to address a neoliberal agenda of preparedness for the effective use of digital business tools? Such a debate compels us to critically explore what purpose digital tools and spaces have in education. In order to do this, it can be helpful to frame the debate within Biesta’s (2009) concepts of the socialisation and subjectification functions of education.

In this presentation Derek Robertson will explore the narrative of the promise of transformation of digital technologies in education and in so doing he will discuss what factors might inhibit the realisation of this transformational change. He will also refer to his own work (Miller & Robertson, 2011; Miller et al, 2012) into the use of commercial off the shelf games to explore impact on learning and notions of hierarchical permission and how this can impact on the way that the creative uses of digital technology can thrive and contribute to a transformative learning culture, or not.


Biesta, G. (2009) Good education in an age of measurement: On the need to reconnect with the question of purpose in education, Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(1), pp. 34-46

Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond technology: Children’s learning in the age of digital culture (Illustrated ed.). Cambridge: Polity Press.

Conlon, T (2006) The Dark Side of GLOW, Scottish Educational Review, 40(2), pp. 64-75.Available at: (Accessed: 21/11/2017)

Cuban, L. (2001) Oversold and Underused: computers in the classroom, Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press.

Edgerton, D. (2006) The Shock of the Old: Technology in Global History Since 1900, London: Profile Books

Miller, D.J. & Robertson, D.P. (2011) Educational benefits of using games consoles in a primary classroom: a randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42 (5), 850-864.

Miller, D.J., Robertson, D.P., Hudson, A. & Shimi, J. (2012) Signature pedagogy in the early years: the role of COTS game-based learning. Computers in the Schools, 29 (1-2), 227-247.

Selwyn, N. (2016) Is Technology Good for Education? Cambridge: Polity Press.

Scottish Government (2016) Enhancing Learning and Teaching Through the Use of Digital Technology: A Digital Learning and Teaching Strategy for Scotland. Available at: (Accessed on 20th November 2017).

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