Pivoting digital-reality by Laura Barritt

Gaming and social media may provide a sense of escapism and alternative reality for adolescents – a place that can be exciting where they can try things that they would not in the ‘real world’. Yet, this ‘other’ reality can often blur boundaries for students and disengage them further from their physical reality as their extended self becomes dominant in this alternate ‘world’. It is interesting to consider that adolescents often live between blended spaces and realities, as they spend most of their time between the two. This is another challenge that arises when analogue learning environments become blended learning environments.

Despite teenagers being constantly engrossed in a digital society, it is almost as if their digital social circle has been infiltrated by teachers doing YouTube videos and parents using TikTok. We are in the midst of a pandemic and ‘normality’ as we knew it has morphed into one giant tangle of multiple realities all trying to stay afloat and pivot this new way of being (for now). On the other hand, other forms of teaching have surged – ‘PE with Joe’ – the ‘world’s PE teacher’ has received millions of views from all ages, all abilities as they chose to turn on the screen and take part with the curly haired trainer. Also, TikToK has been seen to be one of the most well-used platforms during the pandemic, again for all ages and all abilities. It is almost as if a strange limbo-land has been created that has reconnected disparate worlds between parents and children, while at the same time strained relations between school teachers and children. At school, children understand it to be a place of rules and regulations, a formal place for being taught. At home children feel very different, the space alters how they begin to understand their (social and personal) place and hierarchy. Maybe online teaching is difficult as it invades the most personal of their spaces.

In P.E with Joe, ‘failure’ is not understood in the same context as ‘failure’ in schools and in exams. The lack of a grading system and embracing of failure could be a reason for so much engagement. It doesn’t matter who is not good at the activity because there is no grading and no social audience – unless the child chooses to share his/ her experiences. It is the same with TiKTok. It almost embraces failure as a humorous human connection to share (again at the participants will) in a time of digital dominance. Online learning becomes a very private type of learning – a time where the child can try things and fail without an audience – which is very hard to do in schools. Failure is a very important factor in learning as without it, it is very hard to build resilience for environments that are unstable.

If we consider the future in contemporary culture as becoming increasingly unstable, then embracing failure is key. Online learning has taught us a lot, and we need to remember that a classroom is not the only place to learn. Online platforms involve a different interplay between social activity and interaction. However, if we are to achieve success with our students in online learning, then we need to understand this as a new type of space, one which operates at a very different level than our classrooms.

These are areas that I am personally researching at the moment and am looking forward to integrating this research into the PGCE and Masters courses in my new role of Head of Secondary at the School of Education. Given the urgency of this area I will be integrating this into the induction of our new PGCE cohort from August 2020 onward.

By Laura Barritt

Head of Secondary School Teacher Training, University of Buckingham

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