Time for technology? Negotiating digital temporalities in the secondary school

Year: 2016

Author: Johnson, Nicola

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Digital technologies and media are an integral element of contemporary education, and increasingly shape the ways in which time is experienced in schools. This paper examines the multiple ways that time is negotiated in contemporary technology-infused schools. The paper draws upon in-depth ethnographic studies of three Australian secondary schools across a period of twelve months. This extended period of immersive fieldwork utilized the main forms of data generation associated with classroom research and school ethnography – including over 100 site visits, 300 hours of in situ observations, field notes, documentary analysis, photographing and videoing, corridor conversations and interviews with staff, students and other members of the school communities. The paper draws upon thematic analysis of this large corpus of ethnographic data. In particular, the paper applies particular concepts surrounding the acceleration of life within digital society developed by Judy Wajcman (and others) to the secondary school context. On one hand, the paper charts how digital technologies are implicated in the persistence (and entrenchment) of traditional modes of ‘school time’ - in particular the forms of analogue time associated with the ‘factory’ model of school arrangements and organization. These include the persistence of the familiar linear rhythms and temporalities of the school lesson, day, week, term and year – all of which are reinforced through many of the dominant (digital) systems and structures used in schools – particularly notable given that everyday actions generate temporal qualities and these rhythms, practices and rituals construct subjectivities of time. In contrast, the paper also highlights practices that are negotiated through the use of personalised digital devices and online modes of interaction and communication, in particular, the fluid intensifications, accelerations and compressions of time. The research points to how for a group of educators in one school, their sense of autonomy and control was heightened when using digital technology as it increased their capacity of when they could communicate and how much could be communicated, facilitating greater temporal communication. Some teachers and principals were able to make the most of technology to transverse constructions and subjectivities surrounding temporal control. In contrast, other teachers appeared burdened by technology which led to a reduced sense of autonomy and control over their time. The paper therefore concludes by exploring how (what seems to be) the same technologies mediate very different digital temporalities in secondary schools.