Practising digital technology policy in English language education in Vietnam: Two storylines of tension and equilibrium

Year: 2019

Author: Nguyen, Linh, Thi, Cam

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper presents my doctoral research, which explores university staff's enactment of digital technology policy in English language education in the University of Good Practices (UGP) in Vietnam. The research aims to understand the translation of a national policy into practices, and offers insights into institutional changes as the result of the policy enactment.

The research, designed as a qualitative case study, elaborates two storylines. The major storyline is based on interviews with thirty-seven UGP staff members in different leadership, academic and professional positions. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s practice theory, and critical sociology of education, the study theorises the policy landscape at UGP, and interprets subtle structures of staff practices in relation to digital technology. Concomitantly, a minor storyline is developed from the researcher’s reflexive accounts of UGP and this research, thus explicating Bourdieu’s practice theory for self-analysis. The two storylines complement each other and create tensions between and infusion of objectivity and subjectivity, rationality and romanticism.

The research makes original contributions to knowledge in terms of context, theory and methodology. It offers a critical analysis of practices of education policy in the public sector of Vietnamese higher education. It reconsiders Bourdieu’s practice theory in the digital age, suggesting the immanent tensions in his system of theoretical concepts and questioning the boundaries between co-existing fields. By developing two simultaneous storylines of empirical fieldwork and the researcher’s reflexive accounts, a new methodology is suggested for generating and interpreting qualitative data, and conceptualising metaphors for theorisation.

The research concludes that staff’s practices through policy enactment ultimately imply the tension between socio-institutional structure and individual agency, and collective practices constitute an equilibrium status in UGP. The tension triggers policy effect, cross-field effect and institutional changes in terms of leadership, management and staff self-development. Although these effects and changes have been patchy, UGP has been able to maintain an equilibrium in the middle of internal and external tensions. However, the equilibrium is flimsy and might be broken by neoliberal forces. It is thus argued that the academic, intellectual and emotional capital of UGP should be strategically mobilised and continually invested so that good practices can be sustained and promoted. Understanding the patterns and substance of staff practices and tackling tensions can help optimise staff’s capability and dedication to work, minimise their burnout due to overwork, and strengthen the physical space and social status of the university.