Re-imagining disengagement from learning: the sociomaterial practices of classrooms and digital game spaces
Dunnett, Noreen Elizabeth
This thesis challenges the way that disengagement and engagement have been thought about and defined in the formal learning context of schools. Rather than regarding schools as static ‘containers’ in which learning takes place and engagement as represented in the individual behaviour, achievement and attitude of students, I argue that we should take a sociomaterial approach to understanding disengagement, treating it as performative, as a phenomenon assembled in space and time, through the inter-relations between human and non-human actors such as objects, technology and the environment. This relational approach enables us to look beyond binary distinctions between in-school and out-of-school practices and incorporate digital gaming as a critical tool to help re-evaluate formal learning environments. By comparing the different modes of existence enacted through the practices of gaming and formal learning I have revealed that by valuing particular performances of engagement over others, schools have stabilised and entrenched practices which increase the likelihood of boredom and disengagement emerging. In two periods of field work during June/July 2016 and Feb – Nov 2017 in secondary schools in Yorkshire, I used ethnographic methods such as interviews, observations, photographs, video and audio recordings and field notes to generate evidence of students’ differing experiences in digital games to create new understandings of engagement and disengagement in the classroom. The thesis makes an original contribution to scholarship by taking a sociomaterial approach to boredom and engagement, regarding these phenomena as performative and emergent rather than individual cognitive processes. By using engagement in digital gaming practices as a critical tool I have highlighted unhelpful constraints to thinking about educational practice caused by restrictive, culturally normative notions of what constitutes an engaging and effective student learning experience. Finally I have suggested that rather than aiming for predictability and standardisation in teaching practices teachers should recognise the unique elements and characteristics of each learning situation and develop practices based on their own dynamic judgement rather than in response to policy or the purely instrumental demands of assessment. This new approach to understanding boredom and disengagement gives educators potential to: use time and space more flexibly and enable more agency for students; recognise a wider range of demonstrations of learning and engagement and work towards less hierarchical relationships between students and teachers, thus intervening in the production of disengagement.