Project Zulu Research Seminar

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The Department of Education and Childhood Presents: The Bristol Inter-disciplinary Group for Education Research (BRIDGE)

Project Zulu Research Seminar 2nd April 2019 — 5pm – 7pm — Room 2S704 , Frenchay.

Project Zulu is a UWE educational development initiative which works with partner schools in township and rural areas of Kwazul-Natal, South Africa. Collaborations between school communities in SA and UWE staff and students seek ways of enhancing infrastructure, pedagogy and learning opportunities through knowledge exchange, action research and practical support. The three research projects presented in this seminar have developed over the last three years and are based on such collaborations.

Dr Alex Palombi and Vanessa Parmenter LD Nursing and Occupational Therapy collaboration at township SEN school

Over the last two years, learning difficulties nursing and occupational therapy students have volunteered for 4 weeks within a special educational needs (SEN) school within Madadeni Township in South Africa as part of Project Zulu. This research used five semi structured interviews and a focus group to explore the impact of Project Zulu on the health and social care students’ professional learning, and on the participating SEN school’s teachers and principal. Transcripts of the interviews and focus group are to be thematically analysed to explore the nature of the learning derived from this experience and the extent to which teachers and principals view the project as a partnership and the extent to which their mutual learning. Initial findings indicate mutual perceived value in cross cultural learning and useful professional develop alongside managing concerns about sustainability and measuring value.

Dr Jane Carter and Karan Vickers-Hulse Reading Partner intervention at two rural South African primary schools

This project builds on current RET funding (An evaluation of the Bristol Reading Partner (BRP) Intervention) and the work to pilot BRP in two of the UWE Project Zulu (PZ) partnership schools. South Africa was the lowest performing country (out of 50 participating countries) in reading in the Progress in International Reading Study (PIRLS 2016) and is the priority area of the PZ schools’ Principals. In Feb 2019 we trained teachers in the pilot schools in the BRP intervention programme; PZ UWE student volunteers will be trained in BRP in March 2019 and will work 1:1 with children in the two pilot schools in KwaZulu Natal in August. This work will also add to the body of data and knowledge we have about BRP and EAL learners.

Dr David Wyatt and Ben Knight ICT project at a rural South African primary school

This three year ICT intervention project at one rural primary school in South Africa aimed to enable integrated ICT learning for pupils. Actions at strategic, infrastructure and teacher digital literacy levels were implemented over three phases and evaluated via teacher questionnaires and a focus group interview. Findings highlight the opportunities and challenges of managing international sustainable enhancement projects, and illustrate the critical role teachers play in pupil skills development and the importance of investing in their digital literacy.

This event is free to attend but pre-registration is required. Register here to book your place. 

Empowering autistic children: Experiencing a museum through a customised app

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For most of us, a visit to the museum is a chance to relax, to learn interesting stories from our past. We can probably remember school visits to museums when we were younger. However, for some children, the visit can be challenging: namely autistic children.  

Some research highlights that involving children with autism in recreational activities helps to support inclusion, reinforces positive behaviours, and enhances well-being.  Within this context, a museum visit is considered a pleasant way to spend leisure time, as it provides interesting stories to inspire and engage visitors; while offering opportunities for experiential learning through play-based activities. 

In response to the growing international drive for equal rights and diversity, museums have been encouraged to embrace new ways to provide access to services, with a focus on providing access to people with a diverse range of disabilities. This coupled with an ongoing rise in diagnoses of autism has led museums to address issues of integration. Considering the needs of autistic visitors, museums have attempted to integrate an individualised supportive environment and to provide sensory-friendly activities. In addition, improvements have been made to the physical spaces of these environments. Responding to the prevalence of digital media, museums have gone one step further to consider digital practices as a means of engaging visitors with various impairments. However, the adoption of mobile services in museums seems to target specific groups, and there is little work regarding digital platforms developed specifically for autistic people.

With technology for autistic users being well researched with many attributed benefits, the role of technology in museums represents a timely area of study – this is the focus of my PhD work.

Benefits of technology for autistic users includes:

  1. Slower presentation of information/communication;
  2. Reduced pressures of completing activity (with others);
  3. Computers and technologies can be predictable, systematic and logical; all supporting the strengths of the autistic communities.

With this in mind novel technology programs have been developed to promote various aspects of education, communication, and entertainment, as well as social skills. 

My PhD study has been focused on addressing the potential of using digital services in a museum for autistic visitors. It investigated the views and impact of a digital museum experience (through a museum-based app) of autistic children. One of the main aims was to examine whether a museum-based app could be a mediating tool to enable groups of autistic children to have an inclusive experience in a barrier-free environment. 

My study was conducted in several stages, and cycles of an iterative process were included to help build an optimal version of the touch-screen interface. This study was conducted in collaboration with a special educational needs school and the M Shed museum in Bristol. The design and development of the app was based on existing literature coupled with recommendations and feedback from the participating children.  

So far, the findings suggest that a museum-based app was viewed as a useful tool to provide equal opportunities for autistic children in which to participate with museum-related activities.  Given that autistic people can encounter profound challenges in their daily life and feel marginalized from society, a specific adaptation is necessary in this context (a museum). The use of the app during the visit seemed to act as a bridge and to guide the children by focusing on specific exhibits in the gallery. The data also revealed that the choice of the exhibits through play-based activities encouraged the children to be more motivated and to remain focused on the requested tasks.

Overall, the findings from this study support the idea that:

  1. The use of technology-based museum activities can contribute to the inclusion of the autistic community.
  2. The role of partnerships with specialists from different fields are an important aspect of providing high quality outcomes.

This study aimed to shed light on an under researched area and to inform future policy and services provided by museums. This, in turn, could help young autistic people (and their caregivers) access museums in meaningful and supportive ways – and so they can get more out of the experience. 

Author: Dimitra Magkafa is a doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Arts, Cultural Industries and Education, the University of the West of England.

Call for Chapters: Social theory, digital education and the Global South

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‘Digital transformation Machine’ . Photo by Flickr ID Bryan Mathers (CC)

Published in BourdieuCivil SocietyCritical pedagogyCultureLatest PostsTheory by Cristina Costa on January 24, 2019

Call for chapter submissions for a new edited collection, entitled:

Social theory, digital education and the Global South: Critical perspectives

Edited by Cristina Costa & Ana Lucia Pereir

Book Overview (download leaflet): 

The impact of digital media on the social world is a global phenomenon that presents the education sector with a set of new challenges. Even though there is considerable body of research engaged in problematising the effects of digital media on education, the contexts in which these perspectives take place are to a great extent western and often lack social theoretical considerations. In this regard, the Global South has largely been portrayed through a conception of technical divides (access to technology) whereas questions of how new digital and social media interrupt, extend, transform and/or create new, alternative education practices from a multitude of perspectives is far less common. This approach, no doubt, relates to the epistemological and ontological stance one adopts for their research, and where, more often than not, western knowledge is confused with universal knowledge. Santos (2014) names the practice of privileging one type of knowledge over another ‘epistemicide’ and calls for the need to unlearn the dominant criteria by which we conceive the social. Understandings of the role(s) digital media play in education in the Global South would therefore benefit from engagement with different knowledge lenses.

The concept of the ‘Global South’ is one that surpasses geographical location to focus on how colonialism, patriarchy and/or capitalist action has led to deep and ingrained social suffering (see Santos, 2016). It is however true that most research on phenomena that afflict the Global South finds its location in the southern hemisphere. With it then comes the care and the concern that the reality under study is (re)presented from the perspective of those who are part of and/or affected by it. With regards to the focus of this book, this means to explore not only the ways in which digital technologies – especially those associated with the web – drive or hamper education practices, but also whose practices they most affect, how and why.

One of the key purposes of obtaining knowledge from the Global South is not just that of simply giving voice, but rather of sharing voice with those implicated and affected by the phenomena being explored (Santos, 2016, p.21). This requires methodological attention not only to what types of knowledge are being produced through research practices, but how these are developed and by whom. This presents a clear case to connect social theory to method as a core research activity, one that this book aims to promote and exemplify in its different chapters. In this sense, we are interested in exploring how social theories – such as those developed by Arjun Appadurai, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Franz Fanon, Michel Foucault, Nancy Fraser, Paulo Freire, Stuart Hall, Jürgen Habermas, Edward Said, Amartya Sen, Gayatri Spivak etc. – can be applied (individually or hybridly) to digital education phenomena in the Global South. We are equally, if not more, interested in examining the application of alternative social theories that may help develop new understanding on the issues at hand.

Hybridized forms of theory will be of particular interest to this collection as a form of advancing new knowledge through the intersection of different and/or emerging theories, as for example, works linking Gramsci to Freire, Foucault to Spivak, etc.

In this regard, this book aims to explore the interplay between digital media practices and education (primary, secondary, further, higher, and adult and community education, as well as informal education) in the context of the Global South. We are particular keen on chapters which can advance existing theories and/or propose new theoretical debates. Chapters focused on the thematic of the book can explore a wide range of issues, as for example: Civil societyColonialismCultureCurriculumIdentityLanguageKnowledge ecologiesModernisationPatriarchySocial justiceThe state, etc.

Chapter Proposals

Proposals for chapter contributions, in the form of a 400 word abstract, are requested (deadline: June 30, 2019). The chapter abstract must clearly detail:

  1. The focus of the research and the specific research question/aim.
  2. The social theory/ies and/or theorist(s) drawn upon for the conceptualisation of the research problem as well as how social theory-informed methodologies influenced the research process, i.e., research design, method, and analysis
  3. Explicit reflections of how the theory/ies used offer unique ways of thinking about the issues being explored.

Chapter abstracts should be submitted, in Word format, to the following email

Abstracts received by June 30, 2019 will be reviewed by the editors and authors notified of review results no later than September 1st 2019. A book proposal will then be sent to Bloomsbury Publishing: Social Theory and Methodology in Education Research Series.

Authors invited to submit full chapters will have until May 30th, 2020 for their submission, which will be followed by a peer-review process. Publication of the book: December 2020.

This post was originally published on  the Social Theory Applied.


Cristina is Associate Professor in Digital Education and Society in the Department of Education and Childhood, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK. After completing a degree in Modern Languages and Literatures, Cristina worked as an EFL teacher in the Portuguese Navy. During that period she developed an interest in Learning Technologies and completed an MPhil in Educational Technologies at the University of Lisbon, Portugal. In 2007 she moved to the UK to take up a post in the field of Learning and Research Technologies at the University of Salford. In February 2013 she completed her PhD study on The participatory web in the context of academic research: landscapes of change and conflicts. From March 2013 to March 2018 she worked as a Lecturer in Digital Education at the University of Strathclyde. She was named Learning Technologist of the Year 2010 by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT).

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