Education and digital culture

Course Details

Course code: EDUA11322

Course leader: Dr Jeremy Knox

Course delivery: Sep 2018, Jan 2020


This course will consider online learning within the context of the emergence of a specifically digital culture. Recent years have seen a growing dependence – particularly in the ‘West’ - on the technologies of cyberspace and digital, networked media for conducting working and social lives. Given that we cannot easily separate education from the changing world around us, this course asks: how does our immersion in this new digital world affect us socially and culturally, and how does it change us as both teachers and learners?

The course will draw on theory from cultural and media studies, including the study of cyberculture, as well as specific educational research influenced by these concepts and ideas. It will explore the emergence of digital culture, looking at how it interfaces with learning cultures online, popular culture, and ideas of virtual community. Taking this course will be an opportunity to consider how the digital domain changes the way we understand community, literacy, and what it means to be human, in the context of increasingly sophisticated technologies permeating everyday education.

The ethos of this course is one which embraces the wider internet as both the site and subject of study. As such, most of the course processes and content will be open to the web, and the final assignment will be presented in a digital, non-conventional format.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the course you will:

  • have a critical awareness of the key concepts emerging from the study of digital culture, via cyberculture theory, cultural and media studies;
  • be able to assess the implications of this thought for the history, development and deployment of e-learning technologies;
  • be able to synthesise these ideas in order to develop critically-aware, media-specific pedagogies for online learning;
  • have developed practical skills in the use of social media and the presentation of academic discourse online.


The course is structured around three core themes, each of which represent a phase in the shifting domain of digital culture: cybercultures; community cultures; and algorithmic cultures.

Block 1: Cybercultures
This first block will consider some of the over-arching narratives within popular ‘cyberculture’ which have driven our understanding of digital culture and its relation to education. It will begin with a course ‘cyberculture film festival’ and accompanying synchronous tutorials, connecting these with a reading which will familiarise you with some orienting theories of cyberculture. It will then link these to the notion of ‘technology enhanced learning’, considering how such ideas continue to inform our understanding of the nature of education online. At the end of this block, you will produce an online representation of the themes covered, using visual methods only. This might be in the form of a composite image, a YouTube video, a Flickr photostream or some other medium of your own invention. This artefact should ideally be reviewable by peers and must feed into your assessed ‘lifestream-blog’ (see assessment tab).

Block 2: Community cultures
We approach the theme of community cultures in tandem with that of virtual ethnography. The idea over this four-week block, is that you will identify an online community and do a piece of micro-research on it, drawing on the principles of virtual and digital ethnography. The core readings for this block aim to introduce you to notions of ‘community’, as well as ideas about ‘virtual ethnographic’ methods for conducting research. We will have group discussions around this theme, but in conducting your micro-ethnography you will be working alone. By the end of the block you will have published the findings from your piece of work using an online application of your choice, and feeding it into your lifestream blog.

Block 3: Algorithmic cultures
This block will look at the ways in which large quantities of digital data, and the algorithms that operate across it, are informing contemporary culture within and beyond educational contexts. Ted Striphas defines ‘algorithmic culture’ as: ‘the ways in which computers, running complex mathematical formulae, engage in what’s often considered to be the traditional work of culture: the sorting, classifying, and hierarchizing of people, places, objects, and ideas.’ In this block, we will consider this idea and its implications for digital education, approaching it in two ways. First, we will spend week 8 doing some introductory reading on algorithmic cultures and education, and some ‘playing with algorithms’ which help us understand and debate how these inform and shape our everyday learning lives. In week 9, we will consider a current, high-profile example of algorithmic systems in education – learning analytics – conducting a ‘tweetstorm’ in which we will explore together how we might understand this method critically.


There are two elements to the assessment for this course – the lifestream blog and the final assignment.

The lifestream-blog (50% of your final mark): Half your final mark will be given for a lifestream-blog which you will set up and maintain over the 12 weeks of the course. A ‘lifestream’ is a means whereby an individual’s tweets, blog postings, image postings, YouTube favourites, and other feeds can be pulled together into a single blog stream. For this course, you will be supported in setting up and maintaining a lifestream-blog in WordPress, which will bring together all the digital fragments of knowledge generated by your studies over the 12 weeks of semester. The visual artefact (block 1) and micro-ethnography (block 2) will feed into this, as will any blog postings and comments you make, or other web you choose to include in the stream.

The lifestream is designed to demonstrate your engagement with the academic themes and content of the course – you are not expected to include personal and social content. Each week you will write a brief (250 word maximum) synthesis of the week’s lifestream- blog content within your blog. You will also be required to write a 500-word statement about your lifestream-blog on submission, and you will be able to edit the content of the stream before you submit it for assessment. You will be expected to maintain the lifestream- blog from week one to week twelve of the course.

The digital essay (50% of your final mark): You are required to submit an assignment on an aspect of the course content defined by yourself. You must present this digitally. Similar to the opportunities for assignment submission for IDEL, this might be a web essay, a video, an animation, and so on. The idea is that you explore the possibilities presented by digital, networked media for representing formal academic knowledge. You should agree the topic, medium and the additional assessment criteria (up to three) for your essay with your course tutor before embarking on it.

You should choose a technology which is most suitable to your own levels of technical ability. For example, if you are not able to, or have no interest in, making a video or doing something in Prezi, you might build a simple hypertext essay using a free wiki like PBworks or free web building sites like Weebly. Technical prowess is not formally assessed – we are rather looking for imaginative and rigorous ways of presenting your academic work online.


As with IDEL, you are asked to submit up to three of your own assessment criteria to complement the core criteria.

Teaching Methods

The course will be delivered using WordPress: much of the course content and process will be open to the wider internet. Teaching methods include a combination of asynchronous discussion, synchronous text chat, twitter tutorials, peer review and the creation of a lifestream blog.


Indicative readings are:

Knox, J. 2015. Digital Cultures and Education. Springer Encyclopaedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy.

Bell, D. J., Loader, B., Pleace, N., Schuler, D. (2004) Cyberculture: the key concepts. London: Routledge.

Hand, M. (2008) Making Digital Cultures. Aldershot: Ashgate

Bayne, S. (2010) Academetron, automaton, phantom: uncanny digital pedagogies. London Review of Education, Vol 8, No.1. pp. 5-13.

Striphas, T. (2014). Algorithmic culture. “Culture now has two audiences: people and machines” A medium corporation.


As with all courses, you will be required to have regular access to a computer with a good broadband connection, and will be responsible for providing your own computing equipment and consumables. All core and some additional readings will be provided online.

You will be provided a WordPress blog for your lifestream. For video chats you will need headphones, microphone and camera.