The digital daily lives of pre-school student teachers


The transformative force of digitalisation can be said to affect all parts of society as the ways we communicate and use information are increasingly being mediated by a wide range of digital tools. This notion is certainly true for educational settings, but at the same time, the discourses surrounding use of digital tools for learning and teaching are saturated with technological determinism and exaggerated optimism.

Image by Iris Hamelmann from PixabayIn the recently published doctoral thesis in Information Studies – Teacher students’ digital daily lives: information literacy at a pre-school teacher education – I contribute to a critical analysis of how demands for increased digital competence in Swedish teacher education are underpinned by a global policy discourse with an economic and competitive perspective. The dissertation also provides detailed netnographic accounts of how information activities are mediated by digital tools, negotiated and given meaning in the context of Swedish pre-school teacher education. The overarching aim of the doctoral thesis is to create a deeper understanding of how students’ information literacies are enacted when digital tools are used and appropriated in the daily life at a pre-school teacher education, in relation to conceptions of the digitalisation of teacher education in national policy.

In the netnographic accounts, insights are drawn from a rich empirical material consisting of online material, primarily from Facebook Groups, field notes from participant observations, transcribed interviews and a field diary. The netnographic material was produced at a Swedish teacher education between 2012 and 2015, and the material is analysed using a socio-cultural perspective on information literacy, with particular focus on the concepts appropriation and identity. The findings show how views on learning and identity interact with the materiality of the digital tools and the enabling and constraining properties of the local learning environment when information literacies are enacted. Information literacies are found to be enacted in two different ways: as a relational information literacy and a pragmatic information literacy.

The relational information literacy entails a view on learning as co-learning, rooted in the historical development of pre-school teacher education, and a non-hierarchical understanding of teacher and student roles. Typical information activities when this form of information literacy is enacted include sharing of information which builds relations and initiates open discussions. The pragmatic information literacy, on the other hand, reflects instrumental and neoliberal views on learning and a traditional understanding of teacher and student roles. Typical information activities include sharing and requesting information considered to be relevant and correct.

In relation to the global policy discourse found in the studied national policy documents, I identify a gap between what is described as important in policy documents and what student teachers and teachers describe as important when digital tools are used in teacher education. The economic perspective of the global policy discourse on digital competence, emphasising measurability and quantification, is partly compatible with a pragmatic information literacy. However, the idea of co-learning, that is found to be influential but not fully accepted at the studied pre-school teacher education, comes across as difficult to combine with an economic perspective. Consequently, in the dissertation I argue that the focus on measurability, quantification and competition prevalent in the global policy discourse surrounding the concept digital competence might constrain the development of creative and critical aspects of information literacies.

The full dissertation, including four articles in English and an introduction in Swedish, is available Open Access through Lund Studies in Arts and Cultural Sciences

Photo credit: Jennie Larsson
Fredrik Hanell received his PhD in Information Studies from Lund University. He is currently a senior lecturer at Linnaeus University.


Mitigating human-lion conflicts—an ICT approach


Some 1,200 lions still live in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, up to 70 of them along the northern border of the UNESCO’s 1,000th World Heritage Site. But lions keep being shot and sometimes also poisoned in this area. In most cases, the underlying reason is that lions attack people’s livestock. In the last one-and-a-half years alone, more than 150 cases have been recorded in which lions have killed free-roaming cattle.

In cooperation with researchers of the predator conservation organization CLAWS Conservancy, we help mitigate this conflict with modern information- and communications-technology. The group’s approach involves a unique development. Based on virtual risk boundaries that are informed by lion and cattle movements, but also human activities, we developed the first ICT-based lion alert system for rural communities, merging expertise from ecology, ethnography and socio-informatics. The communities now receive near real-time alerts as GPS-collared lions approach village and cattle grazing areas, enabling them to take precautionary action.

This type of early warning provides a new trans-disciplinary mechanism to improve the coexistence of communities with free-ranging lions. The group provides a detailed empirical evaluation of the general method (based on a two-years pilot study), outlining early warning strengths and weaknesses, followed by the design of an autonomous, versatile, ICT-based lion alert platform that synthesizes biological data, modern tracking and telecommunications technology, and community participation feedback.

Amongst others, we evaluated system cost, livestock losses between experimental and control groups, GPS technology performance, community perceptions and actions, lion movements in relation to virtual boundaries and risk extrapolations for improved geofence placement. The collaborative study demonstrates that information sharing via early warning engages communities in lion research and conflict mitigation, eliciting important changes in human risk management.

Most importantly, however, we employed a co-design strategy that directly involved community members, thus providing a customized solution. The study provides a template for the successful design of coexistence strategies with rural communities. The group critically peruses the evolution of their system, demonstrating the importance of a multi-disciplinary research and development process that reflects conflict complexity and community heterogeneity.

With this new alert platform, the group moves lion conflict mitigation into the 21st century, and away from its historic paradigm of reactive management, for example by compensating livestock losses financially, or relocating conflict lions to other areas. The study clearly demonstrates that early warning can elicit important changes in human behavior, such as improved livestock protection, which resulted in significantly reduced losses. We also highlight that our approach is flexible, possibly finding additional future applications in other areas of wildlife conservation such as anti-poaching or disease transmission control.

“Lions at the gates: Transdisciplinary design of an early warning system to improve human-lion coexistence” is currently under review for Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.

Konstantin Aal is currently a research assistant and PhD Candidate at the department for Business Informatics and New Media of the University of Siegen. His research focusses on the use of social media during the Arab Spring, facilitating human-animal relations in Botswana and access to technology in rural Morocco. Click here for more.