Digital education in global context

Course Details

Course code: EDUA11320

Course leader: Dr Rory Ewins

Course delivery: Jan 2019, Sep 2020, Jan 2022, Sept 2023


This course examines the sociological and political aspects of online learning. It looks at changes in online culture and ideologies under the influence of governments, corporations and society at large, the role of educational organisations in those developments, and the potential for digital education to help learners negotiate the emerging social and political landscape of the online world. Themes include the social, political and economic forces behind the development of the Internet and digital education, the digital divides in 21st century society, the role of digital education in changing people’s social and political identities, and the intellectual property disputes shaping the future of the Internet and education.

The course features student interaction and discussion of its core themes using a community weblog/discussion board environment of a kind that plays host to socio-political discussions around the web. You will be encouraged to consider the broader social and political implications of the online environment, and how digital  education can prepare us all for the ‘information society’.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the course you will have:

  • a critical understanding of distinctive social and political features of the online environment, including its historical and ideological underpinnings;
  • an ability to analyse and assess the role of educational organisations in the development of the online environment;
  • critical awareness of the social and political context and implications of digital education;
  • an ability to synthesise concepts introduced in the course into an understanding of how change is negotiated in the online world, and how online skills prepare us for such negotiation and change.


Digital education in global context runs in two halves of five weeks each, with a planning week in between. A different topic features each week, although inevitably there is some overlap of issues raised in different parts of the course.  There are three blocks - two within the first half of the semester and one in the second.


Block A: Emergence                     Weeks 1-3

The first three weeks seek to place digital education and e-learning in historical and global context by examining the history and growth of the Internet and the role played by educational institutions in its development; globalization, and how digital education is both its vehicle and its beneficiary; and the pressures and incentives leading educational institutions to implement digital education.


Block B: Divides                            Weeks 4-5

Weeks 4 and 5 look at the much-discussed issue of digital divides: at how such divisions affect the uptake of digital education, and how digital education can help to address them. The topic itself can be divided in a number of ways: in our case, week 4 will explore domestic divides in the developed world, while week 5 will extend the scope to the ‘north/south’ divide, looking at which countries are best placed to take advantage of the Internet and digital education and which face significant challenges.


Block C: Ideologies                       Weeks 6-11

Students have a choice in the sequencing of topics for this section – and can even offer suggestions for a topic. Week 6 is a planning week to allow time for this.

In the second half of the course we consider our relationship with online society and our role as digital citizens. We will discuss how social networks affect digital education and our online identities, what it means to be a ‘digital citizen’, open source movements and intellectual property issues, and political ideologies and their online expression.


The course will be assessed in two ways:

1.  by your activity on the group weblog (50% of the final mark)

2.  by an assignment (50% of the final mark)


The blog is intended to function as an ongoing, preservable dialogue between you, your fellow students and the course leader, growing around your developing ideas and insights. You will have two ways to contribute: by posting a main entry to open a discussion on one or more specific links on a common theme; and by commenting on posts others have made, as part of a thread of discussion around that link or topic.  On two separate weeks of the course, you will be one of the students leading the group blog.


Your assignment will relate to one of the topics discussed during the course beyond your two leading weeks on the weblog, although there is room for negotiation if it touches on more than one course topic.  There is also scope for creating an experimental assignment, using a non-conventional form or platform, although standard essays are also acceptable.


Teaching Methods

On the first day of each week, the course leader will post a 'White Paper' on the topic being discussed, and this should be read in conjunction with the essential readings for the week.

Early in the week, the student blog leaders will post their contribution(s) and a discussion will follow on the group blog. 

There will also be occasional opportunities for synchronous chat sessions, though these are not compulsory.


Indicative readings are:

Liss, J. (2013) 'Creative Destruction and Globalization: The Rise of Massive Standardized Education Platforms', Globalizations, Vol. 10, No. 4.

Jaeger, P. T. (2015) Disability, human rights, and social justice: The ongoing struggle for online accessibility and equality, First Monday, Vol. 20, No. 9 (September 2015)

Njenga, J. K. (2018) 'Sociocultural paradoxes and issues in e-learning use in higher education Africa', Globalisation, Societies and Education, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 120-133.


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.