Doctoral Project

Tablet devices in the daily learning lives of university students

Image CC FlickR: gado-gado-gado

Image CC FlickR: gado-gado-gado


Information and communications technologies (ICTs) are often viewed by universities and learners as a critical component of the student experence. Technologies such as computers, networks, learning management systems and mobile devices have been heralded as vital tools that teachers must master to satisfy and engage students of the 21st century, as the so-called ‘Net Generation’ (Oblinger and Oblinger, 2005) or ‘Digital Natives’ attend institutions run by ‘Digital Immigrants’ (Prensky, 2001).

At the same time, learners report having their time divided between increasing work commitments, resulting in a disengagement from university study (McInnis, 2002). Despite this, few studies have attempted to look at the role of technologies in the daily learning lives of students wherever they are. Educational technologies are primarily evaluated for their impact on the student experience as though classrooms and campuses are the only locus of learning.

This study will trace at first hand the complex and messy ways that heterogeneous networks associate students, devices, software, discourses, actions, classrooms, and a multitude of other things over space and time. Its rich description will provide new knowledge of pedagogic practice in university settings and potentially challenge existing conceptions of where, when and how this learning takes place.

Research Questions

  • How can we best describe the learning experiences of students using tablet devices in a higher education context?
  • What is the relationship between the use of these devices and the spaces and places in which learning occurs?
    • When, where and how does this learning take place?
    • In what ways are students using tablet devices to learn within a higher education setting?
    • To what extent do students’ perceptions of learning and practices with regard to it change when using tablet devices?

Methodological and theoretical methods

In developing a thesis about the learning lives of university students, this project draws on a range of authors who have applied a sociomaterial approach within the field of education.  Actor Network Theory in Education (Fenwick and Edwards, 2010) is an example of a new interest, and a particularly relevant reference here.  This work espouses the idea of education as an emergent ‘network effect’ (Fenwick and Landri, 2012, p. 1) and foregrounds materiality in order to refocus on ‘webs of relations’ which are constantly adapted and renegotiated.  According to this view, learning (and life) rather than being only about the personal and the social, “is about what we will refer to as the socio-material.” (Fenwick and Edwards, 2010, p. 4).  Further, they argue, “pedagogy centres around, and is constantly mediated by, material things.”  These things are associated in heterogeneous networks, “exert force themselves” and “do not just respond to human intention and force.” (p. 5).

The research questions framed by this project are around the use of a particular set of technologies in the daily learning lives of university students, and the work of Johri (2011) is relevant in this respect.  Johri focuses a sociomaterial lens on learning practices and technologies, describing a number of empirical examples, such as the use of Tablet PCs in a large classroom setting with the aim of introducing a ‘participatory conception’ to an otherwise didactic experience.  A sociomaterial approach allows the author to trace emergent power relations within a particular setting and subsequently make further alterations in a process he terms ‘socio-material bricolage’.

Research Projects

2015 – present
  • Riddle M., Nordin, N., Hill, A., Acton, R., Aris, B., Embi, M., Hussin, S., Norman, H., Abdullah, H., and Sanusi, J.: Higher Education Active Learning Spaces (HEALS) Project, IRU-MRUN Collaborative Research Programme, ($127,000)
2009 – 2010
  • Riddle M. & Burchielli, R.: mLearning and the Future of Work, Innovations in Teaching and Learning Fund (one off 2009 grants) ($4,995)
2009 – 2010
  • Burchielli, R., Halteh, P., & Riddle M.: Student engagement and teaching and learning innovations in a Business Ethics context, Faculty grant ($7,967)
2008 – 2010
  • Learning Landscape Project, CARET, University of Cambridge, (£180,000) funded by HEA. Sub projects:
    • Riddle, M. and Arnold, M., Cambridge Student ICT Study, Easter term, 2007
    • Riddle, M., A Day In The Life, Michaelmas term, 2007
  • Howell, C., Riddle, M., Wilson, L., Hurst, S., Carmichael, P., and Norman, J., Knowledge Resource Network Project, funded by the Cambridge-MIT Institute, CARET, University of Cambridge.
  • Hirst, D., Riddle, M., Brooks, C. and Adam, D., A student evaluation framework for courseware development projects, The University of Melbourne.
  • Hirst, D., Brooks, C., Riddle, M., and Adam, D., A formal qualitative evaluation of academics’ participation in collaborative curriculum development projects, The University of Melbourne.
  • Keppell, M., Arnold, M., Guillemin, M., Deveny, E., Liaw, T., Pearce, C., Mulcahy, D., & Riddle, M., Evaluation of the Clinician’s Health Channel, The University of Melbourne.


Selected Publications