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A ‘Social Identity Approach’ as a Theory for the Design of Learning with Educational Technology: The Case of Clickers

Nicholas Bowskill, Vic Lally

University of Derby, Derby, United Kingdom. University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom.


social identity, clickers, learning design, technology, pedagogy, learning theory


This article locates the conversation within learning design initially focussing upon clickers, a polling technology used largely in the classroom. We develop that to consider learning design focused at the level of the whole-group. We then propose such a view for learning design using education technologies in general.
One distinctive contribution made here is to conceptualise clickers as a technology for groups to work as a group. To explore this, we consider two popular models for using clickers. One of these is Peer Instruction (Mazur) which is by far the most used and well-known model. The other is SharedThinking (Bowskill) which is a more recent addition. We go on from there to explore group-relevant theory and seek to widen this to consider theory for learning design using technology.
Clickers are an under-theorised set of technologies and here is our second distinctive contribution in this paper. Researchers have called for ‘empirical work to develop theory’ (Boscardin and Penuel, 2012) for this technology. An additional concern is that “existing research does not connect to larger research on education or psychology” (Penuel, Roschelle et al, 2004). We explore the possibility of a social identity approach (Bliuc et al., 2011, Haslam, 2004) as a theoretical tool for learning design. We consider its utility for learning design using clickers and then for educational technology in general. We argue for learning design to focus on the group-level of thinking as a technology-supported practice.
Interestingly, other researchers have argued for different mediators of learning to be held in mind for pedagogical design. Technology and networks (Siemens, 2005), language (Wertsch, 1980, Vygotsky, 1978), activities and tools (Engeström, 2007) and communities (Wenger, 1998, Lave and Wenger, 1991, Roschelle et al., 2004) have all been used to explain learning. This paper proposes the addition of ‘identity-mediated group learning’ (Bowskill, 2017b) in which the situated group-identity provides the basis for development using a social identity approach.
Finally, one researcher describes the use of this technology as having a ‘catalytic’ effect (Draper, 2009). In this paper, the suggestion is the ‘catalytic’ effect may be the moment of social identification when the group is made salient and the deindividuation occurs. From this, we affirm the view elsewhere in the literature that ‘reference to peers has more influence than reference to facts’ (Goldstein et al., 2008). 

Full Paper - .pdf


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