Digital education

Digital education is an umbrella term that aims to convey the study of digital technologies in relation to educational, cultural and policy-making practices.

The digital education research strand focuses on intersecting areas of knowledge and practice that are of particular relevance to a contemporary society as well as a growing digital economy. It aims to respond to key local, national and international challenges.

Strand conveners

The research expertise of the strand covers a range of research areas, including, but not limited to:

  • Digital inequalities 
  • Digital literacies and competences
  • Digital cultures and practices
  • Digital research methods
  • Curriculum innovation
  • Virtual reality technologies (VRTs)
  • Applied use of technologies for groups with special needs
  • Social theory. 

Our staff have experience in examining and supervising research students in the broad area of digital education and technologies. We welcome new postgraduate research students to conduct research with us.

Research projects


Timely formative feedback on assessment: Using webinars to engage students

University students’ perceptions of assessment and feedback are regularly reported as being less positive than their perceptions of teaching and learning, across the HE sector.

Our project focuses on how we can improve students’ experiences of assessment and feedback using webinars prior to an assessment deadline to offer opportunities for “deep learning” through formative feedback and peer interaction. The project will examine the benefits of the audio/visual format of formative feedback delivered via webinars. The research will also be attentive to issues of inclusivity afforded by webinars due to the level of flexibility and accessibility of webinars available to students.

The project team comprises:

  • Dr Jane Andrews (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Education and Childhood)  
  • Tom Baldry (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Education and Childhood)
  • Dr Ciaran Burke (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Education and Childhood)
  • Dr Verity Jones (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Education and Childhood)
  • Dr Sally Reardon (Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education; Department of Film and Journalism)
  • Libby Thompson (Faculty of Health and Applied Sciences; Department of Allied Health Professions)

Project contact: Dr Jane Andrews.
Funder: UWE Bristol Academic Practice Directorate Pedagogic Project, 2020-2021.

Immersive virtual reality as a tool for autistic pupils and teachers

Running from September 2019, this two-year project will develop, disseminate, and assess an Immersive Virtual Reality educational tool for teaching students on the autism spectrum and learning difficulties how to 'learn to learn'. It will incorporate all the necessary elements of an Individual Work System (IWS), together with the powerful supports provided by means of virtual reality. This project is funded by the European Commission’s Erasmus+ Programme.

The Immersive Virtual Reality as a Tool for Autistic Pupils and Teachers project (IVRAP) is based on the combination of one of the most extended models of autism intervention on education (named Individual Work System- IWS-) with the power of Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) and Hand-Tracking sensors to manipulated virtual environments.

The participating partner entities are:

  • Universitat de València (Spain)
  • UWE Bristol (UK)
  • Clover (Spain)
  • Koynos (Spain) 
  • Cambian (UK)
  • SOBE (Turkey)
  • CEFIRE of inclusive education (Spain)
  • Konya Il Mem (Turkey)
  • Autism Europe (Belgium)
  • Adapta Foundation (Spain)

Visit the IVRAP website.

Project contact: Dr Nigel Newbutt.
Funder: Erasmus + (Spain).

Digital CPD for Early Childhood professionals

This two year project involves working in collaboration with a regionally-based technology company to research the continuing professional experiences and preferences of early childhood professionals in England and Wales to inform the development of app-based digital learning platforms for the early childhood workforce. The project involves working closely with professionals to assess their needs and gather their views on the pilot rollout of the digital learning platforms.

Project contact: Joe Brown.

Autism and virtual reality

A recently funded project ‘Autism and Virtual Reality’ led by Dr Nigel Newbutt has seen the development of technologies (specifically virtual reality and head-mounted displays) applied to autistic groups.  This work has brought together practitioners, parents, young people, researchers and technology companies to collaborate on the use of virtual reality in schools.This line of enquiry has seen Nigel work in the US and the UK across disciplines.

His EPSRC-funded work at Michigan State University uncovered findings related to acceptability, presence, immersion and possible issues with VR and HMDs for autistic adults.  This work was expanded through collaboration with practitioners in and around Bristol and the UK to younger groups in schools. This was Faculty-funded and included publishing a state of the art review, a networking event and other outputs.

Further information about this research project can be found below:

Project contact: Dr Nigel Newbutt.
Funder: EPSRC.

Recently completed

How are students and staff on education programmes navigating different digital policy contexts?

Underpinning the current project is Katz’s (2003) proposition that our digital devices may be integrated into our professional and personal lives to the extent that they “become us”. Teacher education courses involve trainee teachers moving between sites (university seminars rooms, school classrooms) and taking on different roles (university student, trainee class teacher). This movement presents potential challenges and tensions as they negotiate their multiple identities (Burke & Stets, 2009) and demonstrate their alignment with each institution’s practices and regulations (Ball, 2003).

The use of digital technologies and mobile devices in institutional contexts, both schools and universities, can raise diverse, compartmentalised and strongly-felt attitudes and preferences (see Andrews and Jones, 2015).The tensions between personal preference in learning using technology and institutional policy and practice can conflict further with the wider goals of education and teacher education.

This mixed methods study of two cohorts of trainee teachers and teacher educators in one university in England in 2014 and 2018. Thematic analysis of the data is based on concepts from Katz’s work (2003) including integration, separation, group membership and social identity as expressed through preferences and practices in uses of technology in learning.


  • Article:  Andrews, J and Jones, M (2015) What’s happening in ‘their space’? Exploring the borders of formal and informal learning with undergraduate students of Education in the age of mobile technologies. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2015 (1),16.
  • Presentation at Learning and Teaching Conference 2018 – Building Learning Communities held at UWE Bristol, 7 June 2018.
  • Presentation at BERA Annual Conference held at Northumbria University, 12 September 2018.

Project contact: Dr Jane Andrews.
Funder: Research Progression Time (RPT) scheme (internal funding) in May 2017.


For further information about the strand, please contact members above by following their staff profile links.


Back to top