Digital Participation and Professional Learning Opportunities for Rural Teachers in Scotland: Implications of the Urban-Rural Digital Divide

Helen Coker

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Internationally people living in rural locations are less likely to have good levels of digital connectivity (Chinapah and Odero, 2016, Phillip et. al., 2015). For teachers in rural schools the lack of reliable connectivity has implications beyond their use of ICT for classroom teaching. While digital culture has the potential to overcome the challenges of geography (Green and Reid, 2014), many rural places still have patchy and unreliable broadband (Phillip et. al., 2015).
For teachers working in rural settings access to the wider professional community is hampered by factors such as distance and time. This can result in sense making becoming a process of internal reflection, closed to external influences (Muijs, 2015). Enabling the flow of professional capital across rural areas could enable external influences to impact on local sense making. This, however, can be challenging as rural teachers often work in relative isolation from their professional peers (Hargreaves et. al., 2015).
Rural education should enable pupils to ‘live well’ in rural areas (Gullov, 2017), engaging with the complex nature of rural living (Bartholomeus et. al., 2014) and the importance of place (Corbett and White, 2014). Digital participation has the potential to enhance the quality of rural education through enabling the flow of professional capital (Hargreaves and Fullan, 2012). Digital spaces also have the potential to enable rural teachers to access professional learning opportunities and resources previously out of reach due to their geographical isolation.
This research acknowledged the importance of rural voice (Hargreaves, 2017, Roberts, 2017), capturing the experiences of rural teachers in Scotland. The research questions posed were:
How do teachers in rural schools access professional learning opportunities?
To what extent does digital connectivity enable rurally based teachers to engage with professional learning?
In what ways does technology mediate engagement with professional learning, formal and informal, in rural areas?
Rural schools educate ‘high proportions of the world’s children’ (Hargreaves, 2017). The role of the rural teacher, and their engagement with professional learning, is important to communities across the globe. Rural teachers, like rural children, should not be excluded from access to quality learning environments, because of the geographically disparate context in which they work. Digital participation has implications for social and economic equality (White, 2016). The experiences of teachers in rural settings potentially reflect the experiences of rural communities and have implications that are much wider than the individual engagement of teachers with their own professional learning. The digital inclusion of rural teachers’ has implications for the digital inclusion of the pupils they teach and the communities they work in.
In rural areas of Europe, broadband coverage is lower than in urban areas: less than 40% of rural EU households had access to next generation services in 2017 (European Union, 2017). In the Highlands and Islands region of Scotland broadband coverage increased from 4% at the beginning of 2013 to 86% in 2017. The current aim is 100% coverage by 2021 (HIE, 2017), reflecting wider EU initiatives (European Union, 2017). For teachers in rural schools access to connectivity will not necessarily result in successful engagement with digital resources. The online space mediates practice in a different ways to physical spaces (Coker, 2016) and the implications of digital inclusion for rural teachers are not yet fully understood.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018
EventEuropean Educational Research Association Conference: Inclusion and Exclusion, Resources for Educational Research - Bolzano Free University, Bolzano, Italy
Duration: 4 Sept 20187 Sept 2018


ConferenceEuropean Educational Research Association Conference
Abbreviated titleECER 2018
Internet address


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