Book Review

The Journal Postdigital Science and Education invited me to read the fabulous book “Student Engagement in the Digital University: Sociomaterial Assemblages,” published by Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver in 2018. The review I wrote starts with the following introduction:

Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver’s Student Engagement in the Digital University: Sociomaterial Assemblages (2018) is a welcome and critical contribution to the study of how students actually engage with the digital university in everyday practice. Inspired by scholars in New Literacy Studies (NLS), Science and Technology Studies (STS), and by Actor-Network Theory (ANT), Gourlay and Oliver argue for a socio-material understand- ing of students’ digital engagement by adopting assemblages (Latour 2005; Fenwick et al. 2015; Bennett 2010) as a conceptual lens. The authors make their case through the study of ‘students’ day-to-day practices of studying’ (62) in the digital university and develop their argument in 12 compelling chapters that read as a liberating narrative from the non- stop messianic ‘tech-talk’ in education (Selwyn 2016: ix). In this context, Gourlay and Oliver (2018) unpack complex issues like How do current discourses and ideologies position students, teachers, scholarship, and the university in relation to the digital in higher education? How does research in education approach students’ agency in the digital university? What kind of revolution follows the use of digital technology in universities―if any? What can (or cannot) we as researchers perceive when applying models and frameworks on empirical student data?

Reading about these issues offers a breath of fresh air that entices the curious reader to learn more about ‘student engagement as a set of socio-material practices’ (Gourlay and Oliver 2018: 9) and to engage with the ‘messy, imperfect, contingent and improvised’ (11) nature of student practices in digital-analog entanglements. By doing so, one embarks on an intellectually stimulating journey that starts with offering a critique to abstract discourses of the digital in higher education; continues with empirical studies of the students’ day-to-day practices in the digital university; and ends by suggesting assemblages as a lens for the study of socio-material practices in higher education.

Cerratto Pargman, T. Review of Lesley Gourlay and Martin Oliver (2018). Student Engagement in the Digital University: Sociomaterial AssemblagesPostdigit Sci Educ (2020).