MA Digital Technologies, Communication and Education

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Digital Education Futures (Distance Learning)

Course unit fact file
Unit code EDUC77091
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Emerging technologies such as Generative Artificial Intelligence, Augmented/Virtual Reality, Data Visualisation and Machine Learning could transform education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. This unit develops a critical approach to the role of emerging technologies in shaping the future of education through detailed case studies of emerging technologies, alongside more established innovations such as Big Data and Massively Open Online Courses.  




This course unit aims to provide an understanding of emerging technologies (such as machine learning, augmented/virtual reality, generative AI and data visualisation) which are used within education. It will explore the implications, for education and learning, of these technologies with a view to supporting critical but open-minded engagement with their potential. Students will develop understandings of themes and concepts relevant to these emerging technologies through a series of detailed case studies. These will be supported through critical perspectives on digital pedagogy, digital design, organisational sociology and political economy which support analysis of the claims being made about these technologies, the commercial interests underpinning them and their pedagogical potential. The course seeks to equip students with transferable skills for critical analysis of emerging technologies beyond these case studies. It will enable them to undertake independent research with a view to understanding the potential of technological innovations in applied settings, while remaining resistant to the hype which surrounds them.








1) Detailed case studies of four emerging technologies in education: machine learning, augmented/virtual reality, generative AI and data visualisation. These will be supplemented by briefer engagement with MOOCs, personalised learning and gamification to illustrate the wider concerns of the unit.

2) An overview of current debates around data, design for and analysis of data and implications for education and learning. Exploration of how data is gathered, including design principles, issues of algorithmic bias and learning analytics. The unit will position big data and machine learning as foundational to the other case studies of four emerging technologies in education: machine learning, augmented/virtual reality, generative AI and data visualisation. These will be supplemented by briefer engagement with MOOCs, personalised learning and gamification to illustrate the wider concerns of the unit.

3) Perspectives from organisational sociology and political economy to understand the commercial motivations of educational technology firms, their capacity to influence educational policy and how this manifests itself in their uptake within schools, colleges and universities. 

4) Ethical and social implications of perspectives embedded in technology design and use including security, privacy and associated debates on regulation and openness. Overview of critical perspectives on digital education with a view to achieving a fair balance between caution and pragmatism with regards to emerging technologies.


Teaching and learning methods

The course unit will be three blocks of four weeks, built around a two hour lecture /seminar, as well as an independent reading week exercise:        

1) Case studies of big data & machine learning, virtual/augmented reality, generative AI and data visualisation which will involve a mixture of lecture content, seminar discussion, hands on experimentation and field visits [MC1] to use these technologies in applied contexts. [MC2] This will be supplemented by a ‘taster’ session which includes overviews of MOOCs, personalised learning and gamification as once emerging technologies which are now well established in education.
2) Critical engagement with debates around data, design for and analysis of data and implications for education and learning. Students will be supported in identifying and analyzing their own digital environment and digital footprint, in order to ground subsequent discussion in their immediate experience as digital agents[MC3] . Perspectives from political economy and organizational sociology will be used to explore why technology is taken up in educational organizations in the way it is, as well as the wider economic factors which motivate the development of educational technology.

3) Exploration[MC4]  of the implications of emerging technologies for digital education futures. Students will form into working groups and choose a case study for assessment 2. These sessions will be organized in a tutorial format to support the students in self-directed research. One of these sessions will involve formative feedback on a presentation to the class about their case study. There will also be a podcasting workshop intended to support them in the development of the podcast.

Students will be supported through this process by an additional web resource [MC5] which capture and provide background to lecture material, as well as provide branching guidance for going further on case studies (block 1), critical perspectives (block 2) and group research (block 3).



Knowledge and understanding

Understand core concepts around emerging technologies in education, particularly with regards to the foundational role of digital data. [MC1] 

Recognise how design and analytical approaches draw on theories of learning and conceptual assumptions.

Identify how design decisions and commercial imperatives reinforce and privilege certain discourses about learning and education.

Intellectual skills

Critically evaluate academic literature and learning resources in terms of emerging technologies in education, particularly with regards to digital data.

Critically reflect on their own practices with technology for learning and education in terms of security and privacy issues.

Critically evaluate claims concerning the potentials and pitfalls of emerging technologies in education. 


Practical skills

Undertake collaborative research on emerging technologies.

Present findings of collaborative research in oral presentation.

Produce audio resources to collect and present original research.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Explore case studies on how data is used, including algorithmic bias and learning analytics

Explore ethical and social implications of perspectives embedded in technological design

Understand current debates around emerging technologies


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 30%
Practical skills assessment 70%

Students develop a research poster which is a case study of an emerging technology in education, grounded in the critical perspectives engaged with during the unit. This is submitted remotely for assessment.

One page

(equivalent to 1000 words) 30%

Students develop a twenty minute podcast in groups of 3-5 which analyses the implications of an emerging technology in education, either through a present day appraisal of the issues surrounding it or a speculative report from an imagined future where that technology has become mainstream within the education system.

20 minutes

(equivalent to 2000 words) 70%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be available on Blackboard

Recommended reading

Ball, M. (2022). The metaverse: and how it will revolutionize everything. Liveright Publishing.

Bozkurt, A. (2023). Generative artificial intelligence (AI) powered conversational educational agents: The inevitable paradigm shift. Asian Journal of Distance Education.

Cooper, G. (2023). Examining Science Education in ChatGPT: An Exploratory Study of Generative Artificial Intelligence. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 1-9.

Domingos, P. (2015) The Master Algorithm: How the quest for the ultimate learning machine will remake our world. Penguin: UK.

Donohoe, D., & Costello, E. (2020). Data visualisation literacy in higher education: An exploratory study of understanding of a learning dashboard tool. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), 15(17), 115-126.

Eubanks, V. (2017) Automating Inequality. St. Martin’s Press: New York.

Eyal, N. (2014). Hooked: How to build habit-forming products.

O’Neil, C. (2016) Weapons of Math Destruction. Penguin, UK

Watters, A. (2014) The Monsters of Education Technology. Retrieved from and at:

Thaler, R. H. and C. R. Sunstein. (2009). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. New York: Penguin Books

Williamson, B. (Ed.). (2015). Coding/Learning: software and digital data in education. Stirling: University of Stirling.

Williamson, B. (2017) Big data in Education: The digital future of learning, policy and practice.  Sage: London.

Zang J, Dummit K, Graves J, Lisker P, Sweeney L. (2015). Who Knows What About Me? A Survey of Behind the Scenes Personal Data Sharing to Third Parties by Mobile Apps. Technology Science. Retrieved from:

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Practical classes & workshops 150

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Mark Carrigan Unit coordinator

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