Teacher agency and the digital: empowerment or control?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Teachers are both controlling agents and controlled subjects, in any educational system. Educational research has approached this dual role from a variety of practical and theoretical angles, the most notable perhaps being the perspective of teacher autonomy as it is negotiated between, simply speaking, structure and agency. This essay urges to more critically illuminate the relationship between our conceptions of teacher agency on the one side, and student empowerment on the other. It discusses under what circumstances increased teacher agency may lead to more student empowerment, and generally to a more democratic understanding of schooling; and conversely, how strengthened teacher agency may be able to constrain student empowerment.

To illustrate the argument, the essay draws on observations from the author’s fieldwork at Chinese schools. Particular focus is put on the use of digital technologies, or information and communication technologies, for educational purposes (ICT4E). ICT4E have been associated with a range of benefits, among them their conduciveness for more diversified teaching and more interactive, student-centered learning, as well as for more student participation and strengthened teacher agency. The essay first presents what has been discussed to be the virtues of ICT4E. It moves on to question the naturalized relationship between teacher agency and student empowerment, to then scrutinize how ICT4E, teacher agency, and student empowerment play out in specific contexts. The essay concludes by arguing that we need not lose sight of our normative and political assumptions when discussing teacher agency.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Educational Sciences


  • teacher agency, student empowerment, information and communication technologies for education (ICT4E), politics of education, China
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
Journalon_education. Journal for Research and Debate
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch

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