Narrative Ecologies: Teachers as Pedagogical Toolmakers

‘Narrative Ecologies’ frames a number of case studies of educators’ adopting new technologies around a thoroughly argued Narrative Ecology model, developed by the book’s author, Keith Turvey.

Metaphor for narrative ecology Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Before kicking off with reviewing the book, I should probably start by answering the question that I had when the book first landed on my desk, ‘What exactly are Narrative Ecologies?’. Fortunately  Turvey summarises the synthesis of narrative and ecology quite early on in the book, stating that narrative ecologies “recognise that agents [in this case, educators] both shape and are shaped by the technological, sociocultural and pedagogical context in which they operate”. As such, Turvey attempts to map his model of Narrative Ecologies to the data he collected researching how student teachers adopt new technological tools.

In the first chapter Turvey sets out his stall early and quickly justifies his reasoning as to why teachers, and not technologies, are in control of the process of adopting new technologies into educational practice. He states, “Technologically enhanced pedagogical development can be established and realised only through observation, critical reflection and development in and on practice by those at the centre of this process; hence the notion of teachers as pedagogical toolmakers” before going on to argue that this means a teacher-centred approach to professional development with new technologies is needed.

Chapters 2 through to 4 then make the case for this approach and give good insights into both how and why Turvey was led to developing the Narrative Ecology model. In Chapter 2, Turvey explains how policy changes (both locally and nationally), as well as developments in the understanding of what e-learning is and how it’s approached by individuals, have led to a need to refocus on teacher-agency and pedagogy. These thoughts lead him to pose the question, “How can we design a pedagogical a methodological approach that captures the tension and complexity between the technological, socio-cultural environment and individual agents?”

A brief look at how language and the position of the researcher can affect the collection and analysis of research data in Chapter 3 offers both a helpful conclusion to anyone looking to complete research in this area and a nice insight into the author’s development and presentation of the model.

“The analysis of language or, more specifically, participants’ utterances and actions offers a bridge to a deeper understanding of their intrinsic motivations but this has to be contextualised within agents’ broader communicative landscape and contexts”

Bringing these thoughts together, the model is then introduced and detailed in Chapter 4 before being applied to data collected from 5 student teachers adopting technologies in Chapters 5-9.

For any readers who are slightly less research-focused, and have more of an interest in the different ways teachers adopt technologies, Chapters 5-10 are probably where they will find the most interest. Mapping the student teachers’ responses to his model, Turvey allows for an accessible overview of the variety of factors affecting new teachers’ adopting tools and the importance to which they assign each of the factors. It was particularly interesting to see how the different approaches to technology adoption that Learning Technologists and Educational Developers note in teaching professionals can be modelled, detailed and interconnected using the Narrative Ecology model.


The book concludes with a final chapter which amalgamates the findings from the application of the model to the 5 student teachers and refers back to the research questions posed in Chapter 1. Tuvey concludes by arguing that the findings from his narrative cases suggest that mediation and appropriation is affected by the educator’s intentions and, as such, the process is a two-way one with educators “actively shaping the ways in which they appropriate tools for a specific purpose.” These findings are then used to support the need for a Narrative Ecologies model as “highlighting some of the shortcomings in theories of professional learning that fail to adequately recognise the significance of the experience beyond the traditional frames of the classroom, school, lecture theatre or university”.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Narrative Ecologies’ and, as an Educational Developer, the book has given me a more expanded view of what factors need to be considered when asking educators to adopt new technologies. A slight word of caution to the ALT blog readers that this book, whilst short, is reasonably theoretical and potentially more of interest to persons completing research in this particular area than to the more casual practitioners of learning technologies. Nevertheless, Turvey has done a fantastic job arguing the case for his model, using vignettes and personal experiences to make the theoretical side of the book more accessible whilst his findings have given a lot of food-for-thought to anyone working with educators in the adoption of technological tools.

Nick Botfield

Educational Developer, University of Bedfordshire

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Image ‘metaphor for narrative ecology’ licensed under the Creative Commons, attributed to Michael Gäbler

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