The role of blended contact for community cohesion: Lessons from Northern Ireland

Roger Austin, Rhiannon N. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The rise of populist nationalist politics round the world, endemic tensions around issues of identityand the displacement of millions of people through war and civil conflict has brought a sharp focuson the role that schools might play in building community cohesion.This article presents the findings of survey data collected from 58 teachers (36 Catholic, 21Protestant, 1 no affiliation) in Northern Ireland who had completed a course on ‘blended learning’, ablend of face to face and online contact, to link schools involved in Shared Education. This is the2016 Northern Ireland government policy designed to bring pupils from different types of schoolstogether to engage in purposeful curricular work and through collaborative learning, improveeducational outcomes and learn respect for cultural difference. Although blended learning has thepotential to increase the effectiveness of Shared Education, to date no research has empiricallyexamined teachers’ perceptions of what influence it has in this context. This study remedies thatdeficit. A number of important findings emerged from the research. First, prior to 2017, whenteachers received training in blended learning, nearly all contact between their schools was face toface. After the training, teachers stated that the use of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for jointwork was used more than either real-time video-conferencing or face to face contact and wasbelieved to have had the greatest impact on pupils’ knowledge and attitudes towards each other.Two thirds of the teachers agreed that in their future planning for Shared Education, equalimportance should be given to the place of online learning and face to face contact. Second,teachers reported that this approach had had a positive impact on friendship development, thecapacity of children to work together, respect for difference and normalising relations between theirpupils. Third, we suggest that this data provides strong endorsement of the use of blended learningfor mainstreaming Shared Education in Northern Ireland and has important lessons in other parts ofthe world where issues of ethnicity, identity and faith are obstacles to community cohesion.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTechnology Pedagogy and Education
Early online date27 Apr 2020
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online date - 27 Apr 2020

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