An exploration of educational technologists’ (EdTechs’) professional entanglement within the changing landscape of a higher educational organisation

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


This research sought to understand how the identities and agentic practices of a group of Educational Technologists’ (EdTechs) in Higher Education in Northern Ireland prior to, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic were selected and shaped, and how these choices intentionally and unintentionally influenced micro, meso and macro level professional structures. This thesis focuses on the relationship between structure and agency through the use of a case study to answer the main question: To what extent are EdTech participants’ professional identities, practices, and outcomes both the conditioned product of adopted external structure and the product of intentional, reflective choice? Continual reform in higher education has not only created intense demand for new digital skills acquisition but has also blurred the boundaries between academic and professional services. This blurring has become particularly apparent since the birth of Third Space and the proliferation of Educational Technologists (EdTechs), who typically operate in amorphous, liminal roles across organisations as a way to remedy market-driven digital education demands. Despite EdTechs’ evolving strategic importance as de-facto change agents in the design and operationalisation of educational provision, which has intensified since the pandemic, there is little research specifically focused on how and why EdTechs circumstantially intervene and enact change, and what the transformational consequences of that change might be. Moreover, empirical research has shown that EdTechs are increasingly repurposed, misrepresented, marginalised, unsupported, and excluded in Higher Education. It is vital, therefore, to understand who EdTechs think they are, what they do and change, and what structural forces play a role in fashioning these perceptions and actions. This study uses Strong Structuration Theory (SST), with a combination of Bhaskarian Critical Realism (BCR), Social Identity Theory (SIT), and Self-Discrepancy Theory (SDT) to help theorise how participants consciously and unconsciously mediate their identities and practices through external structural influences. These approaches also help theorise how choices were impacted by the circumstantial significance afforded to their social group status and self-standards discrepancies, along with their capacity and motivation to select between personally ideal and externally expected identity and practice during the implementation of a Learning Management System (LMS) in 2019, and the unfolding circumstances of the Covid-19 related pivot to online that followed. Sixteen self-identified Educational Technologists were recruited, through purposeful email advertisements to take part in semi-structured interviews between April 2022 and August 2022.

This thesis is embargoed until 31st Dec 2026.
Date of AwardDec 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorIbrar Bhatt (Supervisor) & Alison MacKenzie (Supervisor)


  • third space
  • professional identity
  • professional agency
  • agency
  • professionalism
  • Social identity
  • social identity theory
  • strong structuration theory
  • structuration
  • education
  • educational technologist
  • learning technologist
  • Edtech
  • higher education
  • critical realism
  • self-discrepancy theory
  • professional self-discrepancy
  • organisational change
  • organisational identification
  • covid-19
  • professional practice
  • structure
  • choice
  • change agent
  • intergroup conflict
  • management

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