Pupils are using computers.
Photo: Michael Folmer/Mostphotos.

The subject content risks becoming subordinated in a digital classroom


The Swedish school system is in the midst of a rapid digitalisation process. But when digital tools are used in teaching, there is a risk of focusing on these very tools, rather than the subject being taught. This is the conclusion of a new doctoral thesis at the University of Gothenburg.

Porträtt på Anne Kjellsdotter.
Anne Kjellsdotter.

Anne Kjellsdotter has studied the teaching in a third-year class at a school which opted to invest in digital tools. Her primary focus was on a teaching example concerning a school project about space. One of her conclusions is that they ended up focusing on the digital software, not space.

The ethnographic study includes comprehensive interviews with teachers and pupils, as well as observations of teacher planning, classroom teaching, classroom interactions and the pupils’ final products. The results from four sub-studies show that the teachers’ choice to demonstrate different software without linking the specific subject content to the digital technology resulted in the software becoming the actual subject content for the pupils.

Depending on various conditions, the pupils, naturally, had different rates of success in using the digital technology. The result from one of the sub-studies shows that the pupils that were able to ask exploratory questions by themselves, and together with other friends use digital technology to find solutions, managed better in exploring the subject content compared to pupils who only used the features of the software.

In line with other research, the results of Anne Kjellsdotter’s doctoral thesis show that there is an uncertainty as to how, what and why digital tools should be used in teaching. The doctoral thesis also shows that these digital tools in actual fact may reduce teaching efficacy.

"The political, social and media pressure on teachers to integrate digital tools into teaching risks shifting the focus onto the tools themselves. However, teachers have opportunities to use their didactic expertise to decide how a specific subject shall be taught in the classroom. For this reason, it is important that teachers use this expertise to teach specific content in the manner they themselves find is most appropriate in order to achieve the desired result, whether through analogue or digital tools", says Anne Kjellsdotter.

Anne Kjellsdotter at the Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies (IDPP) will be defending her thesis at 13.00 on Friday, May 8, 2020.

Contact: Anne Kjellsdotter, phone +31–786 23 81, email

Title: Didactical Considerations in the Digitalized Classroom