Mar Beneyto-Seoane

Universitat de Vic - Universitat Central de Catalunya (Spain)

Dr. Mar Beneyto-Seoane is an associate professor in the Department of Pedagogy at the Universidad de Vic-UCC. She currently teaches at the master’s degree and the degree of Social Education. Her main fields of study and research are the study of inequalities, inclusion and digital participation in the educational and social areas.

Jordi Collet-Sabé

Universitat de Vic - Universitat Central de Catalunya (Spain)

Dr. Jordi Collet-Sabé is a tenured professor of Sociology of Education at the Universidad de Vic-UCC, where he has been the Vice-Chancellor for Research since 2019. He has conducted research and published internationally on educational policies; school, family and community relations; educational equity; family socialization and democracy. He has been Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Education - University College London. 0000-0001-8526-9997

RECEIVED: January 9, 2020 / ACCEPTED: May 05, 2020

OBRA DIGITAL, 19, September 2020 - January 2021, pp. 29-44, e-ISSN 2014-5039



This article presents the results of a doctoral thesis that analyzes the digital school technology from a democratic perspective and develops an action research to promote the participation, inclusion and reduction of inequalities in this field. The research has focused on thinking, designing and building more democratic digital practices in a diverse Catalan school with the aim of reducing the digital gap that exists between the different members of the educational community and promoting more and better participation and inclusion. In this paper, we show the impact that the incorporation of school digital technology from this democratic perspective generates in the governance of the educational center. Mainly, the results show that this perspective generates more spaces for digital participation and improves the relationships established in these spaces.


Social inequality, Democracy, Educational technology, Participation, Family-school relationship.


El presente artículo presenta los resultados de una tesis doctoral que analiza la tecnología digital escolar en clave democrática, y desarrolla una investigación-acción para promover la participación, la inclusión y reducir las desigualdades en este ámbito. La investigación se ha centrado en pensar, diseñar y construir prácticas digitales más democráticas en una escuela catalana diversa, con la finalidad de reducir la brecha digital que existe entre los distintos miembros de la comunidad educativa y promover más y mejor participación e inclusión. En este artículo mostramos el impacto que la incorporación de la tecnología digital escolar desde esta perspectiva democrática genera en la gobernanza del centro educativo. Principalmente, los resultados nos muestran que esta perspectiva genera más espacios de participación digital y mejora las relaciones que se establecen en estos espacios.

Palabras clave:

Desigualdad social, Democracia, Tecnología de la educación, Participación, Relación padres-escuela.


Este artigo apresenta os resultados de uma tese de doutorado que analisa a tecnologia digital democrática da escola e desenvolve uma pesquisa-ação para promover a participação, a inclusão e reduzir as desigualdades nesse campo. A pesquisa concentrou-se em pensar, projetar e construir práticas digitais mais democráticas em uma escola catalã diversa, com o objetivo de reduzir o fosso digital existente entre os diferentes membros da comunidade educacional e promover mais e melhor participação e inclusão. Neste artigo, mostramos o impacto que a incorporação da tecnologia digital escolar a partir dessa perspectiva democrática gera na governança do centro educacional. Principalmente, os resultados mostram que essa perspectiva gera mais espaços para a participação digital e melhora as relações que se estabelecem nesses espaços.


Desigualdade social, Democracia, Tecnologia educacional, Participação, Relação pais-escola.


The incorporation of digital technology has shaken the daily practices and dynamics of schools (Bosco et al., 2016). Not only with regard to the material dimension (location of the computer room, the computer cart and interactive whiteboards in the classrooms, among other examples), the time dimension (dedication of a certain amount of teaching time to learning linked to digital technologies) or that related to content (incorporation of digital competence in the school curriculum), but also in what is more hidden and invisible: interpersonal relationships between different educational actors (Albar, 1996; Castells, 2003). Given this situation, a review of the scientific literature shows a persistent and growing interest in the nature (what) and the organization (how) of the relationships that occur in the school context with the use of digital technology. (Adell & Castañeda, 2015; Beneyto-Seoane & Collet-Sabé, 2016; Beneyto-Seoane & Collet-Sabé, 2018; Beneyto-Seoane et al., 2013; Bosco et al., 2016; Cobo, 2017; Fullan, 2013; Selwyn, 2011, 2016). And what are its effects (expected and unexpected) in educational, relational, democratic and inclusive terms.

This article is added to the investigations that seek to describe, understand and improve digital relationships in the educational context from a democratic and inclusive perspective (Baena et al., 2020). Specifically, it focuses on the impact that adopting a democratic perspective in the face of digital school inequalities could generate. For this, it starts from the theoretical framework, methodology and results of a doctoral thesis on democratic digital school technology, in which an action research on participation and digital inequalities in schools is carried out.


Talking about digital relationships in the school context implies attending to the relations of digital inequality. But what do we understand by digital inequality in the school context? To conceptualize this term, we start from two references in the field of digital and educational research. On the one hand, the sociological perspective of the Relational System of the Digital Divide (Van Deursen & Van Dijk, 2010; Van Dijk, 2012, 2005; Van Dijk & Van Deursen, 2014). And on the other hand, the Dimensions of School Democracy (Feu et al., 2017; Feu et al., 2016).

Regarding to Relational System of the Digital Divide, Van Dijk (2005) exposes that the point of departure of this notion of inequality is neither the essences of individuals nor the essences of particular collectives or systems but the bonds, relationships, interactions, and transactions between people” (p.11). In this sense, the relational system is defined as a structure that links different elements that condition, determine or influence digital inequality. For this author, this perspective has two advantages. On the one hand, digital inequality does not reside solely in the particular characteristics of each individual, “this kind of explanation will unearth more of the actual mechanisms creating inequality than will an explanation in terms of individual attributes” (Van Dijk, 2005, p. 12). On the other hand, it allows differentiation of various types of inequality, since it understands that inequality is created according to how the structures of society value and position the individual characteristics of people: the social recognition of differences and the structural aspects of society refer to the relatively permanent and systemic nature of the differentiation called inequality” (Van Dijk, 2005, p. 12).

The relational system proposed by Van Dijk is characterized by four elements: categorical characteristics (personal: sex, age, birth origin, competencies and personality; and position: work, family, nationality and education); the distribution of resources (power relations with material, temporal, mental, social, and cultural resources); access to digital technologies (related to motivation, material or physical, skills and uses); and participation in society (how people digitally participate in the society). The link established between these four dimensions allows describing how digital inequality is generated and structured:

1.- The structural inequalities of society (derived from the value assigned to categorical characteristics) produce an unequal distribution of resources.

2.- An unequal distribution of resources causes unequal access to digital technologies.

3.- Uneven access to digital technologies also depends on the characteristics of these technologies.

4.- Unequal access to digital technologies causes unequal participation in society.

5.- Unequal participation in society reinforces structural inequalities and unequal distribution of resources.

Faced with this system of inequality, the same author considers that the school environment is one of the most important for applying practices that reduce the digital divide so that it influences the future in the context of society.

In relation to the Dimensions of School Democracy (Feu et al., 2017; Feu et al., 2016), it is a perspective that proposes four dimensions to identify and define democratic school practices. These dimensions are (Feu et al., 2013, pp. 4-6):

The reason that leads us to use this perspective of school democracy to analyze digital inequalities is that there is a close link with the relational system approach explained above. A first example of this is that there is a familiarity between the power relation systems (which decide the distribution of resources) and the organs of power (governance). A second example is found in the fact that access to digital technology (whether material or temporary) is directly related to the basic conditions of quality of life (habitability). A last example is that attending to the inequality system implies recognizing the others, who are not like “us” (alterity). In this sense, if we add the relational system of the digital divide approach to the democratic school perspective, we can make visible, analyze and propose responses to the digital inequality that we find in educational centers and among its members (teachers, students, families and administration and services personnel “ASP”). On the one hand, because it contemplates the elements that condition and structure digital inequality (Van Deursen & Van Dijk, 2010; Van Dijk, 2012, 2005; Van Dijk & Van Deursen, 2014). And on the other hand, because it views them from a democratic and inclusive perspective that seeks to overcome these inequalities (Feu et al., 2017, 2013, 2016).

Starting from this double theoretical approach, one of the research questions was: what impacts on inclusion and participation could the incorporation of the democratic digital perspective generate in the school governance of an educational center?

In order to answer this question, we present what were the decision-making processes that were carried out at the center in relation to school organs of government, as well as describe the changes and impacts caused by the digital democratic perspective in the participation bodies (pre and post investigation). We are going to describe this process taking into account the perspective and experience of the different members of the school community: teachers, students, families and administration and services personnel (ASP).


Action research was chosen from the start (Cohen et al., 2011; Elliott, 1993; Ferrance, 2000; Lewin, 1946; Stenhouse, 1993; Ulvik et al., 2017), for being a methodology in which changes are introduced for school improvement through the collaboration, participation and decision making of the members of the same educational community. In this research, this methodology involved a process of planning, acting, observing and self-reflecting on a situation. It was carried out through the active participation of the researcher and the people involved in the situation (Bartolomé, 1992; Elliott, 1993; Kemmis & MacTaggart, 1988a; Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988b; Latorre, 2003; McNiff et al., 2003; Ulvik et al., 2017; Beneyto-Seoane et al. 2019). Specifically, the action research focused on: determine the digital and participatory reality in the school context; accompany the educational community in the incorporation and use of digital school technology from a democratic perspective; and determine the impact of digital practices on digital inequalities, educational inclusion and school governance.

In relation to the data collection tools, the action research used: interviews, discussion groups, questionnaires and document analysis (Bisquerra, 2004; Cohen et al., 2011; Quintanal & García, 2012; Rodríguez et al., 1999).

Regarding the context, the research was carried out at a public school from a municipality of 45,000 inhabitants in the province of Barcelona, which offers classes from the second cycle of infant education to primary education (it is a school of about 450 students, 350 families and a team of 30 teachers). The profile of the families of the center is characterized by a great cultural diversity (60% of them were born outside of Spain). The families’ level of studies is medium low (only 36.4% have passed primary school and 39% have completed secondary school). In the professional and labor sphere, 72.6% of families occupy unskilled jobs. In addition, the peripheral location of the school in relation to the center of the city causes it to be far from most of the municipal public services such as the library, the university, municipal offices, museums, the art center, etc.

The main reasons for choosing this center were the ease of access to information and the development of the study and, on the other hand, the characteristics of the school itself (diverse and unequal family profiles with a clear desire to improve its educational practice, and involved in educational and digital innovation networks).

Regarding the data collection and analysis process, 4 main phases are distinguished: preliminary, initial, central and final.

The action research has collected and analyzed information from five actors of the school community: the students, their families, the teaching team, ASP, and the documentation of the center as well.

This methodological structure allowed to collect data on technology, the digital inequalities of a specific school and, focusing on the purpose of this article, on the impact that its incorporation has generated in school governance.


In this section, we expose the impact of action research on school governance. The results have been divided according to the dimensions of governance proposed by Feu et al. (2013): according to the structure or participation bodies (virtual spaces where you can participate) and according to the procedures or relationships established in these bodies.


As we pointed out, talking about the participation bodies refers to the structures or spaces where people meet, speak, participate, collaborate, make decisions and act. The results show us that the incorporation of the democratic perspective in the digital dimension of the school has promoted the creation of new structures and digital participation bodies.

Next, we present the different structures that were created as? the first results of the action research.





In the different spaces that we have just presented, we can observe dimensions such as access (motivation, material, skills and uses) (Van Dijk, 2005) or habitability (creating the conditions for participation) (Feu et al., Serra, Canimas & Simó, 2013) are present. For example, access to technology is promoted, interests and motivations are gathered to design a digital technology adapted to school needs and interests, and the knowledge of the different members is recognized to improve their digital skills.

From the spaces and bodies that we have just exposed, we can sketch the following section linked to the procedures and relationships established in these participation bodies.


When we speak of the impact on procedures and relationships from a digital democratic perspective, we refer to the transformations that have occurred in the objects of discussion (the aspects on which decisions are made) and in decision-making (relationships of power that are established when participating in technological environments) (Feu et al., 2013) that occur in the spaces of participation. We also refer to power relations, the distribution of resources or the recognition of others for digital access (Van Dijk, 2005).

In relation to the spaces for participation and decision-making, we observe that the people involved in the spaces of participation have mainly been all school agents (teachers, students, families, and non-teaching staff) based on the results collected in the final and reflection phase (2017-2018). However, those who have made almost all the decisions have been the teachers. They were primarily responsible for thinking, designing, building, and developing action research actions. Next, we specifically expose how the relationships established from the research have been.


As we have previously explained, the teachers decided to create a new WhatsApp group. The intention was to be able to differentiate important school information from more personal information. This intention indicates that the democratic digital perspective promotes that teachers want to improve the quality of participation in digital decision-making spaces. In other words, the perspective encourages teachers to bet on improving the quality of access to digital school technology (Van Dijk, 2005) and improving their participation and involvement in school decisions.

A second result that we find in the relations of digital participation of teachers is that the democratic digital perspective modifies the power relations that exist in the teaching staff. The decision to create and design a new WhatsApp group was made based on the interest and need of the entire teaching staff (and not only from the management team). This situation shows us that this perspective generates experiences of equality among teachers, regardless of the position they occupy.


Through the results of the research on the relationships of digital participation of students, we observe that at the end of the project there have been some changes in decision making and student access.

An example is that, at the beginning of the research, the students could make some decisions about aspects related to the classroom (choose who to do the work with, who to sit with or what to do in their spare time), but no decision was linked to the digital environment. On the other hand, in the final results, the voice of the students (their opinions and motivations) took a new dimension and influenced the type of digital activities that were carried out in the classroom. This change occurred because the teachers recognized the opinion of the students and decided to incorporate their motivations into the educational practice. This situation can be observed in the recommendation of books through YouTube and the training on network security.

From these examples we highlight three aspects. First, we observe that adopting the democratic digital perspective promotes that the school looks for new ways of articulating student participation (Dahl, 1999; Dewey, 1995; Feu et al., 2013) and improve motivational access to technology (Van Dijk, 2005). Second, it encourages teachers to build strategies to guarantee the same access to digital technology for all students (Van Dijk, 2005) when training on digital security is offered to all students. Third, although we observe that the democratic digital perspective has favored the recognition of the interests of the students and has promoted certain changes in classroom practice, there is still a long way to go regarding decision-making. Through the results we observe that who ends up making the last decision about the digital actions that concern the students are the teachers, and in no case are the students themselves. In the initial phase, the students formulated a list of improvements that they would make in relation to digital school technology (e.g., create a web communication space, make videos about their abilities, access computers in informal spaces, among others), but the teachers were the ones who prioritized and chose the proposals, and established how and when they would be carried out. In other words, the digital democratic perspective favors the recognition of the interests and needs of students (what), but it does not seem to make them participate in decision-making (how and when), nor does it profoundly modify the power relations established between teachers and students (Dijk, 2005; Feu et al., 2013).


When we compare the initial and final results on the school governance of families, we observe that after the action research there were certain changes in the relationships of digital participation of families. Some of the most relevant changes are linked to power relations and digital access.

Regarding power relations, families showed a high interest in being more informed about school daily life and in improving their participation in school in the first results. The teachers showed similar interests. Faced with this situation, families and teachers organized to think about how they could improve their relationship and collaboration. To respond to this need, they jointly created a WhatsApp group. This situation shows us that embracing the democratic digital perspective allows families and teachers to speak, share and reflect on their relationships and how they participate in the school. It also motivates them to promote improvement actions. This situation indicates that the democratic digital perspective favors the approach, recognition and collaboration between families and teachers. (Feu et al., 2013).

Another aspect that the results of the research related to power relations show us is regarding the degree of institutionalization. We observe that after adopting the democratic perspective, families not only make decisions in the formal government bodies (school council, SPA, coordination ...), but they begin to be taken in more informal and digital spaces (the WhatsApp group of families and teachers). This informal digital space also becomes a space for consensus and decision-making, a space for governance.

In the final results we also observe that families, apart from being the recipients of school information, begin to have a more active and participatory role (at the time they take charge of the WhatsApp groups and their rules). We note that teachers give them some decision-making power in this area. This indicates that the democratic digital perspective conditions the degree of decision-making, allowing families to stop being mere recipients of information and allowing them to become more part of the digital school environment.

The changes produced in the digital relations between families and schools, in the degree of institutionalization and in the degree in decision-making, indicate that the democratic digital perspective once again affects power relations (more horizontal and equal relations are established between families and teachers) (Collet-Sabé and Martori, 2018); in the distribution of resources (more spaces are created to communicate, collaborate and participate); and in digital participation (Van Dijk, 2005), although teachers are the last agents to approve (or not) a decision.

In relation to digital access, we observe that the democratic digital perspective has promoted inclusive digital practices that have sought to reduce the existing digital divide between families. An example of this were the Catalan language classes in school digital technology. These have tried to offer families both linguistic and digital skills in order to be able to function satisfactorily in everyday school, regardless of their categorical characteristics. (Van Dijk, 2005).


In relation to the ASP, the results of the research show us that the democratic digital perspective promotes, as we have already commented in previous situations, the creation of new spaces for digital participation, especially when the intention is to make those most invisible school agents visible. (Barroso, 1995; Feu et al., 2013). However, we observe that the creation of these digital spaces has generated some discontent in the ASP that has participated in the research after analyzing the results. This data analysis shows us that this discontent arises because the incorporation of said perspective has been imposed and does not appear from the motivation of the agents involved (from the management team to the ASP).

This situation shows two aspects. On the one hand, the democratic digital perspective insists on recognizing and including those invisible school agents. On the other hand, the imposition of the democratic digital perspective does not guarantee that the agents participate in a real and meaningful way. This situation makes it necessary to improve power relations, promote equity in the distribution of resources (Van Dijk, 2005) and incorporate this perspective from the proposal, collaborative construction and taking joint decisions (Feu et al., 2013), in order to integrate this perspective in a satisfactory way.


Through the results of action research, we can draw three major conclusions. First, we can conclude that the democratic digital perspective pushes the different members of the school community to speak together about school participation, reflect on what are the existing power relations in the center, rethink the distribution of digital resources and improve school digital access.

Secondly, we observe that the democratic digital perspective promotes, on the one hand, the recognition of all members of the educational community in decision-making bodies. On the other hand, it encourages the generation of new digital spaces for participation that are more inclusive and less unequal.

Third and lastly, despite the clear intentions of the perspective to improve digital and democratic quality, we observe that there is still a hierarchical order that limits progress towards optimal quality. An order in which teachers have the last word (power) in everything related to digital school technology and participation (on students, families and ASP). Teachers are ultimately responsible for deciding what needs are prioritized, what actions are developed and how they should be done. In this sense, there is still a long way to go and this perspective must be developed to achieve greater horizontality, better participation and inclusion of all the school community. In this way, it seeks to avoid possible situations of exclusion (as in the case of prioritizing the list of student needs) or discontent (as we have observed in the case of ASP).


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