The Screens Between Us: Capturing How Digital Platforms Mediate Science Instruction in Urban U.S. Classrooms
Tess Bernhard

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pennsylvania

Primary Discipline

Teacher Education/Teaching and Learning
My dissertation investigates how the ongoing expansion of one-to-one computing is shaping science teaching and learning within urban secondary school classrooms. The relationship between teachers and students is increasingly mediated by digital platforms such as Google Classroom, GoGuardian, and ClassDojo—technologies designed and sold by for-profit companies, which have seldom been investigated within classroom-based research in the U.S. To investigate how platforms shape instructional practice, I have partnered with experienced, reform-oriented science teachers in a large, urban district. With these teachers, I have developed multimodal classroom observation methods that pair video of physical classrooms with screen capture of teachers’ laptop screens as they teach. Using this data, I describe the multitude of digital tasks for which teachers are responsible, surfacing how the digital labor that is hidden from view shapes the instruction that unfolds. I illustrate the ways teachers’ instructional time is frequently influenced and interrupted by the need to feed data into platforms to communicate with actors outside of the classroom: administrators, parents, and absent students. In another facet of this work, I focus on students’ dialogue and sociality with one another in small group work—highlighting the ways in which students’ experiences of surveillance and control on their school-issued computers may impact the depth and comfort with which they engage in discourse. Through this work, I contribute an expanded toolkit for how we view and collect data on teachers’ instruction—making visible the often invisible platform labor that teachers and students perform every day in classrooms.
About Tess Bernhard
Tess Bernhard is a Ph.D. Candidate in Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. Tess’s scholarship is grounded in her experience as a high school science teacher in the years leading up to and through the early months of the pandemic, as a constellation of digital platforms came to govern her work life. Her work critically investigates the ongoing digitization of school infrastructures and classroom routines, asking how education technologies have come to shape teachers’ instructional practice, working conditions, and relationships with students and families.  In her work as a teacher educator, she supports both pre-service and in-service science teachers in working collectively towards ambitious and equitable visions of instruction. Across her research and teaching, she aims to unearth description of the ways science teachers creatively engage young people in discourse-rich meaning-making despite their increasing isolation behind personal computer screens. Tess’s work has been published in Learning, Media, and Technology, Journal of Science Teacher Education, and Teaching and Teacher Education. Prior to her Ph.D., Tess was a biology teacher and instructional coach in Boston, MA. She holds an A.B. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Princeton University and is a proud product of the vibrant and diverse public school system in Allentown, PA.

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