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Problematizing High School Students' Engagement in Online Learning Contexts: A Feminist Poststructuralist and Psychoanalytic Narrative Inquiry Open Access

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This research explored the discursive influences on and the subjective experiences of engagement of three high school students learning in online learning contexts within the United States. Feminist poststructuralist and psychoanalytic theories were employed to articulate engagement as an emotional experience of subjective reconstruction in relation to a discursively produced world. Further, a narrative case study research methodology was employed to elicit the complicated meanings given to experiences of engagement in online learning contexts. Data collection procedures involved multiple interviews with three high school students using Holloway and Jefferson's (2013) free-association narrative interview method (FANI). Interview data transcription and analysis procedures involved adaptations of James Gee's (1991) narrative analysis techniques (Emerson & Frosh, 2004). Finally, individual descriptive pen portraits and interpretive narrative cases were developed for each participant. Three themes emerged to offer an interpretive account of participants’ overall emotional Engagement while learning online: (a) experiences of difference, (b) experiences of enjoyment, and (c) experiences of difficulty. Analysis revealed that each participant’s experiences of engagement were located in negotiations of difference encountered while learning online. These experiences were unique in their potential to offer participants the opportunity to engage in working through difference by containing both good and bad thoughts related to their encounters online in order to engage in processes of self-formation (See Melanie Klein, as cited in Holloway & Jefferson, 2013). Analysis also indicated that experiences of enjoyment potentially facilitated compliance to disciplinary practices within the online learning environment, wherein enjoyment was read in terms of how it concealed relations of power that positioned students as disciplined subjects. Likewise, analysis also disclosed how difficult experiences were frequently framed within narratives of students’ struggles with and failures to comply with disciplinary demands. However, students also exhibited agency within this disciplinary space, wherein acts of deferred learning, lateral motions, or replacement discourses surfaced both unconscious and conscious resistance to the disciplinary online learning environment. The study concludes with a discussion of how the findings related to the extant literature on engagement in online learning contexts. Implications for teacher education and curriculum theory and recommendations for future study are also addressed.

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