This study explored how student-teachers on an English language teacher education programme in Rwanda are positioned and position themselves as they go through the process of developing and negotiating a digital teacher identity in a country that aims at becoming a regional hub for telecommunication and educational innovations. Specifically, the study sought to answer three questions focussing on digital teacher identities assigned to teachers in policies and teacher training programmes, student-teachers’ enactment of digital teacher
identities in light of their positioning by teacher educators, and digital teacher identity negotiation during a year-long teaching internship.
The study uses Positioning Theory to understand different aspects of student-teachers’ digital teacher identities as they learn to use ICTs for educational purposes. The focus is put on the identity negotiation of two student-teachers who were interviewed at the beginning, middle and end of their teaching internship. The study also uses reflective interview data from five
teacher educators who were involved in the professional development of the student-teachers. The interview data is complemented by an analysis of ten policy documents and program documents that are salient in the technology training of language teachers.
Findings indicate that student-teachers positioned themselves either as victims of poor training, role models who achieved a lot despite being under-resourced, and technologically unprepared and poorly trained to integrate ICTs in their teaching of English. However, these identity claims were motivated by student-teachers’ self-preservation and self-presentation motives as they often reflected their desire to gain favourable positions and to be recognised as unique technology-using teachers rather than to achieve pedagogical goals through their ICT practices. The study found that student-teachers relate to the socio-cultural, educational, and discipline identities to reaffirm, claim or renegotiate different positions and digital teacher identities, using three main identity negotiation strategies: making epistemic claims about the use of ICTs in teaching English and in society at large, making membership categorisations in which they claimed to belong or assigned others to certain categories of
ICT users while rejecting others, and making affective claims about their ICT practices and acceptance.
Both student-teachers and their teacher educators used contextual constraints to justify their inability to enact digital teacher identities assigned by policies, even when this could be accounted for by non-contextual factors. Findings of this study show a dissonance between these policy assigned digital teacher identities and those negotiated by student-teachers themselves or assigned to them by their teacher educators. The study concluded that the existence of acknowledged ICT access challenges and the range of educational priorities in Rwanda served as a justification for overlooking the use of ICTs and therefore the development of practice-oriented digital teacher identities on the teacher education programme, and specifically during the teaching internship. Lastly, an unexpected finding of the study is that the study itself was used by participants as a mentoring and professional development opportunity. This researching as mentoring effect of the study resulted from a lack of such opportunities in their environment. This casts research participation as a potential mentoring or professional development opportunity in such under-resourced contexts.