Literacies, new technologies and young people : negotiating the interface in secondary school

2017-01-13T02:01:53Z (GMT) by Bulfin, Scott Anthony
This study investigated how young people aged 15-16 use new media technologies in school. The study’s main aim was to provide a fine-grained account of the participants’ engagement with new technologies and to consider the implications for language and literacy learning. In particular, the study examined the participants’ sanctioned and unsanctioned use of literacy and new technologies and explored how these are negotiated. Negotiation, a key concept in the study, is defined as a process of navigating and maneuvering within and though a complex network of discourses, relationships and competing interests. Rather than relying on the limited and limiting argument about a home-school mismatch between industrial era schools and the ‘digital natives’ who supposedly populate them, the study explores the connections and the disconnections, between literacies and new technologies, across school and home domains. The study draws on theoretical perspectives offered by the New Literacy Studies and develops a critical-historical perspective on literacy and new technologies, seeing them as negotiated practices rather than as technical processes. The investigation employed a multiple case-study design with an ethnographic research orientation. Participants were recruited from Year 10 English classes across five schools representing a range of cultural and economic backgrounds from three education sectors (state, Catholic and independent). Data were generated through observations, interviews, online communications and the collection of documents and artefacts. In total, 24 cases were conducted. Analysis involved coding transcripts and fieldnotes for literacy events, activities and practices and examining these with discourse analysis techniques. The findings suggest that the relationship between school-authorised technology use and students’ out-of-school use is not a simple mismatch. While most participants experienced a mix of frustration, apathy and ambivalence towards the use of new technologies in school, there was little evidence of wholesale disaffection. Indeed, the findings showed evidence of productive engagement. Some of the participants created opportunities within the official school curriculum for new technology uses which connected to their everyday practices. Significantly, the study found evidence of participants’ tactical use of new technologies: their digital literacy underlife. The participants employed these practices of negotiation in the cracks and fissures of the official curriculum to playfully undermine, satirise and make school space more liveable. These underlife practices allowed the participants to ‘blend’, ‘mix’ and ‘remediate’ school and out-of-school activities, using them to negotiate alternative spaces, identities and relationships within school environments. These empirical findings about literacies and new technologies as negotiated practices suggest the need to reexamine the school-home binary: to see literacy as multiply situated and stretched across domains of practice in complex ways. Young people’s digital literacy underlife is too easily dismissed as unworthy of critical attention in schools. However, the study suggests that such practices provide opportunities for young people to exercise agency in creating alternative curriculum spaces to support productive meaning-making and identity work. Further, the thesis reexamines the idea of ‘negotiating the curriculum’ by exploring how these findings might inform the theorising and design of English/literacy curriculum so that it is better able to offer alternative forms of literate identity and practice.