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Digital diversity: a study of teachers’ everyday digital literacy practices
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posted on 19.05.2017by Tour, Ekaterina
As digital media have become increasingly integrated in everyday life, there have been calls for new literacies to become an integral part of language and literacy education. Yet traditional approaches to digital technologies, which position technology as an occasional add-on to existing pedagogies, continue to persist in Australian school settings. The role of teachers and their approaches to digital technologies have been acknowledged in efforts to explain the challenges associated with teaching and learning new literacies. However, little is known about what shapes their encounters with digital technologies beyond institutional constraints. The research reported in this thesis aimed to address this gap.
The study was informed by the body of work known as Literacy Studies which conceptualises literacy as a social practice and emphasises the close and complex relationships between literacy practices, technology, socio-cultural contexts, identities, beliefs and values. The study investigated language and literacy teachers’ everyday digital literacy practices to help explain why teaching and learning new literacies in school settings continues to represent a challenge. It focused on teachers’ ways of thinking about digital technologies: how they are constructed, and how they shape their experiences. Detailed accounts of teachers’ digital literacy practices promised to highlight what encourages and what constrains their engagement with new literacies in their everyday lives.
Located within the theory and practice of qualitative inquiry, the research employed a case study approach, focusing on five language and literacy teachers working in Melbourne, Australia, who volunteered to participate. The four female teachers and one male teacher ranged in age from 31 to 53. The data sources included demographic profiles with background information about the participants, participant-generated digital photographs of their everyday practices with technologies, individual interviews and online observations over a period of two to three months in social networking spaces including professional blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Data analysis involved two intertwined approaches: visual data analysis and thematic analysis.
The study found that the participants’ digital literacy practices ranged from the traditional, resembling conventional literacies performed in a more technologised way, to the ‘new’, which were multimodal, participatory, collaborative, creative and hybrid in character. The combination of traditional and new was identified across all the cases with some practices more dominant than others. The participants’ traditional literacy practices supported their everyday lives effectively, while the new literacy practices provided them with opportunities for engaging in new experiences and constructing new identities and relationships. Notably, in the context of their everyday practices, three of the five participants engaged in informal professional learning online through Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), a form of learning that was participant-driven, active, communication-based and participatory.
The participants’ digital mindsets shaped their digital literacy practices. These mindsets comprised beliefs associated with everyday life and understandings of the opportunities offered and supported by technologies, that is, their affordances. Their mindsets were constructed under the influence of local contexts but also of the broader global context in which digital technologies are designed and produced. The practices associated with new literacies required creative, elaborated and critical assumptions about what was possible in digital environments. However, thinking about technologies in terms of their affordances was challenging for some of the participants: their capacity to conceptualise the possibilities provided by technologies and the critical awareness required to scrutinise the opportunities and risks associated with them varied. Importantly, all the participants were reluctant to scrutinise their dominant ways of thinking about digital technologies.
The study contributes to the field of Literacy Studies by offering an explanation of why teaching new literacies continues to be challenging. It concludes that teachers’ digital mindsets shape their encounters with digital technologies in important ways. As some teachers may experience difficulties with conceptualising new literacies, it is time to re-think in-service and pre-service teachers’ professional learning and education in regard to digital technologies. Teachers need opportunities and support to reflect on their everyday digital literacy practices and digital mindsets and to consider critically the implications for teaching new literacies.