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“We can do anything in the cyberworld except conceive”: Mongolian university students’ everyday digital literacy practices
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posted on 17.05.2017by Marav, Daariimaa
Over the last few decades, Mongolia has experienced enormous social, economic and political change. Of particular note is a shift from a Soviet-style to a Western-style system in the political sphere, a ‘mining boom’ in the economic sphere and ever-increasing access to the internet in the technological sphere. These shifts have contributed to the growing cultural status of English mediated in particular through the digital literacy practices of young Mongolians. However, research investigating these socially and culturally important literacy practices is limited. The study described in this thesis aimed to fill this gap.
The study drew on perspectives offered by Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of social practice and the field of Literacy Studies, which analyses literacy practices within the social and cultural contexts in which they occur. The importance of context, history and power are integral to both Bourdieu’s theory of social practice and Literacy Studies. Some of Bourdieu’s key ideas and foundational notions from Literacy Studies were used as analytic and conceptual tools in this study.
A mixed methods approach was employed to explore how Mongolian university students majoring in English used digital technologies, especially the internet, in their everyday lives. The focus was on the factors that influenced their digital literacy practices and the roles that English and digital literacies played in their everyday lives. Participants were recruited from among third and fourth year students undertaking an English major at a public university in Mongolia. Data were generated through a survey of 98 students and through observations of and interviews with six case study participants who came from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The six case study students also produced techno-biographical narratives. The survey results provided a broad context and base for the discussion of the case study data.
The findings suggested that the participants’ engagement with digital technologies was shaped by contextual and structural factors which included family background, personal resources such as English proficiency, disposition towards digital literacy practices and aspirations. The participants’ everyday digital literacy practices and their English language proficiency contributed to accessing and strengthening different types of resources for their academic study, leisure, financial viability and future employment. The study found that the case study participants used digital technologies strategically by negotiating the issues of cost and time, and exercised agency in personalising the technologies to support their English learning and eventually to improve their social positions.
The research also revealed that there were common digital and linguistic distinctions among the university students that depended on their social background: in particular, where the students were from – urban, suburban or rural locations – and the quality of their schooling before entering university. The participants who were already advantaged in terms of using English and digital literacies were more committed to developing themselves further and fitted into the field of higher education both academically and socially.
This study contributes to global perspectives on lived digital literacy practices by researching students in Mongolia, an under-researched context, and extending global discussions on the application of Bourdieu’s theories in the field of Literacy Studies. The study also considers how the findings may inform improvements to educational practices around the teaching and learning of English and digital literacies in Mongolian universities. Importantly, the study indicates the need to promote critical digital literacies among students at all educational levels in Mongolia.