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Research Reviews

How teachers impact digital literacy

Posted on 05 May 2016 with 0 comments
21st century skills Learning environment Social Media Teacher capacity

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In the fast evolving digital landscape, students are significant consumers of social media. They are using social media for a variety of purposes, however many schools do not consider social media an appropriate or useful educational platform. Why are students choosing digital spaces to make connections and build relationships all over the world? Are there literacy benefits in using social media? What do teachers think about the use and benefits (if any) of social media?

A US study by Crystal Beach from the University of Georgia, titled Evolving Classrooms: Unlocking Teachers’ Perceptions and How They Impact Digital Literacy Practices set out to ‘understand how teachers’ perceptions may impact how digital literacy practices are considered and used within their classrooms’ (p.7). In other words, the study aimed to understand how perceptions of literacy education are being affected by the literacy practices of teachers and students in and out of school contexts. In so doing, it attempted to answer the following questions:

  • What do teachers understand digital literacy practices to be within their classroom, school, and school community?
  • In what ways do these teachers’ perceptions on their students’ digital literacy practices impact pedagogical strategies within their classrooms?
  • How do they include digital literacy practices? (pp. 7-8).

This small study is set in critical theory tradition, guided by social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic, and gender values. An aim of critical theory is to critique and change society and not just to study and understand society (p.5). Set in this context, the author states that teachers need to take action to validate students’ practices rather than wait for the collective powers to decide on the usefulness of social media in terms of literacy (p.6).

The author conducted interviews with three public school teachers, an elementary, a middle, and a high school teacher and analysed the data in order to understand how their perceptions may impact their classrooms. The methodology was justified because it takes into account interview data and contextual information which was gathered through individual interviews (p.7).

The candidates were selected because of their varying years of teaching experience across a number of levels, the diversity of their student population, and their varying levels of access to technology (p.8). An overview of student demographics, teachers’ technology skills and unique definitions of digital literacy, access to tools and support for technology use within the school are provided. Analysis of collected data for each case enabled the author to make comparisons that would acknowledge differences while highlighting similarities (p.12). The author also acknowledges some weakness of the design and analysis approach pertaining to existing personal relationships with the participants and lack of research relating to participants’ school websites or personal websites (p.13).

Four themes emerged through data coding: ‘school support with digital literacy practices, school non-support with digital literacy practices, digital literacy practices within the classroom and ‘at risk’ labels within the classroom that impact digital literacy practices’ (p.15).

School support with digital literacy practices
Technology is being supported by school leaders, technology resources are provided and used. Reinforcing this view were comments expressed by the interviewees such as:

  • “My principal is willing to get us what we need to use in our classroom, so I tell him what I need” the classroom iPads and iMacs are always in use for learning and exploring
  • ‘Our school operation plan includes opportunities to add more technology for our students to use . . . my administration expects us to use these tools’(p.16)
  • School non-support with digital literacy practices
  • Teachers are not using available technology resources, and are worried about the use of technology. Comments from participants included:
  • “Most of the teachers just choose to use technology 50% or they just didn’t do it” and “[technology] hasn’t been the top priority
  • “Some of my colleagues complain about using tech even when it’s something that could help their students
  • “At times I feel like it [technology use] is jail-like because everyone is scared to use it, so they [the administration] tend to put limitations on how and what can be used” (p.17).

Digital literacy practices within the classroom
Teachers are using technology in order to engage students, encourage collaboration, and explore digital doings. Comments included:

  • “Students, I think, are naturally drawn to social media [or digital literacy practices] . . . and if they can bring that into the classroom at least through association, that will make them understand what we are doing better.” (p.17)
  • “I try to incorporate videos [through the YouTube app on Apple TV] almost daily to prove to people that there are little ways to help our students, but more importantly to give my students different ways of learning and reinforcing materials for them” (p.18)

‘At risk’ labels within the classroom
Teachers are limited in how they could use or provide access to digital literacy practices. Teacher comments included:

  • “We are trying to help our students learn the basic social and life skills because they do come from rough homes . . . especially when my students can’t all have a device in their hands within my room and sometimes there is frustration because they want it [the device] all to themselves, to play by themselves.”
  • “Sometimes I wonder if funding for more technology and programs would matter if they won’t stay after school to get help.”
  • Students don’t have resources to use at home and schools are hesitant in using or pushing the use of technology because of theft (p.19)
  • Despite these limitations, all three teachers took a positive approach to alleviate the problems. Teacher quotes included:  “My job is just to expose them . . . to make them think”, “I need to make sure my students still learn [curriculum] . . .  [I need] to give them something [a device] that helps them learn and gives them the power to do so.” (pp. 19-20)

In short, grounded in critical theory, the study provides a detailed account of the research design and methodology while considering the positives and negatives of this approach. The three case studies described in this paper simply provide an insight into some teachers’ perception of digital literacy and help us understand how they view literacy education – however, no broad generalisations can be made about teacher perceptions and digital literacy. To advance digital literacy and value the literacy practices of students, Beach states more teachers’ voices need to be heard and particularly those working with diverse populations and with those students considered ‘at-risk’ as their needs are more pronounced and their access to digital tools is limited.

Perhaps the most compelling message of this study is that ‘if we don’t give teachers the support they need in order to value these new, digital literacy practices, then we are not valuing all that our students are bringing into the classroom today’ (p.23).

Research Report:

Beach, C. (2016). Evolving classrooms: unlocking teachers’ perceptions and how they impact digital literacy practices. Journal of Literacy and Technology , Vol 17,no. 1&2. Retrieved from http://www.literacyandtechnology.org/uploads/1/3/6/8/136889/jlt_sp16_beach.pdf.


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