Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Crossing Boundaries: Multimedia Technology and Pedagogical Innovation in a High School Class

Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Crossing Boundaries: Multimedia Technology and Pedagogical Innovation in a High School Class

Article excerpt


Although much has been written on computer technology and its potential for changing pedagogical practice, relatively little attention has been given as to how teachers' conceptualizations of teaching and other contextual factors relate to their actual use of these technologies. The present paper focuses on an innovative program in a Quebec high school, involving project-based teaching in networked classrooms equipped with laptop computers. One ESL language arts and two French content teachers' use of computer technology is discussed in relation to their conceptualizations of teaching and the way in which the pedagogical innovations featured in this program were supported by the broader social context. The discussion of pedagogical innovation is situated within sociocultural theory, notably in Engestrom's notion of an activity system and Tharp's views on the relationship between reform and the alignment of activity settings. Implications for language learning are addressed in terms of the affordances created within the context of this particular program. More generally, the paper argues for a vision of language learning and teaching wherein language is viewed more broadly in semiotic terms and computer technology is viewed as a representational resource within a multiliteracy pedagogy.


Much attention is currently being devoted to understanding the role of computer and multimedia technologies in pedagogical practice. To a large degree, this interest is fostered by two key factors: changes in the world socio-economic order, frequently referred to as globalization, and the ever-increasing presence of computer technologies in daily life (Hass, 1996; Hawisher & Selfe, 2000; Murray, 2000; New London Group, 1996; Warschauer & Kern, 2000). In reflecting on these changes, educators have noted the emergence of new forms of literacy and the need for educational institutions to revise their curricula and modes of functioning in order to better prepare students for life outside of school. In keeping with this perspective, The New London Group (1996) distinguishes between "mere literacy," centered on language only, and a pedagogy of "multiliteracies" that, in addition to print, would take into account the representational resources (visual, audio, hypertext, etc.) afforded by computer and multimedia technologies. Shetzer and Warschauer (2000) use the term "electronic literacy" to refer to these new modes of communication. According to these authors, whereas information technologies were initially viewed as a means to teach language, it is now equally incumbent on instructors to help students become proficient in their use.

Although studies of innovative practice are beginning to emerge (Carey, 1999; Muller-Hartmann, 2000; Sotillo, 2000; Warschauer & Kern, 2000), few have specifically addressed how contextual factors may have facilitated (or impeded) such efforts, or indeed, how teachers' conceptualizations of teaching--their epistemological stances--may have mediated the particular practices that ultimately emerged. Most studies have dealt with university courses and been relatively short term; longitudinal studies involving elementary or high school contexts have rarely been the object of intensive study. As one contribution to this area, we report on an innovative program for Francophone high school students in Quebec City, Canada. The program was considered to be innovative in at least two ways: (a) students and teachers worked within networked classes with laptop computers, and (b) project-based teaching was a main pedagogical feature.

In this paper we first examine how the pedagogical innovations featured in this program were contingent on factors related to the broader social context and to teachers' conceptualizations of teaching. We will focus on the views of one ESL language arts teacher and two French content teachers in Grades 7 and 8 who were involved in this program. …

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