Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

So You Say You Want a Revolution? English and Literacy Educators Shaping Digital Futures

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

So You Say You Want a Revolution? English and Literacy Educators Shaping Digital Futures

Article excerpt


Currently, in Australia, there are a number of developments suggesting that some of the digital promises and challenges of the past two decades are being addressed. The most visible of these are the impending Digital Education Revolution that promises a computer for every student in Years 9 to 12 in Australia (DEEWR, 2008); the release of the Learning Federation's Digital Learning Materials (Curriculum Corporation, 2007); and the accelerating proliferation of interactive whiteboards in classrooms across the country. Welcome as these may be, such significant financial investments in resources do not, in and of themselves, herald a revolution and will not necessarily improve educational outcomes. If, as the research suggests, it is the teacher rather than resources or policy that has the most profound impact on student achievement (Hattie, 2003), then resourcing and policy initiatives must engage with and support classroom teachers to shape, or indeed, revolutionise digital futures in classrooms.

Drawing on research undertaken with teachers of English (and by implication literacy), this paper identifies three threads that, drawn together, may provide opportunities for English and literacy educators to move forward to exploit and mobilise digital resources in order to meet the demands of the future. These threads are:

* playful, sustained professional learning

* equity, access and 'plain-speak'

* engagement and collective advocacy

Rather than being simple step-by-step or sequential procedures, these threads represent conditions that may enable more rigorous and generous debate and equitable resourcing than we have typically seen in relation to digital technologies. It must also be acknowledged that in the midst of demands to look to the digital future, teachers and school communities are also having to respond to mandated assessment regimes, managerialist governance, and measures of performativity of unprecendented magnitude (Ball, 2003; Petrosky & Reid, 2004). There is neither the warrant nor space to adequately discuss here the complexity of the intersection of these competing demands on teachers, though it might be argued that the changing political, industrial and professional contexts for teaching in contemporary Australia have drawn our collective attention away from a discipline-inspired response to the deep impact of digital technologies.

The research: Going digital

The three threads described above are drawn from a doctoral research project, conducted across 2004 and 2005, that explored the changing professional practices and identities of four South Australian teachers of middle and senior school English. Employing narrative and practitioner inquiry methods, the research investigated how digital technologies had shaped and were continuing to shape these teachers' professional lives. The four invited teachers were mid-career/mid-life teachers who had been educated in a print-dominated world, well before access to computers, DVDs, digital cameras, the world wide web and similar digital technologies. I knew each of these teachers through my role at that time as Literacy Consultant for Catholic Education South Australia (CESA) and their participation in Digital Poetry, Multiliteracies and Visual Literacies workshops I facilitated at CESA indicated that each was embracing and experimenting with digital technologies in their classrooms. For these reasons, the four teachers were identified as ideal participants in the research.

The research included three phases. Phase 1 served as an important contextual study because it explored the historical construction of English teachers and digital technologies since the early 1980s, using flyers for national English and literacy teacher conferences as data. This phase highlighted the importance of engaging with our past to understand subject English (Beavis, 2003) and traced the tensions inherent in debates about the place of digital technologies within English since the early 1980s (Durrant, 2001; Kerin, 2005, 2006). …

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