Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Embodied Composition in Real Virtualities: Adolescents' Literacy Practices and Felt Experiences Moving with Digital, Mobile Devices in School

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Embodied Composition in Real Virtualities: Adolescents' Literacy Practices and Felt Experiences Moving with Digital, Mobile Devices in School

Article excerpt

Youth practice digital literacies "anytime, anywhere" with the mobile devices now firmly entrenched in their lives (Watkins, 2009). Now 78% of adolescents own cell phones, compared with the 45% who did in 2004, and one in four adolescents is a "cell-mostly" Internet user, using a phone as his or her main conduit to the Internet rather than a laptop or desktop computer (Madden, Lenhart, Duggan, Cortesi, & Gasser, 2013). Youth also employ mobile devices for engaging in ev- eryday learning and literacies, using them to study topics of personal interest, to access mentors and teachers, and to produce texts for feedback and consumption (Squire & Dikkers, 2012).

In response to the near-ubiquity of mobile computing in adolescents' lives, schools are beginning to ask students to bring their own mobile devices into class- rooms and are asking teachers to integrate these devices into classroom practice. For example, one high school near the middle school in which this study took place implemented a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) program, encouraging students to bring personal laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices with them to school. Other schools are purchasing class sets of mobile devices. For example, another high school in the district in which this study was conducted invested in iPad carts for each teacher in its English department, asking them to use the iPads to advance students' literacy learning, generally. Teachers, in collaboration with a literacy coach, technology coordinator, and other stakeholders, are responsible for thinking about how best to use these mobile devices in English Language Arts (ELA) instruction.

Despite the prevalence of mobile devices in youths' literate lives, and despite their immanent integration into educational practice, little is known about the literacy practices associated with mobile devices, and still less is known about the nexus of these practices and learning. As evidenced in the above illustrations, schools and teachers are currently confronting questions such as: How do classroom interactions change when technology is no longer tethered to a specific space? What do students do with digital technologies that allow them to compose on the move?


In an early investigation of composition with mobile devices, Vasudevan (2010) described how one adolescent, Joey, used a Playstation Portable (PSP) both as a tool to transfer files between devices and as a place to compose a digital autobiography. The PSP was Joey's mobile production studio, enabling him to "produce, archive, import, export, edit, and distribute texts" at multiple sites (p. 71). Vasudevan traced the ways in which "education is being remixed-or re-imagined-through the reconfiguration of texts, technologies, and resources" across geographies (p. 64). In this article, we pay particular attention to adolescents' embodied experiences of composing with digital, mobile devices similar to Joey's, and to how the nature of composition is in need of reimagining as bodies traverse texts and technologies, timescales and spaces.

First, we review critiques of social semiotic theories of multimodality, which dominate research on adolescents' composing processes with new media. These critiques center on what some scholars identify as a lack of attention to embodi- ment, recognizing specific dimensions of embodied experience (e.g., feeling and physical movement) that may influence meaning-making and textual produc- tion. Working from these suggestions, we contribute a beginning theorization of embodiment for new media composition that emerges from our effort to under- stand our participants' experiences composing with mobile devices in school and that highlights particular dimensions of literacy as felt experience: feeling-histories, direct perception, affective atmospheres, and the felt experience of time.

We apply this conceptualization in our analysis, initially identifying the literacy practices in which five adolescents engaged over a 12-week digital media enrich- ment course led and designed by the authors. …

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