Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Invisible Potential: The Social Contexts of Technology in Three 9th-Grade ELA Classrooms

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Invisible Potential: The Social Contexts of Technology in Three 9th-Grade ELA Classrooms

Article excerpt


Every day, students are integrating technology into their reading, writing, and inquiry practices in English language arts classrooms. From socializing with peers to producing academic work, technology is often at the root of how students communicate and produce in today's "participatory culture" (Jenkins, 2006). Technology-both in the world beyond schools and within classroom settings-is at the center of how students access information, interact with peers, and create materials for assessment. So seamlessly are the tools integrated that they are largely taken for granted as an invisible, constant foundation on which English classrooms are built.

This drive to better connect the "flattened" (Friedman, 2007) contexts of communication and business to the learning contexts and tools in schools is particularly robust in today's ELA classrooms. From emphasizing multimodal, digital literacy practices to exploring new genres for reading and writing, the possibilities within English classrooms seem significantly different from even a decade ago. Technology, as a tool for mediating learning practices and facilitating new forms of production, is invisibly recasting what, how, and where English classroom learning takes place. However, at the same time, the definition of technology and what students actually think about this ever-present force within classrooms is largely occluded. While the educational research community continues to fulfill a legacy of advocating for the uses of technology in schools (Cuban, 1986) and in teacher preparation programs (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010), understanding how technology is currently defined, as well as what it means for student identities-both within and beyond schools-is a significant blind spot. For all the academic potential that proponents of technology place in the latest digital gadgets and apps, the roles these devices play in shaping student identities and beliefs about school and society go unacknowledged.

In this article, we look at how talking about and engaging in ELA-based inquiry related to technology actually provides avenues for students to share beliefs about their own identity and the world around them. Through classroom observations, interviews with students and teachers, and analysis of the work produced by students in three 9th-grade English classrooms, this study builds on existing assumptions about the role technology plays in schools. Rather than simply noting how technology enables and strengthens digital production practices and access in English classrooms, we argue that technology mediates student identities and helps students articulate the complex cultural experiences and beliefs that they bring daily into schools.

From exploring what "counts" as technology to developing conceptions of race, class, and power, technology in ELA classrooms functions as a lens through which students view and mediate their understanding of the social practices they participate in. Thus, this paper suggests that seemingly "safe," apolitical talk around technology actually leads to complex and-occasionally-uncomfortable conversations. We seek to understand:

* What does technology mean for adolescent students, as demonstrated within their English classrooms?

* How do these beliefs around technology guide student practices and identities in schools and beyond?

By exploring how student beliefs about identity and society are couched in statements about technology, this study connects English classroom discussions about technology to broader understandings of the world beyond schools. We found that student inquiry of contemporary technology ultimately reflected nuanced perspectives and biases about the broader sociopolitical communities in which youth reside.


The Promise of Learning Technology

As Zhao and Frank (2003) explain, classroom technologies need to match the values of a school's culture in order to be fully utilized. …

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