Writing 2.0: How English Teachers Conceptualize Writing with Digital Technologies

By Johnson, Lindy L. | English Education, October 2016 | Go to article overview

Writing 2.0: How English Teachers Conceptualize Writing with Digital Technologies


Johnson, Lindy L., English Education


Many national organizations in literacy research and the teaching of writing have called for professional development that addresses the teaching of writing with digital tools. The Writing, Learning and Leading in the Digital Age report (2010), conceptualized and written by the College Board, the National Writing Project, and Phi Delta Kappa International, emphasizes that teaching effectively with technology necessitates more than access to computers and mobile devices; it requires that "Every teacher, at all levels of education, needs professional development in the effective use of digital tools for teaching and learning, including the use of digital tools to promote writing" (p. 3). Similarly, the National Council of Teachers of English stresses the need for professional development that goes beyond the "functional aspects" of technology and provides teachers with "opportunities to think critically about pedagogical concerns (with whom, when, where, how, why, and to what extent to use them), and about the intellectual, social, cultural, political, and economic impact of using them" (Swenson, Rozema, Young, McGrail, & Whitin, 2005, p. 219). Moje (2009) has ca researchers to "ask hard questions about what kind of research will best support teachers in teaching many literacy practices to many different children and youth who have different levels of access to, interest in, and opportunities to learn and use a range of media in and out of school" (p. 359). The literature in teacher development and writing instruction has established the crucial need for research that examines how to create professional development programs for teachers at the secondary level that focus on innovative ways to incorporate digital tools into writing instruction.

However, research that examines how teachers understand and integrate new digital tools and the new literacies that accompany them has focused primarily on preservice teachers and/or university methods courses (Doering, Beach, & O'Brien, 2007; Kajder, 2007). While this research has informed the field, it hasn't focused on how practicing secondary English teachers understand and conceptualize how digital tools are changing the nature of literacy (Lewis & Chandler-Olcott, 2012). In addition, much of the research on teacher education and technology has focused on teachers' integration of technology (Ajayi, 2013; Doering, Beach, & O'Brien, 2007; Hutchison & Reinking, 2011). However, this focus is limiting. Just because teachers are integrating digital technologies into their classrooms does not necessarily mean they are incorporating the underlying conceptual practices of these new literacies (Johnson, 2016).

Focusing solely on technology integration is also limiting because it neglects to account for the context or setting in which teachers teach. Research on teacher development has shown that paying attention to the multiple contexts teachers work within is central to understanding how they put into practice what they have learned (Langer, 2000; Borko, 2004). Borko argues for studying teacher learning within multiple contexts to understand individual teachers and the social systems of which they are a part. Further, Zhao, Lei, and Frank (2006) encourage researchers to move beyond the question of how to integrate technology. Instead, they argue that the task of researchers "should no longer be to explore effective uses or to make teachers and students use computers but, rather, to understand how computers 'live' in schools and homes so as to suggest ways for teachers and students to maximize the benefits and minimize the harms of computer usage" (p. 137). In other words, there is little research that has examined the actual activity of teachers as they grapple to understand what it means to teach writing with new technologies. While many researchers assert that teachers need to shift their thinking when it comes to incorporating technology into their teaching, there are few examples of research that examine teachers as multimodal composers themselves. …

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