Designing for Purpose-Driven Technology Use Among Preservice English Teachers

Designing for Purpose-Driven Technology Use Among Preservice English Teachers

Jennifer M. Higgs (University of California, Davis, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0246-4.ch023


This chapter reports on a case study of a 12-week technology course for preservice English language arts teachers in which the teacher educator attempted to shift away from tool-centric approaches by foregrounding purpose-driven tool use and project-based learning experiences. Findings from analyses of classroom, interview, and survey data suggested that specific design choices helped to promote purpose-driven technology use for literacy learning. These included the instructor's articulation and modeling of a “pedagogy first” stance that centered pedagogical reasons for digital tool use and affordances of digital tools, and the organization of a project-based learning environment that engaged preservice teachers in hands-on exploration of digitally mediated ELA learning through continual cycles of making, sharing, and reflecting on digital artifacts.
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Research on the use of technology in school has long told a consistent story: integrating digital technologies into classroom instruction is challenging (e.g., Anthony & Clark, 2011; Cuban, Kirkpatrick, & Peck, 2001; Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2013; Russell, Bebell, O’Dwyer, & O’Connor, 2003). Although 100% of U.S. schools report having networked instructional computers (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2008) and digital tools have long been recognized as potentially powerful learning aids by federal agencies, national professional organizations, and teacher preparation programs (Bakir, 2016), we have yet to witness widespread instructional uses of technology that engage learners in critical thinking, collaboration, complex problem solving, and multimodal communication (Purcell, Heaps, Buchanan, & Friedrich, 2013).

Indeed, technology use in school often focuses on technical aspects of digital tools rather than on the social and pedagogical contexts of their use (e.g., Bauer & Kenton, 2005; Garcia, Stamatis, & Kelly, 2018; Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, & Byers, 2002). The persistent chasm between school instruction and the realities of our increasingly digitized and globalized world is particularly problematic, as the large and growing role of new media in all areas of modern life (Castells, 1996) makes the acquisition of digital literacies ever more integral to purposeful, agentive, and critical participation in new social spaces (Ávila & Pandya, 2013; Freedman, Hull, Higgs, & Booten, 2016; Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton, & Robison, 2006). Given the importance of meaningful technology-infused instruction—and its elusive nature in current modes of instruction—it is no wonder that the role of the teacher in ameliorating this challenge has become a prominent point of concern in teacher education (Ottenbreit-Leftwich et al., 2012).

Within the field of English education, interest in technology has been reflective of the educational zeitgeist, with more researchers and teacher educators calling for the redefinition of preservice English language arts (ELA) teacher education in our advanced digital age (e.g., Doering, Beach, & O’Brien, 2007; Eidman-Aadahl & O’Donnell-Allen, 2012; McVee, Bailey, & Shanahan, 2008). Despite widespread access to digital technologies, research shows many ELA teachers using technology in limited ways (Higgs, Miller, & Pearson, 2013; Hutchison & Reinking, 2011; Project Tomorrow, 2017). How the education of preservice ELA teachers might help disrupt these outcomes persists as an urgent conundrum. How can English, a discipline still often characterized by an “unbending adherence to norms … of writing, modes of reading, dissemination or publication” (Kress, 2011, p. 214), shift alongside the ways today’s youth compose, make meaning, and communicate across multiple communication modes and with interactive and networked tools (Jewitt, 2005)? What knowledge and experiences do ELA teachers need to prepare their students for consequential participation in their various social worlds?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Constraint: The inverse of an affordance, a constraint is a limitation on action(s) imposed by a tool. All tools have constraints.

Multimodality: The notion of multimodality considers the many situated modes that people use to communicate in their everyday lives. A multimodal perspective challenges assumptions regarding the dominance of language as a meaning making resource and focuses on how communication is accomplished through a range and combination of communication modes.

Affordance: The term “affordance” was coined in 1977 by psychologist James Gibson. An affordance is the possibility of action(s) with a tool, digital or nondigital. All tools have affordances.

Mode: A mode is defined as a socially recognized resource for meaning making (e.g., writing, gesture, gaze, images, video, colors). Different modes have different affordances and constraints, as they have potential to facilitate and limit meaning making in different ways.

Making: Making is an iterative process of creating, tinkering, and problem solving. Drawing on constructionist theory, making encourages experimentation and exploration through the creation of a personally meaningful artifact. Making has gained popularity in formal and informal K-12 learning settings as a method to foster creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, technical skills, and a “do it yourself” mindset.

Project-Based Learning (PBL): Project-based learning is a student-centered, inquiry-based form of instruction that encourages the learning and application of knowledge and skills through an engaging experience. PBL strives to present students with opportunities for in-context learning that emphasize student agency and deemphasize the traditional role of the teacher as “supplier of knowledge.” Project-based learning has been used in various contexts and for different phases of schooling.

Digital Literacies: This term generally refers to the shared cultural practices that involve the use of digital technologies for communicating, composing, and making meaning for particular purposes. Digital literacies researchers consider how people use digital technologies and media to participate in their various social worlds.

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