EEL702: New and Traditional Literacies and Diverse Student Needs
Georgie Audley s212340665
Ivana De Silva s212352295
Here at St Francis Xavier our Inquiry units drive our literacy program. Our current Inquiry unit, ‘What is Democracy?’ has formed the basis of our unit of work. Year level teams work collaboratively to plan and implement our Inquiry units. Paramount to the planning of our unit of work, we envisage our students to develop clear understandings that are directly linked to important key concepts. Integral to our inquiry planning, a strong emphasis is placed on Religious Education and Student Well-Being links. Through vigorous collegial discussion, a number of key concepts are carefully selected and deemed to be fundamental to student learning and outcomes. Six understandings were formulated; these understandings provide the focus for our inquiry learning. It is expected that the students should develop a stronger awareness of these understandings by the conclusion of the inquiry unit. The understandings that were developed for this inquiry unit, ‘What is Democracy?’ include the following:
- Australia is a democratic society.
- There are different forms of government throughout the world.
- Significant events in history have shaped Australia’s political system.
- Jesus challenged the people’s way of thinking with his democratic views.
- Democracy is based on equitable relationships.
- In a democratic society people have the freedom to voice opinions and make choices.
Our inquiry unit is derived from a number of AusVels domains. The Civics and Citizenship domain highlights the essential knowledge and skills required by students to understand what it means to be citizen in a democratic society. The History domain outlines the need for students to be aware of the impact of significant events and people in Australian history, such as the Eureka Stockade and the role of Peter Lalor on the development of democracy in Australia. A range of skills from the following domains, Personal Learning, Communication, Thinking Processes and Interpersonal Development are also included in the planning of our unit.
As a pre-assessment for this unit we turned our understandings into questions in order to ascertain student prior knowledge in this area. It was clearly evident from the responses that students had little or no knowledge in the area of democracy, government and aspects of Australian history. Once we have assessed our student’s prior knowledge and have completed ‘tuning in’ activities students work independently on a literacy contract. Our literacy contracts are formulated with a range of tasks, which include both print base texts and digital texts. Our research in this assignment has encouraged us to incorporate wikis within our current literacy program.
We firmly believe that an inquiry approach to learning is essential in developing an inquiring mind. The level of student engagement is heightened within an inquiry approach to learning. Such an approach encourages independence and collaboration amongst the cohort of students. Drawing from knowledge gained from previous literature reviews we acknowledge the importance of incorporating a balance of both print based texts, digital literacies and the inclusion of digital communication technologies, such as blogs and wikis to make use of student interest and expertise in this area of communication.
At St Francis Xavier our aim is to incorporate reflective practices into their learning. This has been achieved through the use of our class blogs. Class blogs are a flexible digital communication tool that allows for the incorporation of wikis. Since our students are familiar with using the blog we feel that creating wikis in this way is an extension of this social networking tool.
We aim to draw together the learnings from our unit, ‘What is Democracy?’ by providing the students with the opportunity to partake in an educational experience at Sovereign Hill. Whilst at camp the students will participate in a variety of educational activities. As part of the ‘Gold Fever’ education session students will be given the opportunity to experience the highs and lows of living on the gold fields and the frustration of miners that led to the Eureka Rebellion. They will also be immersed in the Eureka story by dressing up as characters and using Museum exhibits to create pictures of the key events relating to this period in Australian history. The students will attend an exciting and spectacular sound and light show, ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’ that tells the story of the events surrounding the storming of the Eureka Stockade.
Recent research suggests that there are many benefits from using digital communication technologies and social networking tools, such as YouTube, wikis and blogs. According to Margerison (2013), digital communication technologies empower students to connect with a wider audience through an online forum. This makes their work more meaningful and purposeful, as their audience is widespread. The notion of this learning allows students to share and interact with their peers. Margerison states, ‘discussion forums provide a wider platform to exchange information and ideas. For the teacher, they offer a flexible platform from which to educate in a participatory culture’. (p.21.) This collaborative aspect of learning is also supported by DeCosta (2010) in her discussion on using social networking in education. DeCosta (2010) maintains that social networking allows students to collaborate with each other to share their knowledge and ideas. Poore (2013) provides an added insight into the collaborative nature of digital technologies by emphasising the development of skills of negotiation to solve problems.
An added benefit of using digital communication technologies is that it provides a higher level of engagement and interest for students. This is a common view among educationalists. Poore (2013) believes that due to the level of engagement and interest, student motivation is increased therefore resulting in a higher level of effort and achievement presented in their work. Poore (2013) states, ‘students try harder when they know their work is being published to the world. Having someone other than the teacher accessing and judging their work can provide a high incentive.’ (p. 8) Poore (2013) also contends that social networking provides for peer learning through the sharing of ideas and opinions, therefore providing students with differing perspectives on a topic or issue to consider and evaluate when formulating their own opinions. Todd (2013) points out that a study conducted by Larson (2009) on Year 6 students using an online learning community instead of traditional literacy practices provides students with the time to formulate their responses and encourages the quieter student to contribute, therefore allowing for greater participation. Todd (2013) states, ‘ The asynchronous nature of the task… allowed for greater inclusion… as it allowed less outgoing students to contribute as they could do so in their own time without the pressure of an immediate audience’ (p. 47).
Crane (2013) specifically provides a number of reasons why educators should incorporate the use of wikis into their classrooms. Crane (2013) maintains that wikis provide an online communication space for developing content specific areas which can be introduced, investigated or explored collaboratively and which can be accessed any time from any place with an Internet connection. Crane (2013) also purports that wikis provide a forum to show the ‘evolution’ (p.42) or development in student thinking as students interact and contribute their own thoughts and ideas. Crane (2013) further suggests that wikis provide a forum to showcase student work thereby instilling a sense of pride and ownership of the work being produced. Another benefit of using wikis in the classroom is that it can cater for individual projects as well as collaborative projects. Crane (2013) also contends that wikis can also be used as ‘tool for reflection’ (p.42) as they provide an online space for students to record their thoughts, feelings and what they have learnt.
Teehan (2010) maintains that communication and collaboration are important skills that students in the 21st century must learn. Teehan contends that students need to be able to gather, evaluate and synthesize information using digital tools. According to Teehan (2010) ‘Wikis enhance the communication process by becoming the vehicle for sharing information, building on other students knowledge and collaborating on new ideas.’ (p. 3)
As educators it is essential that we integrate technology into student learning and to make use of the student expertise in these digital communication technologies in order to make learning engaging. Piontek (2009) in fact states that educators need to ‘diversify and utilize the kinds of media that students experience in their digitally-connected world outside of school. We need to take what is essential in our curriculum and integrate it with what students find engaging’ (p.17).
However, it is also important to note that incorporating new digital communication technologies doesn’t necessarily mean that innovative teaching and new learning will occur in literacy. Kalantzis, Cope and Cloonan (2010) suggest that the response by schools is to quickly employ the use of these digital communication technologies thereby making technology rather than pedagogy the focus.
Kalantzis et al. (2010) state, ‘ The use of a range of devices produced by the new media does not necessarily mean new learning…teachers all too often selectively use them as another way of doing what is not much more than conventional in terms of both teaching and learning.’ (p.63) Therefore it is quite clear that merely using new digital communication technologies does not automatically transform pedagogy. Poore (2013) holds a similar view with regard to digital communication technologies. Poore (2013) emphatically states,
The trick is to design teaching and learning tasks that demand deep, considered engagement with a topic, as opposed to surface occupation with technology. To this end, tasks that require not just comprehension but higher-order cognitive activity (such as creativity, synthesis, and evaluation) should be developed… (p.7)
Digital technology should not be the sole focus but rather the tool to drive the effectiveness behind literacy learning. In the words of Rowsell and Walsh (2011), ‘We are constantly reminded in education the mastery of the tool itself is not the outcome but how we use it’. (p.60)
The challenge for educators in this contemporary world is how to effectively incorporate digital communication technologies to enhance teaching and learning practices in the literacy classroom. The knowledge we have gained through our professional readings has highlighted the need to equip our students with the necessary skills to become effective citizens in a global community.
It is our belief that educators have a responsibility to utilise student interest and knowledge as a way of capturing student interest in learning. Whilst we acknowledge the importance of incorporating digital communication technologies, we also recognise that digital communication technologies, such as blogs and wikis should not be the focus but rather the tool to drive the effectiveness behind literacy learning (Rowsell and Walsh, 2011).
Having already established our class blogs as a social networking tool we discovered we could create a wiki space within it. The challenge for us was to consider the logistics of implementing a wiki. This required an element of trial and error and seeking advice from technical support services attached to ‘edublogs’.
Through perseverance we managed to plan and implement four lessons linked to our inquiry unit, ‘What is Democracy?’ specifically focussing on using the wiki as a tool of communication. Prior to these four lessons students engaged in tuning in activities (Appendix 1) to immerse them in the new topic. Below is an outline of the four learning tasks displayed on the wiki:
- Task one of the wiki required students to construct meaning and to synthesise information using digital literacies about the concept of democracy and to write a paragraph about their view on democracy.
- Task two required students to investigate systems of government using both print based text and online digital sources and to transfer new knowledge gained to collaboratively construct a mind map through the use of ‘bubbl.us’, an online mind-mapping tool.
- Task three involved the students in collaboratively compiling a class glossary of new vocabulary discovered throughout our Inquiry unit.
- Task four required students to engage in an online discussion with reference to the significance of the Eureka Rebellion on the development of democracy in Australia.
From our anecdotal notes we observed that the level of engagement was high and that the standard of work displayed on the wiki showed a significant improvement from previous tasks completed in their workbooks. Although the students have been using the class blog as a reflective tool prior to the implementation of a wiki space, the wiki has allowed for a more collaborative and task orientated approach to online learning. This view is supported by Teehan (2010). Teehan (2010) suggests ‘Wikis enhance the communication process by becoming the vehicle for sharing information, building on other students knowledge and collaborating on new ideas.’ (p. 3). We found that through the wiki spaces, students responses were more detailed, showed a deeper level of thinking and allowed students to go beyond their level of knowledge. The students’ work ethic was heightened knowing that their audience goes beyond the classroom. The wiki provided a stimulus for the students to produce their best work. This was enabled by students having the opportunity to read and consider the opinions and ideas of other students work to assist in formulating their own responses. It was evident that the wiki allowed students to utilise their prior knowledge and new knowledge gained to develop well-articulated understandings relating to the key concepts of the Inquiry unit. This also provided opportunities for students thinking to be made visible through the work they completed on the wiki. It was also interesting to observe the eagerness shown by students to complete the online tasks, which stimulated an energized and somewhat competitive feel within the classroom environment.
Students were given the opportunity to provide feedback about the use of the wiki as a learning tool. Students were keen to provide feedback. The feedback was generally positive but also provided an insight to how we can further develop and use our wiki to enhance our teaching and learning practices in the literacy classroom. The students enjoyed using digital technology as part of their learning. Students acknowledged that the wiki allowed them to reflect on other students work to assist them with formulating their own detailed responses. Students highlighted the benefits of peer learning, enabling them to read and compare their responses with other students’ responses. They also felt by reading the work, it provided them with a deeper understanding of the concepts being covered in our Inquiry unit, encouraging them to ‘re-think’ their responses. Crane (2013) supports the idea that a development of thinking occurs through the use of wikis whereby students share their knowledge. Crane (2013) maintains that wikis provide a forum to show the ‘evolution’ (p.42) or development in student thinking as students interact and contribute their own thoughts and ideas. Students initiated peer assessment incidentally as they viewed one another’s work. Students felt this also had an impact on the standard of the work they produced. The edit option on the wiki tool bar encouraged students to make adjustments to their work; most students valued this option. Students mentioned that the wiki provided an avenue to use the wiki both at school and at home, strengthening the home/school connection.
It was noted by students that accessing the wiki and certain parts of the wiki was a challenge as some students experienced difficulty logging on, saving their work and accidently deleting work. When completing the online mind-mapping task using ‘bubbl.us’, students discovered that only one user could access the site to contribute to the mind map. This forced students to wait until the site was accessible. Although this was a challenge it was acknowledged that the class mind-mapping task itself was worthwhile as it provided a platform for students to build on each other’s work.
Although we are very impressed with the work the students have produced on the online space, we recognise that there are certain areas that need to be addressed to further enhance the teaching and learning practices within a literacy classroom. In relation to task four where the students required to engage in an online discussion with reference to the significance of the Eureka Rebellion on the development of democracy in Australia, we felt students limited their response by only sharing their opinions rather than thoughtfully commenting and building on other student responses. This could be overcome by modelling this certain aspect in a mini lesson. We also observed that students need to work on the skill of paraphrasing, as it was evident that some students found this challenging. This skill could be addressed once again in a mini lesson focusing on paraphrasing information from an online or print based text.
Now that we have gained experience in implementing and using a wiki as a teaching and learning tool, we envisage extending this form of learning opportunity to other areas of the curriculum. We hope to continue to use the wiki in our Inquiry units and to utilise the wiki as a forum for students to collaboratively construct different modes of texts in a range of curriculum areas. It is our hope that through our expertise of using wikis, we can highlight the benefits of using wikis as a teaching and learning tool and in doing so we can encourage all classroom teachers to incorporate wikis into their classroom practice.
Crane, B. (2012). Using web 2.0 and social networking tools in the K-12 classroom. Chicago: American Library Association.
DeCosta, M, (2010). ‘Twittering for Change: Using Social Networking Sites to Promote Social Justice’, Kentucky English Bulletin, Arizona State University, pp.22-26.
Margerison, J. (2013). Online Discussion Forums in the Classroom: Can the Principles of Social Media Benefit Literacy and Enhance Engagement with Learning. Literacy Learning the Middle Years, vol. 21, no.2, pp. 19-28
Piontek, J. (2009). Blogs, wikis and podcasts, oh my! Huntington Beach, California: Shell Education.
Poore, M. (2013). Using social media in the classrooms: best practice guide: London, Sage.
Rowsell, J. & Walsh, M. (2011). Rethinking Literacy Education in New times: Multimodality, Multiliteracies, & New Literacies. Brock Education, vol 21, no. 1, pp. 53 – 62.
Teehan,K. (2010). Wikis. The educator’s power tool. Santa Barbara, California: Linworth.
Todd, I. (2013). Verbal Literacy. In Eileen Honan (Ed), Thinking Through New Literacies for Primary and Early Years, (pp.35-49) Hawker Brownlow Education.