Widespread social changes together with the rapid dissemination of new technologies have led to important debates about the nature of learning and teaching in the ‘digital age’. Whether or not new technologies lead to transformations in learning and teaching is highly contentious, but it is quite clear that working in digital environments prompts us to raise questions about traditional practices and relationships, and to explore new approaches in the classroom. Here, we consider issues relating to the learners and then to teachers.
2.5.1 Learners and Teachers
Lankshear and Knobel (2004) identify four roles which they suggest characterise the practices people engage in as they learn to produce, distribute and exchange texts in the new media age. Using the phrase the ‘digitally at home’ to describe those who are comfortable with and competent in the use of new technologies, the roles they outline for these digitally at home are: a ‘designer’ of texts; a text ‘mediator’ or ‘broker’; a text ‘bricoleur’ and a text ‘jammer’ (Lankshear and Knobel, 2004). These categories are not intended to be exhaustive, but they serve as examples of the kinds of roles assumed by authors of digital texts. With regard to the role of ‘text designer’, Lankshear and Knobel (2004) emphasise that the concept of design, rather than traditional conceptions of authorship, is important in the production of multimodal, digital texts. This has also been a constant theme in the work of Kress (1997; 2003; 2010). Kress suggests that:
Design takes for granted competence in the use of resources, but beyond that it requires the orchestration and remaking of these resources in the service of frameworks and models that express the maker’s intentions in shaping the social and cultural environment.
This has implications for teachers in that an understanding is needed of the ways in which such decision-making processes can be supported and extended. In addition, recognition of the range of resources learners draw on as they make these decisions needs to be developed across all phases of education. Educators who have a broader understanding of the rich range of textual practices their learners bring to the classroom have greater opportunities to enhance learning.
In addition to ‘text designer’, Lankshear and Knobel also identify the role of text ‘bricoleur’ as being significant to contemporary communicative practices. Lankshear and Knobel elicit de Certau’s concept of bricolage as being the ‘artisant like inventiveness’ (1984:xv, 66) of people’s everyday practices in which they draw on whatever is to hand to create texts. Lankshear and Knobel illustrate the concept by focusing on Web users’ creation of texts within online communities. Of course, this intertextual aspect of learner’s texts is not particular to new technologies; as the work of Dyson indicates in relation to children’s paper-based writing tasks, Bahktinian principles of heteroglossia and dialogical processes permeate children’s classroom work (Dyson, 1997; 2002). However, the use of new media does make this bricolage process much easier and it is clear that a key role for the educator in the information economy is to facilitate development of critical literacy skills in relation to web-based material so that learners, children and students, can effectively undertake the authorial role of ‘text bricoleur’.
The third role Lankshear and Knobel (2004) identify is that of ‘text broker’. In relation to new media practices, this could describe the role of those who manage discussion boards or alternatively those who give online articles and blogs ratings so that readers have guidance, if they want this, in terms of which texts they should read. The broker mediates texts between the author and reader. Finally, the role of ‘text jammer’ describes the process of changing or adapting electronic texts in order to subvert the messages given – in effect, online critical literacy practices. All of these roles present challenges for the usual practices within classrooms, where authorial roles in relation to texts are generally restricted to normative conceptions of what a ‘writer’ does. In the following section, we explore the implications of the textual practices of the ‘digitally at home’ (Lankshear and Knobel, 2004)
For References for this section see 2.5.4 References / Links to Further Resources
Whilst many of the traditional roles of a teacher would be maintained in a new media age, such as teacher as facilitator, instructor, model and so on, Larson and Marsh (2005) suggest that there are three additional roles teachers need to adopt in order to facilitate learner’s navigation of complex, multimodal, electronic worlds. These can be conceptualized in the following way:
- Teacher as resource manager. This involves providing learners with a range of resources which can enable them to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to analyse and produce multimodal, multimedia texts. However, it is not simply a matter of provision; indeed, learners themselves can bring valuable resources to the site of learning, given their knowledge of resources, such as websites, outside of school. The teacher needs to ensure that, overall, resources are sufficiently broad and balanced to facilitate effective learning. In addition, the teacher in all phases needs to enable learners to develop further their critical skills in relation to resources, helping to make decisions about the affordances of different modes and media so that they can use these appropriately.
- Teacher as co-constructor of knowledge (see also 3.7.3 Co-Construction). There has been much already written about how, in a new media age, the role of teacher needs to move from one of possessing authoritative knowledge to acknowledging that students will know as much, if not more at times and so an effective pedagogical model is one of teachers and students learning together (Lankshear and Knobel, 2011).
- Teacher as design consultant. If one of the key authorial roles learners adopt in a new media age is that of ‘text designer’ (Lankshear and Knobel, 2004), then an important role for the teacher becomes one in which advice and feedback is given on the processes and products of designs. Consultancy assumes some sort of expertise on the part of the consultant. In this case, the expectation is not that the teacher would have a much broader knowledge of the range of electronic texts which children, in particular, may analyse or produce; the opposite may, in fact, be the case, given children’s encounters with a multitude of texts outside of classrooms. Rather, the expertise would be related to the knowledge teachers have of curriculum and assessment frameworks and one of her or his main aims would be to ensure that children’s work helped them to meet these specific criteria. Feedback on design processes or products, therefore, would be predicated on an understanding of the kinds of skills, knowledge and understanding children need to demonstrate in order to meet externally-imposed criteria. In addition, consultancy usually involves an appraisal by the consultant of the areas that the ‘client’ has not already considered and feedback on this; similarly, teachers need to provide advice to pupils and students on aspects of the assignment or product that have been overlooked. Often, this task is made easier in relation to technology-based activities, where decision-making processes are tracked in a more transparent manner because of the affordances of the electronic mode (e.g. ability to save different versions). Finally, a consultancy role is usually one in which the agenda is firmly within the hands of the ‘client’; he or she decides what the particular issue or problem is that requires a consultant’s input. Similarly, in literacy activities which involve new technologies, pupils and students need to be encouraged by teachers to make the kind of reflective decisions which lead to self-identification of issues for further consultation. (Larson and Marsh, 2005)
The characteristics of learners and teachers in the digital age that are outlined above can be seen to be embedded across all of the case studies. They demonstrate how work on digital literacies can transform curriculum and pedagogy in order to enhance pupil and student agency and teacher flexibility.
For References for this section see 2.5.4 References / Links to Further Resources