Chapter 3 Methodology

----This qualitative study describes and analyses my new literacy classroom practices and adolescents’ responses to these alternative practices. It used multiliteracies approaches and incorporated multimodal texts from students’ online virtual worlds to encourage and develop their critical literacy skills and creativity. Data was collected through informal interviews, observation and print/non-print artifacts of student work, of teacher assignments and of different multimedia and multimodal texts including: podcasts, video tutorials, instructional texts and image files. My class notes, reflections and weekly summaries were an additional source of data. The study contextualised students from both my year 9/10 level C Multimedia class and my year 7 Information Technology class. The study pays particular attention to students researching their own learning. This inclusion of students’ voices in describing and critically reflecting on my instruction has the potential to encourage practitioners to move from their print-based teaching methods to much broader new literacy practices that resonate with students’ lifeworlds. Through this research, I acknowledged and incorporated students’ digital outside-school literacy practices within my curriculum. Schools, for the most part, promote "old" print-based literacies in instruction, curriculum content and assessment (O'Brien & Scharber 2008). However, once the school day is over, youth gravitate to and use "new" digital literacies. Young people are required to produce traditional print-based texts using different literacy practices inside school time to those practiced outside school. Brass (2008)demonstrates how increasing students' opportunities to draw upon their local knowledge can facilitate sophisticated textual work, as well as “problematise” what counts as literacy achievement in secondary schools. Through action research, I incorporated social networking and new literacies practices into pedagogical practice. This included the online publishing of multimodal texts in a collaborative environment using discussion forums and online comments to encourage peer-to-peer feedback to explore new teaching approaches, models and resources to help prepare my students for what Luke (2000) describes as the significant and permanent social change seeping into every crevice of our everyday work and private lives. Luke’s abstract notion of body-less interactions and communities of learners influenced my epistemological dispositions and beliefs. This way of thinking about curriculum organisation guided the pedagogy I embodied in the classroom throughout this action research.

3.1 The Research Aims

Research involved two middle-years classes:
1. Year 9/10 level C multimedia class: 17 students, 4 x 50 minute periods per week over four weeks giving a total of 16 periods (an elective subject with 15 & 16 year olds).
2. Year 7 Information Technology class: 20 students, 2 x 50 minute periods per week over 5 weeks giving a total of 10 periods (non elective subject with 13 year olds).
I was interested in gaining a greater understanding of my students’ use of popular digital culture and their out-of-school digital literacy practices. My goal was to capitalise on students’ out-of-school digital literacy proficiencies in my classroom in order that I might improve their critical literacy and encourage the development of their creativity using multimodal forms of literacy.

This research asked the following questions:
  1. What kinds of literacy and learning practices are adolescents involved as they interact in online social networks; how do they make sense of these, and how are they affected by them?
  2. What do online social networks (and adolescents’ engagement with them) have to teach us about both print and multimodal texts and literacies and how can this knowledge be used to update and strengthen literacy curriculum?
  3. What kinds of approaches, models and resources are needed to support teachers in the development and implementation of an ICT-based curriculum that addresses multimodal forms of literacy?

The specific aims of the research were:
Aim 1: To make teaching and learning more relevant to students’ lifeworlds - by moving aspects of my curriculum online.
Aim 2: To help students to connect meaning, to interpret and interrogate the large bank of multimedia, complex visual imagery, music, and sound characteristic of the virtual worlds that may surround them in their daily lives - by expecting students to publish and communicate online using multimedia and social networking environments.

Aim 3: To build structures into the curriculum that encourage creativity and help students become responsible for their own learning while becoming more socially aware of the world around them - by empowering students and encouraging them to design, create, publish and share with others.

A summary of the different stages involved in this study is given in Figure 1.


Figure 1 - Timeline & stages of the research

3.2 Action Research

The Center for Collaborative Action Research (2006) defines action research as a process of deep inquiry into one's practices aimed at moving towards an envisioned future aligned with values. Action research is a systematic, reflective study of one's actions and the effects of these actions in a workplace context. Action research provided me the opportunity to inquire deeply into all aspects of my teaching, as well as students’ learning.
By using action research, I examined my teaching practice and students’ learning and actively looked for opportunities to improve my pedagogy. Through reflection, I worked with my students and other teachers as designers and stakeholders to propose a new course of action to improve my teaching and learning practices based on my collection and analysis of evidence. I wanted to provide my students with an authentic learning experience where year 9/10 students were able to use their prior knowledge, understandings and interests to tutor younger year 7 students using an online environment and in turn to extend their own understanding and concept of learning. Using action research, I sought evidence from multiple sources to help analyse reactions to the actions taken. The diagram below illustrates how I used action research to delve deeply into researching and into improving my teaching.

Figure 2 The action research cycle I incorporated into my research (Center_for_Collaborative_Action_Research 2006)

By using action research I was able to have an immediate impact on my students since the cyclic process of action research became an integral part of my day-to-day classroom practice. I was able to research from inside the classroom setting and to work in collaboration with both students and teachers. I relied on my focus groups, peers and students to understand the problems and to help remedy them. Action research enabled me to be more reflective about my practice and progressive in problem solving to include social networking where content was user created, edited and published as well as reflected/commented upon by other students.
Students in each class were provided with an instruction handout for the unit of work (see appendices 1 and 2). The research was conducted in two computer labs and occurred during November/December 2008. This was my third year as a teacher of information technology at that school; I was both the classroom teacher and the researcher.

I collected a wide range of data from a variety of sources such as student projects, interviews, online chats between students and observations. This was to thoroughly investigate all areas relating to the research questions. It also ensured triangulation of data to support the aims of the study by following through with a solid application of the method, by applying deliberate and thoughtful reflection on the findings, by accentuating the significance of the study and by formulating a meaningful critique - as discussed by Munhall (2008). Having an awareness of objectivity, validity and deception of the data was always of utmost importance and hence checking plausibility against other known facts and checking for consistency and coherence was vital.

3.3 Informal Interviews

During week 3 of the study I conducted one informal interview with each of the seventeen Year 9/10 Level C students. These took about 10 minutes each. The detailed dialogues of these interviews with the Level C students are shown in Appendix 3D, a summary of this data is given in Appendix 3C. The following is a sample student response to the informal interview.
Sample interview response:
How often do you go on the internet at home and what do you do on it?
My mother is very protective so I very rarely go on the internet at home. I only go during school time. Lots of people go onto the internet for the wrong reasons.

We are still getting comments from students overseas. How many did you send and how many did you get back?
Sent out about 12 with no rejections - everyone responded and I got more back about 14, more than I sent out. This was because I asked them questions and didn't just make a comment.

Are these blogs and nings that we are using really social networking?
Yes, you can comment, send pics and add friends. I love nings. I would get such a buzz if I saw students around the school on the ning. I am obsessed with it. It is so much fun.

This project could have been done normally where we make a video or some form of multimedia and put it into the teachers intray. Would it have been better if we had done the project normally rather than using nings and blogs?
It is good to get feedback, when this happens I think WOW I could be someone. Otherwise I would just show my mum and she would say "Oh, nice".
The nings and blogs are really good to express yourself and it opens opportunities

I like everything about nings but I worry about time wasting - should be doing other things rather than chatting

I used this data to understand and appreciate students’ perspective of the changes in my classroom practice, including the use of new literacies and social networking sites. The interviews were conducted within the classroom environment and gathered descriptive data in the adolescents’ own words. These provided insights into how students interpreted their use of social networks both in-school and out-of-school. Collecting data through these informal interviews provided opportunities to extend the pool of information available (Stringer 1996). In these interviews students were asked to compare past classroom practices with the ones they were experiencing during this study. They were asked what connections, if any, these new practices had with their outside classroom practices and the pros and cons of learning online. During the first interview I started with six questions but by the time I finished the first interview I found that the six questions were better summarised into four, as seen in the sample above. The interviews took the form of a quiet conversation in class between one or two students and were conducted whilst students were designing their product. Students were free to decline to answer any or all questions (none chose this option) and if students were too busy working they could ask me to come back at another time but this did not occur.
Originally I planned to interview students individually in one corner of the classroom where they were still part of the classroom but could feel some level of privacy, however the first interview participant was working collaboratively with another student and requested to be interviewed with his peer. It was my observation that students spoke freely and were happy to discuss all questions as well as to expand on their responses. As it turned out, if students were working in pairs they chose to be interviewed in pairs. Nine students were interviewed individually and four pairs of students were interviewed. In my own handwriting, I wrote the student responses on separate sheets with the questions pre-printed on each sheet. The informal interviews were conducted over two consecutive class periods and the responses to the modified four questions were typed into my OneNote software diary.

3.4 Observaions made by the Teacher

Direct observation was important in my research (Lincoln (1985) and allowed me to collect here-and-now in-depth data. It maximised my ability to grasp my student’s motives, beliefs, concerns, interests, unconscious behaviors and the like. It allowed me to record emotional reactions of the group.

My own observations were made during every class and these included sixteen classes for the Year 9/10 Level C group and eight classes for year 7. This data was collected through written or typed field notes. In addition to weekly written reflections, these field notes were recorded during and/or after each lesson and included detail such as where students were seated, what they did during their class time, the questions they asked and the frustrations they experienced. Knowing that I needed to take special note of these issues and then, formally, to write them down, offered insights into the classroom – insights that would often go unnoticed in the classroom - and this data allowed me to formulate descriptions about my students that, when collated with other data, were used for reflection and review in the action research cycle. These observations provided descriptions of both teacher and student behavior with emphasis on the setting, on group structures, on verbal and nonverbal information and on interactions between students. Taking notes on how well students worked together and their approach to the work gave some insight into the level of student motivation.

3.5 Collection of multimedia and multimodal texts

Data collection included a range of multimodal texts which allowed triangulation of data from multiple and different sources as a means of cross-checking and corroborating evidence and illuminating important information. Multimodal documents produced and designed by students, including student ning pages, multimedia tutorials, podcasts, blog postings, comment postings and emails. Data was collected from one blog environment and two ning environments. A total of fifty four student ning pages were used for data collection and 17 blog pages. Appendices 27, 28 and 29 give a summary of the online data collected, such as the number of assignments completed, spam published, posts published, comments received and other ning activities in which students were involved. These documents were examples of students re-representing curricula knowledge in ways other than those produced in traditionally teacher directed approaches that rely on print-based literacy practices. Collecting the great array of student multimedia and multimodal texts reflected what was happening inside, and at times outside, the classroom. During the study students were learning to incorporate the Internet in multiple overlapping facets of their lives and were engaging in a networked discourse (Perkel 2006), one that many students understand how to use, but not necessarily understand how to critically reflect upon. During each class students completed a range of tasks most of which were online and involved posting comments, uploading photos, using discussion forums, uploading student made products including a range of multimedia and Web2 items. These were collected by downloading or taking screen clips.