Chapter 5 Findings

----Results were obtained by an analysis of each stage of the action research project (Plan, Act, Analyse, Reflect) as well as from student interviews, multimedia and multimodal documents and teacher observations. Issues revealed in all data sources helped me to respond to my three research questions which, in summary, related to understanding the kinds of literacy and learning practices in which adolescents are involved, the lessons that can be learned from these by teachers and the resources needed to implement an ICT-based multimodal curriculum. Following the action research cycle sequence, the main findings are listed under each sub heading whilst the relationships between the findings and the research questions are shown in table form for each sub heading.

5.1 The Action Research Cycle Findings


5.1.1 The 1st aspect of the Action Research Cycle - "PLAN"
I planned two main driving forces for the action research cycle
1. Students examining learning by looking at how learning had changed, how Year 9/10 Level C students preferred to learn and how year 7 students might prefer to learn.
2. Empowering students by encouraging them to take more responsibility for their learning.
Findings
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I found that by listening to what students had to say about how education had changed and how they liked to learn helped me gain further ideas on designing a classroom setting that encouraged students’ use of ICT to foster their creativity, empower them to be critical about the world around them and make teaching and learning more relevant to their lifeworlds..
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Students wanted to learn by being engaged in learning and having fun. As students interacted in online social networks they were active learners and looked for sites that were visually appealing to them. Students were becoming multimodality literate and wanted to learn using ICT. By redesigning my curriculum to include out-of-school student digital literacies I was able to make my curriculum more relevant to my students’ lifeworlds. As educators we need to listen to students’ ideas about learning.

Some student responses included:

“i think buddy classes with older years to teach and learn from each other through highschool experiences and to have more assessments to build them up to year 12.”
“Year seven students would be learning with a computer to each child and lots of interesting things to do and see.”
“I like to learn using the computer and doing hands on tasks.”
“I like to learn with something to look at and no writing a whole lot of notes.”
“I like to learn visually and in a calm environment”
“I like to learn in a free thinking open environment.”
“i like to leran use technology and games.”
“I like to learn using technology, such as a computer to find information. But I like a free reign
Year 7's would only use technology”

“ i love to learn by having a fun time, not sitting in a dark room while being yelled at by a teacher armed with a giant ruler. I like nice fun ways to learn to be able to laugh at your mistakes.”
“By being given a baseline and figuring it out for myself. without being babied with with basic crap.”

These driving forces included improving students’ ability to think, analyse and become critically aware of each other and the media they encounter which were major influences on my AR cycle. The cycle was influenced by student reactions, understandings engagement and work output. Other influences upon the AR cycle included discussions and feedback from two focus groups at the school. The first was the Information Technology Key Learning Area (IT-KLA) which was a small group of three teachers who were exploring the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in their classroom. This group was able to provide feedback and recommendations on the use of Web 2.0 and the implementation of a range of resources. The second group was the Literacy Professional Learning Team (Lit-PLT) which had more expertise in traditional literacy practices but many of the ideas and strategies they discussed were transferable to this study. Each group was able to provide different perspectives on using ICT to build critical literacy and methods of assessment. Both were able to contribute to the action research cycle by providing ideas and further strategies on student learning. (As discussed by Kemmis and Mctaggart (1988) action research commences with small groups of collaborators). The planning phase of the AR cycle helped me to provide the following response to the last part of the first research question:

Research Question
Finding
  1. What kinds of literacy and learning practices are adolescents involved in as they interact in online social networks; how do they make sense of these, and how are they affected by them?

As students examined learning and the way they liked to learn they identified how they were affected by our changing world. Students want more opportunities to use their out-of-school digital literacy skills in the classroom. Students bring their experiences to school with them. The literacy and learning practices in which students are involved now affect how they want to learn. Students want to learn using ICT. They want to be engaged while they learn; they want learning to be fun and interactive. This is the type of learning they associate with ICT.

5.1.2 The 2nd aspect of the Action Research Cycle - "ACT"
I used nings, blogs and podcasts to produce a classroom environment that was easily assessable 24/7. As the AR cycles continued I adjusted the ning setup to allow greater flexibility for students by allowing them to form their own ning groups without teacher approval and I also allowed students to add applications to the ning.
Findings
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During this second aspect of the action research cycle I found that the online environment I produced offered much more student interaction and student-centered learning than traditional print based teacher focused learning.
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I found that by giving students time to explore the different ning features such as making friends, being involved in online chat comments (Figure 14), forming groups, discussion forums, adding applications and using avatars and profiles to form identities etc (many of these are shown in Appendix 14) allowed students to feel comfortable and engaged with online communication as it gave them play time.
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Once students were comfortable they generally became engaged in this type of communication. They wanted to make up their own identity, they wanted to make friends, they wanted to receive comments but most of all they wanted to become active learners in their online environment.
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I found that using nings increased flexibility in the learning process and encouraged students’ creativity and critical thinking.

When using the online ning environment everything was published for all to see and students were, by default, models to other students. The ning time stamped all content, hence everyone could see how much time it took for comments and responses to be posted. A student that had trouble gaining responses to comments could view other more successful student’s comments and responses as there were samples of good practice for the struggling student to easily view.

I also found that there were a range of issues of concern that, as the classroom teacher, I had to deal with as students took ownership of the class ning, developed personal profiles and explored online communication. Figure 14 shows one of the problems that occurred when students choose their own avatars - Murray (Level C student) used a smoking avatar which was not appropriate. Appendix 6 gives a range of issues that were encountered including racism, inappropriate headings on “My Page”, inappropriate photos, applications added and music copyright concerns. In hindsight I needed to negotiate and publish clearly understood standards for communication and publication at the start of the project - discussing with the class my expectations was not sufficient.

Figure 14 Initial chat comments between students - retrieved 2nd January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profiles/comment/list?attachedToType=User&attachedTo=3rufpjk7obzqy
As students learnt to use the online tools, that were required of them in this research, I found that they built representations of social world characteristics, they generated reflective critical thought through their analysis and critiques of their identities, relationships, and values constructed by cultural practices and discourses in their own social world (Myers & Beach 2004).

Figure 15 Initial dialogues – note those between Level C students Jade, Twitch & Gradient with year 7 student Eilanne - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profiles/comment/list?attachedToType=User&attachedTo=22pk5eaouhpu7&page=2
Figure 15 gives, amongst others, the initial online conversations between students Elainne, a year 7 student, and Gradient, Jade and Twitch, Year 9/10 Level C students. Gradient Jade and Twitch were each asking Elainne what she would like them to teach her as part of the project.
Figure 16 Second communication left by Twitch to Elainne - retrieved 2nd January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profiles/comment/list?attachedToType=User&attachedTo=22pk5eaouhpu7
Figure 15 shows that Twitch’s communication was at a fairly low level compared to Jade’s communication. However Twitch was able to use Jade’s and Gradient’s communications as a model and to learn from them. Figure 16 shows Twitch’s second attempt at communicating with Elainne nearly one week later while Figure 17 shows all of Twitch’s received comments which shows that Rosalie responded to him on the same day as he sent his first communication, the one that was most difficult to decipher.

Figure 17 All Twitch’s comments - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profile/Twitch75
It was interesting to read some of Twitch’s reflections where he said that “he did not get much communication back from year 7 students because they did not want to learn and further their skills”. He also said that he should have been marked better (he had not been given any marks at this stage) because he wasn’t able to learn as he asked questions and they were not answered - his full reflection is given in Appendix 11 with other Level C student reflections.
During week one I punished a student for being off task by moving him. The student then started a discussion group as shown in Figure 18 using our level C class ning and this was followed by comments of support made by group members. I was impressed, although worried by the change of power, by the student’s quick thinking and ability to use, within five minutes, our online environment to his advantage – our social network was a powerful communication tool that could be used against the teacher. Jacobson (2004) describes two types of motivation. The first is extrinsic Motivation – when educators motivate students by driving students to learn because of their desire to obtain rewards or to avoid punishment. The second type is intrinsic motivation – when educators motivate students to learn because they are fascinated by the subject/task and they gain pleasure from the learning. Compared to extrinsic motivators, intrinsic motivators take effect more slowly, but are usually more lasting once they take hold and it also drives deeper learning. I used extrinsic motivation to punish the student. I was working in the extrinsic motivation mode and needed to move into building intrinsic motivation, hence my role as a teacher needed to change.


Figure 18 – The online group formed for “people that think Jack should move back” on Ms Casey’s ning - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://gcasey.ning.com/group/peoplethatthinkjackshouldmoveback

During this second stage of the AR cycle I used open-ended activities, where student themes and topics were negotiated and learning occurred using the wide range of internet resources (support forums and video tutorials). In this stage, I acted by incorporating two of Hoskisson’s (2006) elements to provide an environment that promoted creativity:

1. The process of training students to critique students have previously learned to leave the critiquing to the teacher.
2. Teaching students to play most classes stop playing in the early years of education which often leads to a conditioned response of “give me the instructions so I know what my work is”. Students have learned to follow a recipe and not stray from it.

The lack of opportunity that students have to participate actively in their own education can be linked to consequent low levels of engagement and high rates of drop-out (Bland & Atweh 2007). Bland and Atweh argue that the practice of students as researchers offers one way to create opportunities for engagement so that students whose voices may have been silenced or devalued within traditional schooling systems can be heard. Involving students more closely in decision-making and listening seriously to their stories of experience as learners were essential steps in reinforcing students’ commitment to academic progress. During this research students progressed from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 (Yuen & Yuen 2008). This was a shift from using the Internet as a tool of reference to one of collaboration, from passive to active, from consumer to participant-oriented.
This phase of the AR helped me to provide the following additional responses to my research questions:
Research Question
Finding
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?

An important literacy and learning practice that continued to occur on our ning was the process of leaving comments for other students. Although these were generally text based they required students to be able to think, analyse and become critically aware of each other.

Students made sense of their online environment by using it for their own purposes and this included some playing and watching of others. Many students were not able to interact effectively in our online social network until they had play time to explore and develop understandings of their online environments. The amount of time needed was different for different students and as part of this play time some students explored the boundaries of acceptable publication and behavior. Students were not able to develop a critical awareness of their own or other’s preferred modalities and ways of expressing meaning until they were given sufficient experience in using them for their own purposes and critiquing aspects of their choices (Millard 2005).

  1. 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?

Adolescents’ are engaged when using social networks. They can teach educators ways of empowering students which can lead to good communication and dynamics occurring in the classroom, hence strengthening literacy curriculum. Learning to deal with the change of dynamics, from teacher to student directed, allows students to bring their prior knowledge into the classroom and this helps bring authentic literacy learning into the classroom. This can teach us the limitations of print-based texts after experiencing the flexibility provided by multimodal texts. Adolescents’ engagement in social networks provide educators with a learning environment which naturally encourage students to read, think, analyse and become critically aware of each other, the media they encountered and even the teacher. To update and strengthen literacy curriculum, teachers need to take advantage of this type of environment and implement it into their day-to-day teaching and learning pedagogy.

  1. 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

Teachers need to be flexible and use a range of approaches when dealing with online social networks. Approaches could include allowing students to have more input into project topics, methods of presentation and building-in greater collaboration. Models could include providing avatar construction websites to help students build their identity in appropriate ways and letting them develop clearly set guidelines for communication and publication. Giving students playtime to become familiar with their social network is an ideal time to model good communication skills including providing students with constructive comments. Student issues and problems will vary greatly just as in any classroom and teachers must be able to cater for the diverse range of students. Using students as resources for other students as well as using the evidence of time stamps is a model with which I will continue in the future. Resources that help students organise themselves such as graphic organizers, SmartArt and Inspiration software provide supportive learning practices and are very valuable. Resources could include brainstorming templates and providing online as well as printed instructions. A good ning resource is the online “Feature” tool - where the teacher can identify and flag good work or good members on the ning front page.

Using ICT-based curriculum was able to offer opportunities to individualise learning by breaking away from face-to-face teaching (Corey, Unal & Jakubowski 2004). Students will always challenge boundaries and teachers must use approaches that ensure their own agreed standards of behavior are understood by all students. Appendix 14 gives examples of the wide range of features that the ning environment provided. These features can support teachers in developing ICT-based curriculum that allows students to build ownership and to individualise learning. Appendix 7 gives samples of student ownership developed through avatars, profiles, photos uploaded and student friendships being formed. Ning features help to address multimodal forms of literacy by providing a great range of opportunities for students to become actively involved in activities that encourage publication of their own creations. They also encourage students to critically examine their own work and that of others. The easy access to feedback encourages students to justify, to modify and, hence, to improve. Thus, nings offer a great range of exciting multimodal forms of literacy experiences for student exploration and engagement.

5.1.3 The 3rd aspect of the Action Research Cycle - "Analyse"

During this stage of the AR cycle I studied the actions and reactions of my students as they became the researchers of how learning was changing and how they liked to learn.
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I initially found that students’ gave little thought when using the Internet for research and their stated opinions were a mixture of Wikipedia and Google data rather than how they felt or thought.
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It became clear very quickly that as much as I wanted my students to drive their research they did not share that goal and they wanted to be told what to do and how to do it.
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I found that year 7 students, when identifying 10 boring activities in their day to day life, showed through their brainstorming activity that they wanted/needed/expected to be entertained all of the time. (This was not central to the research and hence I did not go into it in any further depth.)
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The students’ ability to critique each other’s work was very limited.
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In hindsight, I found that it was important for me, as the teacher, to become more of an active participant in our class social network in order to model good analysis and critiquing skills.
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I found that students were, surprisingly, creative in their Photo journey products and very supportive in their comments to each other when giving feedback.

Figure 19 gives an average student sample, which I consider to be of low quality, from Year 9/10 Level C research. Most students appeared to be bored and uninterested in this activity. Year 9/10 students appeared not to care how others used the internet or how the changes in education due to ICT and the Internet had affected them (see teacher week 1 reflection in Appendix 17). Their published opinions and answers to questions often held little substance (Appendix 8 gives samples of student research). Five students out of 17 gave the same answer for the first question “You are the researcher for this major project – what is a researcher?” Many students’ answers were cut and pasted from the same Internet site.


Figure 19 Year9/10 Level C student sample research, most students made little effort - retrieved 4th January 2009 http://gcasey.ning.com/profiles/blogs/research-1

Figure 20 shows a year 7 brainstorm diagram before taking her “boring” photo. Further examples of what students find boring in their day to day life can be found in Appendix 9. Figure 22 shows one example of a simple boring pen edited into a creative design to share with others on our class ning.

Figure 20 A year 7 student brainstorm using SmartArt during the planning stage


Figure 21 A year 7 students, Jtruls, final series of “boring” edited photo, he chose a pen - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/photo/photo/listForContributor?screenName=3aw423cx60dbx
Once students designed and finalised their product (multimodal document) they published it online to gain feedback for improvement. Level C students gained feedback from year 7 students and year 7 students gained feedback from their year 7 peers. Appendix 10 shows a range of students’ comments and work posted which demonstrated generally positive peer support and creativity. The comments received from jtruls’s original pen picture from Figure 21 are given below in Figure 22.

Figure 22 Comments for the original pen photo in Figure 21 - retrieved 7th January 2009
**http://y7gcasey.ning.com/photo/jtrulspic1-1?context=user**
By using community learning I was aiming to combine learning with reality and to bring education closer to my students’ lifeworlds. The purpose of education should not only be to teach students book knowledge but, more importantly, education should improve individual quality through nurturing good learning habits and by improving communication skills (Liu 2006). Liu’s set of three basic skills were ones that I found to be useful in starting to build community learning. These were:
  1. Time management skills
  2. Communication skills
  3. Social Networking skills
As shown in Figure 23, I modeled some of these skills for students by actively participating in the ning social network with students, by contributing to forums started by students and also by leaving comments. However, like my students I displayed a very low level critique. Using “Love your pictures” or “Love your ning!” I was talking to them in a language with which they were familiar but this did not model good analysis or communication skills.

Figure 23 shows a comment from myself, Gail Casey, actively participating in the class ning - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profiles/comment/list?attachedToType=User&attachedTo=6xhdenmdvwo9
There is no such person as the average Internet user but all Internet users are unique and all Internet use is basically idiosyncratic (Krug 2006). The first rule of Krug’s (2006 p11) Internet usability is “Don’t make me think”. His work is based on what he calls “Facts of life” as described in the following points:
1. We don’t read pages. We scan them – we spend very little time reading most Web pages.
2. We don’t make optimal choices when scanning Web pages - we choose the first reasonable option.
3. We don’t Figure out how things work - we muddle through.
My students’ responses to their Internet research activity supported Krug’s “Facts of life” in that they did little detailed reading and a fair bit of muddling through. I found this superficiality to be disappointing as I had endeavored to provide them with a range of support mechanisms and had tried to keep the tasks simple, yet relevant.

Many students discussed their wider Internet use freely in class and a group of year 7 girls encouraged me to join their out of school ning network called “Spyro's & Cynders Lair” ning, shown in Figure 24. Initially I remained an observer or held a teacher presence on the ning but slowly I changed my views and started to become more involved in both our class ning environment and the girls out of school ning. (“Spyro's & Cynders Lair” ning is shown in more detail in Appendix 3A.) Having students ask me to participate was slowly starting to change my way of thinking.


Figure 24 An out of school year 7 ning - retrieved 2nd January 2009 http://nightspyro.ning.com/profiles/profile/show?id=Hunter&

Giving students’ tasks where the answers can be cut and pasted from the Internet has little educational value. In addition to promoting educational learning environments teachers need to model critical thinking skills and be seen as active participants. However, when students were given tasks that incorporated multimodality and multimedia they were creative and actively supportive of each other.
This phase was paramount in helping me respond to my third research question:

Research Question
Finding
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

When implementing an ICT-based curriculum that addresses multimodal forms of literacy students need access to appropriate software and computers. IT support is also important as students extend their skills and the teacher’s knowledge. Internet access is needed for research and online social networking and this may require the organisation of websites to be placed in the student Internet cache.

I found that it was good to use an approach where students could learn from each other. Students learn from good modeling as exemplified by other students. For this approach to be successful students must be able to judge the value of their own work. To do this and to evaluate that of others requires them to construct critical responses. They need to have the abilities to evaluate and justify their opinions and to transform their existing understanding – models and resources that support this need are important to successfully implement multimodal forms of literacy using a ning environment. Giving students practice as well as play time can help students develop the required skills. Encouraging students to start basic discussions on things such as their favourite color or food will provide opportunities for them to practice, to play and to develop the skills necessary to implement more complex critiques. A multimodal approach, one which incorporates both the content and ideas being generated by students, will encourage student ownership and commitment.

5.1.4 The 4th aspect of the Action Research Cycle - "Reflect"
Initially year 9/10 Level C students started their online work using a Class Blogmeister blog <http://classblogmeister.com/blog.php?blogger_id=97161&blog_id=&listclass=13816> before moving to their ning.
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I found that students enjoyed the freedom and the breadth of possible interactions of their ning far more than their blog, but both served different purposes as a teaching resource.
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As the action research cycle progressed, I found that allowing students’ online conversations to develop more freely resulted in more communication that was in-tune with their lifeworlds.
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My increased tolerance of students’ online conversations resulted in students taking more ownership of their learning environment.

I used two social networking environments. I started my year 9/10 Level C students using our Class Blogmeister blogs but, as the teacher, I had to approve all work before it was published and I also approved all comments before they appeared online – this was very time consuming and students did not receive instant feedback or publication. Figure 25 shows the approval screen for a teacher to allow a comment to be published online. Figure 26 shows the comment after approval as posted on the student’s blog.


Figure 25 a blog comment (from a student in Canada) must be approved by the teacher before it is seen online – retrieved 15th Dec 2008 http://classblogmeister.com/approve.php?userid=97161&blogger=192139&blog=712762&comment=683392
This Class Blogmeister blog environment allowed anyone to make a comment at any time (they did not need to be a member of the environment). All comments as well as students’ published work was moderated, this made it an easy task to work with other students and classes around the world. This contrasted with our ning where, although it could be viewed by anyone, only members could participate in any ning activity including making comments. When I wanted my students to reflect on the project, I used the blog because student work could not be seen until it was approved by the teacher and I did not want students to copy and paste another student’s reflection.

Figure 26 Once the comment it approved it is appears on the student blog – retrieved 15th December 2009 http://classblogmeister.com/blog.php?blog_id=712762&mode=comment&blogger_id=192139#comments
Some year 7 students were hesitant, especially initially, in making comments to year 9/10 ning pages. Less confident students are much less likely to use online spaces to think aloud or to expose their thoughts to scrutiny (Mason 2008). Some students may be hesitant to use the internet and online environments due to digital divide issues or the lack of support or training (Mason 2008, p.134). During the pre data collection stage I was very strict with year 7 students and their use of our nings. I “banned” students for misdemeanors such as saying “I love you” as a ning comment to another student. They did not like to be banned from the ning because this meant that they would lose their ning “friend invitations” as well as all posts, pictures and comments within the environment. Once a student was reactivated, by requesting a face to face discussion with me and identifying why they were banned, they would start with a new “My Page” on the ning. Atlanta, a year 7 student, was repeatedly banned for posting pictures of himself, friends or other inappropriate pictures similar to those shown in Figure 27.

Figure 27 Some of, year 7 student Atlanta’s inappropriate pictures posted on our class ning - retrieved 8th December 2008 http://gcasey.ning.com/photo/photo/listForApproval
Each time Atlanta was banned he would come and request his membership to be reactivated. I did not approach any student about their inappropriate activity but, rather, would wait for them to take the responsibility to want to discuss the ban; once this discussion occurred, they were reactivated.
The cycles of action research did not have a natural conclusion although the ending of this specific unit of work and the ensuing end of the school year forced the termination of the cycles.


The fourth phase of the AR helped me provide additional responses to my third research question:
Research Question
Finding
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

Two types of suitable resources were used and are recommended. One was a blog and the other a ning and these offer different social networking experiences for students. A blog is very contained and manageable for the novice ICT educator as it allows students to develop critiquing skills by leaving comments and is freely open to other classes for collaboration. It does, however, take time for the teacher to approve all comments and work published. A ning requires careful monitoring because there is no teacher approval system for posting comments and student work. Keeping a regular view of the “recent activity” allows monitoring to be managed without being overly time consuming. A ning empowered students far more than a blog and gave greater opportunities for social networking while offering a greater array of multimodal forms of literacy. Publishing online challenged students to engage in meaningful learning activities and provided opportunities for multiple resolutions as well as allowing them to bring their out-of-school knowledge into class.





5.2 Informal Student Interviews - Findings


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I found that students enjoyed gaining peer feedback from others. They also like to look at what others had published online, to gain ideas.
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The informal interviews helped me to realise that my students’ perception of learning was different to my own. Students did not see that communicating online, publishing online and providing constructive feedback to peers as ‘real’ learning. In fact, five students from the interviews said that they were not really learning using nings and blogs.
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I found that the ning required students to be active rather than passive learners.
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Eleven out of seventeen students believed that our class ning was classified as “social networking”.
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Some saw the ning as boring or not enjoyable perhaps because our class ning required students to think and respond in ways to which they were not accustomed.
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Through Informal Interviews as well as ning profiles, class conversations and student reflections I found that students, in their combined home and school environments, were involved in a great range of online activities, none of which surprised me. These included:
· Online social environments such as msn & facebook
· Using a range of websites, following their hobbies and interests such as horseriding, Fan Fiction, bikes, Harry Potter etc
· Gaming online including first person shooter games
· Watching videos and movies from sites such as YouTube
· Downloading a great variety to content from games, video clips, software and music
· Online listening to music
· Uploading pictures and other content
· Using online tutorials to improve their skills in such things as PhotoShop
· Buying and selling on ebay
· Internet searching with Google and other search engines for homework and such things as game cheats
· email

In the fourth, and final, informal interview question I asked students to make some comparison between how our classroom operated at the start of the semester (more traditional style) and how it was during this project - Table 6 gives a summary of their responses to this question.


Informal interview question 4
Summary of student responses
This project could have been done normally where we make a video or some form of multimedia and put it into the teacher’s intray. Would it have been better if we had done the project normally rather than using nings and blogs?
Not really learning using nings & blogs=5 students
Nings & blogs are good to express ourselves and get feedback.
Good to get feedback and ideas
Good to see other student work to gain ideas
Good to learn how to upload stuff
Good to upload work
There were too many places to upload work
Don’t really like talking online
It would be better just working with programs on the computer
We should be able to play more games and do whatever we like
I don’t really care about publishing
This project was to open ended, students need direction. We already know how to use this stuff.
Good to talk with others, talk with those you don’t know
The project was just another thing I had to do
Good that students can help students
Nings and blogs are better than just writing. I like publishing work online so I put more effort into it.
It was good to get comments although it took time to read the comments.
Nothing that bad, just something to do.

Table 6 Student informal interview responses when comparing our past classroom projects to publishing online and using nings.
I found that, by integrating a social network into my classroom, students enjoyed gaining feedback from others and they usually liked to respond to this feedback, enjoying the ability to publish online. However, they did not perceive this as learning, they couldn’t even perceive that using a ning as a social networking area had the potential to be a useful learning tool. Li & Edmonds’ (2005) study, on technology integration and advanced communication technology in learning, points out that students and teachers, often, do not share the same visions, understandings and beliefs about using technology in education.
The year 9/10 Level C Informal Interview data showed that students in my class spend between zero and six hours a day using the Internet. One student could not afford the Internet at home while one other was not allowed long periods of time on the Internet. Most students interviewed appeared to have no limits on the times they spent on the Internet at home. A summary of the first three interview questions can be found in Appendix 3C and full details of all four questions can be found in Appendix 3D. Figure 28 gives a screen clip of a MySpace page belonging to one of my students who offered to share her details with me. This page gives an indication of the complexity of the literacies and multimodalily that many of our students are a part of everyday – both as producers and users.
In hindsight, I would have liked to ask students further questions in the interviews regarding how they feel that these dynamic social networks affect them at school, at home, socially with friends and even in the future for job preparation. These questions would have more fully allowed me to better analyse research question one.



Figure 28 A students MySpace, social network, page - retrieved 5th December (URL not given due to privacy issues)


The informal interviews helped me to further respond to my first and second research questions:
Research Question
Findings
  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?

Students are involved in a great array of different literacy and learning practices as they interact in online social networks out-of-school. These can involve reading and writing, but, more importantly, they include multimodal design and publication. They also involve access to 24/7 discussions, friendship groups and research as well as publishing multimedia. Thus their leisure activities are at several levels of complexity above the simple print based techniques used in most classrooms. Students are continually faced with different forms of multimedia and multimodal content to which they must interpret and act. Many appear to be coping very well with these dynamic interactive environments whilst others are avoiding them. As the screen continues to become a dominant entertainment and communication factor in our students’ lives the literacy and learning needs of our students are changing and we need to help them understand and cope with the literacies needed to interact in social networks such as the one shown in Figure 29.


  1. 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?

Social networks can teach us how to share our learning and to work more collaboratively with each other. They also open up opportunities for students to work with a wide range of multimodal texts in dynamic and collaborative ways. As a teacher I have learnt that students do not appreciate their own extensive range of social networking skills nor do they understand the value that these can bring to the classroom. I now feel that I would be doing my students a disservice if I were to provide the bulk of my learning materials as print-based text. Students flourish when given opportunities with multimodal texts as these help them connect with their own lifeworld and help to make learning fun. Teachers using multimodal text will provide a greater range of teaching and learning opportunities for their student and this will help to strengthen our literacy curriculum.




5.3 Multimedia and Multimodal documents - Findings


Year 9/10 Level C students were able to use their out-of-school literacies in the classroom to help them develop their product for their year 7 partners.

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I found that, by incorporating ICT, students were able to produce multimedia and multimodal documents very easily and this gave them opportunities to express themselves through multiple modes. This gave students greater opportunity to produce content and address a range of literacy practices that were appropriate for their ability level, much more so than when using traditional print media.
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Using multimedia and multimodal documents encouraged students to think and Figure out how to use tools and media in distinctive ways to express their imagination with purpose.
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Seeing the wide range of content produced by students and the complexity of the different modes and media in which they were produced demonstrates that there is now a wide array of literacy practices that students are aware of and involved in during their day to day lives.
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Writing for an online audience, rather than just their teacher, help to spur the imagination of my students.

Three examples of year 9/10 Level C products are described and then shown, pictorially, below:

1. One of my Level C students had been editing and designing motor cars for many years using Photoshop. This student, Murray, chose to teach his year 7 partners about this important area in his life by producing a series of edited screen shots, shown in Figure 29. Murray indicated that he did not see the ning as a social network but only as a place to upload work.
2. Another student, Gradient had earlier in the semester learnt how to do Pixel Art in his Maths class. He enjoyed Pixel Art and chose to share this with his year 7 partners (Figures 30 and 31). Gradient then formed a group on the ning (Figure 32) in order to capture the attention of his year 7 peers in a more personalised manner. In Gradient’s reflection he indicated that he does more work when he has responsibility for his own learning.
3. Meeka had an incredible talent to draw using Paint software. She spent hours drawing characters for her stories at home and placed these in movie maker software to make them come alive. She then uploaded these movies to share with year 7 students as well as her Level C classmates (Figure 33). In Meeka’s reflection she identified publishing online as being one of the things she appreciated most from this project. (Appendix 15 gives more details of Level C final products.)

Figure 29 Murray’s year 7 product – How to edit car pictures using Photoshop - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/photo/photo/listForContributor?screenName=2ct5ju0bjgybz

Figure 30 Gradient’s year 7 product – How to use Pixel Art retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profile/Gradient

Figure 31 An example of Pixel Art posted by Gradient - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/group/gradientshelpingthing

Figure 32 Gradients Group - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/

Figure 33 One of Meeka’s many hand drawings in Paint - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profile/Meeka
Other year 9/10 Level C multimodal final products for year 7 included:
· Video showing how to combine clips in Audacity sound software
· Video clip made from screenshots to teach aspects of Photoshop
· Photos of computer parts
· A tutorial using a word document giving screenshots to teach Flash software
· A tutorial using a word document giving screenshots to teach Paint software
· Video clip on how to watch movie trailers on the Apple website

Students today are no less intelligent than those of former years, but they don’t fit the same academic moulds (Healy 1991 p278). Some of my weaker students produced tutorials (for example on joining Audacity files and playing video clips from the Apple website) that may not been of a high quality, but the act of communicating, planning, producing and then publishing was a challenge for these students and their multimodal documents were of interest to year 7. The study did not allow time to evaluate the usefulness of the year 9/10 products for year 7 students but I would not consider any of the products unsuitable. Year 7 students in particular, enjoyed watching the Meeka movies, using the Flash tutorial and looking at the Pixel Art. For me, the end product was not the important aspect of the student project. In many respects, students now come to school with more potential and a wider experiential background than children of a previous generation. They possess a gloss of sophistication at the expense of important mental skills and arguably, their underlying brain organization (Healy 1991).


Year 7 students enjoyed producing multimodal documents included podcasts using Audacity®
sound software and Voki® podcasts as shown in Figure 34 and 35. (A Voki is a Web2 application where one can embed code onto a ning page profile in order to add a podcast).



Figure 34 Cynders Voki podcast retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profile/Cynder


Figure 35 Elainne's Voki podcast retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profile/Elianne
Figure 36 shows the “My Page” for a year 7 student, Atlanta. This page is very busy and includes music (there are copyright issues with some of these) as well as a host of graphics such as his avatar, uploaded pictures, background and uploaded video content. This student was banned at least five times during the pre data collection stage in an attempt to control his inappropriate upload of personal photos and information. Once the data collection stages for the research started I did not ban him, even though he loaded copyrighted music, because he did not upload any further personal identifiable information and, more specifically, such activity was to be noted as part of the research. Looking at his very busy “My Page” I worried about how much of his content he understood and how his desire to watch funny videos and photos might impact on his own risk-taking behavior.

Figure 36 Year 7 student Atlanta's My Page - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/profile/ATLANTA

Alvarez (2001) explains that when students are asked to write in a traditional class, they know their audience and the expectations of the teacher. The parameters for writing assignments are given to them and they follow these guidelines as they gather information and finalise their writing. Each student understands the social climate, their relationship to other classmates and what must be done to satisfy teacher expectations. Online, the format changes; the audience is now faceless and largely unknown. The purpose and the conditions, in which this form of electronic communication is distributed, affect the thought process of the student. Students writing for their teacher and classmates may think differently about the process and the content when asked to write something that will appear on the Internet (Alvarez, p. 196). This type of learning helps to spur the imagination of my passive learners. The multimedia and multimodal documents were a significant source of information in helping me answer my second research question:

Research Question
Findings
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?

In general, students find social networks dynamic and engaging – they wouldn’t choose to use them, when outside school, if that were not the case. These environments, when introduced into the classroom situation, provide many opportunities for students to interact with each other and to become critically aware of others in that online environment – moving from being passive learners to ones who are both active and more responsible learners. These environments teach us that print-based texts provide a limited means for students to publish and express themselves. However, using multimodal texts in social networks provide endless opportunities for students to publish, express themselves and communicate. Using multimodal texts opens up opportunities for students to gain an online audience and, even, a student “following” - providing them with a range of positive feedback. Multimodal texts also encourage students to use their creativity to express themselves and to form identities that they can change as they desire. If educators can tap into these 24/7 opportunities, as provided by social networks, they could combine these with their previously existing curriculum expertise to strengthened literacy curriculum.



5.4 Observations made by the teacher - Findings


Initially Level C students were bored with me, as the teacher, coming into the classroom at the start of the lesson asking them to face the front, take things out of their hands and turn their computer screen off in order to listen or brainstorm. During the second week (of the four weeks) students commenced making decisions on what work they would do, when they would do it and how they would do it.

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I found that through the action research cycle, although students were initially hesitant, many students started to take more responsibility for their learning and student centered learning began to develop for most.
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Although some students did not use their class time effectively it was clear that others embraced the opportunity and classroom conversations began to change as students became aware that the teacher was no longer going to tell them what to do, how to do it and when.
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Involving my students in what I thought were relevant student projects resulted in students expressing themselves in creative ways.
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Students themselves can be excellent role models as well as great resources to each other and the teacher.

Level C students became a resource for year 7 students and within the year 7 class, year 7 students became mentors to each other. Figure 37 gives a screen clip of the year 7 students offering to be mentors to other year 7 students.



Figure 37 - Year 7 students offering to be mentors to each other - retrieved 7th January 2009 http://y7gcasey.ning.com/forum/topics/be-a-mentor-help-others-add
Students moved from being teacher directed, in the initial stage of the study, to student directed as the action research cycle progressed. Students took steps towards being responsible for their own learning. As the teacher I gradually became the facilitator and actively moved around the classroom each lesson, discussing with every student their individual needs as perceived by the students themselves; this was aimed, in part, to ensure that no student could use the excuse “I didn’t know what to do”. I answered questions, recommended approaches, software and websites to support students as individual learners. I no longer punished students by moving them or by giving them detention for being off task. Based on my observation, after every lesson, I recorded my assessment of each student’s effective use of their class time (given in Appendix 19). I was disappointed that three of the seventeen students showed little progress – they were regularly assessed by myself, as the teacher, as having an approach to work that was “low” and this did not change significantly throughout the study. These three students were often off task and engaged in game playing or Internet surfing. From my experience I believe that these students were in fact less attention seeking and distracting to others during this project than would have been if they had been given a traditional project. Two out of the three of these students produced useful content for their year 7 student partners but their communication with their year 7 partners was minimal.
Engaging students in class discussions and collaboration on project construction, expectations and assessment, produced an environment where students were given responsibility for their learning. However, I struggled to get students to set goals and be responsible for assessment. So, I developed four simple tables for Level C students (see one of the completed samples in Figure 38 below and this sample and the other three tables can be found in Appendix 12) which helped to drive the more motivated students to set their own goals, but this did not necessarily support all students in setting high level goals for themselves as it was me, rather than the students, who had the largest input into the assessment criteria – this was a disappointing aspect of the study.

Figure 38 One of a series of four goal/assessment tables for students to place a dot on the level they wished to achieve
These tables of goals were based on the Victorian Essential Learning Standards, http://vels.vcaa.vic.edu.au/assessment/maps/index.html, and assessed the following areas:
· Personal Learning
· ICT for visualizing thinking
· ICT for Creating
· ICT for communicating
Observations helped me further respond to my third research question:
Research Question
Finding
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

Students possess the imagination and creativity to combine print, visual and digital modes in ways that can be used to empower the students themselves. A classroom approach that allows students to take more responsibility assists in moving the classroom dynamics towards one that is more effective and student centered. Using social networking to construct an ICT-based curriculum approach provides opportunities to encourage students’ creative abilities and to build on their individual strengths in order to take on what they see as a meaningful focus in their literacy learning because they are engaged in the multimodal design of texts immediately relevant to the school curriculum and their lifeworlds . Using students as models and resources, supports teachers in providing avenues for students to use their out-of-school literacies practices inside the classroom necessary for the development and implementation of an ICT-based literacy curriculum. By linking students from different year levels, those with whom they otherwise would have little contact, even though each one remains anonymous, students will be encouraged to become more critically aware of those around them.