Chapter 6 Discussion and Final Comments

----Globalisation has placed new demands on the kinds of literacies needed in the workplace and in everyday life. I used social networking and Web 2.0 tools intending to create exciting new learning opportunities; through my research I encouraged students to be responsible for their own learning and to become critical viewers of the world around them. This new classroom context provided my students with opportunities for instant and global publication of information, thoughts, opinions and ideas as well as social networking. I used these digital tools to attract students’ attention and enhance their learning experiences. I employed action research to directly address the problem of the division between theory and practice (Somekh & Lewin 2005). I drew on the theories of a range of scholars, such as Merchant (2009); Yuen & Yuen (2008); Knobel & Lankshear (2008); Jewitt (2008) and Dillon (2006), who propose an expanded approach to new literacies including multiliteracies and multimodality in schooling and classroom practice. Hence, I was adapting and putting into practice theories and ideas developed by renowned academics.
By using social networking inside the classroom I created new opportunities for open discussion on what occurs in social networks both at school and outside the classroom. This allowed issues such as privacy and appropriate online behavior to fit naturally into the classroom dialogue. A research approach that involves students as researchers was also inherent in this study. By collaborating with students across year levels using a social networking environment called a ning, students engaged in digital learning drawing on their out-of-school digital literacy practices. They actively designed and published the type of learning that they felt would promote good learning to others and used many of the features that are found in common social networking sites that are similar to, say, MySpace. By endeavoring to engage students as both informants and as researchers they supported and facilitated the process of learning (Leitch et al. 2007).
Children today are fundamentally different from previous generations in the way that they think, in the way they access, absorb, interpret, process and use information and, above all, in the way they view, interact and communicate in and with the modern world (Jukes & Dosaj 2006). This holds profound implications for the future of teaching, learning and the assessment of that learning. Linking thinking skills and technology was a key component throughout. I encouraged students to find, analyse and judge data for its worth. Because technology makes research tasks easier, Dillon (2006) suggests that there is a greater burden on the higher-level skills. She suggested that the way to teach people to develop thinking skills is to give them interesting things to think about; this continued to be an important challenge in the action research cycle.
Through this research I have encouraged students to interact with content, learners and experts incorporating discussions on how to share and what was considered appropriate information to be shared (Sanders 2005). My research highlighted the need for me as an educator to be responsible for sharing my insight about technology tools so that informed discussions could take place in the classroom. Using the Internet gave students the resources to focus in depth on the themes and topics that interest them in their lifeworlds. As students became more socially aware they also needed to become more critically aware and moved from just wanting to know the correct answer to wanting to become involved.
Students today find the traditional print-based approach to teaching and learning to be boring and not relevant to the online places where they learn, socialise and play. In their own lifeworlds, out-of-school, they have found that ICT offers them a great range of activities that engage and challenge them. Digital literacy resonates with students’ lifeworlds but in school this is used so infrequently that its true value is misunderstood and underestimated. This research points to the fact that, if teachers begin to integrate some of students’ digital literacy practices into the curriculum, teaching and learning will be more student-centered, motivating, engaging and relevant.
With guidance, students can become the designers of their own learning. By tapping into students’ interest and strengths I transformed my practice to provide opportunities for students to combine multiple modes of literacy learning where they were able to use their own creativity to explore their interest areas and to teach other younger students and, in some cases, to teach themselves. This new approach to curriculum also provided a new context for students to expand their creativity through multimodal designs or by using a variety of multimedia texts. Uncovering these examples of engaging and relevant teaching and learning, through my action research, that was context specific to my location, provides a model of what is possible if teachers in other contexts were to try something similar.
By using the action research cycle I was able to transform my classroom by putting into practice many of the 21st Century learning approaches about which I report in the review of literature. Following the action research cycle, I was able to identify what was unsuccessful or disappointing in my lessons and hence I worked methodically through the phases to analyse and reflect and to follow through with amended plans before acting out my new plans that were designed to make my teaching and learning more relevant to my students’ experiences outside school. The AR cycle gave me the confidence to know that I would see some improvement or benefits just around the corner, or in the next cycle. I saw my students turn out some amazing multimodal products that, in my traditional teacher role, would not have occurred. I would not have known that they had such creative talent. It is this outcome that will ensure that I continue this kind of approach in whatever subject area that I teach in the future.
This research allowed me to ask my students about, and to see for myself, the types of digital and print-based literacy and learning practices in which they are involved as they interact in online social networks. These can be very complex and require practice and skill development to communicate successfully. A few students struggle to make sense of them and avoid them while others flourish.
Online social networks (and adolescents’engagement with them) can teach us a great deal about multimodal texts and literacies. This type of learning environment changes the mode of learning from one of passive Internet surfers to active online designers and publishers. Student pages in these environments show the depth of activity and literacies that print-based texts just cannot provide. If educators can gain the confidence needed to become involved in these online social networks, then I believe they would begin to appreciate them as an educational tool which would in turn update and strengthen literacy curriculum.
Online social networks come in a range of types including blogs, wikis and nings. All of these online resources offer varying degrees of social networking. For the novice teacher I would recommend starting with a basic blog where initially only the teacher publishes and students provide comments before moving to each student having their own blog and publishing their own multimodal forms of literacy. Once the teacher is comfortable with this environment then a ning would provide much greater flexibility for student directed interaction, ownership and communication. I perceived that a ning provided a greater range of new literacies. Allowing students to be available to become resources for others is an important element that cannot be underestimated. A teacher would then no longer be the main provider of knowledge but would be the provider of the methods to find knowledge.

6.1 Limitations and implications for further research

As a teacher, I brought my own range of knowledge, skills, energy and enthusiasm into the classroom. The confidence and experience with ICT and online social networks that I brought into my action research cycle would be different to those of many other teachers. Results from this research show the effects that one teacher can achieve by changing their pedagogical and methodological practices. I have used and developed resources that I hope will encourage other educators to explore such tools in their classroom and hence to expand the foundations for a 21st Century approach to learning.
While this approach was successful for me over a four week period, with only two of my five classes, it can be adapted for a different context. Although I believe that all areas of the curriculum could successfully implement social networks in their teaching and learning plans, I found that there was a significant time factor in monitoring student activity on the ning. I was conscience of inappropriate behavior and wanted to be aware of all student interaction, publication as well as downloading activity. In order to cope with the work load I would recommend teachers use some of their class time to monitor ning activity if they were to implement wider use of this type of teaching and learning style. Nings can also be made private if teachers are concerned with inappropriate comments or activity by students.
Using an online social network initially took longer planning and implementation time and involved feelings of uncertainty and hesitation from myself as the teacher. These are things that the traditional busy teacher does not want to experience hence, many teachers will remain print-based and this kind of learning is temporal. Furthermore, there is also a certain amount of professional bias that a teacher brings into the classroom which needs to be taken into account when recording such things as teacher observations. There are also possible issues with student interview responses where students may want to look cool in front of their friends or may be having a particularly negative day. Another limitation in the data findings is that some of the year 9/10 students were not present in the classroom during the last week of the research and final data for these may have been different (perhaps more positive, in fact) if they were present with the rest of the class. Some limitations could exist between students of different ages although I found, with supportive coaxing, year 7 students interacted successfully with year 9/10 students. I found that there existed more peer pressure to actively answer ning comments and to become involved in our social network than for students to not be involved.
In an era when just about everything is a mouse click away it is important for students to able to find, analyse and judge data for its worth and to communicate effectively. This research was an attempt to better understand what 21st Century Education should look like and what its implications for our children might be. Further investigations, into how educators can use online social networks to update and strengthen literacy curriculum (as well as for other teaching and learning areas) could examine the ability to expand this approach to a full teaching load (not simply the two classes, representing approximately 25% of a full teaching allotment, as in this research), expand to a full semester or longer (this study was for 4 weeks only) and to include teachers who are not specifically ICT trained. In this way we can move further along the pathway of better preparing students to become meaningful and active participants in the 21st Century.

6.2 Consideration of relevant ethical issues

This research was carried out at a Victorian public school by the classroom teacher (researcher) with permission from both the school and the state of Victoria’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. I have adhered to all of the processes as required by the ethical committee from the Deakin University Human Research Ethics Committee (DU-HREC) prior to and throughout this research.