Jan 12, 2018 in Research

Proposal for Research Project

Abstract

This paper is a research project proposal that is going to identify and assess the degree of the New Literacies’ influence on real-life classroom studies. It is argued that the New Literacies and their impact on teaching/studying require profound research for further analysis and interpretation. Literature findings and discussions prove the need to conduct such research because of the directness of the information source and lack of conceptualization and structure in the existing theories of the New Literacies. Background on Australian current government policy is provided to support the objective. Non-Australian academic findings are also taken into consideration. The main method used is the focus group method. This experiment will include 72 students, their teachers and parents who will be involved for an academic term studying Natural Disasters in the English class. The participants are divided into 3 Classrooms with different degrees of technology implementation. The evaluation and the final comparison will be done using special grading rubric for the student’s performance and feedback surveys for students, teachers, and parents. The rubric form and the survey forms are attached to the main body of the project proposal. The strengths and weaknesses of the project are also covered.

Introduction

The concept of the New Literacies includes all the new enhanced literacy forms that were provoked by the appearance of digital technology. On the other hand, digital technology itself is not identical to the New Literacies. In 2007 Australian Labor Government made several significant steps in the sphere of the New Literacies by starting so-called ‘Digital Education Revolution’  that was originally meant to develop important digital skills in students. Nevertheless, after five years it is difficult to determine the exact complete impact of the New Literacies on regular classroom learning and teaching. The coming of the New Literacies into the classrooms is inevitable as even if it is still ignored by the school administration, it is partially used by students with fashionable smartphones, pads, e-mailing, and social networks (Gamble, 2000). Australian government mainly focuses on standardized testing and basic reading/writing along with basic calculation. The phenomenon that this study will review is the New Literacies, their influence and their practical adoption in Australian classrooms.

The definition of the concept is open to transformation, and it was introduced just a decade ago in 1993 by David Buckingham. The New Literacies and their implementation in modern classrooms have become a controversial issue that is heavily discussed by prominent academicians such as Len Unsworth (2002), Mary Macken-Horarik (2009), Margaret Eisenhart (1998), Thomas Schwandt (1998), and others. The opinions concerning the New Literacies and their influence on studying and teaching are different, as there are many factors influencing this issue, including the fast development of technology, the ability of both teachers and students to react to it, and the successful ways to implicate it in a usual classroom setting. It is also obvious that the concept has changed significantly over time.

Research in the field of online reading competitions conducted by Leu and Coiro (2004), fan fiction research done by Black and Thomas (2008), video gaming interpretations by J.P. Gee (2008) have all opened different aspects of the New Literacies and their value. Kist (2007) argues that there is a lack of instructions of the New Literacies use; Lankshear and Knobel (2006) prove the use of blogging in understanding digital technology implementation in studies; Leu, Coiro, and Reinking (2008) investigated the influence of online resources on reading process in children. Profound research on explaining how legislative regulations of Kevin Rudd – the winning representative of the Australian Labor Party – are going to impact Australian education system has been carried out recently by the academicians of the University of New Castle (Buchanan et al., 2012).

However, there is not enough statistical research done in order to find out to what extent the New Literacies are able to influence the studying process in real classroom conditions. The outcome of standstill in this sphere can be very unpredictable and even dangerous because the speed of digital technology development is difficult to control, while students can choose the wrong pattern in using the New Literacies or find themselves at an unfair disadvantage compared to their peers. Moreover, certain misinterpretations exist in the legislative field and the global need to save as much as possible because of the recent economic crisis. A real-life investigation will help to shape the understanding of how the New Literacies work and define the priorities for investments, since the start of the Education Revolution in Australia defined a major ’transformation in teaching and learning’ (Australian Government, 2008).

Although it seems that the methods and ways of teaching have been altered drastically in the past few decades, many teachers and students still find themselves lost in the diversity of forms that the New Literacies are represented in (Gamble, 2000). That is why it is essential to track the ways teachers and students keep up with the New Literacies, and the newly offered solutions should guarantee equal opportunities and successful implementations for every participant of the education process. This information can be retrieved and analyzed only by means of a real-life classroom research dedicated to the New Literacies and their impacts.

The purpose of this study is to propose a research that will assess the impact of the New Literacies’ use by comparing three different classrooms. The real-life setting will guarantee unbiased results that can be then used for further investigation and interpretation. The parties interested in the New Literacies research include students, their parents, teachers, universities and colleges, potential employers, and the state economic system in general. The research conditions will correspond to the purpose of the study providing clear and accurate data. All experiment participants will have equal opportunities and freedom of action and choice. There are many reasons why the different degrees of the New Literacies’ influence on Australian classrooms require profound research:

  • It will provide a clearer picture of how the New Literacies act in three types of classrooms – the first one with no digital technology implementation, the second with intermediate digital technology intervention, and the third one with all available technology at service (Gamble, 2000).
  • Such research will help to compare and contrast three approaches and understand which is the most efficient for implementation in the entire education system.
  • Studying the New Literacies is relevant to the spirit of time and corresponds with what students encounter every day (Unsworth, 2002).
  • The demands of contemporary labor market require students to obtain certain digital technology skills that coincide with the New Literacies. The obligatory ones generally include MS Office, Adobe, Movie Maker, website construction, and web design (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006).
  • The interactive side of education offers some obvious benefits such as speed, increased visualization, and flexibility (for example, e-mailing assignments has made turning in at night a lot easier for both students and teachers) (Leu et al, 2004).
  • Entertaining elements (images, sound, videos, presentations, visualization, etc.) attract deeper attention from the students and potentially lead to higher engagement (Leu et al, 2004).
  • Today’s media instruments are able to balance the potential negative outcomes of the New Literacies use (for example, anti-plagiarism tools exclude the opportunity to ‘copy-paste’ the entire assignment) (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006).
  • The theoretical basis including conceptualization, categorization and definition of the New Literacies needs further development for a better understanding of this phenomenon (Buchanan et al, 2012).

There are also several global-scale reasons to become multi-literate:

  • Labor market demands, globalization, competition and individual achievement, human investments and the influence of integrated global economy (Ball, 2008; Lauder, Brown, Dillabough, & Halsey, 2006);
  • Gradual recognition of the New Literacies and their implementation in legal documents and regulations and compulsory use (Lanksher & Knobel, 2011);
  • The influence of the World Wide Web has grown significantly covering important areas of operation, including banking, tourism, education, communication, trade, and many more (Gamble, 2000).

The proposed research is also expected to resolve the following contradictions and address the issues of Australian education system:

  • Lack of focus in Education Revolution statements (Buchanan et al, 2012);
  • Unclear role of the teacher in classroom (Connell, 2009);
  • Misbalance between the equal opportunity goal of the existing Australian  programs dedicated to the implementation of the New Literacies and their realization (Heilig & Darling-Hammond, 2008; Reid, 2010);
  • Insufficient regulation, public awareness, scrutiny and control over the ways schools apply the New Literacies and ICT (Andrews, 2003).

Literature Review

Education system is always a result of the interaction of the past practices, present conditions, and expectations about future, so undoubtedly it is a very complex system. The issue of the New Literacies, their influence and implementation in usual classrooms is a quite contradictory issue that now lies in the power of the Australian Labor Party (Australian Government, 2008).  Studying the viewpoints of various Australian academicians, it is obvious that the positions have separated them into two camps.

The first group argues for the need to conduct further research and stimulate the development of the New Literacies in Australia, proving that the teaching and learning techniques require enhancement in the direction of multiliteracies to march in step with available digital technology (Andrews, 2003). However, the government’s current focus on basic literacies and attempts to monitor testing results implies distrust for the teacher’s expertise and potentially stimulates manipulation in the educational system by reducing the number of students who have access to independent testing. Although many new skills have merged from the application of the New Literacies and the importance of Internet browsing, e-mailing, blogging, drama performing, PowerPoint creation and video composing have sufficiently increased (Shanahan, 1990), this variety still needs categorization and conceptualization to be managed in the most efficient manner.

In today’s education, there are so many ways to represent one’s ideas and demonstrate knowledge or acquired skills (Leu et al, 2005) but theory needs a practical touch to be implemented in real-life Australian classroom setting. Too much attention is paid to the ways teachers need to adjust to the integration of the New Literacies, and other variables and objectives are mistakenly set as less important priorities. Moreover, the issues of the disadvantaged schools in Australia have not yet been resolved. This is partially a budget problem but still the efficient regulatory and control mechanisms do not reveal their potential to the full (Buchanan et al, 2012).

The other camp represented by Rizvi and Lingard argues that the governmental focus on basic literacies (online testing, basic reading, numeracy, and writing) simplify the educational process and even decrease the potential of students over time (2010). Cuban addresses the problem of low-performing students as a result of decreased attention to the topics and subjects that are not covered by independent state testing (2007). Nevertheless, these problems only prove that further research in the sphere of the New Literacies needs to be completed, as the understanding of how real classroom setting adopts them still requires further shaping. The representatives of this camp also draw attention away from the key significance of individual teacher’s performance (Zyngier, 2009) and the entire school performance based on testing results (Heilig & Darling-Hammond, 2008) – and this is widely practiced in Australia – but there is no reason to take an extreme position of neglecting the coming of the New Literacies. It is more reasonable to transform the usual vision and try to think out of the box in order to work out flexible reactions to what digital technology has to offer. The opponents of such rapid changes in the educational system give proofs of the inefficiency of the New Literacies, including weakness of the grading rubric justified by the variety of choices to express oneself and limited access for the disadvantaged individuals (Unsworth, 2002). This is true, many technologies have not yet been certified and evaluated, but it does not mean that the students have to neglect them. Once again, efficient regulatory mechanisms and technical re-equipment of each Australian school are capable of solving these issues. The emphasis on foreign experience and theoretical assumptions is not enough to build a strong argument that is also relevant in Australian context.

The problem of overexposure to different kinds of media information and gadgets, as discussed by Macken-Horarik (2009), also prove that further conceptualization and categorization is required. Meacham (1998) pays attention to the methodological dangers hidden in the use of the New Literacies, such as danger of obsolescence, irrelevance, didactic failures of the teacher, information overload, weak teacher’s skills with the New Literacies, distraction, and technical difficulties. Nevertheless, all these risks cannot eliminate the influence of multiliteracy in the world, in Australian schools and in Australian labor market. If the issues are reacted to, they will not become obstacles in the way to efficiency and academic performance improvement.

As for non-Australian universally recognized academicians, there are different groups of scientists that attempt to categorize and conceptualize the New Literacies in various manners. One of the groups including Donald Leu (2004) insists that the successful implementation of multiliteracy cannot be fulfilled without new essential skills and strategies. They also argue that active social life and involvement is no longer possible without proper skill in handling multiliteracy. Leu explains it by the advent of globalization in human society, but the reasons cannot be limited to this phenomenon. Leu and Coiro (2004) make a suggestion about how important it is to keep up with the new technology change. Nevertheless, their assumption about a teaching method of the New Literacies that will be relevant through the lifetime of the students is not quite realistic. Finally, the strong point of this academic group is that the New Literacies have many faces, and that is why it is more reasonable to listen to various viewpoints and not take extreme positions when it comes to digital technology use. However, this ‘camp’ defines the New Literacies as a broad concept that is difficult to conceptualize, especially in terms of school system in Australia. This group of scientists started experiments in the field of the narrative influence of the Internet on studying, but this research did not answer all burning questions concerning the New Literacies.

Meanwhile, the other group including Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel focus on the social aspects of the New Literacies use. They believe that the text or idea remains the same – the only thing that is changed is the way of encoding information (2006). One of the strongest points in their argument is the insistence on the need for practical experiments with the new literacy forms in real classroom settings. Even if the first experience will not be successful, it will give a clearer understanding of how exactly the new forms of literacy may be integrated into Australian classrooms.

If the technology is not handled properly, it may have serious drawbacks – and this is not limited to education only. Theoretically, digital technology is assumed to stimulate students’ laziness, become time-wasting (due to technical incompatibility or technical downfalls), and decrease real intellectual effort (Unsworth, 2002). It may also distract students from the substantial material (Macken-Horarik, 2009), simplify common knowledge, bore students down by the dryness of multiple-choice questions, or limit their freedom of thinking by the ease of access. On the other hand, giving up on technology presents new challenges, because web design and programming are also waiting for students of today. As they belong to the out-of-school activity and their future, they should definitely be taught at schools (Macken-Horarik, 2009). The theoretical base of the New Literacies should be complemented with more statistical research, and the drawbacks of multiliteracy only prove how much is still out there to do. The merit of the current knowledge about the New Literacies is that there are a lot of theoretical contributors that try to define and categorize it but, as the concept is young, it is still not studied enough, especially when it comes to real-life classroom setting and practical experience. That is where future research should lead the way.

As for Australian teacher education, the tension between basic literacy skills and the New Literacies that are innovative is also relevant with teachers. The regulatory mechanisms introduced to control teacher’s work are contradictory, and standardized testing provides doubtful reflection of real teacher’s performance. Multiple-choice questions and their compulsory passing imply teacher-oriented education rather than a student-centered one (Lingard, 2010).  The effect is strengthened by the budget limitations and responsibilities pressed by the Labor Party of Australia (Buchanan et al, 2012). Teaching and learning are also heavily influenced by the Australian government policies, and it is not fair to claim that teachers are completely and solely responsible for the change in the patterns of educating (Donnison, 2007; Selwyn, 2010). Due to the lack of clarity whether the traditional or the innovative approach in teaching and studying will outweigh the other one, further research is required in Australian teaching too. However, Australian authors do not offer a concrete plan of action or recommendations on how to carry out this research.

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