Digital literacies in adult EAL contexts: teachers’ perspectives and practices

Year: 2021

Author: Tour, Katrina, Creely, Edwin, Waterhouse, Peter

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Digital literacies are increasingly important for displaced adults moving to Australia as part of humanitarian and migration programs. While language programs, including the AMEP (Adult Migrant English Program) sector, often include digital literacies in their curriculum, teaching digital literacies in adult EAL contexts requires relevant approaches. Adult learners from migrant and refugee backgrounds often have rich life experiences, cultural resources and personal strengths which can significantly advance their learning, preparing them for life in a new country. However, little is known to what extent teachers within adult EAL contexts are prepared to identify and employ learners’ resources when teaching digital literacies. In response to this issue, this presentation reports a part of a larger ethnographic study and contributes new knowledge essential for advancing  pedagogies for digital literacies in adult EAL programs and teachers’ professional learning.This presentation draws on a 6-month ethnographic study at a community-based English language centre in Melbourne (Australia) - Langfield - that offers language and settlement programs to adults from refugee and migrant backgrounds. To conceptualise the complex phenomenon of teaching digital literacies at Langfield, the study employed the perspectives of sociomaterial theory, social-cultural theory of literacy and strengths-based approaches to teaching and learning. In conducting this study, an institutional ethnographic methodology, centering on the ideas of Dorothy Smith, was employed. Drawing on the data generated during individual interviews, a focus group and classroom observations, the presentation explores six EAL teachers’ perspectives and practices related to teaching digital literacies. The study found that EAL teachers’ thinking about adult learners focused on what learners lacked rather than what they brought to learning. Interestingly, when teaching digital literacies, the teachers drew on some strengths-based pedagogical principles but they did not always recognise their agential power, nor did they overtly understand that the technology itself afforded this power. There was a strong sense of their own pedagogical deficits and high levels of anxiety associated with teaching digital literacies. These findings suggest the need to move away from deficit discourses in pedagogies for digital literacies and instead engage learners through strengths-based practices. However, if progress is to be made, an important starting point can be increasing EAL practitioners’ awareness about such ideas through professional learning. The presentation concludes with a critical reflection on what these findings might mean in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and a move to online learning in the sector.