Is there an app for that? Looking at possibilities and challenges of digital tools for literacy education

Year: 2012

Author: Laidlaw, Linda, O’Mara, Joanne, Makovichuk, Lee, Dockendorf, Maureen, Wong, Suzanna, Ellul, Rita

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Portable electronic devices such as the iPad are increasingly taking a place in contemporary childhood experiences including those of schooling (O'Mara & Laidlaw, 2011). As digital media theorists suggest, such new tools invite both "hope and fear" (Gee and Hayes, 2011, p.4), consistent with literacy innovations across history. In both Canada and Australia, educational stakeholders are looking to touch screen devices as having much promise, particularly within literacy education. This paper presentation examines the possibilities as well as the challenges and imagines the future of such digital tools within literacy education, looking at experiences and perspectives in Canada and Australia.

We take a qualitative ecological mode of inquiry approach to our data collection and analysis, drawing on complexity thinking (Davis & Sumara, 2006) to bring our multiple points of view together as diversely positioned educators. Within our individual sites, each author has collected data as a part of longer-term research projects. In this paper presentation we compare and contrast these data sets, attending to significant intersections and juxtaposing issues of culture and globalization. Within this mode of inquiry we value the particularity of the individual contexts, and locate them alongside one another in a larger bricolage (Johnson, 2010).

We examined observational data, documents and artifacts using Freebody and Luke's (1990) four resources model and the further adaptions of this model (see e.g. Luke & Freebody, 1999) to understand how touch screen devices are being used and positioned as literacy tools. We have engaged in collaborative data analysis, often working 'together' using digital tools ourselves to enable collective conversations. For example, we have used Facetime on iPads and laptops, Skype and email to facilitate collective analyses. We applied iterative and recursive analyses to uncover reoccurring themes both within and across sites and artifacts.

As our paper will elaborate, mobile touch screen devices such as iPads are widely being taken up in educational settings, and regarded as having the possibility to shift teaching and learning in new directions, as "paradigm breakers" (p. 4, Gov't of AB, 2011). As personal, mobile devices, these tools present challenges that require educators to think differently about learning and teaching. Our paper also addresses the opportunities and affordances that iPads might offer to learners, as having the potential for students to engage in playful exploration, and in the role of designers, creators, and producers, rather than as passive recipients.