Digital Practices and Literacy Identities in English Education: From Deterministic Discourses to a Dialectic Framework

Open Access
Ortega, Leticia Eugenia
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 26, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Jamie Myers, Committee Chair
  • Patrick Willard Shannon, Committee Chair
  • Jacqueline Edmondson, Committee Member
  • Steve L Thorne, Committee Member
  • discourse
  • new literacies
  • digital practices
  • teacher education
  • educational policy
  • collaborative inquiry
  • literacy technologies
My research explores the challenges and questions that pre-service teachers in two English Education programs confronted with respect to the role of technology in their professional practices and identities. It is evident from the data that the decision to incorporate different technologies in their professional practices implied much more than using an accessory to enhance their pedagogical effectiveness. These technologies were linked to significant changes in the activities of reading and producing texts in our society. Dominant discourses about technology and literacy are predominantly deterministic, and this tendency was represented in the way that the pre-service teachers who participated in my study approached technology. Echoing policy discourses that promote technological innovation as a synonym of socioeconomic progress, participants in many cases assumed a vision of technology as a means to teaching-effectiveness. This entailed separating the means from the curricular ends, which were not significantly re-examined when incorporating digital technologies. In other cases, participants expressed fear of digital texts because they sensed that they were displacing more traditional literacy. This reactionary position, equally deterministic, was associated with efforts to teach students how to ward off the negative influence of digital texts by being “critical.” I argue that in teacher education it is important to engage with these discourses and address their implications. Identification with deterministic discourses closes down the possibilities for participation in powerful literacies because meanings are constructed as pre-determined, and efforts focus on “what works” without engaging in a critical examination of the purposes of education. Nevertheless, along with deterministic moments, there were instances of dialectical engagement with technology among the study participants. These were associated with a meaningful integration of digital texts as part of the inter-text of the English classroom, and with the construction of a community of collaborative inquiry. In these cases, students were producing and sharing multiple kinds of texts, including essays, multimedia stories, videos, comic strips, online discussions, and podcasts, among others. The concept of critical media literacy, in dialectical teaching practices, did not separate analysis from productive ability, so students were taught to simultaneously produce multimedia and be critical about it. I contend that in teacher-education programs it is important to promote this concept of dialectical praxis, because it engages students with critically participating in socially relevant discourses. For this purpose, it is crucial to integrate cultural studies and critical theory with the production of multiple kinds of texts, and to promote experimentation within an inquiry community.