Research Approaches to the Study
of Literacy, Learning, and Technology
Ilana Snyder and Ekaterina Tour
Introduction ....................................................................................... 2
Early Developments .. . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . 2
Major Contributions .. . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . 4
Work in Progress .................................................................................. 7
Problems and Difﬁculties ......................................................................... 9
Future Directions .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Related Articles in the Encyclopedia of Language and Education .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Cross-References .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
References .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . 12
Since desktop computers were introduced into educational settings in the late
1970s, researchers have been trying to ﬁnd ways to explain the meaning-making
processes involved when digital technologies are used that might inform curric-
ulum and pedagogy. Much important work has been done to devise effective
ways to investigate the complex connections across literacy, learning, and tech-
nology. This chapter provides an international perspective on how researchers in
universities and schools, working either independently or collaboratively with
teachers, have studied the changes to social and cultural practices associated with
the use of technology for educational purposes. As evident here, the history of the
approaches to research parallels the trajectory of the wider area of educational
studies. The ﬁrst investigations were most often quantitative; there was a gradual
I. Snyder (*)
Faculty of Education, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, Australia
E. Tour (*)
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
#Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
K. King et al. (eds.), Research Methods in Language and Education, Encyclopedia of
Language and Education, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-02329-8_40-1
shift to qualitative methods and then multiple perspectives were adopted that
drew on methods from both traditions. However, it would be a mistake to
represent the history as a process of evolution. Each of the earlier waves is still
operating in the present as a set of practices that researchers follow or argue
against. An array of choices now characterizes the ﬁeld with no single approach
privileged. Faced by the still largely uncharted landscape of the Internet in which
young people are often the navigators, messier, less certain, more reﬂexive, multi-
voiced research is seen as the best way to respond. However, it is likely that
making meaning in digital settings will continue to be complicated by the ﬂuid,
metamorphosing, unpredictable nature of online worlds.
Literacy •Learning •Technology •Research Practices
Since desktop computers were introduced into educational settings in the late 1970s
in the economically developed world, researchers have been trying to ﬁnd ways to
explain the meaning-making processes involved when information and communi-
cation technologies (ICT) are used that might inform curriculum and pedagogy.
Much important work has been done to devise effective ways to investigate the
complex connections between literacy, learning, and technology. This chapter pro-
vides an international perspective on how researchers in universities and schools,
working either independently or collaboratively with teachers, have studied the
changes to social and cultural practices associated with the use of technology for
The history of the approaches to research parallels the trajectory of the wider area
of educational studies. The ﬁrst investigations were most often quantitative; there
was a gradual shift to qualitative methods and then multiple perspectives were
adopted that drew on methods from both traditions. However, it would be a mistake
to represent the history as a process of evolution. Each of the earlier waves is still
operating in the present as a set of practices that researchers follow or argue against.
An array of choices now characterizes the ﬁeld with no single approach privileged.
Investigating written composition, pioneering researchers asked if computers used as
word processors improved writing (Daiute 1986). Although survey and case study
methods were employed to examine students’attitudes and responses to computers,
these early studies were most often experimental or quasi-experimental in design.
They assessed whether the quality of texts produced with computers was better than
those produced with pens. Not surprisingly, the ﬁndings were equivocal: some
2 I. Snyder and E. Tour
studies produced evidence of enhanced quality but just as many found no improve-
ment. The research question asked about the “impact”of computers “on”writing. It
attributed too much power to the technology and not enough to the social and
cultural contexts in which the computers were used. There was a short answer to
the question: Do students write better with computers? It depends –on the writers’
preferred writing and revising strategies, keyboarding skills, prior computer experi-
ence, teaching interventions, the teachers’goals and strategies, the social organiza-
tion, and culture of the learning context.
Largely from the perspective of cognitive psychology, early research also exam-
ined the effects of the use of computers on composing processes, particularly
prewriting and revising (e.g., Daiute 1986). Other studies concentrated on writing
pedagogy, often a process approach that teachers adopted when introducing the
technology, examining the computer as a felicitous tool that might facilitate and
enhance a process approach (e.g., Sommers 1985).
By the mid-1980s, sociocultural understandings of literacy became more widely
accepted and provoked different kinds of questions and orientations. With the
gradual shift to a view of reality as socially constructed, the approach became
more ethnographic; researchers examined “computer-mediated”contexts from mul-
tiple perspectives (Hawisher and Selfe 1989). The ﬁeld was in transition: some
researchers were operating in the current-traditional paradigm, concerned with
correctness and error; some were operating in the writing-process paradigm; and
some were beginning to adopt the social view.
At the end of the 1980s, feminist criticism, cultural criticism, and critical peda-
gogy were all invoked to inform the research. There was a hiatus in the war between
quantitative and qualitative approaches and the researcher was increasingly under-
stood as implicated in research processes. The emphasis on context made gender
issues central to discussion of literacy, learning, and technology, and there was a
growing recognition that computers in classrooms appear “unlikely to negate the
powerful inﬂuence of ... social class and its effects on ... success or failure in
school”(Herrmann 1987, p. 86).
In the 1990s, researchers began to ask different kinds of questions. Qualitative
methods, including participant observation and interview, seemed the best way to
investigate the nexus between literacy, learning, and technology. Cochran-Smith
et al. (1991) worked with teachers and students in ﬁve elementary classrooms over
two years to explore how computers made learning to read and write different. In a
case study that involved active participant observation, Miller and Olson (1994)
found that the existence of innovative practice associated with the introduction of
computers in the classroom had less to do with the advent of technology than with
the teacher’s pre-existing conception of practice.
Some researchers continued to investigate the inﬂuence of word processing on
writing quality and revision strategies but took into account variables that had
confounded the earlier studies. These included the students’word processing expe-
rience, their writing ability, and the effects of teacher interventions or bespoke
software (e.g., Joram et al. 1992; Owston et al. 1992). The ﬁndings were corre-
spondingly more persuasive.
Research Approaches to the Study of Literacy, Learning, and Technology 3
Researchers have also examined the use of electronic forums to support student-
centered learning by comparing face-to-face with electronically mediated
exchanges. They concluded that the use of networked communication shaped and
was shaped by the curriculum and that the interaction between the two modes may
lead to better academic performance (e.g., Palmquist 1993). By contrast, other
researchers argued that computer-mediated peer review had many of the drawbacks
of distance learning. A comprehensive review of the ﬁrst decade of research
addressed the difﬁculties of interpreting studies that reﬂect contrasting conceptual
frameworks and which differ in design, methods of data collection, variables exam-
ined, and modes of analysis (Bangert-Drowns 1993).
Hypertext, electronic text that contains links to other text, became a research
focus in the 1990s (Snyder 1996). Using qualitative approaches, such as observation,
semi-structured interviews, and student journals, researchers described hypertext’s
potential to improve teaching and learning. By transferring to students the respon-
sibility for accessing, sequencing, and deriving meaning from information, hypertext
provided an environment in which discovery learning might ﬂourish. In the teaching
of writing, the use of hypertext promoted associative thinking, collaborative learn-
ing, synthesis in writing from sources, distribution of traditional authority in texts
and classrooms, and the facilitation of deconstructive reading and writing.
Increasingly, the Internet, including the Web after 1992, has become a site for
research. Informed by the understanding of literacy as a set of social practices, key
investigations have focused on issues of identity (Turkle 1995), class and access
(Burbules and Callister 2000), the maleness of the Web (Takayoshi et al. 1999),
multimodality (Kress and van Leeuwen 2001), and new literacy practices
(Lankshear and Knobel 2011). The research ﬁndings emphasize the need to teach
students how to critically assess the reliability or value of the information they ﬁnd
on the Internet by understanding not only its textual but also its nontextual features
such as images, links, and interactivity.
In addition to social approaches, critical and poststructuralist perspectives have
also garnered researchers’interest, suggesting a further range of methods and modes
of analysis. Rather than blaming technology for the failure of schools or the end of
books and reading, more measured approaches (e.g., Selfe 1999) have suggested the
importance of critical engagement with digital technologies in the context of edu-
cation. Researchers have criticized short-sighted policy efforts that have spent large
amounts of money on technology without ﬁrst asking questions about use, support,
and learning (Cuban 2001). Others have pointed to the nonneutrality of computing
technologies and how over time they tend to become naturalized (Burbules and
Callister 2000). Yet others have represented digital technologies, not as the harbin-
gers of strengthened democracy, increased freedom and more support for educators,
but as instruments of social control and dependence, both in wider society and for
teachers and students in schools (Selwyn and Facer 2013).
4 I. Snyder and E. Tour
The Digital Rhetorics study (Lankshear et al. 2000) exempliﬁes qualitative
research informed by the understanding of literacy as social practice. This relatively
large-scale study of eleven research sites across Australia argues that in the age of the
Internet, education must enable young people to become proﬁcient in the opera-
tional, cultural, and critical dimensions of literacy. The analysis suggested ﬁve
principles for practice when ICT are used: teachers ﬁrst, complementarity, workabil-
ity, equity, and focus on trajectories.
In an ethnographic study of Internet use in four language classrooms in Hawaii,
Warschauer (1999) illustrates the complex relationship between literacy, learning,
technology, and culture. Drawing on interviews, classroom observations, and exam-
ples of students’work, Warschauer argues that “electronic literacies”are destined to
become a vital component of literacy education; print-based reading and writing are
only one element of the repertoire of literacy capabilities students require to partic-
ipate fully in civic society. Whether they are called electronic literacies, digital
literacies, multiliteracies, or new literacies, they comprise signiﬁcant ways of mak-
ing meaning in the contemporary world.
Popular culture has also received attention. Research has highlighted the beneﬁts
of using “nonschool”literacies in schools for consolidating and extending students’
understandings of how texts are read. Often perceived as antithetical to mainstream
print-based literature, using case study and discourse analysis, researchers have
demonstrated how video and computer games require complex literacies that extend
students’knowledge and teach a degree of multimodal visual and linguistic sophis-
tication often ignored in curriculum design (Gee 2003). After examining the learning
theory underpinning “good”video games, Gee concludes that it resembles the best
kind of school science instruction.
In a similar way, Warschauer’s(2006) large-scale, multi-site study examined
laptop programs in ten US schools using observation, interview, survey, and docu-
ment review. The research reported that literacy practices in the laptop programs
were more autonomous, student-centered, audience-based and collaborative and,
thus, more engaging, authentic, and meaningful for students. However, the ﬁndings
were not consistent across all the participating schools and classes. Warschauer’s
study provides insight into the complex relationships between school and out-of-
school practices. It highlights the need to teach students to engage with digital
technologies effectively and critically, while identifying the constraints that might
limit achieving this goal.
The Handbook of Research on New Literacies (Coiro et al. 2008) comprises a
comprehensive collection of studies which are informed by multiple theoretical
perspectives, employing different research designs. The volume demonstrates the
range of approaches that have been used to study digital literacies and practices, but
it does not represent the last word on such research. Systematic inquiry in the ﬁeld of
literacy, learning, and technology continues to ﬂourish.
Building on studies that had begun to reconceptualize literacy in digital times,
researchers have attempted to document the distinctive characteristics of digital
literacies and practices. Using interview as the main research technique, Sheridan
and Rowsell (2010) examined the practices, stories, and products of 30 digital media
Research Approaches to the Study of Literacy, Learning, and Technology 5
producers to understand the logic of marketplace production. They characterize
digital literacy practices as multimodal, hybridized, recombinative, constantly
arranging, and rearranging themselves from the available designs, modes, genres,
and resources of the digital medium. In these ways, they are both creative and
In their analysis of social networking and remixing, Lankshear and Knobel (2011)
describe digital literacy practices as participatory, collaborative, shared, and distrib-
uted. In a study of Flickr, the photo-sharing website, Barton and Lee (2013) used an
online survey, observation, interview, and user-generated photography to identify the
characteristics of participants’digital literacy practices. They describe these prac-
tices as dynamic, ﬂuid, creative, and stance-taking.
Ethnographically oriented studies, as distinct from full-blown ethnographies,
have enabled researchers to conceptualize how opportunities for literacy learning
are shaped by the sociocultural, political, and economic contexts in which they are
located. Social class is one of the most signiﬁcant inﬂuences identiﬁed by
researchers operating in this tradition. Using semi-structured interviews with chil-
dren and their parents, Marsh (2011) argued that children’s literacy practices in a
virtual world were shaped by the material contexts of their lives. The more privileged
children in the study had greater opportunities to extend their repertoires of digital
literacy practices. Drawing on analysis of a survey of the mobile phone practices of
people living in a remote Indigenous community in northern Australia and a video of
a literacy event in which a young boy and his mother used a mobile phone, Auld,
Snyder, and Henderson (2012) identiﬁed signiﬁcant sociocultural inﬂuences at play.
The study found that the use of mobile phones, designed for individual and private
use, was shaped by community values that privilege the sharing of resources.
Ethnographically oriented studies have also produced illuminating examples of
how technology travels locally, nationally, and internationally, how it is adopted by
people within particular communities, but also how it is exposed to the inescapable
inﬂuences of globalization (Barton and Lee 2013). Such empirical work has con-
tributed a translocal and transnational perspective on digital literacies and practices.
Of the many research overviews (e.g., Mills 2010), Andrews’work The Impact of
ICT on Literacy Education (2004) remains thought-provoking in the context of this
chapter’s focus. The analysis concludes with a mixed set of ﬁndings. For some
learners, it seems that ICT bring no improvement in educational outcomes and, in
some instances, their use actually makes things worse. As a caution against techno-
logical optimism, Andrews proposes that randomized trials should precede further
investments in ICT for literacy education. His recommendation is signiﬁcant as it
reﬂects the growing demand by governments for “hard”evidence to inform the
policy directions they have sometimes already chosen. However, Andrews’conﬁ-
dence that rigorously designed randomized trials evaluating the impact of ICT will
attach scientiﬁc evidence to direct future policy settings is optimistic. As discussed,
experimental designs do not capture the interactive, iterative, and dialogical charac-
ter of literacy learning and teaching. By contrast, research approaches, informed by
broader understandings of literacy as social practice, provide more nuanced accounts
of the use of digital technologies in education.
6 I. Snyder and E. Tour
Drawing on large-scale surveys of young people’s engagement with legacy and
new media, Livingstone (2002,2012) has investigated the relationships between the
media and childhood, the family and the home. As a useful counterpoint to such
survey studies, in-depth case studies of young people both at school and at home
provide deeper understanding of how technology is used in the real world of
inequitable distribution. Snyder, Angus, and Sutherland-Smith (2002) investigated
the ways in which four families used computers to engage with formal and informal
literacy learning in home and school settings. The ﬁndings drew together issues of
access, equity, and cultural capital in the context of school success and failure.
However, there is still a relative lack of studies that combine large-scale surveys
with detailed case studies in the ﬁeld of literacy, learning, and technology (e.g.,
Exploring the possibilities for creative changes to pedagogical and institutional
practices when digital technologies are used, researchers have argued that under-
standing the history of digital literacies and practices is essential. They have asked
how literacies, technologies, and social circumstances have co-evolved and what
changes in literacy practices mean for young people. They conclude that literacy is
inextricable from community, from the ways that communities and society change,
and from the material means by which knowledge is negotiated, synthesized, and
used. Valuing the lessons to be learned from history, Lankshear and Knobel (2011)
describe how the ﬁeld has moved from the study of “reading”to the New Literacy
Studies, reminding readers that just 30 years ago the term literacy hardly featured in
formal educational discourse.
Like the earlier research, recent work has found that digital technologies, partic-
ularly social media, offer learning opportunities for young people. In her large-scale
survey and interview study, Ito (2010) concluded that interest-driven networked
communities encourage peer-based learning. This ﬁnding overlaps with Lankshear
and Knobel’s(2011) notion of “social learning,”illustrated in their two case studies
of new literacies in formal education contexts. Gillen (2009) and Marsh (2011) used
virtual ethnography to examine young children’s and teenagers’literacy practices in
virtual worlds. Both concluded that participation in virtual worlds promotes the
learning of sophisticated literacy capabilities. Barton and Lee (2013) also observed
voluntary, informal, and purposeful learning amongst multilingual adults who used
Facebook, Flickr, and instant messaging. Their research highlighted that interacting
online is embedded in people’s everyday social practices and can provide important
opportunities for learning.
Work in Progress
Although the trend has been there since the ﬁrst decade of research, researchers
continue to acknowledge the need to pay attention to the social, cultural, and
political changes associated with the use of digital technologies in educational
settings. Finding ways to use the technologies’affordances in productive ways but
at the same time helping students to become capable, critical users remains a major
Research Approaches to the Study of Literacy, Learning, and Technology 7
preoccupation. Often implicit in research proposals and reports is the understanding
that the relationship with technology is never one-way and instrumental: it is always
two-way and relational.
Finding the language to talk about digital literacies and practices and discerning
how meanings are made with them continue to be a research focus. Researchers are
examining young people’s literacy practices in the context of online culture,
highlighting the fusion of visual, textual, and structural elements. They are exploring
how different semiotic modes contribute to meaning-making in digital spaces and
that what goes on behind the screen is just as important for users as what is visible on
it. Concerned with what it is not immediately apparent to users, Manovich (2013)
argues that the world is no longer deﬁned by heavy industrial machines that change
infrequently but by software that is always in ﬂux. As software has replaced the
diverse array of physical, mechanical, and electronic technologies used to create,
distribute, and access digital artifacts, Manovich’s work has profound implications
for literacy education: understanding the design of the software that shapes contem-
porary cultural practices has become essential.
Contemporary studies employ a range of different methods to investigate research
questions in naturalistic settings: participant observation, interview, focus groups,
document review, and analysis of participants’digital products. However, with the
exponential growth of online spaces and the increasingly important role trans-media
experiences play in people’s everyday lives, changes in research methods continue to
emerge. Virtual ethnographies or studies that use elements of virtual ethnographies
are becoming more prevalent. The digital texts generated and used by people in
different online contexts for different purposes are now a research focus. These
digital texts take multiple forms: blogs, online discussions, social media, photos,
proﬁles, websites, wikis, music, videos, memes, emails, chat logs, and many more.
Researchers such as Sheridan and Rowsell (2010) and Barton and Lee (2013) have
explored such texts. Their work demonstrates how understanding of online literacy
practices is enhanced when researchers become both producers and consumers of the
texts they are examining.
Participatory action research is also emerging as a popular approach. Concerned
about the slowness of change (if at all) in educational settings when digital technol-
ogies are used, some researchers have attempted to take an active role in the inquiry
(e.g., Apperley and Beavis 2011). The researchers work together with teachers in
schools to systematically study their classrooms, students, and teaching methods to
enhance understanding, develop a plan for action, and improve the quality and impact
of their work. As in the broader ﬁeld of educational studies, it is increasingly argued
that action research is the only ethical way to do research because it treats participants
as collaborators rather than subjects. As it aims to demystify the research process, it
enables teachers to do their own research. Action research places responsibility on the
teacher participants and involves reﬂexivity as the inquiry unfolds. However, there are
inherent challenges when teacher participants are considered less as subjects and more
as research partners. These include the power relationship between participants and
researchers, organizational politics, anonymity and conﬁdentiality, negotiating time-
consuming demands of professional and research practices, and the validity of data.
8 I. Snyder and E. Tour
Problems and Difficulties
The literacy landscape is changing, as it has always done, but more rapidly and more
fundamentally. As new sites for research emerge, sites that are virtual and boundless,
researchers are faced with the challenge of how to investigate them effectively.
Researchers require ﬂexible, sensitive frameworks for understanding and portraying
the complex phenomena of technology-mediated literacy settings. At the same time,
researchers ﬁnd themselves pressured to work within the constraints of a positivist
paradigm as funding bodies increasingly provide support mainly for “evidence-
based”research (Lather 2004). The kinds of questions asked and the kinds of studies
carried out are directly affected by this trend. More than ever, researchers need to
“think outside the box”and to resist automatically adopting approaches to research
dictated by conservative funding regimes.
Another difﬁculty with research in this area is that technological determinism –
the assumption that qualities inherent in the technology itself are uniquely respon-
sible for changes in social and cultural practices –continues to permeate academic
discourse. Digital technologies are credited with transforming education systems and
democratizing schools. Electronic forums are represented as open spaces in which
issues related to gender, race, and socioeconomic status are minimized. Such claims,
however, need to be interrogated as they overlook the human agency integral to all
technological innovation. No technology can guarantee any particular behavior
simply by its nature, as its use and effect are closely tied to the social context in
which it appears. Technology succeeds or fails not only by its intrinsic design but
also as a result of how it is used by people and institutions that take it up. Researchers
need to assume a critical perspective to explore the implications of the cultural and
ideological characteristics of technology use in educational settings.
Some challenges have emerged with the move by researchers to the investigation
of online spaces. Informed by the logic of traditional methodologies, researchers in
digital environments have tended to simply transfer ethnographically oriented
methods to the Internet. While many of these research approaches appear to be
effective, a number of ethical dilemmas speciﬁc to online spaces have emerged.
First, both researchers and participants might have created online identities that are
different from their real-life ones. These practices throw into question the authen-
ticity of data and the validity of ﬁndings. Second, it is not clear if it is ethical for
researchers to use extracts published publically online without the authors’consent.
Third, it is near impossible to gain the informed consent of participants in online
environments as the communities in virtual worlds and social media are often
heavily populated and constantly changing. Ethical concerns associated with pri-
vacy, identity authentication, informed consent, authenticity of data, and validity of
ﬁndings still remain unresolved for researchers. They represent very complex
matters for researchers to think about and require some adjustment of research
methods in the context of online research.
Unfortunately, the dynamics of doing research in digital spaces, especially the
difﬁculties that researchers inevitably face, are often sanitized in the literature. There
is too often minimal reﬂection on how the research was conducted and complex
Research Approaches to the Study of Literacy, Learning, and Technology 9
issues dealt with. This absence provides little guidance for other researchers. Reﬂec-
tion on research processes is integral to developing and sustaining researchers’
knowledge and capabilities. Analyzing complex situations, reporting how issues
were negotiated and resolved, and explaining how decisions were made extend the
body of knowledge related to planning, designing, and conducting research in this
ﬁeld. Researchers who reﬂect on their studies in their publications and presentations
encourage more informed and critical research practices (e.g., Tour 2012).
Although some researchers still rue the cultural cost of the rise of digital tech-
nologies, a further difﬁculty for the ﬁeld is the privileging of “newness.”However,
the so-called “new”literacy practices associated with the use of digital technologies
do not simply represent a break with the past –old and new practices interact in far
more complex ways, producing hybrid rather than wholly new practices. Indeed, the
current tendency is not displacement but rather convergence –a coming together of
previously distinct technologies, cultural forms, and practices, both at the point of
production and reception. Just how a range of different forms of communication –
writing, visual and moving images, music, sound and speech –are converging
represents a serious challenge for researchers.
The research agenda is rich with possibilities. Researchers should build on previous
investigations, adding to the growing knowledge base about the connections
between literacy, learning, technology, curriculum, and culture. In the ﬁrst instance,
a longitudinal approach to the study of young people immersed in online culture, in
all the dimensions of their lives, would produce deeper understandings of digital
literacies and practices. Attention also needs to be directed towards the intersection
between languages and the different modalities of digital technologies. There are
many educational settings in which multiple languages are used both inside and
outside classrooms. Researchers need to investigate the place of multilingualism and
multiculturalism in digitally mediated educational contexts.
In the context of constantly changing technologies, literacies, and practices,
future research needs to draw on multiple perspectives: the visual arts and craft;
music, ﬁlm, and the performing arts; advertising and communication; linguistics and
language studies; social semiotics; and graphic design and computer science. These
disciplinary ﬁelds are likely to generate new understandings of the intimate connec-
tions between literacy, learning, and technology.
The need for further research investigating the complexity of digital literacies and
practices in online spaces is manifest. Trans-media digital literacy practices have
become more and more common as people engage in social, political, and professional
activities in many different online environments. These literacies and practices are
complex because they spin through multiple remixed modes, in various genres, in the
context of different communities and digital environments. While virtual ethnogra-
phies often examine a particular online environment or community, there is a need for
an integrated methodological approach that examines how literacy activities
10 I. Snyder and E. Tour
developed on the Internet materialize in everyday life. Such research requires detailed,
systematic analysis of online communications, discussions, and artifacts.
Further research aimed at investigating the complex relationships between the
verbal and the visual in communication and representation would also provide
opportunities to examine at close hand digital literacy practices in real contexts: to
observe different online users, to discuss technology-mediated communication prac-
tices, and to apply to those practices understandings that draw on the work of
theorists such as Gee (2003), Kress and Van Leeuwen (2001), Lankshear and Knobel
(2011), and Sheridan and Rowsell (2010).
More research investigating the complex relationships between literacy, technol-
ogy, and disadvantage is required. Research needs to keep up with technological and
market developments in relation to access –to track shifting and diversifying
contexts of use, including the institutional and social inﬂuences on young people’s
Internet use, and to critically examine causes and consequences of exclusion.
Systematic, detailed, ethnographically oriented studies of individuals, communities,
and institutions continue to represent a valuable approach for researchers in this
As the use of digital technologies in the literacy curriculum is a contextual change
that encourages alterations in the political, social, and educational structures of
systems, it is important to look closely at how it is carried out. There needs to be
more research into how language and literacy teachers integrate technology into
curricula. Questions include: How does pedagogy change? Do teachers’expecta-
tions alter? What are the implications for teachers’professional development and for
the training of pre-service literacy teachers? More research on patterns of resistance
to the use of digital technologies is required. Why do teachers who work in
environments that have technology facilities remain wary of its use in their class-
rooms, despite the fact that the world is increasingly dominated by the digital? There
also needs to be care in ascribing to the technology powers it does not possess. If
digital technologies are used in innovative ways, caution about inferring a cause and
effect relationship between adopting them and effective teacher practice is essential.
Faced by the still largely uncharted landscape of the Internet in which young
people are often the navigators, messier, less certain, more reﬂexive, multi-voiced
research is the way to respond. However, it is likely that making meaning in digital
settings will continue to be complicated by the ﬂuid, metamorphosing, unpredictable
nature of online worlds.
Related Articles in the Encyclopedia of Language and Education
James Gee: The Unity of Language, Literacy, Learning, and Digital Media.In
Volume: Language and Technology
Kevin M. Leander and Cynthis Lewis: Literacy and Internet Technologies.In
Volume: Literacies and Language Education
Research Approaches to the Study of Literacy, Learning, and Technology 11
▶Arts-Based Approaches to Inquiry in Language Education
▶Researching Computer Mediated Communication
▶Researching Multimodality in Language and Education
▶Visual Methods in Researching Language Practices and Language Learning–
Looking at, Seeing and Designing Language
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Research Approaches to the Study of Literacy, Learning, and Technology 13