Boys' use of technology in the middle years : a home-school comparison

  • Janet Carroll

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This study investigated the interaction of boys in middle school with technology at home and at school. The study’s main purpose was to provide an account of boys’ interactions and engagement with many and varied forms of technology across the domains of home and school with a view to considering the implications for literacy learning. The study drew on three participant groups, the boys themselves, their parents and their teachers, to understand the actions, attitudes and expectations of each in relation to technology and literate practices. Techtivity, a key concept in this study (a combination of the words technology and activity),is defined as any actions resulting from boys’ engagement with a variety of technological devices at home and at school. The study draws on the theoretical perspectives offered by the New Literacy Studies, which declare technology to be socially situated and central to the literacies required for full participation in society (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear and Leu, 2008; Leu, 2002). Further, incumbent on schools is the need to incorporate a variety of technologies effectively for quality teaching and learning. A research gap exists in harnessing the benefits of technology to support boys’ literacy outcomes, drawing on the social, cultural and personal experiences boys bring to school from their digitally literate out-of-school activities (Alloway, Dalley-Trim, Gilbert and Trist, 2006; Burnett, 2009; Warrington and Younger, 2006). Significant trends have emerged that have identified the difficulties that boys face in society in general, and particularly with literacy (Brozo,2009; NAPLAN,2012; OECD PISA,2010; Wilhelm,2010). This study aims to explore and chronicle the possibilities and opportunities of capturing boys’ interactions with technology, and the uses, meanings, values, attitudes and relationships they derive from it. By also considering the perspectives of boys’ parents and teachers, the findings of this study will contribute to better literacy outcomes for boys in middle school. The investigation utilised multiple case study design with an ethnographic, qualitative research orientation. Participants included 27 boys in middle school (aged 10 to 14 years),45 parents and 15 teachers, recruited from two schools in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The participants represented a range of cultural and economic backgrounds from two education sectors (Catholic and Independent). Data were generated through observation in classrooms and homes; in-depth interviews with all participants; a survey instrument encompassing 405 boys; and the collection of artefacts. Eighty-eight cases were conducted. Grounded theory was used for analysis, which included coding transcripts, field notes and artefacts in a recursive, iterative manner, and frequency analysis and the coding of survey results. The findings suggest that out-of-school literacies, particularly online gaming, provide many opportunities for boys to develop literacy skills in a social, collaborative way. Boys in this age group transfer and employ skills learned and practiced in the game world across contexts when given the opportunity. Significantly, the gaming world is a world in which literate behaviour is a requirement for success and boys’ passion motivates their engagement. The boys demonstrated a willingness and enthusiasm for sharing their skills, not only with each other but also with their teachers and parents when given the chance. Findings suggest that boys who come from homes in which parents provide access to digital tools and engage in gaming with their sons are at an advantage. Boys who have firm boundaries in terms of time and access, as well as high parental expectations, also appeared to be more engaged with using technology for learning. Boys in this study reported enjoying reading more than previous research, NAPLAN and PISA statistics would indicate. A rich seam of opportunity for literacy among boys exists if parents and teachers can find a way to bridge the gap between boys’ use of literacy for gaming success and how technology is used for literacy learning in the classroom. For parents, this means providing access to digital tools and books and instilling high expectations of boys’ literacy practices at home. Barriers to success in fostering such an environment include feelings of nostalgia linked to the place of traditional book-based literate practices at home and in the classroom, and the tension and apprehension that parents feel about how to parent digital natives with a view to ensuring their sons’ future success. This is understood as the drive and drag of new and old technologies. Teachers expressed similar views on boys’ use of technology to those of parents, but on balance, they perceived the benefits of teaching with technology as outweighing the barriers. There is much opportunity for engaging boys with the combination of digital texts, books and multimedia, and harnessing the enthusiasm with which boys engage in the online world. This study suggests that educators need to discover what is actually happening in peer cultures by getting alongside the boys in their classes and becoming familiar with the symbols, practices and artefacts that define this generation. The rewards will be mutually beneficial and have ready implications for improving boys’ literacy.
    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKaye Lowe (Supervisor), Phil Fitzsimmons (Supervisor) & Steve Shann (Supervisor)

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