EXPLORING THE EFFECTIVENESS OF DIGITAL ARTIFACTS IN SECONDARY AND POST-SECONDARY LITERACY INSTRUCTION
Students need to demonstrate mastery of new literacy skills—critical thinking, problem-solving, collaborating with peers at work, and increasing technology skills (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2004) and this has implications for literacy instruction. Students also need to evaluate information, examine arguments, distinguish points of view, read maps, follow directions for household products, and use the Internet to find information (National Council of Teachers of English, 2006). To foster students’ proficiencies with new digital and print literacies, Gee (2008) suggested literacy instruction use digital tools and technologies to support literacy skills such as information literacy, reading online, multimodal texts, media literacy, critical literacy, collaborative learning, visual literacy, discourse-specific vocabulary, and production of various texts using digital tools. This is significant because many students have little or no schema on the subjects they have to study in school. We asked, how can online digital artifacts such as primary sources be used to engage students and help build background knowledge about content? and how can student inquiry foster interaction with more online resources? To explore these areas, and better prepare students for college reading expectations, four college and high school Reading and English teachers engaged in action research to revise and implement a reading curriculum with college freshmen and high school students, and problem-solve how to better engage students and foster critical thinking through use of digital texts. Although the International Society of Technology and Education (2007, 2008) call for teachers, students, and administrators to use technology for teaching and learning, teachers should be strategic about the types of online texts and resources used to build background knowledge. We collected student work samples, teachers’ reflections, lessons and unit plans from the curriculum, and planning material such as meeting notes, emails, and teachers’ observation notes and classwork grades on students. Content analysis (Henn, Weinstein, & Foard, 2006) highlighted three themes: types of texts, students’ literacy outcomes, and instructional uses of digital tools. Teachers used print and nonprint (digital) texts differently in their respective contexts: speeches, audio files, Internet websites such as blogs, and newspaper articles. Teachers used digital tools to model how to conduct online research: locating information about topics, refining research topics based on insights gained from online research, review of online databases, locating multimedia texts such as videos, audios, and primary sources. Students worked independently and collaboratively to produce their own texts in response to online resources. Students also conducted online research, read primary and secondary source documents, and wrote and produced digital texts. We learned that when the new literacy skills are juxtaposed with the different kinds of texts students interact with particularly online or as printed versions of visual and digital texts readers have to simultaneously interpret visual and written texts, which suggests “the cognitive strategies that focus on comprehending written texts will not be sufficient to help readers comprehend the various models of representation incorporated in multimodal texts” (Serafini, 2011, p. 343).