Dr. Jon Ostenson, English Education
Review of Research Studies and Academic Objectives of the Proposals
Since the 1990s, efforts have been made in public schools to integrate technology into the classroom; from early initiatives to create educational software to efforts to improve access to technology through computer labs (static and mobile), this work has sought to bring the capabilities of technology and the access to information of advances like the Internet to students. With the rise of powerful mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, these initiatives have gained new momentum. However, while we understand the potential of these technologies to change education and the social importance of having students be competent in their uses, we do not yet fully understand how the presence and use of these devices in classrooms shifts the nature of learning and the student-teacher relationship in those classrooms.
This research study seeks to better understand this phenomenon. A local school district has given class sets of iPads to two teachers in two high schools in an effort to help support struggling readers and learners. We have been asked by the district to investigate the results of this effort and our goal is to examine the ways that the integration of mobile technology will influence students’ perceptions of themselves as readers as well as their performance as readers. We also hope to understand the way the use of technology might influence the teacher-student relationship in the classroom and students’ perceptions of themselves and their learning process. It will also explore how teachers integrate new technology like the iPad into their classroom and their teaching approaches. We will investigate these issues through a series of interviews conducted throughout the school year with selected students and the two classroom teachers; in addition, we will gather observational data throughout the year.
The German term “erziehungsroman” describes tales of education or the school story, a subcategory of the concept of “bildungsroman” (Barney, 1999). Focused on the growth and development of characters through overcoming trials, the development into adulthood and the like, these stories reflect experiences of students, schools, and education (Mullen, 2000). Although such stories most certainly find representations in traditional literary texts, many children’s and young adult literary titles focus on stories of these experiences as well (Atwood & Lee, 2007).
This study explores the potential of the use of adolescent literature as a tool for reflection and discussion in the professional development of preservice teachers. Specifically, participants will use books from the Harry Potter series to analyze issues of pedagogy and education; they will do this by reading the first six books in the series, one per month, and meeting monthly to discuss the readings. These discussions will provide a forum for reflection on their understandings and questions concerning their own pedagogical skills and those they are working to develop. Students will take a survey at the conclusion of the book club focused on their experience and reflections on what they learned. The content of these book club discussions and surveys will be coded and analyzed for general themes. The participants will then be interviewed twice during their student teaching experience to understand to what extent they felt these book club discussions influenced their practice and the way they made sense of their student teaching experience.
In both studies, we had as a primary objective to help undergraduate, preservice English teachers see the value of self-directed research into and reflection on teaching practice as integral dispositions of successful professional teachers. Those students who participate in the mobile technology project will engage in devising and implementing interview protocols, transcribing the interviews, and analyzing these transcripts to answers research questions about the results of integrating mobile technology in these classrooms. As these undergraduates engage in the research process, we hope they will both find value in the exploration of research questions as a professional teacher and reach important understandings about the integration of technology into classrooms that will influence their future practice.
In the school stories project, participants will engage in reflective thinking about the educational system they are about to enter, the classrooms they will be teaching in, and the students they will be teaching. This thinking will occur within the context of reading young adult literature in a book club setting, which we also hope will help students recognize both the value of this literature for teen readers and the pedagogical implications of book clubs in school settings. Further, we expect that students will identify an aspect of education (e.g., lesson planning, learning styles, at-risk students, administration) that they can explore across the series of books we read, connecting the exploration of the fiction with published scholarly research in the field.
With both studies, we also expect that students will present their research and findings at national conferences. We also hope that published pieces detailing these findings will result from this work.
Description of Results and Findings
Through analysis of the transcripts of student interviews, we reached a number of important conclusions about the integration of technology into these classrooms of struggling students.
First, we found that the integration achieved its objectives more effectively (as far as the students were concerned) in the classroom where the teacher initiated the integration versus in the classroom where the school initiated the use of mobile technology. We also found that students preferred reading in traditional, print sources rather than using mobile technology, although they recognized the value of mobile technology and its importance. Further findings suggested that self-directed learning techniques were effectively supported by mobile technologies and that teachers needed extensive professional development to most effectively integrate technology into the classroom.
We are currently, with the help of our undergraduate participants, analyzing the transcripts of the book club discussions; we are planning to conduct interviews soon with the students who have been student teaching in the schools this year. Our initial analysis of the data is promising: Participants clearly engaged in deep and meaningful reflection about classroom practices, teaching and learning, teacher-student relationships, and a myriad of other issues in education. Contrary to what we had expected before beginning the study, participants spent less time in the discussions talking about the literature itself and more time discussing the connections they made between the events and characters of the books and their own hopes, experiences, and concerns about teaching.
Evaluation of Objectives & the Mentoring Environment
We have been very pleased with how the students we’ve mentored have met the objectives we set out at the beginning of both of these projects. In the mobile technology project, students were actively involved in drafting and revising the interview protocols, conducting research that led to a literature review, in conducting the interviews themselves (which gave them invaluable exposure to real students in real classrooms), and in the transcription and analysis process of the interview data. In the school stories project, we were pleased to see each of the participants discover a unique aspect of teaching and learning that they focused on throughout the reading and discussions of the Harry Potter books. We are pleased that these students have uncovered connections between these interests and scholarly research in the field.
In the case of both projects, we found that students eagerly participated in the research and have come to understand the importance of asking meaningful questions as teacher professionals and conducting inquiry about pedagogy and practice through those questions. Students who were mentored in both projects furthermore had proposals sharing the findings of these projects accepted at the annual conference of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in 2013 and 2014. Their participation in these conferences has initiated them into broader discourses about practice in our profession and has also encouraged them to engage in these professional activities in the future. In short, we feel strongly that these undergraduate preservice teachers have a stronger sense of what it means to be a professional in our field and that they have adopted behaviors that will be of benefit to them (and their future students).
Participants and Products
Mobile Technology Participants
The indicated students presented initial findings from the study at the 2013 NCTE national conference in a poster session format and a research roundtable session. (The other students listed received wages for their work with the research project and contributed to the analysis but were unable to attend the conference in 2013.)
- Jordan Vance (graduate student): poster session
- Nicole Westenskow (undergraduate student): research roundtable
- Devery Bellingham Amundsen (undergraduate student): research roundtable
- Jason Miller (undergraduate student): unable to present
- Thomas Graham (undergraduate student): unable to present
These students presented research they had conducted as a result of their interests uncovered while participating in the Harry Potter research project. Their findings were presented in a research roundtable format. In addition, these students are currently in the process of planning and drafting articles for teacher journals (such as the journal published by the state affiliate of the NCTE) related to their research.
- Stephen Nothum (undergraduate student): school administration
- Tyler McCombs (undergraduate student): teacher-student relationships
- Reegan Alder (undergraduate student): teacher identity
- Whitney Somerville (undergraduate student): at-risk students
- Katy Johnson (undergraduate student): lesson planning and learning styles
- Nicole Westenskow (undergraduate student): lesson planning and learning styles
Budget and Expenses
The total awarded for this MEG grant was $14,800. This money was spent as follows:
- Student Wages: $5,000
- Supplies for Projects: $1,200
- Travel for the 2013 NCTE Conference: $3,200
- Travel for the 2014 NCTE Conference: $5,300
- Atwood, T. & Lee, W. M. (2007). The price of deviance: Schoolhouse gothic in prep school literature. Children’s Literature 35(1), 101-126.
- Barney, R. (1999). Plots of enlightenment: Education and the novel in eighteenth-century England. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Mullen, A. (2000). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling. The Hudson Review, 53(1), 127-135.
1 The original MEG proposal only included the first named research project and was to include a large portion of the award for purchasing hardware (iPads) for participating undergraduate students, which we found out after receiving the award is not allowed by BYU purchasing rules. So permission was granted by the Dean of Humanities to use those funds for a second mentoring project. In this report, we combine the two projects.