New Literacies and Teacher Learning

Professional Development and the Digital Turn

by Michele Knobel (Volume editor) Judy Kalman (Volume editor)
Textbook VI, 262 Pages


New Literacies and Teacher Learning examines the complexities of teacher professional development today in relation to new literacies and digital technologies, set within the wider context of strong demands for teachers to be innovative and to improve students’ learning outcomes. Contributors hail from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Finland, Mexico, Norway, and the U.S., and work in a broad range of situations, grade levels, activities, scales, and even national contexts. Projects include early year education through to adult literacy education and university contexts, describing a range of approaches to taking up new literacies and digital technologies within diverse learning practices. While the authors present detailed descriptions of using various digital resources like movie editing software, wikis, video conferencing, Twitter, and YouTube, they all agree that digital «stuff» – while important – is not the central concern. Instead, what they foreground in their discussions are theory-informed pedagogical orientations, collaborative learning theories, the complexities of teachers’ workplaces, and young people’s interests. Thus, a key premise in this collection is that teaching and learning are about deep engagement, representing meanings in a range of ways. These include acknowledging relationships and knowledge; thinking critically about events, phenomena, and processes; and participating in valued social and cultural activities. The book shows how this kind of learning doesn’t simply occur in a one-off session, but takes time, commitment, and multiple opportunities to interact with others, to explore, play, make mistakes, and get it right.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter One: Teacher Learning, Digital Technologies and New Literacies
  • Chapter Two: Accompaniment: A Socio-Cultural Approach for Rethinking Practice and Uses of Digital Technologies with Teachers
  • Chapter Three: Doing-It-Ourselves Development: (Re)defining, (Re)designing and (Re)valuing the Role of Teaching, Learning, and Literacies
  • Chapter Four: Professional Development from the Inside Out: Redesigning Learning through Collaborative Action Research
  • Chapter Five: Literacy Spaces, Digital Pathways and Connected Learning: Teachers’ Professional Development in Times of New Mobilities
  • Chapter Six: A Digital Book Project with Primary Education Teachers in Finland
  • Chapter Seven: Professional Development and Digital Literacies in Argentinean Classrooms: Rethinking “What Works” in Massive Technology Programs
  • Chapter Eight: Exploring Multidirectional Memory-Work and the Digital as a Phase Space for Teacher Professional Development
  • Chapter Nine: Expanding Notions of Professional Development in Adult Basic Education
  • Chapter Ten: #PD: Examining the Intersection of Twitter and Professional Learning
  • Chapter Eleven: Connected Learning Professional Development: Production-Centered and Openly Networked Teaching Communities
  • Contributors
  • Name index
  • Subject index
  • Series index

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First up, we want to thank our authors for their contributions to this book. We know they all lead busy and demanding lives, and we are deeply appreciative of their generosity with their time, work and goodwill.

Heather Lotherington, Stephanie Fisher, Jennifer Jenson and Laura Mae Lindo would like to thank parents and students at Joyce Public School for their participation in their project and for granting permission to use the video image shown in Figure 4.1. Christina Cantrill and Kylie Peppler would like to acknowledge Kim Douillard’s generosity in letting us use images she took during a National Writing Project e-Puppetry workshop.

Any book that involves ten sets of authors in seven different countries and two editors miles apart from each other is, by definition, a big project! Just keeping the records straight in terms of where everybody is in their chapter writing and revisions, in following through on questions and answers, or completing small but necessary tasks like organizing bio blurbs or initially formatting the text required dedication, time, and pristine organization. So here is a big shout out to Ali Zeidan and Melissa Collucci for helping us get through all of this!

Special thanks are also due to Chris Myers, Stephen Mazur, Sophie Appel and Bernadette Shade at Peter Lang for their enthusiasm about and support for our book. Many thanks also go to Benjamin de Buen for his thoughtful translation from Spanish of Chapter 2.

From the start, putting this book together has been a truly collaborative project, and the editors hope readers will learn as much from this book about teaching, learning, new literacies and the digital turn as they did. ← vii | viii →

← viii | 1 →


Teacher Learning, Digital Technologies AND New Literacies



Right now, “improving teachers” is a trending topic internationally. Interestingly, the last time teachers were so fixed in the crosshairs of national policy makers, international cooperation agencies, and initiative funders was the 1970s. This was a time when education pundits around the world called for the “rationalization of teaching and learning” (Novoa 2008: 49) and teachers were “trained” to teach by developing lesson plans based on very specific learning objectives. Then, during the 1980s, the epicenter of attention shifted away from teachers to focus on curricular reform, while in the 1990s, school (re)organization became the priority (Novoa 2008). Organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), among others, persuaded national governments to invest time and resources in curriculum reform and school reorganization efforts. While teachers were asked—if not required—to put many of these organizations’ specific guidelines and directives into action, teachers themselves were not leading players during this period. It seemed government bodies and other organizations alike assumed that changing the curriculum or organizing schools differently would necessarily result in improvements in student learning and this, in turn, would ultimately contribute directly to social benefits like “poverty alleviation,” economic development, and social equality.

However, disappointing outcomes from these efforts have pushed the pendulum back towards widespread focus on teachers and what goes on in classrooms, especially from 2000 onwards. Robalino Campos (2005: 8)—an education specialist ← 1 | 2 → with UNESCO—argued, for example, that “evidence coming from studies on the quality and equity of education contribute to the general perception that neither education nor the reforms carried out have produced coherent and sufficient changes in regard to the societal, economic, political, and scientific demands of the 21st century.” She also emphatically identified teachers as “central to school improvement efforts” (Robalino Campos 2005: 1). This position is indicative of what was already a growing seachange in education reform foci. Indeed, the past fifteen years have seen a surge in policies closely targeting teachers and teaching—with Robalino Campos (2005: 1) going so far as to problematize disappointing student test results in terms of “the teacher question” whereby blame for poor student results is placed squarely on teachers’ shoulders. Indeed, as recently as 2014, Bokova—Director General of UNESCO—claimed that an “education system is only as good as its teachers” (Bokova 2014: 1). As evidenced by a proliferation of publications, programs and approaches, teachers now are considered by many policymakers and pundits to be “the single most influential and powerful force for equity, access and quality in education” (Bokova, quoted in UNESCO 2015a: 1). In 2008, for example, the Organization of Iberoamerican States—a regional agency focused on Spain, Portugal and their former colonies in the Americas—published two volumes relevant to our discussion here: one specifically on teacher professional development and the other on information and communication technologies (ICT) take-up in education (de Medrano and Vailant 2008; Toscano and Diaz 2008). Both volumes include a heavy focus on teacher change. Similarly, a recent World Bank document titled System Approach for Better Education Results (SABER): What Matters Most in Teacher Policies? A Framework for Building a More Effective Teaching Profession declared that “[p]rofessional development and on-the-job support for teachers are an essential component of teacher policies” (World Bank 2012: 7).

These same international organizations claim that student learning outcomes are less than optimal for current national needs and that schooling has proved itself incapable of keeping up with the fast pace of social, economic, and technological change. They cast teachers as key to addressing these two issues. The 2005 OECD publication, Teachers Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers, for example, notes that teachers are “the most significant and costly resource in schools” (OECD 2005: 1) and need to “deal effectively” (OECD 2005: 2) with student diversity, use new technologies, and keep up with ongoing changes in academic disciplines. This report also places much of the responsibility for how students fare at school squarely on teachers’ shoulders, claiming that “[t]here is now substantial research indicating that the quality of teachers and their teaching are the most important factors in student outcomes” (OECD 2005: 9). Collectively these agencies call for actions such as “reinforcing teacher training institutions and teacher educators,” “peer-coaching or collaborative activities with expert input” (UNESCO 2012: 2, 5), “improving teacher quality by developing ← 2 | 3 → standards for teachers,” (UNESCO 2015b: 1) and the more standard “[t]raining, training, training” (Hawkins 2002: 42).

As such, ongoing learning and professional growth for teachers has been a hot-button topic within—and outside—education, especially over the past 10 years. In the U.S. at present, commercial professional development companies and publishing houses like Kagan, Learners Edge, The Master Teacher, Pearson, and others are the new “big players” in training teachers. They loudly tout their products and services in terms of “capacity-building support for your teaching effectiveness initiatives” (Pearson 2015: 1) and “provid[ing] practical, evidence-based strategies that enhance teachers’ instruction and students’ learning” (Landmark School Outreach Program 2015a: 1). These offerings focus on things like the Common Core Standards, particular commercial reading program packages, reading skills, teaching English language learners, teacher autism training [sic], and so on. Many of these services comprise an “outside expert” coming to the school and delivering an intensive, short-term presentation on some topic or program (see critiques in Darling-Hammond et al., 2009; Gulamhussein 2013). This especially appears to be the case where digital technologies are concerned. Companies like SMART Technologies (2015) offer short workshops or self-paced online tutorials on how to use their SMART Boards or apps on their SMART Tables; Landmark School Outreach offers a 5-day graduate course focused on assistive technologies for supporting students with special learning needs (Landmark School Outreach Program 2015b: 1); or class sets of iPads or Chromebooks appear in schools and teachers are given a short introduction to the machine side of things (cf. criticisms in Carpenter and Krutka 2014).

And yet, a long history of research into teachers’ professional development suggests teachers gain most from professional development experiences that are not delivered by expert-outsiders and that are not one-size-fits-all, one-shot sessions on how to do something better (Carpenter and Krutka 2014; Hardy and Rönnerman 2011; Lawless and Pellegrino 2007). Instead, research suggests what works includes things like sustained and supported opportunities to learn something new or to learn about something familiar more deeply, learning opportunities that are grounded in immediate teaching contexts, encouragement to change classroom and school practices in innovative ways, enacting social theories of learning to shape collaboration among fellow teachers, fluid leadership and expert roles within a professional learning group or space, and a conviction that what’s being learned is going to be useful or beneficial to students (see, for example, Carpenter and Krutka 2014; Lawless and Pellegrino 2007; Opfer and Pedder 2011; Patton, Parker and Tennehill 2015). But even with a well-established and ample list of characteristics for substantively defining “effective” professional development for teachers, formal professional development experiences still tend to be criticized by the very teachers for whom they were designed and by scholars working in this field. Opfer and Pedder argue that a good deal of the problem is due to professional development in schools still ← 3 | 4 → emphasizing “specific activities, processes, or programs in isolation from the complex teaching and learning environments in which teachers live” (2011: 377). For Opfer and Pedder, there is too little attention paid to the complex systems within which teachers work in relation to designing and delivering professional development experiences and too much emphasis on quick fixes.

Recognizing the complexity of teaching and its situatedness—in classrooms, in schools, and in communities—is a key factor driving this edited collection. For us, professional development is not just concerned with teacher learning and improvement but with contributing to and enriching professional practice. Professional practice, in this sense, refers to a thoroughly social understanding of what it means to “be a teacher” (cf. Gee 2013). That is, understanding that teaching as a social practice comprises sets of beliefs, ways of doing things, ways of using resources, configurations of physical spaces, and ways of speaking (to students, to colleagues, to parents, to administrators, etc.). Furthermore, it includes sets of ideas about the nature and purpose of schooling, a body of knowledge, particular orientations towards students and their well-being, skills and tools that are socially recognized as part and parcel of teaching and learning (e.g., content area knowledge, classroom management, effective teaching approaches etc.), and so on. As such, we wanted to bring together in one place depictions of how different people have approached professional development with a close eye to professional practice and teacher learning as something that’s complex, highly situated, deeply collaborative and participatory, and that takes into consideration the thoroughly social nature of “being a teacher.” Added to this, we also were deeply interested in gathering and circulating accounts of professional development experiences that engaged teachers in using or learning about a range of literacies and digital technologies in creative, meaningful, and fruitful ways. This was prompted by a sense that the academic literature to date has been dominated by “education technology” accounts of “upskilling” teachers to use particular digital devices, software programs or apps, or online services and then leaving it to teachers to find things to do with these devices and software in their literacy teaching (Kalman 2013). This body of work has tended to place digital technology itself at the heart of the professional development experience rather than examine how digital technologies can become part of deep, useful and ongoing literacy learning experiences for teachers and students alike (cf. similar critiques in Guererro 2013; Hutchison 2011; Language Arts 2012).


Teacher educators and academics talk about “turns” that signal large-scale, even paradigmatic shifts in thinking and practice within a field of study. These kinds ← 4 | 5 → of “turns” are often transdisciplinary in nature and can reshape or reconstruct “the objects of research” or generate new research objects or foci (Runnel et al. 2013: 7). The idea of a “turn” usefully captures how a change in direction and focus isn’t necessarily wholesale within a field and that original trajectories and ways of doing things continue, while the shift itself nonetheless becomes relatively well established and recognized. Literacy studies and education can lay claim to a number of “turns” in the past few decades (e.g., the postmodern turn: Green 1995; McLaren and Lankshear 1993; Poynton 1993; the social turn: Barton, Hamilton and Ivanič 2005; Gee 1999; Street 2003).

Currently, it’s easy to argue that there is a “digital turn” in a range of fields and disciplines (e.g., architecture, communications and media studies, art). This particular turn is not only about acknowledging and investigating the proliferation of digital devices, services and networks in many people’s everyday lives around the world. It also includes sustained academic interest in developing ways of understanding changes in, and new practices concerning how people make, share and take up meanings and resources that are digitally mediated or produced (cf. Mills 2010; Runnel et al. 2013).

The study of “new literacies” is one such response to this digital turn within education and literacy studies. The idea of new literacies has been developed since the early 1990s, with the aim of providing insights into understanding and responding to some of the deep changes evident during recent decades that have impacted many people’s everyday lives, and, in turn, education in most countries. In many ways, “[n]ew literacies researchers and scholars seek to explore and understand continuities and differences between the ways people in societies like our own produced, distributed, shared, and negotiated meanings during an era that entered transition from the 1950s, and the ways people have increasingly produced, distributed, shared, and negotiated meanings from, say, the 1980s” (Knobel and Lankshear 2014: 97). A good deal of this research is interested in “anticipat[ing] beyond the present and envisag[ing] how best to educate now in order to enhance learners’ capacities for effective meaning-making and communication in the foreseeable future” (ibid.).

In a nutshell, “new literacies,” when considered from a sociocultural-New Literacy Studies orientation, can be thought about along two dimensions: technically/technologically and in terms of a different “ethos” (Lankshear and Knobel 2011: Ch. 3). New literacies do not presuppose use of digital technologies and media (e.g., writing with video remixes predates digital times), although our focus here is on those that do. In terms of technical “stuff,” new literacies differ fundamentally from conventional print literacies in that their inscriptions are rendered—at least initially—by means of digital code rather than by material means (whether printed and illustrated/imaged/diagrammed by hand, typewriter or press). Consequently, “new” kinds of texts often are seamlessly multimodal rather than involving distinct ← 5 | 6 → processes for different modes (text, image, sound), or they exist nowhere and everywhere because collaborative cloud-based interfaces mean multiple authors can work on a literacy “text” simultaneously. Facebook is a good example of this, where the interface enables users to post text, emoticons, images, sounds and video clips, where friends can write on one’s “feed” or “timeline” or share photos, videos and songs, where users can “like” others’ posts, join groups, follow popular pages or celebrity profiles, etc. with few people knowing where or how their personal information is stored because Facebook isn’t on their “hard drive” per se. Electronic networks that span computers, tablets and smartphones also mean that these new literacy practices and the “texts” they produce can be shared with others or accessed on a vast scale with just the click of a mouse.

As social practices characterized by a new “ethos,” Colin Lankshear explains how

new literacies are more participatory, collaborative, and distributed, and less “published,” less “author-centric” and less “individual” than conventional literacies. Typically, although—regretfully—not universally (Gee and Hayes, 2013), engaging in social media sites, affinity spaces (Gee 2013), and within environments and practices of participatory cultures (Jenkins, et al. 2006), involves deep interactivity, openness to feedback, sharing of resources and expertise, and a will to collaborate and provide support that is writ large into myriad contemporary everyday practices. Participants in new literacy practices actively seek out memberships and peers in areas of affinity and interest and pursue different kinds of relationships between “authors” and “audiences” from those characterizing many conventional literacy practices. They generally value attending to the interests and knowledge of others, recognize that quality is judged by groups rather than appointed experts, welcome diversity of opinion in decision-making, and so on. This broad “ethos” of new literacies sets them apart from simply being conventional literacies in digital form. (in Knobel and Lankshear 2014: 98)

A deliberately in-common thread running across the chapters in this book is an interest in teachers taking up new literacies in their classrooms in ways that do not strip these new literacies of their newness or that colonize them to existing classroom practices. Forcing a class of students to use a private discussion board to post their thoughts about a book they were required to read is not a new literacy practice, for example. While this task does include some new technical procedures, it certainly does not embody the new “ethos” stuff of new literacies, and the same task could be achieved just as well with pencil and paper or in-person dialogue. The professional development projects described in the following chapters take both dimensions of new literacies very seriously. Teachers are engaged in producing complex, high-quality “memory” videos that cast them as both storytellers and storymakers; one teacher works with special-needs students to produce a polished remix video that retells a significant event from the point of view of a minor character in a story; two teachers and their students in very socioeconomically and culturally distinct schools collaborate virtually and in person on a set of online ← 6 | 7 → newspapers that engage with each community’s previously unexamined assumptions about the other; and so on. There are no pre-packaged lesson plans, subject area software, or class sets of iPads in any of these accounts.


As indicated above, the digital turn can be seen in two ways. On one hand, the term signals an academic interest in documenting and interpreting changes in how people experience and act on their world when digital technologies become part of the mix. On the other hand, and especially when we look at teachers’ professional development in schools, the term often can have a mechanistic meaning that’s best described as a “turn to the digital (device)” with high hopes riding on an assumed causal relationship between installing computers plus internet connections in classrooms and improved student learning outcomes and standardized test scores.

Indeed, taking up digital technologies in classrooms is a leading component of the ongoing push to “improve” teachers, with information and communication technologies especially invoked by international agencies and policy makers on national and local levels as a way to “improve the quality of education” and to “force and support necessary changes in education practices to meet the societal demands of the twenty first century” (Cabrol and Servin 2010: 1, authors’ translation; see also Hernández 2015). Yet little thought has been given to the kinds of challenges teachers face when figuring out what these “necessary changes” might be or how to accomplish them. Apparently it is “assumed that teachers will somehow naturally transition to using these artifacts” (Kalman and Guerrero 2013: 261). Furthermore, it seems policy makers’ and service providers’ expectations for teachers, digital technologies and professional development outcomes vary considerably from place to place. Coll (2008), for example, identifies three dominant sets of expectations he sees shaping conceptions of and approaches to teachers’ professional development and digital technologies. In some cases, administrators’ and practitioners’ expectations are restricted to the specific goal of training teachers to use the computer and to navigate the internet, with an eye on introducing computers as a new subject area. Here, a key assumption is that teachers will explicitly teach their students how to use various digital resources like word-processing software or keyboards, and, in doing so, will contribute directly to students’ success at school and beyond. A second set of popular expectations for professional development is that teachers will become more efficient when digital technologies are added to their classrooms; that is, they’ll be doing what they have always done, but better. This orientation emphasizes teacher productivity, teachers developing requisite skills and mastery of ← 7 | 8 → digital teaching materials such as specialized subject area software (e.g., Geometer, Descartes’ Cove, Accelerated Reader), and pre-packaged lesson plans and activities designed to help teachers “engage” students in using digital technologies while they learn (e.g., webquests, using PowerPoint for traditional classroom presentations). A third set of expectations sees digital technologies as a catalyst for transforming or reconceptualizing classroom teaching and learning in some way. Coll (2008: 124) notes that within this set of expectations, “it’s not about using ICT to do the same but better, faster or easier or even more efficiently, [it’s about] doing different things, about initiating teaching and learning processes that would not be possible in the absence of ICT” (authors’ translation). More to the point, within this third set of expectations, digital technologies and digital practices are regarded as just one element of developing teaching approaches that center-stage collaborative and social learning, realign relationships between teachers and students, shift how learning is distributed and taken up, reconceptualize knowledge as “unfixed” and constructed, and open up possibilities for tinkering with and remixing learning projects so that the learning and production process itself is foregrounded rather than taking a back seat to a particular kind of pre-approved end product.

The authors in this book collectively offer different takes on how this third set of expectations can play out in real-life, complex, shared and productively messy learning experiences. Their work with teachers or within their own classrooms embodies a new ethos of collaboration, distributed practice, and participation. Their approaches are also very much grounded in the digital turn—both in the sense of developing research insights into what it means to “be more digital” and in working through ways of taking up digital technologies meaningfully within teachers’ professional lives and teaching contexts.


VI, 262
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. VI, 262 pp.

Biographical notes

Michele Knobel (Volume editor) Judy Kalman (Volume editor)

Michele Knobel (BEd, University College of Southern Queensland; MEd, University of Southern Queensland; MEd.TESOL and PhD, Queensland University of Technology) is a professor at Montclair State University. Her publications include New Literacies (2011, with Colin Lankshear) and A New Literacies Reader (Peter Lang, 2013, edited with Colin Lankshear). Judy Kalman (BA, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; M.S., Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados-IPN; PhD, University of California, Berkeley) is a professor at DIE-CINVESTAV, Mexico City. Publications include Literacy and Numeracy in Latin America (2013, edited with Brian Street) and El Profe 2.0 (2013, with Irán Guerrero and Óscar Hernández).


Title: New Literacies and Teacher Learning