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Learning to Teach in the Digital Age

New Materialities and Maker Paradigms in Schools


Sean Justice

Learning to Teach in the Digital Age tells the story of a group of K–12 teachers as they began to connect with digital making and learning pedagogies. Guiding questions at the heart of this qualitative case study asked how teaching practices engaged with and responded to the maker movement and digital making and learning tools and materials. Over the course of one school year, Sean Justice attended to the ebb and flow of teaching and learning at an independent K–12 girls school the northeastern United States. Teachers and administrators from across grade levels and academic domains participated in interviews and casual conversations, and opened their classrooms to ad hoc observations. In conducting the study, Justice interwove a sociomaterial disposition with new materialism, posthumanism, and new media theory. Methods were inspired by narrative inquiry and actor-network theory. Findings suggested that digital making and learning pedagogies were stabilizing at the school, but not in a linear way. Further, Justice suggests that the teaching practices that most engaged the ethos of twenty-first-century learning enacted a kind of learning we hear about from artists, writers, scientists, and mathematicians when they talk about what innovation feels like, leading to the proposition that a different kind of language is needed to describe the effects of digital materialities on teaching practice.
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Chapter 1. Tracing the Emergence of the Inquiry


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I come to this research as an artist and art educator. In the 1980s, while doing an MFA in studio art, concentrating on photography and video, I started teaching high school photography and writing. A few years later I taught photography and the history of photography at a community college. During that time, I was also working as an arts organizer and grant writer, exhibiting photographs and video art in galleries, and beginning to make photographs and videos for magazines and marketing agencies. Later, as my freelance practice grew into a commercial studio business, I dropped the arts advocacy and cut back on the fine art. While I regretted setting those aspects of my career on hold, the studio thrived, and by the mid-2000s we had several employees, dozens of assistants, and clients worldwide. In fact, at about that time the commercial practice stabilized, so I returned to teaching and making art again.

Trajectories of Changing Tools

Along the way, the tools of photography and media changed radically. My journey into computers had begun in graduate school, when I took an administrative job in my university’s psychology department. I remember beginning 1986 with a brand new IBM Selectric typewriter, thrilled to be working with ← 5 | 6 → such an excellent machine, and ending that year with a desktop PC attached to a dot-matrix printer. In some ways, office life didn’t change—managing...

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