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Preservice English Teachers’ Developing Critical Digital
Literacies
Amy Piotrowski, Ph.D.
Amanda Plaizier, M.A.
The Issue
How can teachers engage their students in critical, reflective, ethical student digital
participation if they have not first learned critical digital literacy skills in their own
teacher education programs?
The Issue
Teacher educators would do well to encourage preservice teachers to think
critically about technology’s impact on society so that they can facilitate this kind of
critical thinking with their middle school and high school students. Discussing YA
novels that feature Internet Communication Technologies, virtual reality, and
artificial intelligence can open up important discussions.
The Issue
NCTE’s Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age (2019) calls on teachers and teacher
educators to have students:
● “Participate effectively and critically in a networked world”
● “Examine the rights, responsibilities, and ethical implications of the use and
creation of information”
The Issue
“‘We write dystopian stories to be cautionary
tales, not instruction manuals,’ says Neal
Shusterman, author of bestselling young adult
dystopian series Arc of a Scythe and Unwind.
‘We are watching America slip into dystopia, with
too many people either consenting or choosing
to turn a blind eye. There will come a time —
there must come a time — when our nation, as a
whole, looks at itself and says, ‘My God, how did
we become this?’”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/dystopian-
authors-reflect-on-our-dystopian-border/2019/07/14/a9a6009c-
a64f-11e9-86dd-d7f0e60391e9_story.html
Research Question
Using the framework developed by Watulak and Kinzer (2013), this project sought
to determine:
● How does a CDL approach promote preservice teachers’ critical reflection
of their digital participation within personal contexts, environments and
practices?
● How does planning lessons on YA literature develop preservice teachers’
CDL practices in preparation for professional contexts and practices?
Review of Prior Research
Critical Digital Literacies enable development of:
● “Innovative thinking, critical thinking, communication, digital citizenship,
self-regulated learning, and (computer-supported) collaborative learning”
(van de Oudeweetering & Voogt, 2018, p. 116).
● Collaboration, learning, and sharing of technological skills to identify and
redress group inequalities (“critical metacognitive pedagogy”) (Voss, 2018).
Review of Prior Research
CDL facilitates discussions of:
● Current inequitable and exclusionary practices in education
● Multilingual and multiculturally inclusive classroom practices
● Empowering practices of literacy within minority groups (Camilly-Trulio &
Romer-Peretti, 2017; Price-Dennis, Holmes, & Smith).
● How/what social forces shape literacy and technology practices and the
participatory social skills of collaboration and networking involved in
communication technologies (Jenkins, 2006).
Review of Prior Research
Critical digital literacies provide a valuable framework for examining teaching
practices (Watulak and Kinzer, 2013):
● Reflective practice of technology use
● Understanding cultural, social, and historical contexts of technology use
● Functional skills in working with technological/digital tools
Methods
Case Study of four undergraduate preservice teachers (2 male, 2 female)
enrolled in a young adult literature course (“Teaching Young Adult Literature”)
○ Assignments collected include a book review of Scythe and Warcross
and a set of end of semester final lesson plans (using one of the texts).
○ Data was coded according to the Watulak and Kinzer (2013)
framework.
○ Qualitative comparative analysis was used to systematically identify
and analyze trends, themes, and patterns (Fetters, Curry & Cresswell,
2013; Guetterman & Fetter, 2018).
The Novels Scythe (Shusterman, 2016)
● Futuristic society monitored by an all-
knowing “Thunderhead”
● Disease is obsolete; chosen scythes cull
the herd.
Warcross (Lu, 2017)
● Majority of world’s population linked to a
virtual game.
● Game creator has power to control for
possible crime through the game.
Methods
● Data coded using framework for critical digital literacies from Watulak and
Kinzer (2013):
○ Understanding cultural, social, and historical contexts of technology use
○ Critical thinking and analysis
○ Reflective practice
○ Facility with the functional skills and tools of digital technology production
Results
● Use of the YA texts facilitated self reflection into preservice teachers’ own
technological practices and the social, cultural, and historical contexts which inform
both their personal and professional practices.
● The YA texts provided a fictional space for preservice teachers’ future students to
engage in creativity, which is also an aspect to digital text production and participation
(Heinrichsen & Coombs, 2013).
● The lesson plans presented as part of our case study evidence both effective CDL
processes within the preservice teacher participants as well as a need for the instructors
to better distinguish these literacies from traditional ELA literary criticism practices.
How does a CDL approach promote preservice teachers’ critical reflection of
their digital participation within personal contexts, environments and practices?
In their reviews of Scythe, the preservice teachers weighed heavily the question of
technology's corruptibility and accountability and their own roles as users to
question their own reliance ono digital devices.
○ Megan: “Is technology answerable to societal, ethical standards?
○ John: “What happens when we rely on technology?”
○ Leo: Is technology beyond corruptibility?
○ Rachel: If technology can make logical decisions based on evidence, is there a need for
individual critical thinking?
Reading and discussing Warcross led to an analysis of digital citizenship and
privacy; analysis triggered student reflection on their own presence in digital
spaces and the ways in which power is constructed and maintained.
How does planning lessons on YA literature develop preservice teachers’ CDL
practices in preparation for professional contexts and practices?
Megan- Scythe Lesson Plan
● She invited dialogic critique of current privacy policy terms of use, which most
users fail to read completely before signing in agreement.
● She also asked students to collaboratively participate in the composition of a
new set of privacy standards which they consider to be equitable and
accessible.
How does planning lessons on YA literature develop preservice teachers’ CDL
practices in preparation for professional contexts and practices?
John- Warcross Lesson Plan
● Addressed the use of VR technologies outside the parameters of gaming and the potentials of
cognizant control of digital users and compulsory participation within the novel.
● As students analyze the conflict of agency vs. control and various social contexts for VR within
the novel, they are in turn invited to reflect on how agency functions within their own
technology use. Within this lesson plan is a model for using the text to facilitate dialogue of the
social, cultural, and historical contexts in which they use technology, the ramifications of such
use, and ultimately whether society has the “right” to control human agency.
● The creation of VR content will allow students to shape users’ digital experiences, a fun way
for students to participate creatively in digital spaces and initiate change (even in response to
a novel).
How does planning lessons on YA literature develop preservice teachers’ CDL
practices in preparation for professional contexts and practices?
Leo- Warcross Lesson Plan
● Relied more on literary analysis than critical reflection of student technology practices.
● While he did ask his students to engage with digital databases and websites for
research, he failed to define any standards for credible research or to invite student
examination of their own practices.
● This example demonstrates a common obstacle for implementation of CDL practices in
the ELA classroom- a need to distinguish traditional literary critique with more digital
based practices which invite students to interrogate their practices. And definitions of
CDL that extend beyond the functional use of digital tools.
Using YAL to promote CDL development
As evidenced by their coursework, the use of young adult texts facilitated preservice teachers’ critical
thinking about their own use of digital tools; the ethical implications and applications of using digital
technologies became more visceral after reading about the characters’ experiences.
● This developed into a more critical application within their lesson plans as teachers asked their own
(future) students to consider the safety and the ramifications and agencies in their own use of digital
tools.
● Surveillance and privacy became a main theme within student reviews of the texts and allowed them
each to consider the role surveillance plays in modern society and the potential effects of future
surveillance capabilities on privacy.
● Young adult texts also provided context in which to examine critical thinking through the use of
digital tools and subsequent impact on student learning.
Using YAL to promote CDL development
Discussion Questions- Critical Thinking and Analysis
● How does AI dictate/determine the book characters’ participation in society? To what extent do they
seem to be aware or complicit to AI’s constant surveillance?
● What entities might surveil your daily technology use and why? In your opinion, what is an
“acceptable” level of surveillance? In short, what level of privacy can be sacrificed for participation
in digital spaces?
● How are your own technology practices affected by knowledge of surveillance? In what contexts do
you consider surveillance necessary? When is it not appropriate/useful?
● Do the characters have equal access to the benefits of technology use within the novels? How
might inequitable technology accessibility affect society? What are some changes that could be
made to address such inequities?
● How do the novels facilitate your interrogation of your own use of technology? What are possible
implications of this interrogation for your own ELA pedagogy?
Using YAL to promote CDL development
Discussion Questions- Reflective Practice
● How would you describe the relationship between technological knowledge and power within each
of the novels and how was this power dynamic disrupted? How might users actively disrupt
inequitable power structures in today’s society as users of digital tools?
● In what ways did the characters in both novels sacrifice their privacy to a higher technological power?
What are the consequences (potentially positive and negative) for relinquishing privacy in a digital
age?
● What are the consequences (positive and negative) of global access to instant information (both in
the novels and in society)?
● In Warcross, how did Hideo exploit information to serve his own ends of societal control? How might
this compare to the AI Thunderhead’s actions in Scythe? Who is capable of exploiting digital
information in our society and how might this affect you as a user?
● How does reading and writing about these novels help you critically reflect upon your own reliance
on technology both personally and professionally?
Using YAL to promote CDL development
Discussion Questions- Social, Cultural, and Historical Contexts of Technology Use
● In Warcross, how did the game provide a set of participatory standards and sociocultural norms for its
users? What “norms” are present within your own online culture of technology use? Are there
“rules” for participation in digital spaces as in the Warcross game? If so, who determines them?
● In Warcross, how did Emika’s life experiences affect her gameplay and how did that
compare/contrast to her teammates? In Scythe, how did Citra’s life experiences affect her
interactions with the Thunderhead and with other characters? How do your life experiences influence
your gameplay, interactions online, and digital collaboration practices?
● How does Warcross demonstrate both complications and benefits within spaces of digital
collaboration? Have you seen any of these manifest in your own collaborations online?
● Ultimately, who is accountable for the level of control and roles technology is allowed to play in
society?
Coming Soon in 2021!
● For more, see our upcoming chapter “Utilizing Young Adult Literature to
Develop Preservice English Teachers’ CDL-Based Pedagogical Practices” in
the forthcoming book Critical Digital Literacies: Boundary-Crossing Practices.
Contact Us!
● Amy Piotrowski
○ Email: amy.piotrowski@usu.edu
○ Twitter: @piotrowskiamy
○ Website: www.amypiotrowski.com
● Amanda Plaizier
○ Email: amanda.plaizier@usu.edu
○ Twitter: @amanda-plaizier
References
Lu, M. (2017). Warcross. New York: Speak.
NCTE (2019). Definition of literacy in a digital age, National Council of teachers of English.
https://ncte.org/statement/nctes-definition-literacy-digital-age/.
Pangrazio, L. (2014). Reconceptualising critical digital literacy, Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education,
37(2), 163-174.
Shusterman, N. (2016). Scythe. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Utah State Office of Education (2013). Standards for English Language Arts 6–12, Core standards for English language arts,
schools.utah.gov/file/003aa7e6-c4f6-40b5-89a9-40f8198e8c45.
Voss, J. (2018). Who learns from collaborative digital projects? Cultivating critical consciousness and metacognition to democratize
digital literacy learning, Composition Studies, 46(1), 57-80.
van de Oudeeetering, K. and J.M. Voogt. (2018). Teachers’ conceptualization and enactment of twenty-first century competences:
Exploring dimensions for new curricula, The Curriculum Journal, 29(1), 116-133).
Watulak, S.L. and Kinzer, C.K. (2013). Beyond technology skills: Toward a framework for critical digital literacies in pre-service
technology education. In J. Avila & J.Z. Pandya (Eds.), Critical digital literacies as social praxis. New York: Peter Lang
Publishing, Inc. 127-156.

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CDL NCTE 2020

  • 1. Preservice English Teachers’ Developing Critical Digital Literacies Amy Piotrowski, Ph.D. Amanda Plaizier, M.A.
  • 2. The Issue How can teachers engage their students in critical, reflective, ethical student digital participation if they have not first learned critical digital literacy skills in their own teacher education programs?
  • 3. The Issue Teacher educators would do well to encourage preservice teachers to think critically about technology’s impact on society so that they can facilitate this kind of critical thinking with their middle school and high school students. Discussing YA novels that feature Internet Communication Technologies, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence can open up important discussions.
  • 4. The Issue NCTE’s Definition of Literacy in a Digital Age (2019) calls on teachers and teacher educators to have students: ● “Participate effectively and critically in a networked world” ● “Examine the rights, responsibilities, and ethical implications of the use and creation of information”
  • 5. The Issue “‘We write dystopian stories to be cautionary tales, not instruction manuals,’ says Neal Shusterman, author of bestselling young adult dystopian series Arc of a Scythe and Unwind. ‘We are watching America slip into dystopia, with too many people either consenting or choosing to turn a blind eye. There will come a time — there must come a time — when our nation, as a whole, looks at itself and says, ‘My God, how did we become this?’” https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/dystopian- authors-reflect-on-our-dystopian-border/2019/07/14/a9a6009c- a64f-11e9-86dd-d7f0e60391e9_story.html
  • 6. Research Question Using the framework developed by Watulak and Kinzer (2013), this project sought to determine: ● How does a CDL approach promote preservice teachers’ critical reflection of their digital participation within personal contexts, environments and practices? ● How does planning lessons on YA literature develop preservice teachers’ CDL practices in preparation for professional contexts and practices?
  • 7. Review of Prior Research Critical Digital Literacies enable development of: ● “Innovative thinking, critical thinking, communication, digital citizenship, self-regulated learning, and (computer-supported) collaborative learning” (van de Oudeweetering & Voogt, 2018, p. 116). ● Collaboration, learning, and sharing of technological skills to identify and redress group inequalities (“critical metacognitive pedagogy”) (Voss, 2018).
  • 8. Review of Prior Research CDL facilitates discussions of: ● Current inequitable and exclusionary practices in education ● Multilingual and multiculturally inclusive classroom practices ● Empowering practices of literacy within minority groups (Camilly-Trulio & Romer-Peretti, 2017; Price-Dennis, Holmes, & Smith). ● How/what social forces shape literacy and technology practices and the participatory social skills of collaboration and networking involved in communication technologies (Jenkins, 2006).
  • 9. Review of Prior Research Critical digital literacies provide a valuable framework for examining teaching practices (Watulak and Kinzer, 2013): ● Reflective practice of technology use ● Understanding cultural, social, and historical contexts of technology use ● Functional skills in working with technological/digital tools
  • 10. Methods Case Study of four undergraduate preservice teachers (2 male, 2 female) enrolled in a young adult literature course (“Teaching Young Adult Literature”) ○ Assignments collected include a book review of Scythe and Warcross and a set of end of semester final lesson plans (using one of the texts). ○ Data was coded according to the Watulak and Kinzer (2013) framework. ○ Qualitative comparative analysis was used to systematically identify and analyze trends, themes, and patterns (Fetters, Curry & Cresswell, 2013; Guetterman & Fetter, 2018).
  • 11. The Novels Scythe (Shusterman, 2016) ● Futuristic society monitored by an all- knowing “Thunderhead” ● Disease is obsolete; chosen scythes cull the herd. Warcross (Lu, 2017) ● Majority of world’s population linked to a virtual game. ● Game creator has power to control for possible crime through the game.
  • 12. Methods ● Data coded using framework for critical digital literacies from Watulak and Kinzer (2013): ○ Understanding cultural, social, and historical contexts of technology use ○ Critical thinking and analysis ○ Reflective practice ○ Facility with the functional skills and tools of digital technology production
  • 13. Results ● Use of the YA texts facilitated self reflection into preservice teachers’ own technological practices and the social, cultural, and historical contexts which inform both their personal and professional practices. ● The YA texts provided a fictional space for preservice teachers’ future students to engage in creativity, which is also an aspect to digital text production and participation (Heinrichsen & Coombs, 2013). ● The lesson plans presented as part of our case study evidence both effective CDL processes within the preservice teacher participants as well as a need for the instructors to better distinguish these literacies from traditional ELA literary criticism practices.
  • 14. How does a CDL approach promote preservice teachers’ critical reflection of their digital participation within personal contexts, environments and practices? In their reviews of Scythe, the preservice teachers weighed heavily the question of technology's corruptibility and accountability and their own roles as users to question their own reliance ono digital devices. ○ Megan: “Is technology answerable to societal, ethical standards? ○ John: “What happens when we rely on technology?” ○ Leo: Is technology beyond corruptibility? ○ Rachel: If technology can make logical decisions based on evidence, is there a need for individual critical thinking? Reading and discussing Warcross led to an analysis of digital citizenship and privacy; analysis triggered student reflection on their own presence in digital spaces and the ways in which power is constructed and maintained.
  • 15. How does planning lessons on YA literature develop preservice teachers’ CDL practices in preparation for professional contexts and practices? Megan- Scythe Lesson Plan ● She invited dialogic critique of current privacy policy terms of use, which most users fail to read completely before signing in agreement. ● She also asked students to collaboratively participate in the composition of a new set of privacy standards which they consider to be equitable and accessible.
  • 16. How does planning lessons on YA literature develop preservice teachers’ CDL practices in preparation for professional contexts and practices? John- Warcross Lesson Plan ● Addressed the use of VR technologies outside the parameters of gaming and the potentials of cognizant control of digital users and compulsory participation within the novel. ● As students analyze the conflict of agency vs. control and various social contexts for VR within the novel, they are in turn invited to reflect on how agency functions within their own technology use. Within this lesson plan is a model for using the text to facilitate dialogue of the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which they use technology, the ramifications of such use, and ultimately whether society has the “right” to control human agency. ● The creation of VR content will allow students to shape users’ digital experiences, a fun way for students to participate creatively in digital spaces and initiate change (even in response to a novel).
  • 17. How does planning lessons on YA literature develop preservice teachers’ CDL practices in preparation for professional contexts and practices? Leo- Warcross Lesson Plan ● Relied more on literary analysis than critical reflection of student technology practices. ● While he did ask his students to engage with digital databases and websites for research, he failed to define any standards for credible research or to invite student examination of their own practices. ● This example demonstrates a common obstacle for implementation of CDL practices in the ELA classroom- a need to distinguish traditional literary critique with more digital based practices which invite students to interrogate their practices. And definitions of CDL that extend beyond the functional use of digital tools.
  • 18. Using YAL to promote CDL development As evidenced by their coursework, the use of young adult texts facilitated preservice teachers’ critical thinking about their own use of digital tools; the ethical implications and applications of using digital technologies became more visceral after reading about the characters’ experiences. ● This developed into a more critical application within their lesson plans as teachers asked their own (future) students to consider the safety and the ramifications and agencies in their own use of digital tools. ● Surveillance and privacy became a main theme within student reviews of the texts and allowed them each to consider the role surveillance plays in modern society and the potential effects of future surveillance capabilities on privacy. ● Young adult texts also provided context in which to examine critical thinking through the use of digital tools and subsequent impact on student learning.
  • 19. Using YAL to promote CDL development Discussion Questions- Critical Thinking and Analysis ● How does AI dictate/determine the book characters’ participation in society? To what extent do they seem to be aware or complicit to AI’s constant surveillance? ● What entities might surveil your daily technology use and why? In your opinion, what is an “acceptable” level of surveillance? In short, what level of privacy can be sacrificed for participation in digital spaces? ● How are your own technology practices affected by knowledge of surveillance? In what contexts do you consider surveillance necessary? When is it not appropriate/useful? ● Do the characters have equal access to the benefits of technology use within the novels? How might inequitable technology accessibility affect society? What are some changes that could be made to address such inequities? ● How do the novels facilitate your interrogation of your own use of technology? What are possible implications of this interrogation for your own ELA pedagogy?
  • 20. Using YAL to promote CDL development Discussion Questions- Reflective Practice ● How would you describe the relationship between technological knowledge and power within each of the novels and how was this power dynamic disrupted? How might users actively disrupt inequitable power structures in today’s society as users of digital tools? ● In what ways did the characters in both novels sacrifice their privacy to a higher technological power? What are the consequences (potentially positive and negative) for relinquishing privacy in a digital age? ● What are the consequences (positive and negative) of global access to instant information (both in the novels and in society)? ● In Warcross, how did Hideo exploit information to serve his own ends of societal control? How might this compare to the AI Thunderhead’s actions in Scythe? Who is capable of exploiting digital information in our society and how might this affect you as a user? ● How does reading and writing about these novels help you critically reflect upon your own reliance on technology both personally and professionally?
  • 21. Using YAL to promote CDL development Discussion Questions- Social, Cultural, and Historical Contexts of Technology Use ● In Warcross, how did the game provide a set of participatory standards and sociocultural norms for its users? What “norms” are present within your own online culture of technology use? Are there “rules” for participation in digital spaces as in the Warcross game? If so, who determines them? ● In Warcross, how did Emika’s life experiences affect her gameplay and how did that compare/contrast to her teammates? In Scythe, how did Citra’s life experiences affect her interactions with the Thunderhead and with other characters? How do your life experiences influence your gameplay, interactions online, and digital collaboration practices? ● How does Warcross demonstrate both complications and benefits within spaces of digital collaboration? Have you seen any of these manifest in your own collaborations online? ● Ultimately, who is accountable for the level of control and roles technology is allowed to play in society?
  • 22. Coming Soon in 2021! ● For more, see our upcoming chapter “Utilizing Young Adult Literature to Develop Preservice English Teachers’ CDL-Based Pedagogical Practices” in the forthcoming book Critical Digital Literacies: Boundary-Crossing Practices.
  • 23. Contact Us! ● Amy Piotrowski ○ Email: amy.piotrowski@usu.edu ○ Twitter: @piotrowskiamy ○ Website: www.amypiotrowski.com ● Amanda Plaizier ○ Email: amanda.plaizier@usu.edu ○ Twitter: @amanda-plaizier
  • 24. References Lu, M. (2017). Warcross. New York: Speak. NCTE (2019). Definition of literacy in a digital age, National Council of teachers of English. https://ncte.org/statement/nctes-definition-literacy-digital-age/. Pangrazio, L. (2014). Reconceptualising critical digital literacy, Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education, 37(2), 163-174. Shusterman, N. (2016). Scythe. New York: Simon and Schuster. Utah State Office of Education (2013). Standards for English Language Arts 6–12, Core standards for English language arts, schools.utah.gov/file/003aa7e6-c4f6-40b5-89a9-40f8198e8c45. Voss, J. (2018). Who learns from collaborative digital projects? Cultivating critical consciousness and metacognition to democratize digital literacy learning, Composition Studies, 46(1), 57-80. van de Oudeeetering, K. and J.M. Voogt. (2018). Teachers’ conceptualization and enactment of twenty-first century competences: Exploring dimensions for new curricula, The Curriculum Journal, 29(1), 116-133). Watulak, S.L. and Kinzer, C.K. (2013). Beyond technology skills: Toward a framework for critical digital literacies in pre-service technology education. In J. Avila & J.Z. Pandya (Eds.), Critical digital literacies as social praxis. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. 127-156.

Editor's Notes

  1. Examine results from chapter- CDL based