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Digital Youth in Brick and Mortar Schools: Examining the Complex Interplay of Students, Technology, Education, and Change


by Craig Peck, Kimberly Kappler Hewitt, Carol A. Mullen, Carl A. Lashley, John A. Eldridge & Ty-Ron M. O. Douglas — 2015

Context: The past decade has witnessed a sustained emphasis on information and communication technologies (ICT) in education, coupled with the rise of online social media and increasing pervasiveness of personal media devices.

Research Question: Our research question asked: How has this changing context affected the educational experiences of American high school students?

Setting: The exploratory, qualitative study took place at two high schools in a large metropolitan district in the southeastern United States. One high school was in a downtown area, and the other was in a suburban setting.

Research Design: The researchers used various qualitative research approaches, including interviews, on-site observations, and document analysis. Our interview participants included classroom teachers and support staff as well as students drawn from across each school’s grade levels. We also shadowed 10 of the student interview participants through their entire school days.

Findings: In terms of classroom instruction, we found that ICT had affected school, teacher, and student practices in some ways, but traditional teacher-centered practices such as student completion of printed worksheets were still prevalent. However, widespread student access to personal media devices and online social media site influence had a noticeable effect on the two high schools. The researchers encountered specific “types” of students whom technology particularly influenced: “Digital Rebels,” “Cyber Wanderers,” and “eLearning Pioneers.” In addition, we discovered that computer-based remedial programs served as problematic educational lifelines for students at risk of dropping out.

Conclusions: The two study high schools presented a complex portrait. In the end, technology functioned both as an imperfect school reform effort that produced only partial instructional change and as a successful though uninvited disruptive innovation that allowed students to challenge and unsettle existing educational norms. We close by considering implications of our findings.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 5, 2015, p. 1-40
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17893, Date Accessed: 10/17/2017 9:19:11 AM

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About the Author
  • Craig Peck
    University of North Carolina at Greensboro
    E-mail Author
    CRAIG PECK is an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. His research interests include school principals, technology of education, and educational reform. He has served as a high school principal and also cofounded the Piedmont Triad Leadership Academy, a grant-funded initiative designed to train future leaders of high-need schools. His scholarship has appeared in venues such as Educational Administration Quarterly, Phi Delta Kappan, and Urban Education.
  • Kimberly Hewitt
    University of North Carolina at Greensboro
    E-mail Author
    KIMBERLY KAPPLER HEWITT is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is the author of Differentiation is an Expectation: A Leader’s Guide to Establishing a Culture of Differentiation (Routledge, 2011) and editor of Postcards From the Schoolhouse: Practitioner Scholars Examine Contemporary Issues in Instructional Leadership (NCPEA Press, 2013), as well as numerous articles and book chapters on educational leadership. Her research interests focus on ethical and efficacious use of educational data and instructional leadership.
  • Carol Mullen
    Virginia Tech
    E-mail Author
    CAROL A. MULLEN is professor of educational leadership at Virginia Tech, Virginia, who has served for many years as an academic administrator (department chair, school director) in higher education. She is a Fulbright Scholar whose work takes place in China. She is past president of the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration. Research interests include mentoring, leadership, and social justice in education. A coauthored book is The Leadership Identity Journey: An Artful Exploration (2014, Rowman & Littlefield Education).
  • Carl Lashley
    University of North Carolina at Greensboro
    E-mail Author
    CARL LASHLEY is associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Cultural Foundations at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Dr. Lashley’s primary intellectual and advocacy interests in equity, justice, and community come from his career-long concerns about poverty, equitable opportunity for all children, and the power of schooling as a mode of social change. His research interests are in education law; special education law, policy, and practice; technology; and school leadership preparation.
  • John Eldridge
    Chatham Charter School
    E-mail Author
    JOHN ELDRIDGE has been in education for 22 years. He is currently serving as headmaster of the Chatham Charter School. Prior to his current position, he served as a regional superintendent, principal, assistant principal, and a classroom teacher. His research interests include teacher uses of technology.
  • Ty-Ron Douglas
    University of Missouri
    E-mail Author
    TY-RON M. O. DOUGLAS is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the University of Missouri. His research explores the intersections between race, gender, spirituality, community-based space, leadership, and education. Two recent publications are: Douglas, T. M. O., & Peck, C. (2013). Education by any means necessary: Peoples of African descent and community-based pedagogical spaces. Educational Studies, 49(1), 67–91; and Douglas, T. M. O. (2012). Resisting idol worship at HBCUs: The malignity of materialism, Western masculinity, and spiritual malefaction. Urban Review, 44(3), 378–400.
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