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New Literacies and Teacher Learning: Professional Development and the Digital Turn

reviewed by Karen S. Taylor & Joshua F. Lawrence - January 24, 2017

coverTitle: New Literacies and Teacher Learning: Professional Development and the Digital Turn
Author(s): Michele Knobel & Judy Kalman (Eds.)
Publisher: Peter Lang Publishing, New York
ISBN: 1433129116, Pages: 262, Year: 2016
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New Literacies and Teacher Learning: Professional Development and the Digital Turn, edited by Michele Knobel and Judy Kalman, presents cases that document work spanning grade levels, contexts, and countries. The theoretical framing used to interpret these examples is also diverse. However, the chapters collectively focus on exploring teacher learning that implements digital tools within sociocultural and New Literacy Studies orientations. This emphasizes not only the technical dimension, but also the ethos of deep interactivity, openness to feedback, [and] sharing of resources and expertise (Knobel and Lankshear 2014, p. 98). Knobel and Kalman argue that the examples collected in this volume contrast with the professional development offered by publishing houses and other commercial vendors emphasizing one-size-fits-all lesson plans and technical training. Although only limited data sometimes supports these cases, this book celebrates the importance of the situatedness of learning rather than distilling best practices across program sites.

In Chapter Two, Accompaniment: A Socio-Cultural Approach for Rethinking Practice and Uses of Digital Technologies with Teachers, Hernández Razo, Rendón Cazales, and Kalman juxtapose work at the Laboratory for Education, Technology, and Society (LETS) with typical technical- and software-focused professional development programs in Mexico City. While Mexico and Latin America have widely implemented one-student-one-device (p. 24) programs, it was assumed that the technology itself would naturally improve teaching and learning. Also, professional development involving this technology was scarce. Alternatively, the iterative approach of the LETS group in collaboration with middle school teachers (e.g., through accompaniment) included cycles of planning, implementing, and revising learning activities that include using digital technology (p. 22).

Chapter Three is Doing-It-Ourselves Development: (Re)defining, (Re)designing, and (Re)valuing the Role of Teaching, Learning, and Literacies. The authors Bostock, Lisi-Neumann, and Collucci provide two self-reported case studies of teacher learning that involve students as collaborators and even include parents in one case. These American classrooms (e.g., Bostock's fourth-grade class and Lisi-Newmann's second-grade class) attribute the authentic redesign of this classroom learning to Thirdspace theory and pedagogy where education is not confined to the traditional role of student and teacher (p. 61). The chapter honors the agency of individual teachers for their own learning. It also values individual student resources and needs. However, the discussion does not extend much into other possibilities such as teams of teachers or professional learning communities engaging in reflection together. There is only one example of other teachers taking up the reading program that was created and tweaking it to meet the needs of their own classrooms.

Lotherington, Fisher, Jenson, and Lindo expand upon the notion of teacher and researcher collaborations in Chapter Four, Professional Development from the Inside Out: Redesigning Learning through Collaborative Action Research. Through an in-house and project-driven model of professional development in Canada, the authors report the principles they learned in relation to the tension of dynamic, exploratory learning and teaching while being held accountable to rapidly obsolescing curricular requirements and measures (p. 80). These principles include: (a) learn together; (b) learn at home (e.g., on-site); (c) remix the curriculum; (d) failure is essential to learning; (e) play to learn; and (f) be self-reliant (pp. 8083). While the initial goal of their action research project was to develop multimodal pedagogical designs (p. 74), this model of professional development arose as a natural consequence of their collaboration.

In Chapter Five, Literacy Spaces, Digital Pathways, and Connected Learning: Teachers Professional Development in Times of New Mobilities, Erstad provides several illustrations of teacher professional development promoting a digital culture of learning. This includes crossing classroom borders and referencing students lives outside of school. It also includes using digital technologies to create opportunities for students to connect to and collaborate with the outside world. For example, teachers at two schools pursued a new avenue of project-based learning. It was a collaboration across schools located in east and west Oslo. They engaged their students in creating an online newspaper for each school that investigated prejudices occurring in each part of town. The chapter includes many concrete examples like the one just discussed and fosters the type of "thoughtful reflection" (p. 102) that can lead to greater understanding.

Chapter Six is titled A Digital Book Project with Primary Education Teachers in Finland. It explains the professional collaboration among six primary schools in western Finland aiming to support teachers development of the Finnish National Core Curriculum competence areas. These include multiliteracy competence and information and communication competence. Kupiainen, Leinonen, Mäkinen, and Wiseman posit that the technological, pedagogical and content knowledge (TPACK) (citing Koehler and Mishra, 2009, p. 112) framework is necessary, but insufficient, in developing teachers' multiliteracy competencies. They point to collective efficacy (p. 125) as an additional facet of sustained professional learning in that it engenders cooperation and trust.

In Chapter Seven, Professional Development and Digital Literacies in Argentinean Classrooms: Rethinking What Works in Massive Technology Programs, Dussel examines how two teachers implement a technology-intensive program that is rolled out as a part of a national laptop initiative. The chapter uses a wide variety of philosophical and theoretical perspectives to interpret the weak student products created during two classroom observations. Dussel states that her intent is not to tell the story of a successful professional development program (p. 132), but rather to highlight the limitations of information and communication technology teacher training programs. She says these limitations are more evident (p. 132) in the strategies utilized in massive scale technology programs.

Chapter Eight, Exploring Multidirectional Memory-Work and the Digital as a Phase Space for Teacher Professional Development, rests on an exploration of schools as memory institutions (p. 151). This chapter is richly grounded in theoretical perspectives including memory studies and professional development research. Workshops offered in a large Canadian city provided attendees opportunities to use digital tools to explore memory as a phenomenon as well as a method (p 159). Strong-Wilson, Mitchell, and Ingersoll nicely highlight examples of products created during the workshop like interviews, digital stories, and an autoethnographic inquiry. The participants seemed to include as many graduate students as teachers. However, the discussion does not explore the possible range of motivations participants had for being involved in this learning opportunity.

In Chapter Nine, Expanding Notions of Professional Development in Adult Basic Education, Jacobson distils the notions of professional development collected from interviews with eight accomplished adult literacy educators. Drawing on the work of Freire (1970; 1985), Jacobson promotes professional development opportunities supporting the agency of this group of adult education teachers as learners. The result is an essentially atheoretical description of what these leaders take to be the challenges and promising formats for professional development in adult basic education. The chapter includes the details of one adult literacy education project where Jacobson was included. It also involved a well-supported description of participants reflections on it.

Chapter Ten is titled, #PD: Examining the Intersection of Twitter and Professional Learning. Biddolph and Scott Curwood argue that their findings clearly show that Twitter, as an online community of practice, embodies the characteristics of effective professional learning (p. 215). This is based on an evaluation of the Tweets of 64 Twitter enthusiasts and interviews with eight of them, five of whom were heads of their department. The authors provide clear descriptive analyses of how users report ways Twitter influences their practice. Unfortunately, they do not problematize Twitter practice much or describe limitations or negative aspects of Twitter PD. Biddolph and Scott Curwood finally conclude that Twitter should be approached as a complement to other forms of professional learning. It should also be adapted to the social and cultural contexts of individual teachers and schools (p. 214).

Chapter Eleven, Connected Learning Professional Development: Production-Centered and Openly Networked Teaching Communities, rounds out the book with a description of production-centered and openly-networked examples of professional development. Cantrill and Peppler point to the affordances of design-based research for their Connected Learning project, such as creating a third space for learning collaboratively across contexts. However, the scope of their discussion is so broad, encompassing the development, content, examples of a production-centered interconnections curriculum, and even a MOOC that it seems to miss some of the nuances of teachers transformations around deeper problems of practice.

Overall, New Literacies and Teacher Learning is a welcome contribution, although its primary strength is also a liability. It includes a breadth of cases from Mexico, Finland, Argentina, Norway, Canada, America, and Australia. This diversity aligns well with the editors conceptual interest in situatedness. Since many of the case studies are framed by the specific states setting, they provide an interesting overview of national and international themes. They also give insight into policy documents that inform global thinking on professional development and digital learning writ large. In many cases, the particulars are also extremely innovative and clearly documented. Teachers and program developers will come away from this volume inspired and with new ideas to try.

Diverse influences probably also contribute to what might be seen as a potential weakness of the volume, namely the range of theoretical groundings that are used across chapters. Some chapters are firmly grounded in research in new literacies, while others are grounded in the work of philosophers and social critics. Also, some chapters provide richly theoretical interpretations of relatively scant data, while others provide a richer description of the instructional situation. As a result, we suspect that although very few readers will thoroughly enjoy all parts of the book, virtually anyone interested in digital learning in applied educational settings will enjoy several chapters.


Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education: culture, power, and liberation. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2014). Studying new literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58(2), 97101.

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 6070.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 24, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21807, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 6:23:36 PM

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About the Author
  • Karen Taylor
    University of California, Irvine
    E-mail Author
    KAREN S. TAYLOR is a doctoral student in the Language, Literacy, and Technology program at University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on language and literacy development in children and adolescents, as well as teacher professional development.
  • Joshua Lawrence
    University of Oslo and University of California, Irvine
    E-mail Author
    JOSHUA F. LAWRENCE is a faculty member at University of Oslo and University of California, Irvine. His research focuses on: (1) creating and testing interventions and teaching methods to improve literacy outcomes and, (2) understanding L1 and L2 language and literacy development, especially the role vocabulary knowledge plays in skilled reading.
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