Literacy and information communications technology

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Literature Review:

This study requires an understanding of two curriculum areas, Literacy and Information Communications Technology (ICT), the theory behind them and how these can be combined to promote the use of podcasting as a media through which children's speaking and listening skills can be developed. This review will focus on literacy and Information Communications Technology (ICT) firstly as separate entities. They will then be brought together to determine if established theory, from both disciplines, is still fit for purpose when aligning the suitability of a podcasting process to curriculum requirements and the needs of the children.

What is podcasting? Podcasting is a social tool which allows children opportunities for collaborative learning both at school and at wider levels. Hampton and Wellman (2000) identify that technology is driving out the belief that communities can only be found locally. As a type of blogging , without the need to engage in writing, podcasting offers inclusion and equal opportunities to every class and ability, as well as offering the potential to be developed into a videocast or radio station with the right equipment. Unlike adults children are motivated by hearing their own voices (Lane, 1985) so barriers to achievement are removed as children evaluate and edit their auditory compositions. This allows children to have greater control over their learning particularly for those who have SEN or favour aural delivery. Podcasting also alleviates anxieties around the need to produce tidy work or neat handwriting which, experience has shown, often accompany many types of SEN. Though focussing on dyslexia Barton et al. (2007 [online]) recognise traditional note taking or writing is a huge task for the working memory of any individual. Their research rationalises that listening and comprehension, processing and organising of information and the recording of information in a coherent manner can be extremely difficult for learners' with SEN. Children have access to a plethora of resources enabling them to learn in different ways and allowing more children with disabilities to be included in today's classrooms (Schwab, 2002 [cited online]). This reinforces the need for teachers to vary how they present information, structure tasks and gather children's work for assessment.

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‘The adoption of social software tools, techniques and ideas will be the most important and visible example of the use of emerging technology in education over the next few years' (Bryant, 2007; cited online www.nfer.ac.uk, 2008).

Storytelling and its role in developing communication skills, combined with an understanding of the podcasting process and how it affords children a digital scaffold from which these skills can be developed, will provide a medium through which Literacy and ICT are showcased in this literature review.

By nature people spend more time speaking, listening and discussing than reading or writing. Talk is an important medium for getting things done, but of equal importance is the ability to listen carefully then act and reflect on what is heard. Allowing children to communicate with each other by working collaboratively in groups allows the adult access to the children's ‘informal' learning process(es). To encourage more exploratory talk, this research began with a discussion about working in groups from which some simple ground rules were developed.

The ability to communicate at a basic level is essential to the survival of all animals. However humans have managed to refine language and improve how they communicate over many centuries. How did we manage to do this when other animals did not? Chomsky's perspective is that language is acquired through a ‘language acquisition device' whereby part of the brain is tailored specifically towards language acquisition, which greatly speeds the process of language learning (Bachus & Mojica Diaz; 2005). However Skinner argues that language is a learned behaviour that gets conditioned and reinforced over time (Tomasello, 2003). This suggests that though there maybe a dedicated part of the brain for language acquisition unless learning and reinforcement goes on, the brain may allocate it for other purposes, or maybe, as often happens following a stroke, it atrophies from disuse. It appears that both Chomsky and Skinner made valid points however their language acquisition theories still have an element of ‘chicken and egg'; which comes first?

Until recently it has been difficult to prove or disprove Chomsky's theory though Skinner's idea that language is conditioned and reinforced over time would seem more believable. However with new technologies enabling a better understanding of brain development, with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) able to show ‘plasticity' of the brain under certain conditions, perhaps there is an area of ‘language plasticity' with its own ‘sell by date' waiting to be found. Whitehead (2004) acknowledges that though neuroscience is relatively new it has exciting implications for families, professional carers and educators. Brain imaging technology that is able to reveal that sensory stimulation and social interactions trigger the growth of synaptic links (important connections within the brain) will lead us to a more sophisticated understanding of how language is acquired. Bruner's observations that Vygotsky was ahead of his time and ‘speaks to us from the future' (Blanck, 1990) are now borne out through neuroscience.

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Prensky (2009) alerts us to physical brain changes that are brought about by digital wisdoms. Prensky sees wisdom as referring both to wisdom arising from the use of technology to access cognitive power beyond our innate capacity and to wisdom in the prudent use of technology to enhance our capabilities. Wisdom will be achieved through seeking, evaluating and selecting from readily accessible materials. The brains of wisdom seekers of the future will, in essence be different, in organisation and structure, to brains of today.

Vygotsky was concerned with the relationship between the development of thought and of language. He was interested in the way in which language might impact on how a person thinks. Vygotsky interpreted Piaget's idea of egocentric speech as private speech, the child's way of using words to think about something, a step on the road from social speech to thinking in words. Vygotsky (1962) believed that this speech to the self was vocalised thoughts. He argued that very young children think out loud because they have not learned to control their thoughts internally.

According to McGee and Richgels (1996), "Vygotsky believed that children need to be able to talk about a new problem or a new concept in order to understand it and use it" (p. 8). As the child discusses a problem or task with an adult, the adult contributes appropriate language to assist the child in solving the problem; the child gradually internalises the language until the task can be completed independently (McGee & Richgels, 1996). The use of the adult or peer within this context introduces the importance of culture to support the child to ‘internalise' and hence understand the task (Vygotsky, 1962). Herman (2006) further develops Vygotsky's thoughts by declaring that within a narrative context ‘thinking' can be redescribed as a particular use of cultural tools. It seems that any understandings we have will have been shaped and influenced by other (past and present) members of the same culture through experiences shared over many centuries. Of course one cultural tool which has continued through centuries is storytelling.

People have always enjoyed listening to stories but we can only imagine how they began. Did cave people listen to the stories of hunters stalking their prey? We know cave pictures offer a written form of stories and presumably oral stories preceded these. Hardy (1975) considers ‘man is a storytelling animal' and narrative is a ‘primary act of mind transferred to art from life.' Hardy (1975, cited in Kerby, 1997), explains the prevalence of narrative: “We dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative” (p. 130).

Audiences and their feedback offer a context in which storytelling becomes collaborative; a simple form of communication. Hamilton (2002) develops this stating storytelling, both positive and negative, is one of the most powerful of all human capabilities. Stories help children define their world; so by helping them to develop storytelling abilities we are also helping them to improve communication skills and create better communities (Bishop and Kimball; 2006). According to the World Health Organisation (cited in: British Telecom; 2008), skills such as effective communication are necessary in helping people to deal with the demands and challenges of everyday life. Though storytelling teaches and reinforces both oral and listening skills (Caulfield, 2000; Grace, 2001), two basic life skills, they still do not receive the same attention in settings as reading and writing.

Parkinson (2001 [online]) noted that in pre-literacy days, people had better listening skills and better memories. This would seem to be borne out as many story types such as myths, legends, fairy tales, and fables have endured through their telling and re-telling, and many have also been adopted by cultures different to those they were conceived in. Parkinson further develops this stating that even in a twenty-first century, media-dominated world stories show life as it might be, should be, shouldn't be or never could be. Basic social values, skills, and wisdoms show up in stories but so do all sorts of other things on many different levels. The founders of religions have all been storytellers (Pullman, 2007 [online]). However storytelling techniques and venues are constantly changing. Just as mass communication grew through newspapers to radio then television, new technology is continually evolving communication and storytelling. Electronics and internet connectivity are changing the dynamics and size of audiences to allow mass communication (Davidson; 2005) through social networking.

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Technology is increasingly providing new possibilities for collaborative learning (Light & Littleton, 1999) with computers facilitating interactions in groups in ways that other media cannot (Howe & Tolmie, 1999). Research shows that when children work in groups around a computer their discussions are task-orientated (Underwood & Underwood, 1999). It is now widely believed that ICT are most effective in education when used collaboratively (Crook, 1994 cited in Light & Littleton, 1999. P2). Sontag (2009) identifies that immersion in technology not only supports collaborative ways of working but it also influences children's ‘learning styles' (Gardner 1993). Though this ‘influence' is not explored within this study whether or not the children's learning style(s) might affect the validity of this research is discussed in the findings and analysis chapter.

The National Curriculum (QCA, 1999) placed speaking and listening skills firmly on the ‘back seat' with reading and writing given ‘front seats' in the drive to improve Literacy. They were often used as a tool to support and guide reading and writing, rather than be planned for, taught and assessed in their own right. Many classroom discussions were dominated by the teacher meaning children had limited opportunities for productive speaking and listening. Tony Blair (2006) recognised young people often struggle with Literacy because of poor communication skills and that this will present bigger problems in the future.

The renewed Primary Framework for Literacy (DfES, 2006) goes some way to address this by recognising that there is an interdependency between speaking and listening, reading and writing and moreover, that they are mutually enhancing. The objectives for speaking and listening appear to complement the objectives for reading and writing in that they reinforce and extend children's developing reading and writing skills. Evidence from history and research both suggest that speaking and listening form building blocks for other emerging Literacy skills. However research equally suggests that the need to encourage the learning of communication skills is more important today than at any other time in history. This could be attributed to long periods of time spent watching TV and playing videogames; the decline of talk due to work/life imbalances within busy modern families and 21st century media such as the internet and wireless technologies. podcasting has been found to be effective with children in Key Stage 2 (KS2) and above but has yet to distinguish itself within the early years. With concerns about speaking and listening growing and the knowledge that early intervention provides better outcomes (DfES; 2006b), using podcasting at this earlier stage seems to make more sense if communication skills are to be developed.

Collaborative learning fosters the development of critical thinking through discussion, clarification of ideas, and evaluation of others' ideas (Gokhale, 1995 [online]). According to Vygotsky (1978), children perform at higher intellectual levels when asked to work collaboratively rather than individually. Diversity within groups regarding their knowledge and experiences should contribute positively to the learning process. Bruner (1985) maintains that cooperative learning methods improve problem solving strategies because the children are confronted with different interpretations of a given situation. Papert (1993) and Haugland and Wright (1997) state computers allow for development, adaptation and delivery of tools which may facilitate more effective thinking, problem solving and learning. It seems that ‘older' theory and new concepts continue to synchronise in the 21st century.

Vygotsky (1978) argued that all cognitive functions originate in, and must therefore be explained as products of, social interactions. He accepted Piaget's claim that learners respond not to external stimuli but to their interpretation of those stimuli argued that Piaget had overlooked the essentially social nature of language and as a result had failed to understand that learning was a collaborative process. Vygotsky (1978) distinguished between two developmental levels (p. 85). The level of actual development is the level of development that the learner has already reached, and is the level at which the learner is capable of solving problems independently. The level of potential development (the "zone of proximal development") is the level of development that the learner is capable of reaching under the guidance of teachers or in collaboration with peers.

For Vygotsky (1978) culture gives the child the cognitive tools needed for development. The type and quality of those tools determines, to a much greater extent than they do in Piaget's theory, the pattern and rate of development. Adults such as parents and teachers are conduits for the tools of the culture, including language. The tools the culture provides a child include cultural history, social context, and language. Today these tools also include access to technology.

According to Vygotsky (1978), humans use tools that develop from a culture, such as speech and writing, to mediate their social environments. Initially children develop these tools to serve solely as social functions to communicate needs however in a ‘digital age' which allows social networking through virtual environments at an increasingly younger age could podcasting become such a tool?

“The cultural implications of digitalisation are far greater than the mere instrumental exploitation of technical opportunities. E-culture is all about a new, digital dimension; a new and - until recently - undreamt-of medium with which existing culture must seek to interact and in which new culture is being generated.” (NCC, 2004 p8 [online]).

The children in this study will bring their story making and telling skills from previous Literacy learning encounters and these will be cultivated alongside their understanding of podcasting which will require some adult support. The blending of Literacy with its presentation (in this instance podcasting) using a digital medium demonstrates how Vygotsky's social constructivist theory is still relevant to practice in a hi-tech age.

The variety of rich experiences that promote early literacy, including conversations with adults, storytelling, drawing and painting, and pretend play, are critical in the development of both oral and written language (Novick, 1998). However there is a need to examine how 21st century children engage with Literacy on a daily basis as technology takes these rich experiences to new levels in homes as well as in settings. Cognitive research emphasises the importance of intrinsic motivation in the learning process (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Many of the tasks that teachers want children to perform, however, are not inherently interesting or enjoyable (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Ryan & Grolnick, (1986) believed that a supportive environment offering children choices in selecting learning tasks can be a catalyst to greater intrinsic motivation and desire to learn. In contrast, a controlling environment can forestall a child's motivation and desire to learn.

Harris and Kington (2002) recognise individual ownership, more than simply access to technology, increases motivation. Regular use of ICT across the curriculum can increase children's confidence and motivation towards learning (Cox, 1997; Hennessy 2000). Therefore in providing ICT activities teachers can offer opportunities for active, independent learning which can also increase childrens' motivation to learn (Becker2000; Hennessy 2000). Personal teaching experiences would offer support for each of these points. As looking for signs of motivation had previously and seamlessly featured in my teaching, as an indicator of both quality and success, signs of motivation were an important feature of the research with the children.

Schunk et al. (2008) state that motivation is a process rather than a product. As a process, we do not observe motivation directly but rather we infer it from actions. For instance it can be read through a child's choice of tasks, effort, persistence and verbalisations (e.g. “I don't want to go out to play, I want to work on this”). Motivation influences learning and performance and what children do and learn will, in turn, influence their motivation (Pintrich & Schunk 1995). Clearly then, this is a reciprocal approach as when children attain a learning goal, it conveys to them that they possess the necessary skills for learning and they aim for the next goal.

Children born in the 21st century and starting school now, will be leaving school in around 2020. What will they need to have learned, experienced and be able to do, to be ready for the digital experiences they will undoubtedly encounter at this point? Children will need to be aware of the nature and uses of current technology now to support them into being able to cope with the digital society of the future.

Wilkinson (1965) argued that when children are placed in situations where it is necessary for them to discuss, negotiate or converse with adults or peers it becomes necessary for them to communicate and oracy grows from this. Oracy he feels is when many and varied circumstances facilitate natural speaking and listening responses.

The Rose Review (DfES, 2006a: p 16) supports language development, to improve communication, whilst additionally placing emphasis on technology by stating:

“Nurturing positive attitudes to literacy and the skills associated with them, across the curriculum, is crucially important as is developing spoken language, building vocabulary, grammar, comprehension and facility with ICT.”

More recently another report by Rose (DCSF; 2008) states computer literacy should be improved on in primary education perhaps through increasing the use of podcasts and other interactive media as part of lessons. The Digital Beginnings Report (Marsh et. al.;2006) demonstrates that most young children are very much at ease with the multi-modal world they inhabit, assimilating as if by osmosis the numerous skills required to operate within this new medium of communication. In addition the report provides evidence that young children's interactions with media are not the sedentary, solitary experiences we often assume they are.

As discussed evidence from a range of educational research suggests that technology can increase motivation however it can also make learning more interactive (Harris & Kington; 2002). The effectiveness of technology in this role of social constructivist was recognised by Clements et al. in the early nineties when computer use in schools was still in its infancy. At this time computers were generally the only form of ‘new technology' in schools however, though podcasting can be achieved through a desktop computer, more recent mobile devices such as digital voice recorders, MP3 players, mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDA's) mean that the Clements et al. quote is already dated as social interactions around technology are no longer confined to the classroom computer. Appropriate use of technology across the curriculum can provide and extend language opportunities with peripheral mobility offering new and exciting possibilities for practitioners and children to explore. Swenson (cited in Bull 2005; p25) considered the future of English education in light of technological advances and observed that use of the term writing to encompass multimodal compositions such as digital storytelling and podcasting is now “essentially uncontested” within her discipline.

As children's interest, understanding, and use of technology develops, so do their cognitive and logical thinking abilities (Wartella & Jennings; 2000). Research shows interactions involving an exchange with technology may positively affect the learning process (Buckingham, 2007). The earlier exploration of storytelling highlighted that interactivity is a feature of conversations and communication; as podcasting allows interactivity during both development and broadcasting stages it affords potential for enriched learning experiences (Subrahmanyam, Kraut, Greenfield & Gross; 2000).

As podcasting moves towards being a learning technology then assessment necessarily has to be thought about; not only of how the podcasts produced should be assessed but also whether the manufacture and publishing of podcasts by children provides them with an effective learning tool.

Podcasting is a Web 2.0 technology. Though not a believer in the use of Wikipedia to support academic writing this website did give the simplest definition of what Web 2.0 technology is and can do. It recognises that Web 2.0 applications facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability and collaboration on the World Wide Web (Wikipedia 2009 [online]). A Web 2.0 world is clearly interactive and therefore one in which collaboration, knowledge sharing and constructivist approaches are commonplace. These are features of E portfolios which are often used as Web 2.0 assessment tools in higher education. Assessment of knowledge in Web 2.0 environments is established through peer review in an engaged community (Greenhow et al. 2009). Expertise entails understanding disputes and offering syntheses widely accepted by the community involved (Dede, 2008 [online]). In other words, knowledge is decentralised, accessible, and co-constructed by a ‘collection' of users. As the methodology and findings sections of this research will show co-construction and peer reviews of and through podcasting, within and outside the sample group, are features of this research and offer significant material for assessment.

Assessing Pupils' Progress (APP (DCSF 2009)) will be available for speaking and listening in the spring term 2010. Interestingly the APP guidance for teachers to support reading and writing first appeared in 2007, perhaps signifying lessons have been learned but are not being implemented. Nevertheless podcasts can also be used as an assessment tool if children are given direction on the content of the audio file required. This was the case in this research. Children will develop their written and oral communication skills; be allowed freedom and time to order their thoughts for a listening audience (physical and virtual) through the scripting and production of a podcast.

Clark and Chalmers (1998 [online]) argue that extended cognition is a core cognitive process, not an add-on extra as the brain develops in a way that complements external structures. Prensky (2009) also advises that the brain is now generally understood to be highly plastic, continually adapting to the input it receives. He considers it possible that the brains of those who interact with technology frequently will be restructured by that interaction. Brains of the future will be fundamentally different, in organisation and in structure, than our brains are today and will be able to achieve today's level of wisdom without the cognitive enhancements offered by increasingly sophisticated digital technology. However there will be an increasingly complex, technologically advanced world to deal with.

Laws et al. (2004) highlight that sustainable development relies on professionals involved in the field having a sense of how the challenges that constitute the horizon may be changing. Clearly the ‘digital' horizon will continue to change. Indeed as technology becomes even more sophisticated the rate of change will also increase; the horizon will change at this same pace. Technology is a feature of the world we live in. We cannot ignore it now it is here. To do so would mean that future professionals could not face those challenges that constitute the horizon. In other words we would be de skilling the future workforce by not ‘digitally' supporting the children we are teaching now. As Einstein (date unknown [online) states:

“The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.”

Prensky (2009) points out that while the need for people to discuss, define, compare, and evaluate perspectives is not changing, the means by which they do so and the quality of their efforts are growing more sophisticated because of digital technology. I would add particularly Web 2.0 technology. Evidently a brain whose plasticity remains unchallenged by ‘digital' interactions is well on its way to becoming insufficient for coping in or with the future.

Technology continues to move forward presenting global challenges through its own ‘globalness'. It offers education without boundaries and a worldwide audience. Safety has to be a feature of this globally accessed, interactive environment. Next Generation Learning (2009 [online]) offers guidance on such issues for all settings. Equally as important however is letting the children use their digital ‘wisdom' to realise the safety issues involved. This can be achieved as we do in other areas of risk involving children i.e. crossing the road, by talking to them and supporting them to create their own risk assessments or safety criteria. Then being brave enough to let them ‘grow'.

As this dissertation moves towards the methodology it is pertinent to mention the influence of Junior and Coutinho (2008 [online]) who recommend that teachers sketch the path to be followed through a podcast. They further advocate not creating a rigid structure because this would result in the experiences, podcasting provides, losing their richness and naturalness. Both the methodology and podcasting process chapters demonstrate that the process; the path designed by the researcher, gave an initial scaffold but then allowed the children to discover and plan their own route towards the final podcast.