Teachers' perspectives on laptop technology in the English language arts classroom: A case study of high school English teachers

Ewa Jarzab, Syracuse University

Abstract

The use of information technologies brings changes to the literacies of reading, writing, and sociocultural practices of electronic communication (Labbo & Reinking, 1999; Leu, 2002; Schofield & Davidson, 2002; Selfe, 2000). As these changes enter the English classroom, English language arts (ELA) teachers are enmeshed in complex and multidimensional ways. This is not only because computers have become new tools of literacy, but also because computer technology has begun to transform their concepts of once familiar terms such as "language," "text," and "literacy" (Costanzo, 1994). Little attention, however, has been given to the ways ELA teachers experience technology's impact on their practices. This study brings ELA teachers' perspectives into the discussion on technological change in literacy instruction, recognizing their salient role in this process. The study uses qualitative research methodology grounded in "interpretive symbolic interactionism" (Blumer, 1969) and case study design (Creswell, 1998) to gain access to the frame of reference (Bogdan & Biklen, 1992) of six ELA teachers who joined voluntarily a school-wide wireless laptop initiative. This initiative was called the Voluntary Laptop Program, administered in a public comprehensive high school, located northwest of a mid-sized city in central New York.

The study demonstrated that integrating laptop technology into ELA classrooms was a complex process for the teachers, posing numerous challenges on institutional, classroom, and personal levels. Most teachers in this study saw benefits of laptop technology for themselves and for their students; nevertheless, they tended to use it in a limited way, such as for word processing or teacher-driven Internet searches. These limited uses of technology were usually associated with the following influences: an instrumental view of technology, a narrowness in conceptions of literacy, a perceived division of labor across curricular areas, and a perceived inconsistency between technology and statewide examination requirements. The study concludes that these teachers needed to be given greater agency in planning and implementing the laptop technology initiative as well the necessary professional development to prepare them for such an educational innovation.