Notes from Michelle Hagerman’s “Disruptive Promise” Dissertation Defense

As the fall semester nears its end, I am planning one more round of classroom visits to work on our “Reading in a Digital World” book project. So far, Kristen Turner and I have collected nearly 1000 surveys and 20 interviews. We are still doing lots of thinking on all of this. Thus, I wanted to hear more about what research is showing us in terms of how students read online.

So, earlier today I was able to attend a colleague’s dissertation defense. Michelle Hagerman presented on “Disruptive Promise,” a study where she worked with 16 ninth grade students to discover how they used the open web, including multiple and multimodal texts, as they worked to find evidence and build an argument. She asked them to use multiple internet sources (of any type) to write an essay on radiation treatment (a type of integrative task is one that is indicative of the types of tasks students will be required to do for new science standards). Her method was interesting, as she used screencasting and a webcam recording to capture both what happened as the students were searching as well as their conversation (and facial expressions) while searching.

She introduced her “LINKS” strategies for working with students as they evaluate online materials, including purpose, source, trustworthiness, connections between and among texts, and other scaffolds to help them work while reading online. Hagerman coded “strategic episodes” in her data where she observed what students were doing during their reading and searching process. With her first research question, she was looking at frequency of strategies. In her control and experimental group, she saw no statistically significant difference in the amount or frequency of strategies that students used during their research process. She did, however, as a part of her treatment, see that those students would use pre-existing knowledge while searching. Using the strategy instruction did have an effect over time. Identifying important information was the primary strategy, and they would spend more time searching for information.

With her second research question, she developed an “integrativeness rubric,” where she looked at how students would combine resources in the effort to make an argument in their writing. Between the control and experimental group, there was no statistically significant differences in how students constructed their writing. She also looked at a case study of two students, and discussed the amount of time that they spent on different strategies. By the end of the study, the two engaged in a broader set of strategies overall; they used more strategies and had slightly more integrative writing. She noted some “disruptive promise” in the LINKS strategies, and demonstrates how difficult it is to teach these strategies; still even a nudge from teachers toward a more active stance in internet research would be helpful for students.

Hagerman’s work demonstrates the immense complexity of teaching students how to choose, comprehend, evaluate, and synthesize the many components of digital reading. It reminds me that — despite years of good work from the New Literacies Research Team at UConn — I am not sure that we are any closer, at least in K12 instruction, to really teaching the (digital) reading strategies that students need today. It also shows me how important it will be to teach students to use tools like Evernote or Citelighter as a key component of their own searching and reading because, as Hagerman notes, even if they use strategies it may not have an effect on their writing. In short, we have to teach students to use strategies and document their work along the way. Also interesting, in the Q/A, she also noted that students did not use multimodal resources, and that — in school at least — they are often discouraged from using anything other than text on a web page as evidence.

Finally, her suggestions for teachers are helpful, and remind me that we, as teacher educators, need to model this work for K12 teachers, too. First, Hagerman suggests that teachers think about complexity of the online reading process and do some think aloud modeling, just as we would do with other reading comprehension strategies. She also suggests that we use screencasting for brief clips demonstrating these strategies, possibly a good resource for flipped classrooms, too. Lastly, of course, equipping students with a set of online reading strategies can be helpful, and reminding them of those strategies before, during, and after the process of reading.

All of us interested in digital literacy should appreciate the work that she has done in her dissertation. I want to get my hands on the “LINKS” framework that Hagerman has presented and see if there are some connections to what Turner and I are trying to document in our book. Our students need a great deal of support as they learn how to read digital texts, and my hope is that the book can provide teachers with some specific ideas. Hagerman’s dissertation will surely be one resource that we cite.

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