Interpretive Review of Electronic Literacy and Hybrid Texts

EDU 600 Research Methods and Techniques University of Southern Maine Summer 2010

Introduction: The way that students, and many others, interact with information and the world has changed significantly in recent years, and is continuing to change. Though perhaps “evolve” is a better term, I use the word interact purposefully, with blogs, wikis, and other collaborative tools information is no longer static, sitting in a textbook. Information is presented differently now and our students navigate this world of hybrid texts, texts that consist of more than one media, throughout their day, everyday. I’ve always been interested in technology, photography, and as a teacher – getting students to enjoy reading and learn and practice literacy skills. Student engagement is a big part of completing this last task. I think that, through technology, images and words acting together address the new literacies students need to be taught.

Research on electronic literacy and hybrid texts really focuses on the change happening in how information is presented and interacted with by its audience. I think the changes that are happening are fascinating, the research explores how these changes can, and should, be brought into the classroom and the effect it has on students. I want to know more about this and I want to incorporate this into my class. I had mixed success in finding primary source articles that provided the details I needed. The connection of the two topics is the influence of technology on hybrid texts and how electronic and language arts literacies are supplemented or supplement mix media texts.

Design and Purpose: All six of these studies are qualitative. This was not by design, it simply worked out that the article titles that peaked my interest all turned out to be qualitative. Two studies were conducted using case studies, four incorporated ethnographic designs. With the exception of Barone and Wright’s article each study was designed appropriately. I think that a case study of one student along side the ethnography would have provided richer results that would contribute to the articles validity more than the hypothetical day in the life of a fictional student.

Each article had either electronic literacy or hybrid texts, or both, as their focus. The overlap in topics is really only obvious when you look at the collection of articles as a whole and pay attention to the details that allude to electronic literacy or hybrid texts in articles focusing on the alternative topic.

All sought to ground themselves in previous research. Norton references Kay Haugaard at the outset of her article and comes back to that name in the conclusion. Tan and Guo steep their introduction in references to previous research. Rowsell and Burke mention a handful of studies, as does Ranker. Looking at the Matrix (appendix 1) it is clear that the more the researcher grounds themselves in previous work the higher the overall quality of the article.

Sampling: Three of the studies provide no clear count of participants. Authors, Ranker, Barone & Wright, and Tan & Guo study classes (a first grade class, a fourth grade class, and two classes of 14 year-olds, respectively), the number of students in the class(es) under study is not provided. I found this surprising. If I found this in only one article I might consider it to be an accidental oversight, but when half of the studies I’m reviewing leave out this information it points towards more purposeful writing/reporting strategies. Two of the three were convenience samples, which serve to compound the distrust over the sampling measures. These samples, particularly those of Barone and Wright (second authors class), and Ranker (the sample’s teacher was the author’s student) were studies that did not include the number of participants – this caused some highbrow rising as I was completing the Matrix.

The sampling for Norton’s study of elementary school students who read Archie comics had the strongest sampling. Volunteers were taken and this sampling led to thirty-four participants. Rowsell and Burke’s case studies (2009) sample was interesting. The two teens, 13yr female & 14yr male, are from different countries (Canada & United States) and had different social roles. She is into sports, is popular, and receives A’s. He receives special services, is more of “a loner in the class” (p 110). At first I didn’t think this was a very good sample, but when I saw the results I realized how appropriate that sample was.

Data Collection: It should be no surprise that interviews and observations were used in all these studies. I think anecdotal evidence and first hand accounts can be very persuasive. It is interesting how the different types of research work to persuade their audience.

Norton’s study on Archie comics (2003) used only questionnaires and interviews. An analysis of the comics themselves might strengthen claims that students are inferring, understanding “irony, puns, and plays on words” (p 142). Looking at how the language and the images support this complex thinking would support her research question.

One study stands out in this area, Tan & Guo’s 2009 study; observational field notes, extensive (10hr) teacher interview, many hours of video of classroom observations transcriptions, and video recordings with transcripts prove to be the most comprehensive data collection methods present within the six articles. This article had the clearest delineation of data collection; it was thorough and concise. The methods themselves were thorough as well; this study had the most data collection methods in use and it also rated highest in over all quality.

Gainer and Rowsell & Burke also should be noted as they analyzed content and documents during data collection.

Data Analysis & Results: Overall, all of these six articles did a great job providing thick description. I personally place high value on having the exact words from a participant as well as the author’s interpretation. The sad news is that with the exception of one, thick description is all they used to demonstrate interpretative validity. This is the one column that had the most impact on me. Seeing that single method listed over and over, and the overall quality score right next to it, really showed me that when I’m looking at research articles to not let quotes be my single knee jerk reaction to a article’s validity. Tan and Guo’s article (2009) added coding and triangulation to their extensive interview quotations.

With all of the faults I’ve found in these articles I can say that the results did not stray from the data. As previously mentioned, Rowsell and Burke’s study had some fascinating results that changed my mind about the appropriateness of their sample size (two). They found that both students were engaging at similar depths in similar ways with their respective online texts. This is interesting when you look at how different their success’ are with print text. This tells me that engagement and hybrid texts, or rather the relationship between these two can lead to success.

Quality of Studies: I find myself rating quality on the half marks. Making the range: Low, Low/Medium, Medium, Medium/High, and High. There was a wide range of quality scores within these six articles; two rated Low/Medium, one was Medium, two earned Medium/High marks, and the last fell on the line between Medium/High and High.

I really noticed the quality differences in the articles, but the area that had consistent low scores was in interpretive validity. Only one article stood out in this – it also earned the highest overall rating. This was a wake up call, as I mentioned before. My focus for 8th grade writers is providing evidence in their academic writing. I forgot that, as a reader, I must look for evidence that shows the researchers findings to be valid. This is an important lesson that this class and assignment taught me.

Summary: Had I to go back choose articles again, I would be more particular about the quality of my choices. Of course, I’m only now able to make those choices based on quality now that I’ve taken this class – a paradox I guess. While writing this review, I found that many of articles were not very solid examples to use. This makes comparing and contrasting a bit tedious to read. Luckily, in each category, there was one that shone, as either a good or bad example and made for something to discuss. The content of the articles was very interesting. It combines my love of my job and content area with my passion for technology. Many of the articles provided examples of practical classroom practices that any teacher could put into operation, such as using comic books to teach inference skills, character development, and the list of web-based resources found in table one (p. 299) of Barone and Wright’s article (2008).

Some of the articles did leave me with questions.

Barone and Wright dropped this bombshell on me: “In 2005, approximately 95% of K-12 classrooms in the United states had Internet access[,] . . . 80% of kindergartners use computers . . . However, the average of U.S. students’ use of computers in school was 12 minutes per week” (p. 292). This caused my jaw to drop and really hooked me into learning more about electronic literacy and best practices surrounding it. I find that 12 min/week is an abysmal average and really just don’t understand how that can be.

I never understood why Norton’s focus was on Archie comics (2003), and not a more contemporary comic – this was never explained (the number of kids who read it was also surprising but I didn’t expect Norton to have a reason for that). Norton also cited that “Ivey and Broaddus (2001, p. 368) . . . found that middle school students ranked their classrooms as ‘one of the least likely places’ to find the texts they want to read.” (p. 145). This is sad and just supports what most English teachers [should] know: Choice in reading material is very important; it goes back to the power of engagement.

My interests, personal and professional, made reading these articles enjoyable and professional development at the same time. My goal now is to bring what I’ve learned from this research and see what results I can get in my classroom, and be a model to others in the area of electronic literacy.


Barone, D., & Wright, T. (2008). Literacy Instruction With Digital and Media Technologies. Reading Teacher, 62(4), 292-303.

Gainer, J.S. (2010). Critical media literacy in middle school: exploring the politics of representation. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(5), 364–3 73.

McVicker, C. (2007). Comic strips as a text structure for learning to read. The Reading Teacher, 61(1), 85-88.

Norton, B. (2003). The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers. Reading Teacher, 57(2), 140-147.

Ranker, J. (2007). Using comic books as read-alouds: insights on reading instruction from an English as a second language classroom. Reading Teacher, 61(4), 296-305.

Rowsell, J., & Burke, A. (2009). Reading by design: two case studies of digital reading practices. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(2), 106-118.

Appendix: Matrix of Articles – below.


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