Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Digital Saviours: Digitally Able Secondary School Teachers in Their First Year of Teaching

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posted on 2021-11-10, 02:48 authored by Starkey, Louise

The digital era is a time when available technology enables access to information, ideas and people from a range of locations, at anytime. Young graduating teachers have grown up using digital technologies and some educators see this generation as digital saviours who will sweep into schools, able to teach the digital generation in relevant ways. This thesis examines the experiences of digitally able beginning secondary school teachers as they attempted to transfer their knowledge of digital technologies to the teaching context. The methodological approach taken in this research was a multiple case study underpinned by a complexity theory conceptual framework. Six digitally confident teachers volunteered to be examined through interviews and observation during their first year of secondary teaching to identify how they used digital technologies in their teaching practice, the learning that occurred, and the barriers and enablers experienced while attempting to integrate digital technologies into teaching praxis. A digital age learning matrix was developed as a research tool based on connectivist learning theory to measure the types of learning activities used by the teachers. Student think alouds were used to ascertain the learning that was occurring in the classroom. During the year, each of the teachers transferred their knowledge of digital technologies while facing challenges and accessing support from within and beyond the schooling context in which they were teaching. Using generic inductive qualitative analysis, the barriers and enablers were coded to five categories based on patterns identified from the interviews including: access, experience, support, school structures and knowledge. It was found that teachers with strong pedagogical content knowledge, that included the use of subject specific digital technologies or applications, were more likely to include knowledge creation in their learning activities. The teachers drew on their base knowledge when making pedagogical decisions. This appeared to restrict the opportunities to include knowledge creation. Web 2.0 features, such as connecting with others, collaboratively developing ideas and understandings within teacher networks or classrooms by the teachers or students, aspects of connectivist learning theory in the design of learning activities were notably absent. The findings from this research identified knowledge, experiences and support that could influence how beginning teachers use digital technologies within their teaching practice. The beginning teachers in this study were more likely to use digital technologies to enhance student learning when they were: (a) familiar with teaching students using a 'trial and error, ask a friend' approach to learning, (b) experienced in the use of digital technologies in specific subject specialist areas, (c) supported by mentors with pedagogical content expertise, (d) given a sense of agency, (e) given access to digital technologies, and (f) able to apply digital age learning theories and models to their teaching praxis. Digital age learning theories and models include complexity theory, connectivism, pedagogical reasoning and action for the digital age, and the digital age learning matrix. The latter two models were developed within this thesis and reflect an important development in teacher professional learning.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Educational Psychology and Pedagogy


McDonald, Lex; Stevens, Ken