Literacy teaching and learning in e-Learning contexts

Publication Details

This report presents the findings of a research project on literacy teaching and learning in e-Learning contexts carried out by CORE Education and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) for the Ministry of Education in 2009.

Author(s): Sue McDowall for CORE Education and New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: June 2010

Please consider the environment before printing the contents of this report.

This report is available as a download (please refer to the 'Downloads' inset box).  For links to related publications/ information that may be of interest please refer to the 'Where to Find Out More' inset box.

Executive Summary

Background to the research

This report presents the findings of a research project on literacy teaching and learning in e-Learning contexts carried out by CORE Education and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) for the Ministry of Education in 2009.

The project had two parts. One involved supporting the recipients of the 2009 e-fellowships to design and implement classroom-based inquiries into literacy teaching and learning. The e-fellows presented their findings as e-portfolios.

The other aspect of the project involved a meta-analysis using data collected from across the e-fellows' classrooms, to see how e-Learning contexts can be used effectively to support literacy teaching and learning. The findings of this analysis are presented here. Our data sources included: interviews with e-fellows, focus groups with students, classroom observations, documents including: teacher planning and student work samples, records of reflective conversations held during project hui or on-line, and the e-fellow portfolios.

The overarching research question for this project was: How are e-Learning contexts used effectively to support the literacy learning needed for the 21st century? The sub questions were:

  • What can literacy learning look like in effective e-Learning contexts?
  • What conditions support literacy teaching and learning in e-Learning contexts?
  • How does exploring literacy teaching and learning in e-Learning contexts impact on teachers' thinking and practice?

Main findings

Student learning and engagement

We saw evidence of students' literacy learning as they built their capacity to: learn the code, make meaning, use texts, and analyse texts in a range of modes and with multimodal texts. Learning the code involves practices required to crack the codes and systems of language. Making meaning involves the practices required to construct cultural meanings of text. Using texts involves the practices required to use texts effectively in everyday, face-to-face situations. Analysing texts involves the practices required to analyse, critique and second-guess texts.

The e-fellows reported higher levels of student engagement during their e-fellow projects than in more traditional literacy activities. This was especially evident for students with a history of underachievement and lack of engagement.

Many of the e-fellows found that for some students in their classes, increased engagement or achievement in one mode seemed to be associated with increased engagement or achievement in another. For example, some students involved in filming, selecting music, designing costumes, or creating sound effects showed increased interest and ability when reading and writing print texts, even though this was not the primary mode in which they had chosen to work. These tended to be students who teachers described as reluctant or less engaged readers and writers. Working with multimodal texts in e-Learning environments provided opportunities for these students to work from their strengths, experience literacy success, build their interpretive capacities, and build meta-knowledge.

Conditions of learning

We found seven conditions of learning common to the e-fellows' classrooms. The e-fellow projects provided students with opportunities to: work with a judicious mix of freedom and constraint, work with diverse others, specialise according to their strengths and interests, share ideas, revisit ideas, lead the direction of their learning, and work with experts. These are all conditions that researchers working in the area of complexity thinking have found to be present as complex systems evolve and develop.

The findings presented in this report highlight the ways in which ICTs contributed to the presence of these conditions and offered affordances for literacy learning which may not be readily available without them. We found that ICTs enabled students:

  • to have greater choice about how to make meaning of and with texts than afforded in a print text environment;
  • to work with diverse others by providing access to people and texts in a time and place that would otherwise be unavailable to them;
  • to specialise according to individual strengths and interests by providing opportunities to make meaning in modes other than, as well as including, print text;
  • to share ideas by providing a neutral, communal space accessible to all for the storage, retrieval, discussion, and adaptation of texts; and
  • to reflect on, revisit, add to, and adapt ideas over time by making it easy to keep a record of every iteration of texts and discussions and by removing the laboriousness of editing that comes with the need to "re-write" when using pencil and paper.

Conditions of teaching

Overall, the e-fellows came from schools with focused leadership, committed to e-Learning. The schools ranged from those with fully equipped computer suites, ICT support staff, and class sets of equipment such as digital cameras, to schools with just one computer per classroom.

The e-Learning fellowship provided teachers with release time from the classroom to be used for activities such as: planning, observing, reflecting, working with small groups of students, reading and researching, conversing with and observing other teachers, and developing e-portfolios on their inquiries. The e-fellows considered that while they would have been able to achieve their results without this time, it enabled them to do so more easily, and to reflect more deeply on the process. The e-Learning fellowship also provided e-fellows time and space to meet together as a professional learning community and the e-fellows considered this to be important. Some felt that the e-fellowship also gave them licence to take risks and try new things.

However the most important factor in enabling the teaching and learning shifts discussed in this report were the e-fellows themselves. The e-fellows were experienced teachers with expertise in e-Learning and literacy teaching and learning. Prior to receiving an e-Learning fellowship all had already conducted informal inquiries into their project question. Some had been investigating their question for many years.

The main barriers experienced by some of the e-fellows related to the availability and reliability of ICTs, and, for one of the secondary teachers, constraining school ICT policies.

Where to next?

The findings presented in this report pertain primarily to literacy learning in English and the Arts, and to a lesser degree, the Social Sciences. However, we also need examples of literacy learning in e-Learning contexts within other disciplinary areas such as Science and Mathematics. Further research might also investigate teaching and learning about the ways in which literacy learning in one discipline may be similar to and different from that in another.


  1. For more information on the e-fellowship programme visit the Education Government website.
  2. Visit the e-fellows e-portfolios.
  3. Meta-knowledge is use of the generalised knowledge of one area to understand the specifics of another.

Where to find out more

Contact Us

Education Data Requests
If you have any questions about education data then please contact us at:
Email:      Requests EDK
Phone:    +64 4 463 8065