Since so many of you helped me bounce around ideas as I was studying Vygotsky and the related literature I thought I would post a draft of my theoretical perspective for my dissertation proposal. Please feel free to comment or offer any feedback.
The study is framed using a cultural-historical lens towards and learning (Daniels, 2007; Vygotsky,1978) and meaning (Vygotsky, 1987; Wertsch, 2000) Lee and Smagorinsky, 2000) identified the following four principles in Vygotskian definitions of learning: 1:) learning is mediated between a learner, other people, and cultural artifacts and then appropriated by the learner; 2:)learning involves mentoring and scaffolding; 3) historically and culturally constructed tools such as language mediate learning; and 4:) the capacity for learning is connected to the context of learning.
These principles of learning are central to studies in online reading comprehension. First the advent of the Internet created access to unlimited people and cultural artifacts; while simultaneously it redefined opportunities for mentoring no longer limited by physical space (Leander & Knobel, 2003). Second the rise of the Internet has lead to an explosion in tools and contexts that mediate learning. Vygotsky noted that higher forms of thinking occur through a process of mediation as the participant actively modifies the stimulus response while responding to the stimulus (Cole & Scribner, 1978). As learners read online they can make almost limitless modifications to their text (Hartman, chapter) through a process of self directed text construction (Coiro & Dobler, 2007). These new tools that mediate learning have fundamentally shifted how we make meaning from texts.
Definitions of meaning from a Vygotsky perspective are less concrete (Mescheryakov, 2000). On one hand Wertsch, (2007) suggests that a strong rational legacy runs through Vygotsky ideas of meaning. Vygotsky, according to Wertsch (2000) defines meaning as occurring when socially and culturally developed signs identify objects. Concepts are then formed through meditational relationships with objects as signs can identify groups of objects. On the other hand Wertsch (2000) also notes that Vygotsky’s definitions of knowing, as consisting of two oppositional but related forces of meaning and sense, reflects a long standing tension in philosophy between enlightenment and rational ideas.
This tension between rational and expressive epistemologies is just as present in current literacy research. Socio-cultural (Smagorisnky, 2004) approaches draw on a more romantic view of meaning making while cognitive approaches (Kinstch & Kinstch, 2005) draw on a more rational lens. At the same time studies with digital literacies have seemed to accept the ontological differences in this long-standing philosophical debate. Tierney (2008) notes that meaning making with digital texts requires both agency and artistry. Leu et. al (2004) suggest that online reading comprehension requires not only skills and strategies but also specific dispositions. Finally Sprio and Deschyrver (in press) suggest “advanced Web explorations” and an “opening mindset.” are essential to learn online. In essence, with reading online being so complex researchers have drawn on multiple realities (Reinking & Labbo, 1997) to study literacy and technology.
Under the premise that meditational tools and social practices have shifted exponentially and conflicting philosophical viewpoints enrich research this study accepts the concept of multiple realities as a central theoretical viewpoint. A multiple realities perspective “confronts… a common and unfortunate tendency to treat technology in relation to literacy as a monolithic, unidimensional topic and a corresponding tendency to oversimplify its use… in literacy instruction” (Labbo & Reinking, 1997, p. 479). Accordingly this study, from a cultural-historical perspective embraces both the theory of new literacies of online reading comprehension (Leu, Zawilinski, Castek, Banerjee, Housand, Liu et al., 2007) and cognitive flexibility theory (Spiro, 2004).
The theory of new literacies of online reading comprehension is a specific line of study in the much broader field of New Literacies research (Leu, O’Byrne, Zawilinski, McVerry, & Everett-Cocapardo, 2009). This perspective defines online reading comprehension as a process, which includes:
“…the skills, strategies, and dispositions necessary to successfully use and adapt to the rapidly changing information and communication technologies and contexts that continuously emerge in our world and influence all areas of our personal and professional lives. These new literacies allow us to use the Internet and other ICT to identify important questions, locate information, critically evaluate the usefulness of that information, synthesize information to answer those questions, and then communicate the answers to others.” (Leu, Kinzer, et al., 2004, p.1570)
Cognitive Flexibility Theory (Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1991; Spiro, 2004) also informed this study. This theory suggests that the Internet, as an ill structured context, requires readers to flexibly apply prior knowledge to novel reading situations that constantly change. Spiro (2004) argues that traditional strategies taught to read offline texts may actually hamper the reading of online texts.