Downton Abbey – Not Abby from Downtown


Write about a time you have seen popular culture successfully used in the school context.


Teenagers might have initially felt more connected if this study had referred to the life of a heroin addict, Abby from downtown, USA. Instead they were invited to use popular culture to explore the values of another age as inspired by the heroes and heroines of the recent popular period drama TV series, Downton Abbey, UK! This formed part of a Year 10 Social Science module in a Qld State High School, extending their recent study of historical fiction in English classes.


Students were required to engage with popular culture to complete a group task interpreting facets of society as portrayed in another historical environment, in this case, Downton Abbey. This required them to identify the main ideas, evaluate the evidence and assess the quality of the sources with an emphasis on topic presentation using popular culture.


Introductory lessons were planned to ensure students were familiar with the framework of the era, with the characters and the concept of different levels of society. Relevant footage was viewed and students were then assigned to small groups, each selecting one particular project from a series of topics as outlined below

  • Trench warfare (Battle of the Somme) – how it affects Downton Abbey.
  • Effects of the First World War on upper and lower class society as shown in the series
  • Celebration of Christmas and major events at Downton
  • Clothing and accessories in the Post Edwardian era as depicted in the series
  • Class division in the 1900s – structure and limitations it imposed on “upstairs and downstairs”
  • Role of women / effects of the war on women’s rights as evidenced in the series
  • Expectations/role of men e.g. head of the family, Lord Grantham, butler as head of “downstairs”
  • Heroes and Heroines of the series


The students were encouraged to think of ways they could use familiar popular culture to shape their discussion, inform their understanding and present their findings. They responded positively by using the internet, texting information, writing blogs and even making short movies. Further encouragement led to them creating comic strips, rhythms and games. Once they understood that the boundaries were limitless and that there were many ways of accessing knowledge, it was surprising how involved they became and how much “ownership” they took of their projects. The unit was very worthwhile because it encouraged even the non-academic students to become involved whilst providing the more able students with avenues for extension.

Theresa Cumming

From the Sun to the Lighthouse: Rethinking the Role of the TL in the Connected, Digital Landscape

By Kelly

With the advent of new media technologies, teachers are no longer seen as the sole authorities on knowledge in the classroom (Davies & Merchant, 2009, p.108).  Just as a lighthouse helps to guide sailors to safe waters, today’s teacher librarians need to consider their role in terms of a guide and facilitator for staff and students when it comes to finding, selecting, evaluating and using the vast array of information and tools now on offer – TLs need to direct learners towards safer waters, and suggest useful routes to follow.  This is opposed to the more traditional idea of the teacher being the central focus, like the sun, trying to burn facts into students’ brains.  While all teachers need to develop pedagogies which incorporate new information and communication technology into their teaching and learning programs, it is important to keep in mind that just because children are familiar with new technology, it does not mean that they know how to use it effectively and safely, so it is also the teacher’s responsibility to help students ‘navigate’ the online world (Davies & Merchant, 2009, p.108) and develop responsible habits.

ALIA/ASLA states that the teacher librarian is “a leader within the educational community”  (ASLA/ALIA, 2009).  As such, these professionals are ideally positioned to lead the way at their schools, in terms of the development of innovative teaching and learning pedagogies and practices relating to new technology.  TLs are (ideally) in a position where they are able to collaborate with other teachers to plan and implement teaching and learning programs, and work with teachers and administration to develop and formulate new school policies and direction.  This involvement of the TL at both planning and practical levels should help to ensure a uniform approach to new media technology across a whole school, and this needs to start happening now, before the knowledge delivery which takes place at school becomes completely out of sync with the way young people learn outside the classroom (Williamson, 2009, p.18).

Referring to the common reality that schools are sluggish and unwilling to adapt to the new, digitised, connected and social ways in which young people learn, Williamson refers to some confronting but accurate assertions from other writers.  Barham argues that, “Kids are certainly not too stupid for school…Perhaps school is too stupid for them” (as cited in Williamson, 2009, p.18).  Veen and Vrakking (as cited in Williamson, 2009) propose the term ‘homo zappiens’ to refer to digital natives, and offer my favourite insight: “Homo zappiens are digital, and school is analogue” (p.18).  There is a distinctive mismatch between types of texts used, and how they are used, in school and out of school (Beach & O’Brien, 2008, p.779), meaning learning at school is becoming less relevant to the everyday experiences of young people.  Outside school, children and teenagers access information, pursue social connections, and interact with popular culture texts anywhere, anytime.  They use mobile devices to access and contribute to social networking sites, blogs, YouTube, games, and other participatory media, yet most of these are often blocked by schools, let alone incorporated into the curriculum.  While, in Australia, most schools encourage the use of internet resources, alongside print ones, the 1:1 laptop trend is increasing, and iPads are used more and more, there remains a reluctance to harness the potential of participatory technologies afforded by Web 2.0 in the classroom, and devices which utilise them, such as mobile phones. This is despite the fact that, “Knowledge, power, advantage, companionship, and influence lie with those who know how to participate, rather than those who just passively consume culture” (Rheingold, 2012, p.249).

George Siemen’s (2005) educational theory of ‘connectivism’ underpins how TLs and other teachers need to start thinking about participatory and new media technologies in the classroom.  His theory focuses on the importance of making connections between information sources, and nurturing and maintaining these connections.  Another important aspect of this theory lies with the notion that the capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known” (Siemens, 2005), and that the digital tools used for learning are not as important as the connections made by them.  Farkas (2012), emphasises that learning today is “open, networked and always happening” (p.82), and, as such, points out the importance of the development of network-building and critical thinking skills in this connectivist approach.  If students are going to be able to develop personal learning networks through shared and created connections, and if this is, indeed, the way in which students are naturally learning, informally, outside school, then teachers and teacher librarians need to help them to develop these skills and networks at school, as an element of new media literacy.  A brief video explaining how connectivism works can be found by here: The Networked Student.

Today’s students are accustomed to multitasking in the digital world.  So much so, that scientific evidence has emerged, showing that children’s brains are actually being re-wired to allow for easier multitasking of multimedia, which can be referred to as ‘multimediating’ (Beach & O’Brien, 2008, p.778).  This may not come as naturally to teachers, who are mostly digital immigrants, rather than natives, but teachers need to plan with this in mind.  Beach and O’Brien (2008) discuss how one result of this multimediating culture is that texts become extensions of each other, rather than independent artefacts (p.795), and also that students are constantly constructing new popular culture texts in their shared responses to existing texts (p.787).  This presents some exciting new challenges for teacher librarians when exploring, promoting and sharing literature, as many students have already embraced the phenomenon of social reading.  Sites like Good Reads enable  readers to review and comment on books they have have read, then comment on other people’s comments.  Many readers today are also starting up their own book blogs – here, students present their virtual identities and own voices in engaging and interesting ways (O’Sullivan, 2012, p.208), and, in so doing, are developing their digital and new media critical literacy skills.  Another emerging multimodal response is ‘fan fiction,’ whereby new texts are created based on existing elements and/or characters of existing popular culture texts (Beach & O’Brien, 2008, p.789).  Responses to literature have gone far beyond making bookmarks and designing new book covers with textas and coloured pencils!

“The use of new technological tools can support learning in different ways and provide opportunities to extend pedagogical models” (O’Sullivan, 2012, p.206).  Teacher librarians need to take advantage of these opportunities in their own teaching practice, as well as providing leadership to other staff members.  At the same time, teachers should avoid feeling like they have to use every technological innovation ever invented, but need to use their expertise to select what tools are most appropriate and enriching for student’s learning on any given occasion. Teacher librarians can act like a beacon to help teachers and students get their bearings and set a steady course in the oceans of information at our fingertips.

Reproduced from “Introduction to the Study of Language” by P. Hurley, 2012. Copy Right Statement: The fair use, according the 1996 Fair Use Guidelines for Educational Multimedia, of materials presented on this Web site is permitted for noncommercial and classroom purposes.


ASLA/ALIA (2001). Learning for the future: Developing information services in schools (2nd ed.). Melbourne: Curriculum Corporation.

Beach, R., & O’Brien, D. (2008). Chapter 27: Teaching popular-culture texts in the classroom. In Coiro, J. et al., Handbook of research on new literacies (pp. 775-804). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Davies, J., & Merchant, G. (2009). Chapter 9: Responses and responsibilities. In Web 2.0 for schools: learning and participation (pp. 103-113). New York: Peter Lang.

Farkas, M. (2012). Participatory technologies, pedagogy 2.0 and information literacy. Library Hi Tech, 30(1), 82-94.

Hurley, P. K. (2012). Ling 102/WI Introduction to the Study of Language. University of Hawai’i – Leeward Community College. Retrieved October 21, 2012, from

O’Sullivan , K. (2012). Chapter 12: Books and blogs: Promoting reading achievement in digital contexts. In Teenagers and reading: literary heritages, cultural contexts and contemporary reading practices (pp. 191-209).

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. elearnspace. Retrieved October 19, 2012, from

Williamson, B. (2009). Computer games, schools and young people: a report for educators on using games for learning. Futurelab UK. Retrieved from




The Implications of Technology and the Mobile Classroom

by Stephen

Another reading from week 7 was one by Cook, Pachler and Bachmair (2011) regarding the use of mobile phones as a form of mobile learning. The article argues that mobile phones should be viewed as a cultural resource and one that challenges schools to find adequate curricular functions for such cultural resources in their programs. They go further and ask the question: “Are there good educational and instructional reasons for banning mobiles within a wave of cultural transformation outside school?” (Cook et al, 2011, p182) And they are right! However, issues with their implementation do exist and a lot of it comes down to nature of students and school culture. I feel that the use of mobile technology within the classroom and better still, outside the classroom, is certainly not without merit but one must be mindful of the age of their target audience and oversee its use.

With some of this semester’s focus being on technology (Weeks 1, 3, 4, 5, 6) and more specifically mobile technology (week 7 and 8) in regards to any associated problems the usual suspects apply, that is potential cyber-bullying and active student participation in banal communications unrelated to the task at hand. Another issue is the private versus public nature of modern technology. It is something I have referred to previously in another blog but one I would like to re-emphasise and that is the uploading of material without consent. And, let’s face it, it is certainly a consideration when dealing with teenagers!

For me personally, over the years I have had to come to grips with incorporating the use of technology and mobile technology within the classroom. I admit to being cautious with its implementation but certainly not resistant. I concur with the authors of week 7’s article that, “We see new mobile mass communication as increasingly impacting upon traditional learning of the school in this process of ongoing cultural transformation” (Cook et al, 2011, p183). Overall, I see the use of technology as a vital aid to education but not the ‘be all and end all’, although its rate of development is both mind-blowing and mindboggling!

Moving back to the article, the authors use the example of a class taking a “mobile” (that is, phone) tour and recording video blogs. I too have seen this work in my own school whereby Year 10 Recreational PE students had to do a three day hike on one of the Great Whitsunday Walks. Their task was to make a video diary of their experiences and, once back home, turn this into a presentation for the class with captions, music and interviews. What a meaningful use of mobile technology! It is student driven learning and further reinforces the authors’ comments that “… the educational idea is to integrate learning in informal contexts into the formal learning of the school” (Cook et al, 2011, p185).

Other examples I have been witness to are circumstances where mobile technology has been successfully implemented within the subject area of HPE. The class was firstly given teacher instruction on how to throw the javelin (of course, any number of physical skills could be substituted here). Once the instruction was over the students then broke up into pairs and tried put ‘theory into practice’. The added benefit here was that when one partner threw the other filmed, then the roles were reversed. Not only was the student able to see themselves in action and review and reflect; they could then download their footage into a program that would graphically illustrate improvements for them! What a cool way to incorporate technology into the learning environment.

Within the English classroom, when I set a poetry assignment asking the students to find and analyse a poem, one student actually blogged to the poet himself and started an online conversation! They discussed the poem’s impact and its content as well discussing the poet’s thoughts regarding the task. Finally, once the student had completed his analysis he sent a copy to the poet and even then told him what result he got for his spoken presentation! What a great example of how to incorporate technology and to promote discussion and analysis when you can actually talk to the poet/author themselves!

I’d like to conclude by agreeing with Chau (2010) when he says, “The explosion of youth subscription to original content-media sharing Web sites such as YouTube has confirmed their relevance and importance in the lives of today’s youth. These Web sites combine media production and distribution with social networking features, making them an ideal place to create, connect, collaborate, and circulate novel and personally meaningful media. By merging the technical aspects of youth as media creators with the social aspects of youth as social networkers, new media platforms such as YouTube offer a participatory culture in which to develop, interact, and learn.” (p65) The challenge for us as teachers and TL’s is how to incorporate the use of technology, mobile technology, and aspects such as social networking and YouTube into meaningful educational experiences. All within the conflicting realms of school culture versus just “culture”.

Chau, Clement (01/01/2010). “YouTube as a participatory culture”. New directions for youth development, 2010(128), p.65.

Cook J, Pachler P,Bachmair B (2011) “Ubiquitous Mobility with Mobile Phones: a cultural ecology for mobile learning” in E-Learning and Digital Media Vol. 8 No. 3, 2011

YOUTUBE – Are we kidding ourselves that this is an innovative form of media?

By Stephen

A significant learning experience for me was when reading an article by Teresa Rizzo (week 7) regarding YouTube:

It was a little difficult to get into at first but after a couple of pages I could start to understand what Rizzo, and her oft quoted source Gunning (2006) was trying to say. Gunning’s assertion (and this relates to the forum of YouTube) is that cinema prior to 1906 was not dominated by a narrative structure; but was more a series of “attractions” put together into film. Gunning cites examples of the Lumiere brothers whose film Arrival of a train is all about just that – a single shot of a train arriving at a station with a platform filled with people!

My reaction was that I thought it a primitive example of voyeurism and that it could have been the birth of ‘reality TV’. I mean, I actually focussed more on the people than the train! I’m probably influenced because at the moment I am teaching a unit on reality TV, so that might be a reason.

There are other examples cited, one in particular was Thomas Edison’s The Turkish Dance, Ella Lola 1898

It was a film that  attracted attention due to its exoticism and eroticism, but more so than that Gunning argues that it was attractive to audiences (and the Directors/Producers themselves) because it focussed on capturing the body in motion. Certainly pretty tame by today’s standards and I’m sure in the public domain it would have been even more erotic and exotic because she most likely had her belly exposed! But certainly nothing like the belly dancing duo I found on the same page though

Although I’m sure the dancers from pre 1900 could also dance like these two girls, I’m sure they couldn’t show THAT on film in the 1900’s! Actually, still on this clip of these American dancers, I’m surprised that one of the judges was allowed to make those comments and gestures on television. To be so open about it! I mean, let’s be honest, anyone watching knows what he was talking about, but to say it! Can’t we be a little more modest? Or I am just being a prude?

I must at this point agree with Gunning regarding the “cinema of attractions”. I too, while surfing the ‘net stumbled upon Eugene Sandow, who in the mid to late 1800’s would perform feats of strength and pose in front of live audiences. Upon seeing his physique, audiences were amazed and women apparently fainted! In this clip it shows footage and still shots of Eugene but the concept is just the same – a fascination with the human body. There is no narrative to the original filmstrip but it has been edited and cut today so that now a bit of a narrative has been put forward by the makers. There is even footage of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk).

For Gunning, YouTube “the video sharing experience cues viewers in much the same way as the cinema of attractions. It confronts viewers with moments of novelty, curiosity, or sensationalism and invites them to stop and stare.” (Rizzo, 2008)

Sean Cubitt (2006) extends this even further and proposes “that what might be at stake is no longer the representation of the world, but communications between worlds, and between their inhabitants.” He further states that “What may be distinctive now about digital effects is their capacity not to evoke shock and awe, but to attract that contemplative reverie which allows a spectator to wander into the world on screen and populate it with their own fancies.”  This is certainly true when considering the vast content seen on YouTube and the speed with which people can go from obscurity to fame, often without their prior consent.

There is a blurred distinction regarding what is private being made public in today’s YouTube experience and what is public made ‘explicitly public’ in the cinematic experience. The cinema footage of the 1900s was clearly for public exhibition/consumption using performances already in the public realm, for instance starring well known performers such as Loie Fuller in The Turkish Dance. But today, and here the distinction becomes blurred, what was once considered the private realm can now be made public because the participant can perform and upload and so on from within the confines of their own private realm, that is, their home. This is particularly relevant today in regards to ethics, where anyone who has access to any Web 2.0 or 3.0 devices can make everything that anyone does made public with little or no retribution to the main antagonist.

Another interesting aspect discussed in the article, and one that makes the medium of YouTube so attractive, is that of remediation. This the process whereby clips are re-worked and re-produced using voice-overs or nonsense subtitles and so on, often for comedic effect. It is argued that “these types of clips are central to the way video-sharing sites extend the notion of attractions.” (Rizzo, 2008) For me personally, from a teaching perspective, remediation is quite good because these types of clips lend themselves nicely to critical literacy concepts such as intertextuality. One such clip would be the parody of George Bush and the famous “Who’s on first..?” skit by Abbott and Costello:

It’s very clever and an example of what the article attempts to say, that “the cinema of attractions is ultimately about acts of display, or exhibitionism rather than storytelling in a similar way remediation is all about showing off by being clever and creative. It is a self-conscious practice that points to the producer, itself and to the power of the medium.” (Rizzo, 2008)

A more recent example, and one I was only made aware of in my local newspaper dated Monday, October 22, 2012 is a response from the company Bodyform to an ‘irate’ letter posted from a male member of the public to the company’s Facebook page complaining that since he’s found a girlfriend he’s been waiting for these suggested “happy periods” where he could go hiking and horse riding and other such outdoor activities with his girlfriend despite her being on her periods. He claimed the company was deceptive in their advertisements and the company’s response is excellent and hilarious:

This clip just reinforces the ability of the medium to express such remediation and turn it into a positive by boosting the company’s name and profile and thus potential sales.

I myself am not a prolific user of YouTube but I do watch clips regularly, either through my teaching or for personal use when either surfing the ‘net or when someone e-mails me a “you’ve gotta see this” for example. The attraction is certainly the immediacy of the medium and the fact that it is available day and night. The main attraction too is the fact that YouTube as a medium and in fact all technological mediums such as television and phones etc. invites “active participation”. No longer do people just passively “watch”. In terms of television we know that people often watch with their I-phone or I-pad nearby where they can check the validity of “news” that they have just heard, or “Wikipedia” celebrities that they’ve just seen or go online shopping. The nature of the mediums has changed, and YouTube is no different. People are no longer just invited to watch the “cinema of attractions” they can post comments or respond through video posts. It is certainly different and one that I don’t wish to participate in, and that is my personal choice and not just a generation thing because there are plenty of Gen X’ers who do exactly this. I just have a problem with the whole “public” nature of everything and I find it uncomfortable. But still, Rizzo’s article is very good and one that is very good for promoting discussion and reflection.

Cubitt S. (2006) “Attractions Reloaded”, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp 460.

Gunning, T. (2006) “Attractions: How They Came into the World”, in The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded: Film Culture in Transition, ed. Wanda Strauven, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 31-39

Rizzo, T. (2008) You Tube: The New Cinema of Attractions, Vol.5 No.1 May 2008

Pop Culture Texts: School vs. Public Library

by Kelly

One of the big differences between public libraries and school libraries is the budget, and one of the areas where this is most evident is audiobooks.

Screen shot of audiobooks catalogue available at public library

Earlier this year, our high school hosted a presentation by Bolinda Digital, an Australian company, specialising in the production and sale of audiobooks.  They used to produce audiobooks in cassette and CD format, but have now moved into the online realm.  While very impressed with the quality, appeal, flexibility and support services of this online resource, the cost was prohibitive.  Conversely, all local libraries in our council have subscriptions to this same service, with a large range of audiobook titles available for loan.  These can be accessed by simply logging into the library website and downloading the audiobook to any mp3-reading device.  Not only can a member download the books, and listen to them anywhere, anytime, but the online catalogue also displays cover pages, recommends other books in similar genres, provides information about the author, and features a series of related hyperlinks.  Hopefully, this service will come down in price, so it is more affordable for most schools, as well-narrated audiobooks are a fantastic way to access popular culture texts ‘on the go’ (eg in the car, on the beach, in the garden), as well as providing low-ability readers with an access point.

Apart from a vast array of audiobooks, other large collections of popular culture texts available in my local public library are those of music CDs and film DVDs.  Although music is relatively inexpensive to purchase these days, whether in CD form or downloaded from sites such as iTunes, some members of the public still prefer to borrow this music from the library for various reasons, including age, habit and limited access to technology  At the high school where I work,  there are no music CDs available for loan – most students are from comfortable, middle class homes, and are more than happy to buy the music themselves.  However, many students also breach copyright by copying the music from friends or via illegal downloads – we need to provide more education in this area.  Regarding DVDs, the scenario is similar.  The public library has multiple shelves of DVDs for loan, whereas the school has a very limited supply of popular film titles, plus a few educational DVDs for teachers’ use in the classroom.  The popular films are rarely borrowed, as students rely on commercial DVD rental outlets, and increasingly on direct download sites, such as appleTV.  Perhaps if we had a much bigger, more exciting range of popular, recent movies, and they were displayed more prominently, students may access this service more.

When it comes to books, my school library’s collection of popular fiction is on a par with the local library.  Particularly impressive is our graphic novel collection, which is large, appealingly displayed and caters for many different tastes.  It is substantially bigger than the equivalent collection in the public library.  Of particular note is the number of graphic novel adaptations of popular novels, such as Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, and The Kite Runner, which are great for reluctant and low ability readers, as well as an interesting comparison for readers of the original texts.  The school library also has several graphic novel adaptations of classic stories and Shakespeare plays, providing students with a way to relate to these works in a popular culture text format, which can make them more appealing, relevant and meaningful.

Graphic Novels Collection at School Library









Push and Pull: Mobile Phones as Resources for Learning and Participation

by Kelly

Photo: Kelly Curran

It is difficult, today, to imagine an Australian high school without access to the Internet, let alone without computers.  I believe that, in a few years, it will also be hard to imagine classrooms without mobile media devices, such as smartphones, tablets and iPod Touches.  As expressed by Elliot Soloway, “The kids these days are not digital kids. The digital kids were in the 90s.  The kids today are mobile and there’s a difference. Digital is the old way of thinking, mobile is the new way” (as cited in Shuler, 2009, p.39).

The mobile phone, in particular, can be seen as a “new cultural resource”, according to Cook, Pachler and Bachmair (2011, p.181).  These devices can be used anywhere, anytime, and are already owned by the vast majority of households in Australia.  In fact, eighty per cent of the world’s population now has access to a mobile phone network, which is twice as much as in 2000 (Shuler, 2009, p.18).  Combined with the relatively lower cost of mobile phones compared to laptop and desktop computers, this means that these devices are readily accessible to most people around the globe – over half of the people on this planet own their own mobile phone, and one of the fastest growing age group of owners is the under 12s (Shuler, 2009, p.4).  This has significant implications for educators worldwide.

My two sons, aged twelve and thirteen, recently spent five nights with their grandparents.  When we picked them up, they said the thing they missed the most was WiFi, and they couldn’t wait to get back home to get “back on the Internet” using their iPod Touch devices.  This demonstrates the current mindset and common practices among many young people in Australia today, who are accustomed to accessing the Internet anywhere, anytime on their mobile devices, in our contemporary ‘always on’ culture.  Because children are already so motivated to use this new media technology, schools need to act now, to work out how best to use mobile devices as tools for learning, before the gap between practices inside and outside the classroom grows too wide, and educational opportunities are lost (Shuler, 2009, p.3).

Cook, Pachler and Bachmair (2011) recommend that mobile devices should be used in schools in two ways: by using the mobile applications as “resources for learning,” and also as “resources for participation” (p.192).  In this way, students can maximise Web 2.0 capabilities by being active learners, who can pull and push relevant content, and collaborate and communicate with other learners, from the class or around the globe – a virtual co-presence replacing the necessity for face-to-face discussions.  Mobile phones can “encourage learning in a real-world context, and help bridge school, afterschool and home environments” (Shuler, 2009, p.5), serving as a tool to continue the learning process outside four walls.  A good example of how mobile phones can be used as resources for learning as well as participation is given by Cook et al (2011, p.188).  Students from a high school history class were involved in an excursion around North London to investigate local history through the architecture and changing streetscape.  They connected to a mobile application which used GPS to push relevant content directly to their phones, depending on where they were standing, so they were receiving information exactly when and where it was needed. Students also were required to record video blog posts on their phones about their personal observations during the excursion.  Participants were actively engaged in their own learning, and commented that they found this kind of activity less boring, more interesting and more engaging.

Schools are yet to or just beginning to realise the potential of mobile phones as valuable tools for educational purposes, so, in most cases, school policies and programs are yet to be written.  Without these in place, many teachers are experimenting for themselves, depending on school flexibility and support.  Currently, the internet is a source of ideas for teachers, and websites and blogs by educators on this topic continue to grow in number and popularity.  One of these, Edudemic, has a recent article by Katie Lepi, entitled 40 Quick Ways to Use Mobile Phones In Classrooms (Edudemic, 2012) – it presents some fantastic ideas, which show the educational potential of the devices.  Her suggestions include scavenger hunts, video recording and sharing, taking photos of group notes / brainstorms / whiteboard notes, sending text reminders to students, utilising pre-existing educational apps, encouraging students to create their own apps, using Twitter to help develop their own personal learning networks, conducting quick and anonymous surveys, taking attendance, and creating QR codes for students to scan for quick access to specific documents or websites.  However, until widely accepted learning theories for mobile technology is developed, the development of pedagogy and effective teaching and learning programs relating to mobile devices is somewhat restricted (Shuler, 2009, p.6).

Recent changes in socio-cultural structures, as a result of this new technology, have meant that students no longer see schools as the sole definers of learning and knowledge (Cook et al., 2011, p.184).  Therefore, it is imperative that schools provide students with the appropriate skills to access and assess the immense amount of information at their fingertips, as well as help students to develop the skills to use mobile devices safely and appropriately.  Just as many schools already incorporate programs which inform students about appropriate and respectful use of the Internet and other technology, similar programs need to address use of mobile devices, particularly mobile phones, within the classroom, around the school, and in general; critical media literacy programs need to include ‘mobile literacy’ (Shuler, 2009, p.8).  With strong policies and guidance in place, most of the dangers that concern schools about mobile phones can be addressed and minimised, so students and teachers are able to benefit from their exciting, educational potential.


Cook, J., Pachler, N., & Bachmair, B. (2011). Unbiquitous mobility with mobile phones: A cultural ecology for mobile learning. E-Learning and Digital Media, 8(3), 181-195.

Lepi, K. (2012, October 13). 40 quick ways to use mobile phones in classrooms. Edudemic. Retrieved October 20, 2012, from

Shuler, C. (2009). Pockets of potential: Using mobile technologies to promote children’s learning. New York: The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop

Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. elearnspace. Retrieved from



Adventure and Comedy for Tween Boys

by Kelly

After having a chat with two brothers, aged 12 and 13, I discovered that the texts in which they were most engaged revolved around either adventure, comedy or a combination of both.  Interestingly, although interested in some science-fiction, such as Dr Who, as well as some fantasy, such as Harry Potter, both boys did not consider themselves fans of fantasy or science fiction, but classified both these texts as “adventure.”

Both boys enjoy watching Dr Who, but the 12 year old is a huge fan.  This started with the modern television series, but has now led to him seeking out and purchasing dvds of the earlier series, including the original black and white episodes.  He also now enjoys reading Dr Who novels, and interacts in many other ways, such as playing with figurines, collecting merchandise (eg t-shirts, pens, tea mug, tardis safe), and making his own Dr Who movies, thereby creating new texts which are based on existing texts.

The 12 year old boy’s favourite books are those in the Harry Potter series.  He has read them all twice, and has a collection of all the books and all the movies.  The 13 year old claims not to particularly like reading any fiction books, but is captivated by non-fiction print and audio-visual texts featuring disasters, freaky facts and true ghost stories. Ripley’s Belive It or Not” is one of his favourite books at the moment, and on television he is a big fan of William Shatner’s “Weird or What?”  I find it interesting that this boy performs to a very high standard academically, but rarely reads for pleasure, while the younger boy is an avid, thoughtful and intelligent reader, but performs at a lower standard in the school environment.  There goes the old spelling theory that the more you read, the better speller you become…

Both boys love comedy movies.  They easily make the distinction between straight comedy and parody (they used that word themselves) and enjoy analysing comedic elements in movies, without necessarily realising consciously that this is what they are doing.  This also applies to how they view old Dr Who episodes.  They can see how technology and special effects (even acting and directing) were much simpler and less advanced than today; they make comment on these, and often laugh while pointing them out, but still are able to switch to becoming involved and immersed in the storyline.  They are therefore interacting in quite a sophisticated way.

Like most kids in Australia today, computer games take up a large amount of their time and interest.  They both prefer adventure games that involve some kind of narrative, as well as challenges and fighting, and appreciate occasional humour embedded into the stories.  While they are happy to play video games alone, they both prefer to play with friends, enhancing the experience of the text by adding the social element.

Even when supposedly glued to a screen, we are social beings by nature, after all.  As evidenced by game-playing with friends, as well as creating movies to share with other fans, these two boys, as examples of today’s young readers and viewers, demonstrate their desire to be more than just passive recipients of texts.  They want to chat, play, create and interact.  This is not a new phenomenon, but with Web 2.0 technologies, educators need to embrace all the old and new methods by which students can share their passions for different texts.

Victims of Technology?

I recently attended an interview for a library job for a new library.  Whilst I didn’t get the job, the interviewers where impressed with my skills and wanted to offer me some feedback.  The most interesting comment they offered was that they thought I had over stated my computer skills.  They suggested while this was an important element of their school vision, more crucial was someone who was people orientated, a mediator, an effector communicator and team player.  While I had thought I had done well in referring to how I would integrate iPods, iPads, the LIFE program, the Overdrive eBooks network and how I would make the library design to meet the needs of the 21st Century learner it was interesting to note that the potential employer saw its value as only one tool in creating a dynamic and engaging library.  I know myself that the use of some tools in the classroom is only as good as the teacher facilitating the lesson.  In fact some days I spend more time fighting with the blocked sites, the fluctuating wireless network or the out of charge ipod that I am ready to throw it all in for good old pen and paper.  After losing my smart phone a week ago I realise how much emphasis we place on being always reachable and connected.  Need directions… check the phone, need to check the calories at lunch, check the phone, need to see the weather report to decide whether to put out the washing…check the phone, need to see the emailed alarm code to get into school…check the phone. No wonder my mind is spinning when trying to sleep at night.  Is it the modern disease?  My mother did a teaching subject at university some 30 years earlier titled leisure time.  The subject which was associated with modernization discussed the sociology of leisure time.  With the shift in technology, machinery and computers, society was looking at what they would do with all this leisure time.  Can anyone today honestly say that they have more leisure time thanks to technology?  I think the employer has a point in that we need to be critical when implementing technology and popular culture into our schools and that we remember to value real live people, with all there complexities, and we find balance in our live, we switch off our phones, and we encourage communication and discussion and look to the future with cautious enthusiasm.  Theresa Cumming

Wandin Valley with Fatso the Wombat

Even today as soon as I hear a few memorable bars of Mike Perjanik’s theme song I am taken back to that weekly hour sweat running down my back (pre air conditioning days) buffalo bill in hand pushing my brother from the vinyl chair to change the channel and to spend an hour with my friends from Wandon Valley.  The 1981 to 1994 series, A Country Practice followed a medical practice in the small fictional country town of Wandin Valley. The show’s stories focused on the staff of the practice and the hospital and their families, and through weekly guest characters – frequently patients served by the practice – various social and medical problems were explored. I suspect it appealed to a middle class demographic as it explored topical issues of the working class.  The show examined such issues such youth unemployment, suicide, drug addiction, HIV/AIDS and terminal illness, as well as Aborigines and their place in modern Australian society.  Set in the amongst beautiful idyllic green fields of a country hospital you almost came to believe that they were real people who you loved and were annoyed by on a day to day basis.  Strong characterization, cleverly scripted storylines and some highly believable acting made it one of the longest running series of its kind. The animals were as much citizens of Wandin Valley as the people were and just as lovable. Long before the days of the internet, television was the first screen connecting us to each other.  Relating to one another, sharing human stories and developing an Australian identity, A Country Practice was one of many early shows that allowed children of Generation X to explore the realities of our changing world. From Country Practice, to The Henderson Kids, to Hey Dad, 80’s television broke away from the idealistic families of Betwiched and Happy days to show a new realistic television for its viewers. This generation were part of a paradigm cultural and global shift. Generation X were the first “children of divorce,” had major shifts in musical genres and popular culture, the introduction of new technologies, and changes in economic infrastructure helped shape this generation.   It is with fond nostalgia that I look back to those times and remember its simplicity.  Theresa Cumming

Struggling to be Human

I recently read the Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead as it was popular in our Senior Fiction section of our primary library and I wanted to see why it appealed to the children.  It appears the current fixation on vampire culture has not abated. Perhaps it is the mythical symbology or the struggles with what is means to be human such as fear of death, immortality, forbidden sexuality, alienation, rebellion, violence, and a fascination with the mysterious. (Morehead, 2011).  Or perhaps it is merely the sense of escapism that a good book brings.

Just like the hugely popular Harry Potter series, Vampire Academy is set in a boarding school. But the comparison stops there. By contrast, St Vladimir’s Academy learning about magic is secondary to wild parties more like that of an older teen co-ed boarding school. It certainly is an engrossing reading.  Mead has written six books in the series and each was enticing as the last.  Yes I read more than one. With relevant teen issues and intricately detailed fantasy each story is a mesmerising mystery.  I now realise there are many steamy scenes and I will certainly reconsider who I allow to borrow this material.

Our role as teachers and librarians is to give students the freedom to develop their own identity within the safe and supportive school environment.  Texts such as Vampire Academy help students understand themselves better and allow them the autonomy to try various identities.  Kirkland & Jackson, 2009 (Hall, 2011) state “Their experiences with pop culture texts also support their development as literate individuals, help them better understand themselves, and give them the freedom to try on and enact various identities”.  I will be waiting in eager anticipation for the big screen movie which is presently in production with baited breath.

Hall, L. (2011). How popular culture texts inform and shape students’ discussions of social studies texts. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 55(4), 296-305.

Morehead, J. (May 2011) Twilight Movie Review Western Institute for Intercultural Studies. Retrieved from (11/10/12) .

Theresa Cumming