Date of Award

Winter 2009

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Thomas H Schram


This dissertation explores how adolescents are interacting with text across shifting social spaces, and how they learn to be literate across a range of social, academic, print, and digital contexts. The intent of the study is to help articulate the boundedness and fluidity of multiple discourses, and to better clarify how teens maneuver across these boundaries successfully. My research approach incorporates ethnographic methodology with a framework of critical sociocultural theory, drawing heavily upon Gee's (2005) work in discourse analysis.

New technologies have broken down bounded spaces and dichotomous views of what it means to be literate, creating interrelationships among literacies and modalities (Kress, 2003). They have complicated notions of adolescent literacy, shifting definitions away from static and print-centric views toward a contextualized framing of multiple literacies, using the tools and texts within situated contexts (Kress, 2000a, 2003; Luke 2000; Maybin, 2000). This study examines the embeddedness of these tools and texts in the literacy experiences of today's Digital Natives (Prensky 2001a, 2001b).

Because this study asks about lived experiences of participants, I chose an ethnographic approach (Agar, 2006a, 2006b; Schram, 2006; Silverman, 2007), relying on observations and interviews of student and teacher participants. My conceptual framework lies within critical sociocultural theory (Keller, 1995; Lewis, Enciso, and Moje, 2007; Moje and Lewis, 2007), with a consideration of the role of agency within dynamics of power. This work also deconstructs notions of literacy, discourse, context and text, and discusses the complications of these terms brought about by new Web 2.0 media.

Major findings include the following: (1) Although teens are entrenched in a range of interactions with social digital text, they appreciate the value of academic literacies, and of teachers as conveyors of this knowledge. (2) While schools set rules that define appropriate behaviors with social digital networks, students and teachers frequently negotiate the boundaries through relationships founded on trust. (3) Teens are able to articulate and understand the boundedness of multiple discourse systems.

This work explores pedagogical implications and delves into the complex issue of shifting power dynamics occurring in schools today.