In "What immigrant students can teach us about new media literacy: understanding how immigrant students use digital media outside of school could help develop digitally connected forms of pedagogy in schools" Lam (2012) explains that in the United States, "relatively little educational research and innovation in new media literacy has dealt with the cultural practices of young people who come from immigrant families." Lam's research shows that a significant number of adolescents with immigrant backgrounds are using social media to develop language, literacy, and social skills through interactions with people and information sources from diverse communities that differ from their own. Lam refers to these as "transnational digital practices" and argues that if schools leverage these practices to promote new media literacy they will service students well.
Research has shown that adolescents can use digital media in innovative and productive ways that promote learning as they seek out interests and develop friendships online (Ito et al., 2010). For example, adolescents use social media to maintain and further develop relationships with peers that they interact with in their lives offline. In terms of interest-driven practices, adolescents engage in online gaming, music, fan fiction, and fan art through interactions in online spaces with peers that share their passion and can offer support guidance. According to Lam (2012), "this re-search has led some scholars to advocate "connected learning" (http://connectedlearning.tv/what-is-connected-learning) to harness different support structures across online and offline spaces and to do so across institutional boundaries to promote more robust and personalized learning." In other words, by leveraging the affordances of digital networks, adolescents are able to connect resources across school, home, and their community. Lam says that studies have shown that when connections are made between school learning and students' cultures, native languages, identities, and communities, gains in academic engagement and achievement can be observed (Gutierrez, Morales, & Martinez, 2009). For this reason, better understanding the role of digital media in immigrant students' learning experiences outside of the classroom may help educators begin to develop "connected forms of pedagogy" that are at the same time culturally responsive.
Lam's research team surveyed 262 students and interviewed 36 students at an ethnically diverse Midwestern high school. At the high school, over 50 different languages were spoken by students in their homes (Lam & Rosario-Ramos, 2009). The research focused on students ranging from those who emigrated to the U.S. in their early childhood to mid-adolescence. Of those students, 72% used the internet to communicate with people across countries (peers and family in the U.S.) and in the students' countries of origin. The study also found that 47% of students who came to the U.S. before the age of six indicated they were communicating online with people in their country of origin. Student interviews also revealed that these students conversed in multiple languages online as they interacted with peers and sought out information sources across geographical boundaries. It was also found that most students who participated in this study gathered news from U.S. websites as well as news websites from their native countries. Students were able to gather diverse perspectives because of the choices of information they encountered by navigating to news sources from various geographic locations.
Lam also closely studies seven youths' practices with digital media in their home and community settings. This research revealed understandings about how youth generate and draw on their online network for the purpose of learning. Consider the following understandings that were revealed this research:
Lam argues that "understanding how these young people access resources could lead us to reconsider how our educational practices could enhance their language and literacy development." The research shows that students are using multilingualism productively through digital media practices online such as developing and maintaining peer relationships and seeking out information sources across geographical boundaries. More research to help us better understand these digital practices is needed. In particular, Lam argues, "how much they participate in cross-border digital practices and how different social and demographic variables affect levels and types of engagement."
Lam, W. S. E. (2012, December). What immigrant students can teach us about new media literacy: understanding how immigrant students use digital media outside of school could help develop digitally connected forms of pedagogy in schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 94(4), 62+.