A National Study of Talking to Learn Across Digital and Face-to-Face Contexts in K-12 Classrooms
Jennifer Higgs

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California

Primary Discipline

Research shows that discussion practices in classroom settings can support student learning (e.g., Freedman & Delp, 2007; Nystrand, 1997). With the increasing popularity of information and communication technologies in K-12 spaces, classroom discussion has expanded into digital settings, but the relation between learning and digital talk—what I refer to as the interactive written communication that occurs in networked online spaces—is less clear. The present study provides the first scholarly examination of digital talk as a learning resource in K-12 classrooms nationwide. Drawing on sociocultural learning theories and social science perspectives on information technology, it uses mixed methods to examine classroom uses of Subtext, a popular e-reader that supports discussion “inside” e-texts, as a case to reveal issues related to digital talk. It aims to shed light on (a) discourse features of classroom digital talk, (b) the social and cultural contexts that mediate it, (c) online and offline practices that influence it, and (d) relationships between types of digital talk and types of learning. The study integrates multiple levels of analysis, including computational text analysis, survey data, and design-based research. Data include digital discussion archives from approximately 5,700 Subtext-using K-12 classrooms, surveys of 458 teacher-users, and systematically collected records from design experiments with two teachers who worked with me to design and implement instructional practices aimed at encouraging authentic student talk across face-to-face and digital learning contexts. Preliminary analyses of the design research offer a suggestion of the ways that digital talk is shaped by the social contexts surrounding the talk.
About Jennifer Higgs
Jennifer Higgs is a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Education and the Berkeley Center for New Media at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research, which focuses on technology integration in the language arts classroom, adolescent literacies, and pre- and in-service teacher education, employs mixed methods and is informed and inspired by her experiences as a middle and high school English teacher in Virginia and Illinois public schools. She holds a B.A. in English from Cornell University, an M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University, and an M.S. in Education and Social Policy from Northwestern University.

Pin It on Pinterest