by Claire Miller
Some students in high school language arts classes today are ready to close their books and leave discussions of literary characters and plot devices behind as soon as the bell rings.
When Ewa McGrail was in high school, it was quite the opposite – she thought her literature classes ended too quickly and she continued to contemplate a character's issues long after the class had moved on to the next book.
"On one occasion, my teacher asked, 'Why don't you become a literature teacher? Then you would be able to read and discuss books all your life.' So I listened to this advice and became an English teacher," said McGrail, who earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees at Jagiellonian University in Poland.
She spent several years as an English instructor in the Department of Applied Psychology and Linguistics at her alma mater before coming to the U.S. to earn her doctorate in English education in the Reading and Language Arts Center at Syracuse University.
In 2003, McGrail accepted a job in the College of Education's Department of Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology (MSIT). She saw Georgia State University as a place that welcomed students, faculty and staff from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds – an important characteristic for a faculty member living and working thousands of miles away from her native Poland.
"As a foreign-born person myself, I wanted to join an institution that appreciated and gave voice to a more diverse faculty and student body," McGrail said. "At Georgia State, the faculty hails from many different countries, continents and cultures."
Her research examines the connections between literacy and technology, and her decision to come to the COE was influenced by MSIT's ability to connect middle and secondary educators and researchers with instructional technology faculty members.
More specifically, McGrail has published articles on technology in the classroom and teacher education, media literacy and copyright, and was recently awarded the Journal of Research in Childhood Education's (JRCE) Distinguished Education Research Article Award for 2011 for a collaborative research project studying how fifth grade students use blogs to discuss literature.
"I am finalizing data analysis from a collaborative inquiry with Anne Davis, an instructional technology pioneer in the use of blogs for educational purposes, that explores what happens when fifth graders blog and converse about literacies in class and beyond," she explained. "As part of this project, participants in my college courses offered encouragement and support to enhance elementary student bloggers' ideas and writing skills."
In addition, McGrail is a part of Georgia State's Urban Internet Conversations in Literacy, Arts, and Digital Media study (uiCLAD), a group of literacy scholars studying the role of technology in teaching literacy in urban settings. She enjoys her role in this and other collaborative projects that allow her access to different voices and perspectives in higher education and her colleagues' dedication to improving student learning.
"We're just starting to get a grasp of exactly what in technology truly serves kids, and what is a distraction for them," she said. "I hope to continue to produce work that will shed light on this, and to keep my eyes open and share what I observe to be the best in how young people learn and how educators can support them in this process."
For more information about the Department of Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology, visit http://msit.gsu.edu/index.htm.