Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Education

Research Student: Stefan Vollmer

Photo of Stefan Vollmer

Exploring the digital literacy practices of newly arrived migrant language and literacy learners

Submission Date: October 2018

There is a growing body of literature that takes an interest in the effectiveness and the overall role of ICTs (information and communications technology) in language and literacy education. Yet, the foci of these studies are often on toddlers, children, and adolescents or on FE and university students within a formal, institutionalized classroom setting. Moreover, these studies are mostly concerned with how technologies affect first language and literacy acquisition. Although there is some literature that is concerned with adult language learners' involvement with ICTs outside the formal classroom setting, I argue that the L2 digital literacy practices of adult migrants, particularly of those who did not undergo formal schooling here in Great Britain, or elsewhere, are underrepresented in current language education literature.

Therefore, my research has its focal point on the digital literacy practices of newly arrived adult migrant language and literacy learners. Here, I am particularly interested in the digital literacy practices displayed on smartphones; with devices becoming more and more affordable and global Internet infrastructure continuously expanding, smartphones have never been more accessible and ready to use. Novice language and literacy learners are extremely diverse and use their devices in numerous contexts to complete different tasks. I am interested in the various apps and other online resources my participants exploit, to convey meaning, but also navigate, to improve and practice English literacy. My research follows a qualitative and ethnographic approach; I argue that an in-depth engagement with research participants is necessary to understand, situate, and contextualize displayed (digital) literacy practices. Further, my research aims to explore, how different multimodal modes of communication are being used to convey meaning.


I have a background in Language Education and Applied Linguistics. I have taught on primary, secondary and tertiary level in Germany (Stuttgart), the UK (Leeds) and the US (Charlotte, NC). Prior to my PhD studies here at the University of Leeds, I have worked as a secondary school teacher in Stuttgart, teaching EFL, History, and Social Sciences.

In 2012, I graduated with a secondary school teaching diploma (1.Staatsexamen) from the PH Ludwigsburg back in Germany. During my studies in Ludwigsburg, I received a stipend from the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung, enabling me to study abroad at SFSU (San Francisco State University). After returning from my year abroad in 2010, I was given another amazing opportunity to return to the US, this time, to work at an international immersion school in Charlotte, NC for six months. After I graduated from the PH Ludwigsburg, I moved to York in 2013. A year later, I graduated from York St. John University with an M.A. in Applied Linguistics / TESOL. Then, in 2015, I completed my teacher training and received my 2.Staatsexamen from the Seminar Ludwigsburg.  

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

I had a wonderful time being an undergraduate and postgraduate student. One of the things I always loved about being a FT student was that I had almost unlimited access to all these resources (time, learning materials, technology, expertise and help from staff), which allowed me to investigate and work on a topic in great depth. During my studies in York, I first got interested in Adult Education, ESOL teaching, and literacy learning. Here, my lecturers at York St. John played a vital part, as they encouraged me to apply for PhD funding. After all, the idea of having three years to work on a topic of my own choosing was really appealing to me. Hence, after spending several months developing my ideas, I submitted my initial proposal in 2014.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

This can be answered with one word: Impact. I genuinely believe that the research I conduct, the data I collect, and the results I publish, matter; my findings will inform fellow academics, language teachers, and ESOL practitioners, but will also be of interest to policymakers, NGOs, and other organizations that are involved with language provision for adult learners. Last, through my research, I aim to empower these often marginalized and underrepresented language learners. 

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

I honestly haven’t made up my mind yet; working in academia certainly has its appeals. Then again, I have had a fantastic time teaching secondary school students back in Germany. For now, I am concentrating on my work here in Leeds.    

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