Staff Directory

Dr Karen McLean Name: Dr Karen McLean
Senior Lecturer (Education / Curriculum)
+613 5336 5420
Organisational Area
Faculty of Education and Arts
Institute for Learning Sciences &Teacher Education
Building 461 - 232 Victoria Parade (232 Victoria Parade, East Melbourne VIC 3002)-Level 1-Room 461.1.18
Biographical Information

Dr Karen McLean is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education and Arts at Australian Catholic University and a member of the Learning Sciences Institute Australia, Early Childhood Futures Research Program. Karen's research interests are focussed on literacy and technology in the early years of education, including pedagogical approaches, play based learning and digital technologies.  She has a particular interest in holistic approaches to literacy education and reflective practice in teacher education. Karen’s PhD research explored the symbiotic relationship between literacy and technology in the early years of education. Karen received a university award for her PhD in 2012. Karen's current research projects involve examining supported playgroups in schools and the use of technologies for literacy learning in early years contexts. A further research study that Karen is involved in is focussed on play based learning environments and explores pedagogical approaches to science and literacy in prior to school settings.

Karen taught in primary schools for over 15 years before entering tertiary education. During her primary teaching career Karen was a Reading Recovery trained teacher and literacy specialist. Karen has been involved in preparing undergraduate and postgraduate documentation for early childhood courses and has been the Victorian Course Coordinator of the Bachelor of Education Early Childhood and Primary Course at ACU. Karen is well known for her work with The Smith Family in regional Victoria through the development and implementation of storytelling programs designed to engage children in literacy through play, creativity and digital technologies. In 2012 Karen received a citation award for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning. This award was for building community partnerships that provide inspiring contexts for highly successful learning and teaching of primary school literacy education. Karen also is part of the leadership group involved in the Connecting Schools and Communities through Supported Playgroups Project which received a Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Highly Commended Early Years Award (2012), a Recognition and Appreciation Award from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Grampians Region (2012) and the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Community Engagement (2013).


Please see my ORCID entry.


Areas of Research

Literacy and Technologies, Pedagogical Approaches to Literacy Education, Digtal Technologies in the Early Years, Personalising Learning in Teacher Education, Play-based Approaches to Lteracy Education, Early Years Literacy Education

Research Grants

2013 Principal Investigator (with  Dr. A. Scott & Dr. M. Jones).e-Learning Facilitation: fostering communities of pedagogical practice at ACU (eLF-CPP).

2013 Principal Investigator (with Ass. Prof. S.Edwards). Supported playgroups in schools: stakeholder perspectives on belonging, home learning and young children’s play.

2012 Principal Investigator (with Ass. Prof. S. Edwards). Connecting Schools and Communities through Supported Playgroups.

2008 Co-Principal Investigator (with Dr. M. de Souza). An Investigation of the impact of the project: An Act of Kindness on school communities – A pilot study. Industry Research Incentive Scheme (IRIS).                                       

2006-7 Co-Principal Investigator (with Ass. Prof. S. McNamara & M. Jones) in the Partnerships in ICT Learning National Project, funded by the Australian Government Department of Education Science and Training under the Quality Teacher Program   .


PhD Thesis: A story of early years educators’ experiences of technology and literacy in early years learning environments.

This study sought to explore the relationship between literacy and technology in the early years of education. The purpose of the study was to gain insight into the nexus between literacy centred practice and technology in the practice of early years educators.  The study was framed by the question, “What are early years educators’ experiences of the relationship between technology and literacy in early years learning environments?” In particular the study focused on the knowledge, understanding and pedagogical practice of educators and those involved in shaping the learning experiences of children in early learning environments.

Informed by relevant literature, the researcher established a theoretical framework for the study by positioning it within contemporary understandings of pedagogical approaches to technology and literacy. The study embraced both a pre-school (Kindergarten) early learning environment and that of the first year of primary education (Preparatory). The focus research question raised issues relating to teacher mediation of technology in the literacy learning environment. Insights were sought initially through an investigation of the beliefs, understandings and assumptions about technology and literacy which early years educators bring with them to the learning environment. Secondly the study explored their understandings of the relationship between technology and literacy through an action-reflection model which focused on their practices and applications of technology to literacy learning in the early learning environment.

The study adopted a narrative methodology. Using an action-reflection cycle research design, the researcher was a participant observer in the learning spaces, walking beside the educators and observing and interviewing regularly over an extended period of time. The relationship between inquirer and participants was integral to capturing the rich complexity of the human experience. Case study captured the happenings within the changing life space of the learning environments. During the six month time frame of data collection the lived experiences of participants were documented using a range of qualitative methods including interviews, learning story journals, work samples, photographs and a researcher journal.

The exploration aimed at providing rich information about these educators as mediators of technology in literacy programs. Educator beliefs, understandings and assumptions about technology and literacy practices were identified in the literature influencing pedagogical practice. It was therefore important to determine the views of early years educator’s in relation to these areas, and to consider how these understandings impart the early years learning environment. A further important aspect for consideration was the different ways in which early years educators interweave technology into the literacy program and, in turn, provide children with access to learning with, about and through technology.

The study findings indicated that whilst the early years educators worked in different learning environments, they commenced the study with similar levels of competence. Both used technology in prescriptive ways. Whilst each had a different view of literacy, they both concluded the data collection period with similar views of technology and literacy, and were using technology in holistic ways. These findings suggest that the action-reflection model may have contributed to growth in understanding of the relationship between technology and literacy and to the change in use of technology. The pedagogy of each educator was similar. They began by finding out as much as they could about the children’s interests and needs and sought to arouse children’s interest and curiosity. They then used this knowledge to immerse the children in information rich environments, providing access to flexible and customisable technology so the technology came to the learning rather than the learning to the technology.

The early years learning environment thus became a community of learners: where children and teachers were learning with technology together and supported each other’s learning between, across and within. Expectations for using technology in the literacy context were infused in classroom practice so that the children’s work with technology was reflected in their literacy development. Further, the findings suggest that in the early years learning environment it was important for the educators to provide time for children’s exploration of one form of technology, in different ways, over an extended period of time, in order to foster deep literacy learning.

The study re-contextualised Cambourne’s (1995) conditions of learning in relation to the findings and a number of enhancements were suggested. A key recommendation from the study is that early years educators consider this re-contextualised model of Cambourne’s (1995) conditions of learning for the application of technology to the literacy context.

The study makes significant contributions to the academy’s increasing learning about educators’ understanding of the developing relationship between technology and literacy in early years learning. It also illustrates the strength of a narrative or story based qualitative research approach in contextualizing the dynamics of cultural and social influences of technology and literacy development and in providing insights into pedagogical approaches to technology and literacy in the early years.

Thesis was awarded  Summa Cum Laude for PhD thesis: A story of early years educators’ experiences of technology and literacy in early years learning environments.

Thesis was recipient of 2012 Australian Catholic University (ACU) prize for the most outstanding doctoral thesis: A story of early years educators’ experiences of technology and literacy in early years learning environments.



Teaching Experience
Australian Catholic University

Lecturer for

EDLA204 Literacy Education 1

EDLA309 Literacy Education 2

EDLA101 English Education 1

EDLA102 English Education 2

EDLA 203 Literacy in the Early Years

EDLA108 Children’s Literature for Literacy

EDLA107 Linguistics for Literacy

EDFD127 Contexts for Learning and Development

EDFD133 Understanding Learning

EDST102 Computers in Education

EDLA430 Cross curricular uses of Children’s Literature

EDLA659 Langugae and Multiple Literacies (including ICT and Numeracy) as Communication in the early Years (Birth to Five)

EDLA660 Literacy and Language (Including ICT) in the Early Years of Schooling


Professional Memberships

Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA)

Early Childhood Australia (ECA)

Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA)

Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT)


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