Packaging Literacy, New Technologies and `Enhanced' Learning

Article excerpt

Literacy educators need to pay attention to shifts in the perceived relationship between literacy education, the use of new technologies and learning, as exemplified in national and state P-12 policy documents. At the national level, policy statements have reverted to emphasis on basic literacy, with minimal acknowledgement of the cultural significance of emerging digital literacies. By contrast, at the state level, the emphasis is on `technologising' the curriculum and literacy education, with the promise that technology will `enhance' learning. At both levels, literacy has become `commodified': an autonomous product to be packaged and consumed. However, if schools are to prepare students for a rapidly changing world, in which technology-mediated literacy practices are integral, then more is needed than reductive notions of literacy and market-driven `technologisation' of the curriculum, accompanied by evidence-free promises of better learning. The conclusion considers the possibilities for critical digital literacy education.

Introduction

Substantial efforts have been made to investigate and theorise the intersection between critical literacy practices and new technologies (Lankshear et al., 1997; Lankshear & Snyder, in press; Snyder, 1996, 1997c). Although such research is complicated by the contested nature of literacy (New London Group, 1996; Street, 1997), recent work contributes to our growing understanding of the significance of both literacy and information technology in learning and schooling, the interconnected relationship between them, the changing nature of literacy itself in increasingly technologised conditions, and the new and emerging pedagogical and curriculum practices (Bruce, 1997; Peters & Lankshear, 1996; Snyder, 1997c).

Yet despite significant theoretical advances in the area of literacy and technology studies, governmental policies on literacy, learning and technology often fail to reflect these insights and understandings. Sometimes it is difficult to discern the educational value of the policy directions that have been chosen. Also striking is the extent to which certain policies, at both state and federal levels, appear to be influenced by market considerations. Literacy--both print-based and digital--has become commodified: an autonomous product to be packaged and consumed.

This article examines these policy trends, which have important implications for educational and curriculum practice. At the national level, the current emphasis is on `foundational literacy' (Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (DEETYA), 1998), the most recent incarnation of the `back-to-basics' movement. Of significance in the context of this article, the National Literacy Plan (DEETYA, 1998) makes almost no reference to the cultural and educational significance of emerging digital literacy practices, defined here as literacy practices mediated by the use of new communication and information technologies. By contrast, at the state level, there is a growing emphasis on `technologising' the curriculum in general and literacy practices in particular. Increasingly, public documents acknowledge students' need to read, write and communicate in electronic environments for lifelong learning. Also evident at the state level is an overt market orientation to the process of technologising education. The growing commercialisation of schooling (Robertson, 1998) is exemplified in the deals that are being made with computer companies to provide products and facilities at bargain rates, and also in the very appearance of the glossy documents that embody policy initiatives (Lankshear & Snyder, in press; Symes, 1998). Further, directly associated with the project to technologise education are increasing inequities, typical of a market environment. These inequalities are exemplified by the widening gulf between technologically endowed and technologically disadvantaged schools. …