From Encyclopaedias to Search Engines: Technological Change and Its Impact on Literacy Learning

By Carroll, Jann | Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, June 2011 | Go to article overview

From Encyclopaedias to Search Engines: Technological Change and Its Impact on Literacy Learning


Carroll, Jann, Literacy Learning: The Middle Years


Introduction

There won't be schools in the future ... I think the computer will blow up the school ... The whole system is based on a set of structural concepts that are incompatible with the presence of the computer. (Seymour Papert, 1984 in Leu, 2000, p. 108)

This article will discuss the evolution of information for research and teaching purposes as a result of the change the Internet has brought to our literacy classrooms, depicted in the shift from encyclopaedias to search engines. Papert had one point of view, only 26 years ago. Gates, from his perspective as a driver of these changes said, No-one gets a vote on whether technology is going to change our lives' (Papert cited in Leu, 2000, p. 111). Indeed the change is swift and, as history demonstrates, in times of major technological transition our values, our understanding of work and our teaching practices are challenged and transformed.

The challenge to educators is to fundamentally reshape literacy instruction to prepare our students, the Millennium Generation, for the future (Howe & Strauss cited in Considine, 2009). The students we now teach are the first generation to have grown up immersed in technology, known as Digital Natives (Prensky, 2001), who are fluent in the language of ICT, adjust easily to changes and who use ICT in creative and innovative ways (Considine, 2009). For the most part, their teachers are known as Digital Immigrants who, as Prensky describes, always speak with an accent and struggle to learn and apply new ICT (2001). Many of these teachers have been colonised by dominant models of technology, but do not use them efficiently in their classrooms (Gee cited in Donnison, 2007, p. 9). However, many teachers of literacy want to create a literacy environment in which their digital natives' ways of knowing are valued.

Research has now moved beyond the question of whether the use of information and communication technologies (ICT's) should be incorporated into everyday practice. The question that has become more pertinent is how can ICT be used effectively in teaching literacy to enhance learning? (Bowman as cited in Stephen et al., 2008). Technology is playing an undeniably significant role in the lives of children, and this fact raises questions around how we can utilise the skills and strategies gained by students, particularly boys and gaming, at home, to build literacy skills in the classroom (Prensky, 2006).

Exploration of how computer literacies, known as the New Literacies (Coiro, 2003) can support students' traditional literacy development as they move from learning to read to reading to learn in the middle years of schooling is improving pedagogical knowledge. Flood, Lapp and Flood (1997) identified that computers and other forms of multi media facilitate the use of electronic texts, such as email, podcasting and wikis, and thus require new conceptions of literacy and literate behaviours (Leu & Kinzer, 2000; Labbo, 2006). Using the analogy of the transition from encyclopaedias to search engines this paper will chronicle some of the changes observed in an upper primary classroom.

New technologies are transforming current literacy practices and challenging what it means to be literate. Literacy instruction is being both intentionally and unintentionally adjusted to take advantage of the opportunities presented through mediums such as search engines. The new literacies will build upon the solid foundational skills of comprehension, writing, spelling, vocabulary development, phonemic awareness and phonics in order to prepare our students for the unimagined literacies of the future. Our goal remains that students need to be equipped to become critical thinkers, problem solvers, innovators, effective communicators and collaborators and self directed learners (ISTE, 2007).

What are the new literacies?

Gee (2004) comments that the types of New Literacies that students are involved with outside of schools provide 'processes of learning that are deeper and richer than the forms of learning to which they are exposed in schools' (p. …

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