Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Multimodal Literacy: What Does It Mean for Classroom Practice?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Multimodal Literacy: What Does It Mean for Classroom Practice?

Article excerpt

Introduction

Within the context of two national initiatives, the Digital Education Revolution (Australian Government, DEEWR, 2008) and the development of a Draft Australian Curriculum for English (ACARA, 2009-2010), it is timely that the challenges and implications of digital communication technologies for literacy education be considered. Rapid changes in digital communication provide facilities for reading and writing to be combined with various and often quite complex aspects of images, music, sound, graphics, photography and film. At the same time, educational policy and national testing requirements are still principally focused on the reading and writing of print-based texts. If multiple literacies (Simpson & Walsh, in press) or multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000; Unsworth, 2001; Healy, 2008) are now essential proficiencies for communication in a contemporary world, the challenge for literacy educators is to consider to what extent digital technologies can be incorporated within classroom literacy programs without reducing the importance of the rich, imaginative and cultural knowledge that is derived from books.

As with all innovation, we are currently in a transition stage where educational policy and curriculum documents have not yet adapted to changes that have occurred with the range of digital media that are becoming embedded in people's lives. In several sections of the Draft National Curriculum for English, there is reference to the importance of students reading and producing multimodal and digital texts. However the document does not articulate clearly how these texts can be incorporated into teaching, learning and assessment. Nor does the Draft Curriculum take into account the contradiction between students working with multimodal and digital texts while being assessed through national tests that occur with print-based materials. It is essential that we become specific in the way we describe new processes of reading and writing that are occurring with digital communications technology; that we allow for appropriate changes in pedagogy; and that we develop relevant procedures for assessment.

This paper discusses the results of ongoing research, specifically focusing on a study conducted in nine primary classrooms (K-6) in Sydney during 2008. The aim of the research was to investigate the literacy strategies that students need for reading and writing with multimodal texts; and to identify the most appropriate pedagogy for combining print-based with digital technologies. The results of the study provide specific examples of how teachers and students can engage with digital communication. In each classroom teachers worked within teams to develop integrated programs across different curriculum areas, combining print and digital texts for students' engagement in reading, responding to, viewing, writing and producing texts. The analysis of the classroom data confirms that literacy needs to be redefined within current curriculum contexts.

Review of recent research

The increased accessibility and mobility of digital technology have rapidly changed the way we communicate and these changes intensify the need to clarify the relationship between literacy and technology. Currently we are able to communicate instantly with combinations of text, photographs or videos via mobile phone technology and with different types of computers and multimedia devices. Social changes have accompanied these technological developments and the new 'textual landscape' (Carrington, 2005). We are able to participate in twittering, wikis, blogs or in various social networking sites (e.g. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr); obtain instant information from the Web; or participate in a virtual environment through gaming or in a virtual world such as 'Second Life'. These communication environments are changing the way people present themselves and the way relationships are developed. The 'new' of the future is constantly replacing the 'new' of now. …

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