Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

New Learning Environments and the Multiliterate Individual: A Framework for Educators

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

New Learning Environments and the Multiliterate Individual: A Framework for Educators

Article excerpt


In the society of the twenty-first century we are moving beyond the information age into the knowledge society. This move has implications relevant to all countries and to all fields, especially education. No longer can one `know' everything but one must be skilled in acquiring, working with and generating information in a variety of forms using a range of media and technologies. An influential factor in this change has been the development and integration of new information and communications technologies into institutions, workplaces and communities. As a result, what it means to be literate, and what constitutes literacy, has changed and will continue to be modified to reflect societal changes.

Literacy can no longer be seen as just a set of cognitive abilities or skills based on an identifiable technology, for example, alphabetic script on paper. It needs to be recognised as a social activity embedded within larger social practices and changing technologies. Literacy exists in many forms according to different contexts, as readers engage with different types of texts, such as newspapers, novels, instructions on food packaging, television programs, advertisements, CD-ROM programs, email and Internet sites. In this sense to be literate in today's society means to have a command of a range of increasingly diverse and complex texts and technologies: that is, to be multiliterate (Downes & Zammit 2001, Cope & Kalantzis 2000). The essential skills of the multiliterate individual are locating, comprehending, using, critiquing and creating texts within personal, social, educational, historical, cultural and workplace contexts (Downes & Zammit 2001).

However, as Leu (in press, a) on behalf of the International Reading Association (IRA), has commented, it is schools and teachers that need to meet this challenge and prepare their students for the new literacies and learning environments. It is our responsibility to our students to assist them in becoming proficient users of the new literacies, particularly those involving information and communication technologies (ICT) (Leu, in press, a, p. 1).

Literacy in new learning environments

As technology is integrated into education, in particular the use of CD-ROMs, the Internet and email, students and their teachers have to handle an increasingly diverse and complex range of texts for teaching and learning. This diversity and complexity stems from:

* the `new' way of using various modes of representation, especially the visual

* the convergence of media

* the proliferation of hypertexts

* the blurring of genres (Kress 1997, Leu and Kinzer 2000)

* the blurring of the boundaries between single texts and collections of texts

* easy access to texts from different cultures, and

* easy access to unfiltered (1) texts of unknown or dubious authorship.

These new texts pose significant challenges to teachers and students, as they are not the same as traditional linear, paper-based texts (Slatin 1990, Burbules 1997). Learning literacy using these texts, and learning the literacy of these texts is more than just adapting `old' skills to a new environment, what Lankshear and Bigum refer to as `old wine in new bottles' (Lankshear & Bigum, in press, cited in Lankshear & Snyder 2000, p. 45). It requires the learning of new skills (Oliver & Oliver 1996, Lankshear & Snyder 2000, Leu & Kinzer 2000, Leu, in press, b, Sosnoski 1999).

Reading in an electronic environment is different to reading paper-based texts. In an electronic environment, reading relies on hypertext, or hot-linked words and navigation icons, which link two sections of a program or two pieces of information or two sites. Activating the link takes the reader to that screen. Accessing information and reading links and icons is extremely important but also problematic (Zammit 2000a, Burbules 1997). …

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