New Online Technologies for New Literacy Instruction

By McPherson, Keith | Teacher Librarian, February 2007 | Go to article overview

New Online Technologies for New Literacy Instruction


McPherson, Keith, Teacher Librarian


One of the greatest challenges associated with developing students' literacy capabilities is keeping up to date with today's ever-changing Internet communication technologies. For instance, while many of us were busy helping our students to master e-mail and web site construction, diverse telecommunication software like MSN chat (www.messenger .msn.com) and Skype (www.skype.com/) was being introduced and eagerly embraced by large numbers of students around the globe (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2006).

SHOULD WE KEEP STUDENTS CURRENT?

Such change begs the question, Should we try to keep our students up to date with these changes in literacy technologies, and, if so, how? This question has been the focus of a great deal of literacy research, theory, and debate exploring the impact of communication technologies on self and society (e.g., Anstey & Bull, 2006; Forum Barcelona, 2004; Kamil, Intrator, & Kim, 2000; Leu, 2000; New London Group, 1996). Tapscott (1998), Doiron and Asselin (2004), and McPherson (2005) suggest (a) that educators expand their notion of literacy to embrace evolving communication forms that include--but move beyond--just reading and writing and (b) that educators assist their students to develop critical literacy capabilities across a wide set of real-life communication contexts and technologies. They also warn that if we do not, we risk leaving our children at the mercy of less scrupulous players (e.g., advertisers, corporations) using the Internet to communicate their own agenda.

FREE LITERACY WEB SITES

This column introduces five free and relatively new online literacy sites that teacher-librarians can use to assist teachers to further develop their school's literacy objectives.

GLIFFY

Gliffy (gliffy.com) is a free online drag-and-drop diagram editor that allows K-12 users to quickly and easily create, edit, and share a variety of visuals (see Figure 1). I have seen students and teachers using Gliffy to create simple and complex maps, flow charts, tables, timelines, illustrations, graphs, and figures. Five strengths that Gliffy offers literacy educators are that it is intuitive, flexible, collaborative, easily exported, and cost- and time-efficient.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Intuitive. The program is so intuitive that my 8-year-old daughter was able to figure out how to use it in less than 5 minutes.

Flexible. K-12 students can graphically represent and communicate simple and complex concepts not easily expressed through words. Gliffy is not tied to any content, so it can be integrated across subjects and is particularly useful for visually representing information associations, sequences, comparisons, and brainstorming.

Collaborative. Teacher-librarians and students can collaboratively create and edit their Gliffy image (or images). This is particularly useful when creating images in which no one user is the information expert and the information is constructed and represented collaboratively. Gliffy also keeps a history of the changes so that authors can go back to resurrect deleted or radically changed segments of their diagram.

Easily exported. Gliffy images can be exported into several common graphics formats recognized by most word-processing and graphics programs. Gliffy also allows users to publish directly to online literacy environments, such as blogs, wikis, and web pages.

Cost- and time-efficient. Like all the online literacy tools being reviewed in this column, Gliffy is free. Similarly, all upgrades are free and instantaneous--no waiting for CD-ROM or Internet upgrades to install. Gliffy also automatically saves your work every 30 seconds, so if your laptop crashes, you still have a copy on the Gliffy server.

Gliffy, however, will by no means replace a graphics editing program, because it does not yet allow for the importing of desktop graphics; it is limited in its editing capabilities (e. …

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