Online literacy and new literacy

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By Jeffery Ayer

Before I was introduced to wikis in April 2008, I never would have envisioned how much my teaching could use these new technologies.  More importantly, my students could not be more ready to take their education to a new level that I sincerely hope will better connect them to the world and prepare them to participate in a digital world.  The time is now, and while students have been hungry for this opportunity, the reinforcing research is thorough enough to justify using wikis,blogs, podcasts, Flickr, Moodle, and online writing technologies that I feel can significantly improve students’ writing, and perhaps more importantly, prepare them for digital citizenship.

This article is the 2nd in a series, based on action research I collected while studying for my M.Ed, explores the impact digital technology can have on how our students learn, and how we, as educators, can leverage that impact for the good of our students.

You can also read the rest of the series here at We Teach We Learn

1. Web 2.0: Pedagogical Evidence and Brain Research

3. Web 2.0 Technologies and Online Writing Tools (coming soon)

4. Online Security and Safety (coming soon)

Online literacy and new literacy

Another important line of literature focused on the importance of students both being exposed to concepts in and employing online literacy.  In their article, “Information Literacy 2.0:  Empowering Students Through Personal Engagement,” Brown and Bussert, who used the Web 2.0 technology Flickr in a learning community in Cairo, Egypt, point out that

“[c]ommon Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking tools are ‘intrinsically user-centered and can be leveraged by Information Literacy (IL) instructors for a creative, student-centered teaching and learning environment” (Brown, Bussert, 2007).

And while some resources argued that simply exposing students to these technologies does not improve their online literacy, this article opposes that position, stating that the

“. . .fundamental hypothesis underlying the use of social software to teach key information literacy concepts is that student learning will increase due to personal engagement, use of preferred learning styles, and application to daily life” (Brown, Bussert, 2007).

These resources go on to detail ways in which exposure is important, and also how they can more specifically be applied as powerful classroom tools.  But in this set, understanding how to use them is part of the education, according to authors like Luce-Kapler, who cites visual literacy using these mediums as yet another layer of important learning students get while utilizing new technologies.

Calling these new literacies “radical change,” which is also a portion of the author’s title, Luce-Kapler highlights three main forms of new literacies:

“(1) changing forms and formats such as new forms of graphics, new levels of synergy between text and pictures, nonlinear and nonsequential organizations and formats, and multiple layers of meaning and interactive formats;

(2) changing perspectives such as multiple points of view both visual and verbal and previously unheard voices, including youth; and

(3) changing boundaries such as dealing with previously forbidden or overlooked subjects and settings, new types of communities, characters portrayed in new and complex ways, and unresolved endings” (Luce-Kapler, 2007,  p. 215).

And although Jakes doesn’t come right out and say it, his assertion that using wikis and Web 2.0 writing technologies also “promote[s] a lifetime of participation and contribution,” leading to what some writers described as digital citizenship.  Students will be sharing ideas, debating, agreeing, asking questions, and leading discussions using these technologies, and through such collaborative efforts, they will also be challenging their own thinking while challenging the thinking of their peers as well.

Finally, it is one thing for students to know how to participate in social networking Web 2.0 technologies, and many are doing so rather comfortably, but do they really understand what they are doing?  Do they understand the potential that exists beyond the social web as they move toward this “digital citizenship” that undoubtedly stands before them?

J. Salpeter’s article “Make Students Info Literate” focuses on what the author calls education’s most clear goal for the next century:  “[H]ow to develop a new generation of knowledgeable digital citizens who can operate in the unregulated online world” (Salpeter, 2008, p. 25).  She also makes emphatic mention of the NTCE’s adoption of new literacy goals and correlating definitions – an obvious eye-opener to any educators (especially English instructors) who are failing to pay attention.  The authors I read seemed to predict the NCTE’s move, as Brown and Bussert already understood through their Flickr implementation back in 2004-05, defining information literacy as “the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information” (Brown, Bussert, 2007).

Jakes’s most profound statement in his article, “New Literacies:  Enrichment or Essential?” supports these claims, stating, “Our kids need to use the Web for learning in many ways, but we have to structure online learning so that it is true inquiry, supported by the requisite information literacy skills, so that students, when in need, have internalized a problem-solving approach to build answers to questions of importance.”  In K. Bolan, M. Canada, and R. Cullin’s article “Web, Library, and Teen Services 2.0,” the authors go so far as to argue that

“[g]aming is one of the newer services that libraries are implementing that embraces library 2.0 beliefs.  Contrary to what some may think, gaming is recognized as a literacy activity” (Bolan, Canada, Cullin, 2007, p. 42).

At this point, I can quickly see how information and online literacy is of great importance, and the NCTE obviously will be pushing all of us forward.  For me, when I have historically looked at Wisconsin and national standards, the technology pieces are often those that are given the least attention, mostly because I know that although important, they will not be addressed on the test.  But that is my motivation – not to teach to a test, but to prepare these students for digital citizenship.

One might argue that by not preparing them as such, they will be ill-equipped to fully function and contribute within our democracy, and further, with our international neighbors.  By employing Web 2.0 technologies, I will already be assisting them in becoming more digitally literate – helping them to decipher quality resources from those that are potentially fraudulent.  This always mattered to me, but now I will implement that concern by embedding that in my teaching.

In addition, as an English teacher who teaches a research paper and incorporates literary research with analysis papers, there are a number of opportunities for me to teach to these new literacies, and not to simply meet the “F” criteria in the Wisconsin State Standards.  As for environmental aspects, I suspect that with these technologies will come new responsibilities for students as they are not working in their own corner of the room any longer; because a number of their contributions will be accessible to all students in my classes, they may feel more inclined to take care with the work they do, and more naturally become more conscious of the quality and compassion behind what they contribute.  Jakes continually asked his title question:  “Enrichment or Essential?” (Jakes, 2006).  It will become my job to make online literacy essential, not simply an exercise in enrichment for my classes.

Bolan, K., M. Canada, and R. Cullin (2007). Web, library, and teen services 2.0 Young adult library services, 5 (2), 40-43

Brown, N.E. and K Bussert. (2007). Information literacy 2.0: empowering students through personal engagement. Eric Document Reproduction Service : ED 500-136

Jakes, D. (2006). New literacies: enrichment or essential? Paper presented at TechForum in San Diego, California

Luce-Kapler, R. (2007). Radical Change and Wikis: Teaching New Literacies Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51 (3), 214-223 DOI: 10.1598/JAAL.51.3.2

Salpeter, J. (2008). Make students info literate. Technology & Learning, 25-28