What are the “new literacies”?

Monday, November 8th, 2010 | education

Literacy refers to a person’s ability to read and write.  The quality of being literate separates the educated from the uneducated.  Those who can’t read and write are illiterate – uneducated.

Those who can read and write are literate – but are so on different levels.  How well you can read and write – and how much of it you’ve done – determines how literate you are.  At the top of the pile are those who produce literary masterpieces such as Charles Dickens, Salman Rushdie and Kathy Lette.

In the minds of most people, literacy implies two things: reading and writing – both are about words on paper.  This type of literacy is the pre-occupation of schools.  Much time is spent on developing handwriting, learning to spell, studying the rules of grammar, and developing the ability to read with comprehension.

With the advent of information and communication technology (ICT), a literate person needs more than the ability to read and write.  You now also have to understand cryptic SMS communications, embellished with emoticons.  You must be able to respond clearly, succinctly and immediately.  News comes to you in different ways – internet news bulletins, blogs and Twitter feeds – and much of it is in picture or video format.

The new ways in which we now receive and respond to information demand new literacies – abilities beyond reading and writing.  In the past learners came to school with a pencil and a writing book in their satchels – these were their literacy tools.  Today learners come to school with cell phones and other digital devices in their backpacks.  Clearly, our definition of literacy must accommodate these changes.

New literacies take many forms, and different names have been given.  Three important ones are:

As technology continues its rapid progress, more of these literacies will appear.  In the mean time, where does all of this leave the teacher?

If you were educated during a time when literacy was measured against the ability to read and write, you have some catching up do to before you can successfully introduce your learners to new literacies.

For more technology tips for teachers click here.

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8 Comments to What are the “new literacies”?

Kathy
Monday, 8 November, 2010

Charles Dickens and Kathy Lette in the same sentence… Ha ha… that’s funny. Do you have any of her books I could borrow? (Do men really read her books?)

chas
Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

Wikipedia says: “Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image.
Visual literacy is based on the idea that pictures can be “read” and that meaning can be communicated through a process of reading.|
How valuable ICT is to stimulate this type of literacy. Yes to be computer [Digital] literate allows learners to reach out for all the resources available on WWW as well as the many images to develop Visual Literacy.
Do not catch up, just keep up.

Charles
Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

The implications for learners being taught by educators who are illiterate are dire irrespective of the literacy involved …

John Thole
Tuesday, 9 November, 2010

Certainly the teacher in the 21st Century is required to adapt or die! The 8 habits of Highly Effective teachers in the 21st Century as described by Andrew Churches outlines in some detail the ways in which technologies, and the literacies developed as a result of the possibilities offered by these technologies, need to be modelled by the teacher. At the heart of these literacies it becomes evident very quickly that any very good teacher will easily adapt to embrace the evolving needs of the young learner in today;s world. One of the largest challenges we face in South Africa is to find educators and ICT facilitators who can model and reflect these skills and behaviours.

Travis Noakes
Wednesday, 10 November, 2010

A big challenge for South African educators is that New Media Literacies (NML)*, which include the ones listed in your post, are poorly defined (if at all!) in DOE policies. As a result, few (if any) educators receive guidance for developing their own literacies and support with implementing related curricula from government.

Interested educators, like yourselves, should advocate for a forum that clarifies key NML literacies, their assessment criteria and how educators can benchmark these literacies in class. Hopefully, this could feed into government policy and result in appropriate definitions and benchmarks for learners in each subject (and, optimally, each grade).

Another important literacy concept is Information Communication Technology Literacy, which is clearly defined in a .pdf report linked from http://www.ets.org/research/policy_research_reports/ict-report.

At present, researching ICT literacy in the Visual Arts is a small part of my research project. Hence my interest… and this comment :) !

* http://newmedialiteracies.org

Leighton Forbes
Monday, 15 November, 2010

The assertion today that Information and communication technologies are transforming the way we read, write, engage, find, use and interact with information and participate in public life is fairly conclusive. Shopping online, staying safe on the web, protecting one’s identity, filling in the fields when registering for an online or offline course, all involve these new literacies.

When talking about the new literacies I like to think of the importance of analyzing new technologies in the field of literacy studies. New literacies start when viewing the social practices of people, and particularly those practices around the use of ‘texts’ for a variety of purposes. Literacy as a component of social practices becomes important one sees what happens to students or teachers as they engage in events or practices that involving broader views of thinking not just about reading and writing, but also about the stuff that happens when we mediate texts, for example visual texts, printed texts or multimodal texts.
Understanding new literacies is not straightforward in that they are immersed in complex images, gestures visuals and other modes which could represent a number of things. These could range from, coding a computer game using maths equations, completing an installation online, developing applications for mobile phones etc. There is wide scope today viewing the new literacies today as creative and productive tools for meaning making. I think we have only begun to tap into what this means for our students as they continue their schooling and follow through with this into higher education.

With digital technologies emerging more and more in our daily lives and appearing with greater frequency in the hands of school students, the field of new literacy studies is becoming increasingly critical to our understanding of what it means to be an innovative educator or administrator in the 21st Century.

[...] Does blogging benefit learners?  Think about the following possibilities: The most obvious advantage of blogging is the improvement of literacy competencies of the participating learner.  Writing skills are practised and reading becomes a pleasure.  Since learners will want to post pictures and even video clips on their blogs, they will also develop new literacy skills. [...]

What is visual literacy? | Kobus van Wyk
Thursday, 9 December, 2010

[...] literacy is one of the new literacies required for successful operation in the twenty-first century – it refers to the ability to [...]

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