New Literacies: Risks, Rewards, and Responsibilities

“To be literate tomorrow will be defined by even newer technologies that have yet to appear and even newer discourses and social practices that will be created to meet future needs. Thus, when we speak of new literacies we mean that literacy is not just new today; it becomes new every day of our lives” (Leu, 2012, p. 78)

New literacies are the “ways in which meaning-making practices are evolving under contemporary conditions that include, but are in no way limited to, technological changes associated with the rise and proliferation of digital electronics” (Knobel and Lankshear, 2014, p. 97). It involves examining how, through the use of digital technology, the learner of today can come to identify, understand, interpret, create and communicate knowledge in novel and often unconventional ways.  While the incorporation of new literacies allows the educator to meet students where they are at, to engage and enliven learning through the relevancy and interest of the learner, restructure the power dynamics of learning, and to extend learning beyond the classroom, the approach of the educator towards engaging with new literacies is often a daunting undertaking.  In her article, Hagood (2012) highlights the processes by which teachers were introduced to and implemented new literacies into their classrooms. Working with a group of 9 middle school teachers during bi-monthly meetings over the course of a year, the author (2012) provided them with a three phase process towards introducing new literacies. These phases included an introduction phase to learn about new literacies, an exploration phase of the skills and tools necessary for new literacies, and a design and implement phase. The output was an inquiry-based project incorporating new literacies the educators could use in their classes. Using the participants’ reflections on this process, Hagood (2012) outlined their takeaways towards the implementing new literacies so as to lessen push-back, increase interest for participation and overall increase teacher satisfaction with incorporating new literacies. These included starting small and learning to implement new literacies through pre-existing assignments,  test trying new literacies to facilitate learning when traditional avenues fail, and expecting to fail and retry as part of the process for developing their educator skills with new literacies. Hagood (2012) noted that while many of the participants recognized the fact that students were well ahead in their connectedness to digital technology, that this was not the motivator for their implementation of new literacies. Rather it was the fact that many of the participants felt invigorated by what they saw their students capable of producing, the increased engagement of their students, by their own personal growth, and by their renewed enjoyment of teaching through new literacies. In addition, the educators felt that they developed a collaborative network which not only pushed them to stay on task but also made them feel more invested in sharing what they had learned thereby reiterating the connectedness to context and people that comes with new literacy.

While this article lacks in any quantifiable data with regards to how implementing digital literacy impacted student and teach motivation and student success within these classes, the incorporation of the teacher’s voices in reflecting on what resulted carries great weight in thinking about how this introduction of new literacies must be transformed into workable practices for the educator. This was a single small group in a single school from a single training year and Hagood (2012) presents no follow-up or check-in to see how these teachers are fairing in their use of new literacies in the following years. Have they expanded their incorporation of new literacies beyond the one inquiry-based project and how did they do this? Or perhaps they limited themselves to the one project, change projects, or abandoned new literacies altogether? What obstacles came about over time which impacted how they developed their skills and their overall implementation of new literacies? These are questions this article doesn’t address but are of interest when thinking about how to aid educators in exploring and adopting new literacies. What did their students think of these new literacies

In thinking about research, the above questions bear greater examination.  It would be interesting to expand upon this towards examining the best processes for implementing new literacies by examining outcomes such as motivation, efficacy, self-directedness, and overall success for both student and teacher.

Hagood, M. C. (2012) Risks, Rewards, and Responsibilities of Using New Literacies in
Middle Grades. Voices from the Middle, Volume 19 Number 4, May 2012

Leu, D. J., & Forzani, E. (2012). New literacies in a Web 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, …∞ world. Research in the Schools, 19(1), 75-81

Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2014). Studying new literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 57(9), 1-5




Online learning as online participation

Hrastinski, S. (2009). A theory of online learning as online participation. Computers & Education, 52(1), 78–82

In this article, Hrastinski (2009) presents the argument that online participation is a critical and often undervalued aspect of online learning and that models which relegate it to solely a social aspect for learning are ignoring its larger contributions to how students connect to materials and each other in the online environment.  In support of his ideas, Hrastinski (2009) offers an overview of literature on online participation which highlights that online learning is “best accomplished when learners participate and collaborate” (p.  79) and this translates into better learning outcomes when measured by “perceived learning, grades, tests and quality of performances and assignments” (p. 79).  In order to evaluate online participation, Hrastinski (2009) presents a conceptualization of online participation as more than just counting how often a student participates in a conversation but rather reflects on the online participation as “a process of learning by taking part and maintaining relations with others. It is a complex process comprising doing, communicating, thinking, feeling and belonging which occurs both online and offline” (p. 80). Hrastinski (2009) in reflecting on the work of others, offers up a view that participation creates community which in turn supports collaboration and construction of knowledge-building communities which foster learning between each other and the group at large. This learning through participation requires physical tools for structuring this participation and the psychological tools to help the learner engage with the materials.  This suggests examining aspects of motivation to learn within the structure of designing materials directed towards participation. He presents this means we should be looking at participation through more than just counting how much someone talks or writes but developing activities which require engagement with others in variety of learning modes.

While the importance of participation being seen as a critical component of online learning and the idea of reflecting on ways in which students may reflect online participation through more than just discussion boards is a good thing to see. Hrastinski (2009) offers little in terms of concrete examples to demonstrate how he sees this theory of online participation playing out through these different learning modes. While he may not have included examples as a way of preventing a formulaic approach to considering online participation, the inclusion of either examples or greater descriptions with how he sees faculty being able to construct both the physical and psychological tools of online participation would have been helpful for those less familiar with these to visualize the increasing ways they can apporach structuring online engagement.

As I have a deep interest in examining ways in which community and culture are structured through online classes and the impacts this has on learning, I found this article both intersting and encouraging for research avenues. In particular the rethinking he proposes on how we see online participation being constructed is encouraging and I would like to see the ways in which faculty and students may seem this idea of “what is participation” similarly or differently and the connection these perceptions have on how they both approach online larning and how they evaluate online learning.



Rethinking Schools for the Future

Collins, A., & R. Halverson (2009). Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and the Schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2009.

In this promotional article for their book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and the Schools (2009), Collins and Halverson outline their argument for why education is changing in light of the pervasive influence of technology and how increasing incompatibility between schools and the use of technology will necessitate a change to how society perceives of education and the role of schools in the learning process.  Through an examination of how the Industrial Revolution shifted educational structures, the authors explain how the Digital Revolution offers another significant shifting point in the educational landscape.  By positioning education as a life learning opportunity that is no longer restricted to the classroom, Collins and Halverson (2009) outline how “schooling era”  learning is structured antithetic and somewhat at a disadvantage to the opportunities provided through technology-driven learning, leading them to ask “whether our current schools will be able to adapt and incorporate the new power of technology-driven learning for the next generation of public schooling” (p 2).  To not do so, they reflect could have the potential to exacerbate unequal access based on socio-economic status; with the wealthy investing in new technology-based educational models while those who cannot rely on learning  systems incompatible with our future society’s. Reflecting on the rise of aspects such as home-schooling, workplace training, distance education, adult education, learning centers, educational media, and computer-based learning systems, the authors present the case that the new system has already begun to form but lacks a cohesive vision for bringing it all together.

Written as a precursor to the book of the same title and for general consumption, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and the Schools (2009) was not meant to lay out the complete pedagogical foundations of their ideas but is designed to whet the reader’s appetite for the forthcoming book. Despite this purpose, the article offers a clear outline of Collins and Halverson’s ideas for why schooling should change in the face of the rise of technology-driven learning and manages to be very thought-provoking. Far from ideally optimistic, the authors do offer up a list – albeit a short one – of the potential issues and gains such a shift could present to the educational landscape. These concerns, while shallowly addressed in this article, indicate the authors come facing the changing landscape of education with less-then-rose-colored glasses. By recognizing the societal foundations which underlie the educational systems of today as well as the connections of education in other facets of our culture, the authors offer a reflection that any shift will have large reaching consequences.  As a promotionally structured article,  it is rather sparse in supporting data or citations to address what directly falls under their moniker of “technology-driven learning” and if they consider it all equally effective in building the knowledge they outline for tomorrow’s world. It also lack specifics on their ideas for on how to build this cohesive vision of tomorrow’s educational system. However such shortcomings are expected given this article’s purpose and length, and are expected to be addressed in the full book.

Despite being only a “teaser” to the main book, this future thinking article has peaked this researcher’s interest towards their book.  With deep interest in the intersection of cultures and technology, I am particularly interested in examining how and in what ways aspects of culture and society change with shifts in technology. While I am often skeptical when it comes to “predictions” of society’s future as these often fail to adequately examined or even consider the complexity with which social systems operate and how cultural change is instituted and propagated, the dose of measured pragmatism evident in the authors consideration of the risks and gains society faces gives me hope they have made a deeper consideration of how and why societal institutions shift. As such I look forward to critically exploring their work deeper.

Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family— Kofi Annan