Hypertext Research Paper

Jesse Tucker
Eng. 100-15
B. Ganter
27 November 2012

On Teaching "New Literacies"

"New Literacies" are forcing change in almost every facet of societies all over the globe. Businesses embrace technology to harness efficiency, learning "new literacies" in the process. Students are more "plugged in" than ever before, but education has lagged behind. With this in mind, traditional curriculum is being rewritten for the digital age, and adapted accordingly. Educating a new class of tech-savvy learners requires instructors to continually discover and incorporate the changing literacy of a digital world. Only when schools accept the role of discovery that business has, can we rely on them to effectively teach these "new literacies."

What are "New Literacies"

To fully understand the term "new literacies," it is important to reflect on what literacy has meant to us traditionally. Most dictionaries would define the word "literate," as "having the capability to read and write." "New literacies" implies that there is more than one new way of doing that. In the online article "What are New Literacies?" Dr. Kyle D. Stedman, published author, and assistant professor of English at Rockford College, states, "literacy is usually used more as a base-line for competence, something that we ought to have but that stands out most noticeably when it's not there, like the space where a demolished building used to be, or when we see a person not wearing any pants." (9)

The new ways of reading and writing implied by the term "new literacies" are technology driven, sometimes referred to as "new media" and pervade every aspect of 21st century living. "New media" are the result of remediation, where we continually build upon traditional media, as technology advances. (Bolter 44-50) These new media include: Short message service (texting), gaming, blogs, wikis, instant messaging, email, and social media, just to name a few. (44-50) It is apparent, that as technology continues to effect remediation, the definition of literacy changes with it. In the past, a person's ability to read and write affirmed their literacy, and as such, suggested a fundamental aptitude for performing everyday tasks. The medium back then was simple text, written and read. With today's media, performance of everyday tasks, stretch well beyond a simple ability to read and write.

The essence of education is learning, and this comes in various forms. Learning new literacies really only happens one of two ways, either a person is taught new literacies in school, or they are motivated by an outside force to learn them on their own. This can happen through a variety of ways, whether it be to communicate with friends in a different way, or to maximize job efficiency. Some types of learning such as work experience, or personal development, inherently adapt to the changing requirements of new literacies. Traditional education does not.

Inherent Adaptation in Young People

Canadian freelance journalist, blogger, and science and technology writer Clive Thompson says "young people today write far more than any generation before them... because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text." (Thompson, "New Literacy" 4) Students are teaching themselves new literacies through personal initiative, just by simple trial and error. In many cases, students are actually the driving force of new literacies.

Marc Prensky coined the phrases Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants when writing about how technology is changing how we learn. He talks about the generation that has grown up fluent in the "new literacies", calling them Digital Natives. And he talks about Digital Immigrants, or previous generations that must learn "new literacies" as a second language. Prensky says "kids born into any new culture learn the language easily, and forcefully resist using the old."(3) This is to say that this younger generation of Digital Natives, and their successors will continue to use the technologies that are effecting new literacies. In fact, their use of these technologies ensures continued remediation. Digital Immigrants must learn the literacies of which Digital Natives' continued use of, is remediating. Children teach themselves new literacies almost unconsciously. Prensky suggests that their brains may already be different; guided by rules of cultural migration.(3) There is certainly an obvious force in digital natives, driving the interest in, and continued use of, digital technology and thus new literacies.

Inherent Adaptation in the Business World

In the quest for ever elusive efficiency, technology quickly infiltrates the business world. Referring to the future of reading in a digital world, Clive Thompson says that "Books are the last bastion of the old business model." ("Future of Reading" 3) That means that everything else has changed.

Motoko Rich, writing on the literacy debate for the Wall Street Journal, found that some literacy experts say that online reading skills will help children fare better when they begin looking for digital age jobs." (Rich) Generally, it is in an employee's best interest to learn new literacies, becoming either a more productive employee, or more marketable to future employers. Technology is embedded in effective and efficient business. This is not to say that people in business learn "new literacies" at the rate or to the extent that digital natives do, but it does suggest that in business there is a certain inherent motivation to learn them.

As new literacies change, digital immigrants and economically initiated personal developers adapt to them. They are already using them! In fact, oftentimes, they are the ones effecting the change.

Lack of Inherent Adaptation in Education

Stedman says literacy is know-how "that we ought to have"; education in one form or another is always how we get it. (Stedman 9) Considering that formal education is our initial means of acquiring literacy, it stands to reason that instructors must adapt to the ever changing requirements of "new literacies" to educate effectively. One could question whether or not "new literacies" need to be taught in schools if digital natives are learning them on their own. The problem with this argument is that although young people are most certainly learning new literacies, which will invariably benefit them in their adult lives, they are not traditionally tested in these modes of media, nor are they guided in any semblance of reasoning or direction involving them. To say that we don't need to teach "new literacies" because students are teaching themselves, would be like saying we don't need to teach spelling or arithmetic. Of course people can learn these things on their own, but the role of education is, and always has been, to identify the prerequisites for successful performance of everyday tasks, and to teach them in a way that accelerates the learning process.

Formal education is largely dependent upon instructors for course content. More than likely, the instructors themselves lack these necessary new literacies. Course content tends to remain the same, and taught the same, thus students are inevitably asked to write exams in a medium they are less comfortable with. In the past, Thompson says, "Before the Internet came along, most... never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment." ("New Literacy" 5) "New literacies" are changing that drastically. Nowadays most students are writing outside of school on a daily basis. Furthermore, the writing that happens outside of school, Thompson says is geared toward an audience. (7) This shows another change in traditional writing. Back when school assignment writing was the only writing people did, it made sense not to change examination criteria. But now that people are writing in so many other capacities, that aren't school assignments, doesn't it make sense to start teaching and testing in these new modes?

Settling on a solution of embracing "new literacies" in the classroom raises some additional questions. What should be taught, and how should it be taught? (Prensky 3) As alluded to earlier, the business world has adopted a stance of discovery when it comes to technology, simply because it is financially beneficial, and therefore urgently desired. How then do we mirror such a response in our schools?

On the topic of what should be taught, Prensky identifies what he calls "legacy content," which is what we know as traditional curriculum. He then defines "future content," which "includes software, hardware, robotics, nanotechnology, genomics, etc. It also includes the ethics, politics, sociology, languages and other things that go with them." (4) When it comes to how things should be taught, Prensky introduces gaming as a proven way for digital immigrant instructors to successfully reach students on a plane of "new literacies." (5) On the topic of adopting such a response in our classrooms, he says this: "if Digital Immigrant educators really want to reach Digital Natives – i.e., all their students – they will have to change. It's high time for them to stop their grousing, and as the Nike motto of the Digital Native generation says, “Just do it!” They will succeed in the long run – and their successes will come that much sooner if their administrators support them."

As instructors continue to undertake this sometimes daunting task, more and more solutions will reveal themselves. The nature of "new literacies" and remediation guarantee a fresh perspective to those who search for them.

Works Cited

-Stedman, Kyle D. "What are New Literacies?" June 2012. Web 22 September 2012

-Bolter, J. D. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print. New Your and London; Routledge, Print 2009.

-Rich, Motoko. "Literacy Debate: R U Really Reading?" 27 July 2008 Web 10 September 2012

-Thompson, Clive. "Clive Thompson on the New Literacy" 24 August 2009 Web 10 September 2012

-Prensky, Marc. "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" On The Horizon. MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5 Print October 2001

-Thompson, Clive. "The Future of Reading in a Digital World" 22 May 2009 Web 1 December 2012