A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
NEW LITERACIES AND STUDENTS´ BACKGROUNDS
A call for students and teachers to rethink some learning and teaching practices
José Elkin Berrío M.
“Nothing could be more absurd than an experiment in which computers are placed in a classroom where nothing else is changed” (Mora, 2016)
Reading, writing and negotiating meaning for educational matters, as the first view of literacy practices in and outside the classroom, are not an easy topic to discuss nor a problem at any particular place, they are, and can be considered as worldwide topics to go beyond in the moments of what some scholars and researchers call “The Net Generation”.
Nowadays when despite Literacy we are referring also to Multiliteracies, Multimodality and New Literacies, it is really important to establish a clear relationship between the use of technology with academic purposes and the production and consumption of different kinds of texts. So, the intention of this paper, from my limited knowledge, is to give a general view about what our daily practices and our classes look like and also about how students and teachers are familiar with such kind of New Literacies in terms of learning and teaching processes. For that purpose, I will relate the concepts of some researchers with my view about the way we, as teachers and students, are reading and understanding information from the net and what kind of texts are we reading and writing by using technology. I will also include the testimonies of teachers and students from my institution and at the end, I will propose a set of advantages and /disadvantages as a conclusion.
What Are New Literacy Studies?
New Literacy Studies refer to how literacy practices are linked to people’s lives, identities, and social affiliations. As Larson (2008) explained, “we must shift our definition from one that is limited to reductionist notions of skills to one that is focused on the social practices in which literacy is used” (p. 14). New Literacy Studies helps educators to move beyond skills-based approaches to literacy learning, enabling them to recognize that a vast range of experiences contribute to literacy learning.
Larson described a first-grade teacher who engaged her students in modeled writing lessons. First, the children and the teacher chose a writing topic. (Compton, 2009)
Literacy and the new technologies
Literacy skills for the twenty – first century are skills that enable participation in the new communities emerging within a networked society. They enable students to exploit new simulation tools, information appliances and social networks; they facilitate the exchange of information between diverse communities and the ability to move easily across different media platforms and social networks. (Jeckins et al, 2006)
As Gardner pointed out in his article entitled: The end of Literacy? “These are times of exciting change and with changing social contexts, the nature of literacy and literacy learning is redefined. With the advent of new technologies, literacy and literacy practices are changing at a pace never experienced before”. He also highlights that “changes in digital technologies are happening much faster than before. In the process, the look and feel of learning environments, the role of teachers, the nature of the learner and what and how they learn are being transformed.”
Regarding to literacy changes, Leu et al, 2004 identify three forces to change the nature of literacy:
1. Global economic competition within economies based increasingly on the effective use of information and communication.
2. The rapid emergence of the internet as a powerful new technology for information and communication.
3. Public policy initiatives by governments around the world to ensure higher levels of literacy achievement including the use of the internet and other ICTs.
This is then, a social revolution underway homes and workplaces embrace the use of digital technology as a normal part of everyday life. With increased access to the Internet comes increased opportunities to access information, conduct transactions, communicate in multiple modes via social media sites and to be entertained. Social contexts for learning are changing.
Traditionally, literacy was defined from a print-based world – a world of books and other print media, a world of two dimensional print and images. A definition from the past cannot accommodate new ways of meaning-making, such as locating information across multiple modalities, participating in audio-visual conferences, responding to emails, virtual environments or creating a personal website, blog or wiki. Readers are no longer confined to simply decoding and comprehending the printed word. They, author texts, respond to and critique texts and comprehend information from multiple perspectives. There is no set of blackline masters to guide their participation and determine what they pay attention to. Readers are expected to make sense of a complex design that includes a myriad of images, pop-ups, hyperlinked texts and icons. With modelled and guided literacy teaching, students are supported to critically analyse, synthesise ideas, identify purpose and audience, interpret messages within messages and engage in reflective practices.
Multi, Digital, or Technology?
The goal is to attain clarity when considering youth text production and consumption in educational settings. Littlejohn, Beetham, and McGill (2012) define digital literacy as “the capabilities required to thrive in and beyond education, in an age when digital forms of information and communication predominate”. Digital forms, they write, include “simple communication via email or instant messaging to more complex forms of scholarship that involve sourcing, using, evaluating, analysing, aggregating, recombining, creating and releasing knowledge online”. As such, digital literacy is concerned with how people learn within technology-rich environments.
For instance, should the focus be on what the teacher knows about teaching with technology, what the student knows about moving through a technology-rich environment (digital literacy), how the text is constructed (multimodalities), or how pedagogy is designed for the support of learning within a multiliterate world (multiliteracies)? The larger question is not which concept is right or the best, but rather which one is most appropriate for a given purpose. (Jacobs, 2013)
What do classes and practices look like at public institutions in relation to new literacies?
Do we really need to rethink New Literacy Pedagogy?
First of all, we must consider that kids of the Net Generation, engage in multiple literacy practices – for example: they e-mail, instant messages, surf the web, read video game magazines for tips on how to win, participate in online chat rooms, and read bulleted information on teachers handouts, but they do very little reading from the traditional textbook. Are these the literacies of the Net Generation only, or are they similarly our literacies – Inclusive of the preservice teachers, classroom teachers, university professors, and researchers amongst us?
“To our way of thinking regardless of age, academic position, and any number of other identity makers, our personal literacies (Alvermann et al., 2004) largely influence what we read and the use we make of popular culture texts.” Nowadays students are using technology from home in many ways but for academic purposes, their knowledge is, most of the time, limited to power point presentations or exchange of information via e-mail. For example, at a school fair carried out at I.E Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento on September 22nd, students of 8th grade showed a presentation about the use of technology to improve the presentation of assignments in Spanish (as a subject of the curriculum) which I found interesting for their age and level but as Lank shear & Knobel, 2011 say, with a limited use of such kind of literacies associated with networking, collaboration, interaction and creativity supported by technologies. These are then some of the slides they presented:
Slides of a power point presentation by students of 8th grade in a school fair of science and technology at Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento.
Murray, 2008, also pointed out that technology use is often limited to power point presentations, word processing, e-mails and Web searches. What for (Tour, 2010; 2012) constitutes a traditional view of technology as a tool to improve language skills rather than to engage students in new literacies which can support language speakers in their authentic use of technologies in target languages. So, as teachers, we need to be able to explore instructional pathways that encourage students to make connections between their personal and school literacies. These pathways might well highlight students’ pleasures in their uses of texts and technologies, such that the pleasures become portals for further learning on the part of teachers and students. (Alvermann et al., 2004). I also interviewed some of my colleagues and students and I asked them about the importance of technology in learning and teaching. Their answers are as follows:
“Technology in education is very important because it makes learning and teaching processes easier. It is very useful for me as teacher because I can prepare my classes in attractive ways according to the topics and their needs, maybe with pictures, audios, videos, slides, and so on. That way my students can enjoy learning.
It is also helpful for my students because they can use it to increase their knowledge, so they do not just learn what I teach but they have a world of contents at their reach. Finally, it allows my students to prepare and interact before, during and after classes, which makes the process better. They can have information beforehand, they can look for unknown vocabulary during the class and I may clarify their doubts and give them feedback after classes” Juan Moscoso.
An elementary school teacher, who teaches Spanish in 5th grade and who has been immersed in the world of technology, answered in these words when I asked him about the way he use technology in his classes: “Siempre me ha parecido preciso hacerle saber a los estudiantes las temáticas y procesos que se van a desarrollar en el transcurso de la semana. Para mí, esto se ha establecido como un acto ceremonial que garantiza el derecho a los estudiantes de saber por qué deben asistir a clases. La segunda semana de la secuencia didáctica sobre la fábula incluía la evaluación y era necesario recordarles. Ésta por lo general es tipo ICFES, y no es ninguna sorpresa, pues ellos saben que deben repasar. Así se cerró la última clase de la semana.
Cuando los estudiantes esperaban por el formato habitual y ya hacían cuentas sobre cuánto podían gastar para dejar los $ 100 de la fotocopia, les dije: diseñé la evaluación de una forma distinta, la van a presentar en computador. ¿En computador? ¿Y cómo vamos a marcar los óvalos en el computador? Tranquilos, les dije. Pasemos a la sala de sistemas, los computadores están listos y allá les explico la forma en que van a presentar la prueba.
Les esperó una prueba diseñada en power point con un mensaje inicial que decía: Tecno lectura. Un ejercicio de reflexión sobre la lectura y escritura a través de dispositivos electrónicos. Expliqué cómo seleccionar las respuestas correctas después de leer detenidamente, cómo guardaban el archivo con sus respuestas y otros aspectos. Y aunque el desarrollo de la evaluación no fue fácil, ni mucho menos, el extraer las cuarenta y tres hojas de respuesta, mis estudiantes se sintieron felices por haber hecho una evaluación diferente y mucho más, por no haber tenido que pagar los $ 100. Y claro, yo también me sentí realizado por ofrecerles algo diferente.” Francisco París.
“Utilizo la tecnología principalmente para entretenimiento, pero hay otros ámbitos como la educación y la información, con los cuales puedo buscar y facilitar mediante un navegador. Gracias al internet, nosotros podemos comunicarnos y gracias a ello, podemos también ampliar informaciones y desarrollar una globalización en la cual todas las personas compartan su contenido. El internet es una biblioteca mundial en la cual cada persona puede buscar la información que desee. Por otra parte, la tecnología facilita el aprendizaje de varias formas. La tecnología a través de los años se ha interiorizado a cada una de las personas. Tanto así, que se ha vuelto parte de nuestras vidas, lo que trae consigo, varios pros y contras. Dentro de los pros podemos encontrar la facilidad a la globalización informática, la facilidad a la hora de realizar trabajos, mucha dinámica dentro de la estructuración de los trabajos académicos o informes; mediante diferentes programas como Excel, word, power point. Y en los contras, destaco la distracción producto del mal uso del internet.” Simón.
The last students, a bit advanced in the use of some programs, answered my questions combining speaking and writing in their mother tongue. Laura & Michell.
Some names were changed intentionally by pseudonyms.
Other Activities related with what my students do with technology are some slides about some English speaking countries:
New Literacies as a General Concept
New literacies mostly functions as an umbrella term for myriad everyday interactions with digital texts. The term “text” has itself been amplified to extend far beyond alphabetic – typographic texts alone. “Text” now covers all manner of multimedia artifacts that people can be said to read and write, interpret, and make meaning from in their daily lives. As a general classification, “new literacies” typically refers to interactions with digitized textual material and other digital media. It is a general referent for “information literacy,”
“Multimodal literacy,” “digital literacy,” “(multimedia literacy,” “Internet literacy,” and so on. Understanding and using new media and technologies competently is another conception of “new literacies.” In this sense, being “Savvy” with digital tools and techniques is seen as a new literacy (e.g., computer literacy).
Numerous scholars also identify examples of new literacies that do not necessarily entail use of digital technologies and digitally coded meanings. These are literacies that can be regarded as chronologically rather than ontologically “new” with one or more of the following characteristics: they are relatively recent—or recently popular—forms of literacy practice; they have only recently been conceived of as literacies; only recently have they been considered as literacies with which formal education should engage. Diverse “new” literacies of this type include (critical) media literacy, print-based zines and fan fiction, strategy card games, analogue media remixing, graphic novels, and certain forms of iconic and logo-based communications. (Castetlon, 2002)
New Literacies of the Internet
During the past decade an ongoing research program has emphasized the central importance of the Internet to conceptualizing new literacies. The new literacies of the Internet result from the fact that the Internet, as a powerful technology for literacy, as Coiro et al. say “permits the immediate dissemination of even newer technologies of literacy to every person on the Internet by connecting to a single link on a screen”. Under these conditions literacy becomes deictic: literacy is continually redefined amidst constant technological change and has meaning only on a case-by-case, context-by-context basis. Literacy has come to mean “a rapid and continuous process of change in the ways in which we read, write, view, listen, compose and communicate information” (Coiro et al., 2008). Given that literacies will continue to be multiple and rapidly disseminated, the concept of literacy acquisition becomes radically different from that of the print era. It will henceforth require “a larger mindset” and ability and disposition to adapt to regular changes in the means and protocols for communication and information exchange. (Leu et al., 2011)
The Internet then, is the defining technology for literacy and learning in the
21st century. Approximately two billion individuals use the Internet (Internet World Stats, 2010). At the current rate of growth, more than one-half of the world’s population will be online in five to seven years and most of the world will be online in 10 to 15 years. Never in the history of civilization have we seen a new technology adopted by so many, in so many different places, in such a short period of time. While there are many explanations for the rapid growth in Internet usage, a primary impetus has been the economy and the workplace. Workplace settings are increasingly characterized by the effective use of information to solve important problems within a global economy (Friedman, 2006) Moreover, the efficient use of information skills in workplace contexts has become even more important as networked, digital technologies have provided greater access to larger amounts of information. (Leu et al., 2011). However, and despite the spread of the use of Internet to be in touch with the world, for communication or for academic uses, we must consider the fact that a lot of students and even teachers in small towns or rural areas are not related to the new ways of communication and for searching information that internet is offering to us nowadays. That is one of the reasons I consider that despite technological tools are waiting for us, we have to smooth the road and motivate ourselves and students to navigate in this field to improve our daily practice and knowledge.
Literacy learning requires more than software. It is important to stress that simply using technology in the classroom does not assure that students are acquiring new literacies. Mastering a software application does not ensure that essential skills and strategies for making informed decisions and literate choices automatically follow. Successful learners are thoughtful, critical consumers and creators of information, not passive participants in a software application designed to do little more than a Workbook page. In addition, it is vital that the technical facility to manipulate electronic communications is seen for what it is, the ability to lay the groundwork for a task of making meaning from information, but it is not equivalent to the completion of the task itself. The pastiche of clipped pieces of data glitzed with downloaded images must not be mistaken for the product of thought. (Nimon, 2003)
In addition to the above mentioned, it is important to recognize the efforts that The Ministry of Education and The Ministry of ICTs have done from 2009 to let most of the students in Colombia to be familiar with technology. They have sent recently tablets and laptops, but it is that enough to develop such kind of literacies we have been talking about in the whole course? What about connectivity? What about the instruction for teachers and students to produce knowledge and exchange information in different ways?
To my view point, in many public institutions of Urabá, Antioquia and Colombia the conditions are not given yet at all to change the way in which our students are learning nor the way many teachers are teaching English through the best use of technology. This is also supported on the reality that if I do not use a computer in my daily life, I cannot use it neither at my school for an academic purpose. This is happening to many students who do not have a computer at home. And believe it or not, most of those gadgets are being used just to replace the board or are still in the boxes (as this short video shows it), they are not being used to put the old wine in new bottles.
On the other hand, despite we are talking now about a Net Generation, we still have students that when they are asked to send a homework through e-mail, have difficulties on it. Or in the worst case, they simply say they do not have an e-mail. There are also still students who do not have a cellphone. So, as it was said before, the task we have as teachers of a new generations seems to be difficult but not impossible. What we have to do first, is to internalize the possibilities of change that these new literacies represent for the idea of giving our students education with quality from a critical consumption and production of knowledge and information.
It is not a secret that what was unimagined 30 years ago about the ways of producing and exchanging information is a reality now and belonging or not to this called Net Generation, first as citizens, parents and finally, as English teachers, we have to be updated in the use of such kind of new technologies youth are using nowadays. We must also take into consideration that despite the wave of new technologies used with educational purposes not all of those students belonging to the Net Generation nor teachers of all subjects are engaged in the ways we can use technology for our benefit in many fields. New Literacies are associated with Web 2.0 technologies which support social interaction, participation, taking active roles, generating and distributing multimodal content, connectivity, collaboration, shared expertise, team/community, and creativity.
And as Jones & Hafner, 2012 say “they offer opportunities for ongoing generation and communication of information fostering dynamic and non-linear practices. New kinds of texts available in these spaces encourage creative improvisations with multimodality. (New London Group, 1996)
Teachers need new language and formats for enacting, talking, and thinking about new social practices that are embedded in literacy practices in multimodal text formats (i.e., those using traditional text, but also those integrating elements of sound, image, animation, color, design, etc.). Modes and media other than alphabetic language and print media (e.g., sound and images) can, through electronic means, now be easily created, “read,” displayed, and exchanged as readily as traditional written language (Kress & Vanleeuwen, 2011)
The emergence of digital technologies has accelerated a shift from the dominance of print in many communication and information sources to visual modes and greater reliance on other modes of representation (Kress, 2011). Thus, an ability to read visual and aural texts is increasingly regarded as a skill embedded in literacy practices. The reading and writing of these texts as well as the social practices that accompany them are interesting ways to understand how new literacies could affect and change teaching and learning in secondary classrooms in public institutions such as Luis Carlos Galán Sarmiento.
What will it take for educators to adjust to literacy practices and instruction in the 21st century? It will take transforming traditional practices and continuing conversations about literacy and language learning with a commitment to embrace pedagogical and it will take teachers who are skilled in the effective use of digital technologies for teaching and learning. It will take a curriculum that integrates new literacies and pedagogies. It will take courageous and bold initiatives that include yet unimagined information and communication technologies that result in the development of unimagined literacies.
Not doubt, the improvement of technology and its use for academic purpose as for the development of new literacies in students is a wonderful tool teachers have nowadays. It is also important to highlight the effort of the government to give technology to all public institutions in order to improve the quality of education. However, both students and teachers must be conscious of the advantages it represents. It is then, our responsibility to be updated in the use of those new technologies inside and outside the school, because the use of the computer to replace the board or the teacher it is not a guarantee in the track to get literate students. As teachers, it is our challenge to get familiar with the advantages the new technologies offer us to give our students the opportunity not only to consume information but to produce it in different formats.
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