Introduction

Education has transformed dramatically over the years.  The curriculum and how we teach has changed, and is constantly changing.  Among the many changes, one of the most significant is the introduction of technology into our schools.  Computers and the Internet have changed our classrooms and have enabled teachers and students access to the world, without leaving their chairs.  Students can email students from a school in Europe, they can see what Christ the Redeemer looks like through satellites on Google Earth, they can create videos using computer software, and so the list goes on.  So what does this new technology mean for educators and how does it affect literacy in the 21st Century classroom?

The New Literacies

New Literacies is a term that has been coined to describe the new context, but what does it mean? According to Knobel and Lankshear (2006), for a literacy to be considered ‘new’, it needs to consist of both new technical ‘stuff’ and new ethos ‘stuff’ (p.80).  There are many practices that are considered to be new literacies and Knobel and Lankshear lists these as; “fan fiction, fan manga, fan anime, web blogging, podcasting, Photoshopping, ‘flickr-ing’, ‘meme-ing’, participating in ‘writing’ collective works like Wikipedia, online gaming and the like.” (p.81). Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, and Robison (2006), claim that almost all of the new literacies involve “social skills developed through collaboration and networking” (p. 4). Does this mean that there is no place for traditional literacy skills in the 21st century classroom? Anecdotally, some parents and community members question that students are missing out on the ‘basics’ and state that there isn’t enough emphasis on spelling, reading and writing in classrooms.  It is argued that students and adults need these traditional literacy skills in order to be able to access these new technologies and new literacies.  If students are lacking in these skills they would not be able to comprehend the sometimes subtle humour of a meme, or be able to contribute to collective writing, or enjoy fan fiction.  The literature suggests students still need to be taught the traditional skills of literacy, but the way they apply it; for example, might be in a new form.  “Literacy education continues to involve students learning and using ‘old skills’, but ‘applying them in new ways’ via new technologies and new media.” (Lankshear, Snyder & Green, 2000, p. 25).  Whilst there will always be a place in for traditional literacy in the classroom, the application will be broader.

 

“People say that digital media is killing reading and writing, not true at all.  It is changing the ecology of reading and writing.  Different practices happen, different types of texts are produced, but by no means is it killing them.  Kids are reading and writing more than they ever did, but they’re not doing the type of reading where you sit in your room reading a novel.” (Digital Media – New Learners of the 21st Century, 2010).  In order to actually be able to use digital media, you need to have your basic foundations in literacy, your reading, writing and speaking and listening skills are all essential to using digital media.  Using digital media in a classroom setting opens up an array of options, it shouldn’t take away from the foundations of literacy that students require, but in actual fact, add to it.  Educators need to adopt novel or new approaches to constructing, using or teaching reading and writing.

 

“Education is being viewed as ineffective, irrelevant and unproductive by the emerging gamer generation… It’s time to rethink the way educators deliver knowledge to learners.” (Mengal, Simonds, and Houck, 2007).  As educators we need to look at different ways that we can effectively teach and engage our students.  According to Mengal et al, using a virtual reality program, such as Second Life, allows learners to become immersed in their own education.  (2007.)  “English is no longer solely words or images on paper, film on reels, or movies on DVDs.  Teaching today’s digital humanities has transformed our discipline into a more collaborative, interdisciplinary and interactive professional arena.” (Nicosia, 2008). As educators, we need to ‘move with the times’ and adapt our teaching program in order to engage all our students who are growing up in a digital environment.

Growing Up Digitally

“If we teach today’s students like they did yesterday, then we are robbing them of tomorrow.” (Digital Media – New Learners of the 21st Century, 2010). Schools and educators need to change the way they teach in order to meet the needs of today’s students.  Students these days, in our society, have grown up digitally.  The vast majority have access to computers and the internet at home, and at school.   “Children are using computers far more than adults, and are exploiting the capacities of information technology to locate, publish and communicate information.” (Fluck, 2000, p.126).  The skills that children have developed, simply through playing and exploring using different programs and the Internet, proves that they aren’t scared and are willing to explore their skills.  Some students will need help in developing their skills and some students won’t have access to computers or the internet at home, but it is becoming more and more apparent that the vast majority of students are growing up digitally.  Simply by being immersed in the ‘digital age’, children are free to explore the capabilities of technology.  Jenkins et al, also refers to this digital age, as a ‘participatory culture’.  “A participatory culture is one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another” (2006, p. 3). It is up to educators to provide students with the skills and the tools to know how to best use this media and technology, as well as using it as an effective teaching tool.  “Our role as adults is not to be their policemen, but to be their guide,” states Boyd (2007, p.22).  Teachers do not necessarily have to be computer experts, but need to be able to assist their students confidently.

 

There are some educators in schools who aren’t comfortable in using new technology, who struggle with the fact that they need to be computer literate in today’s age in order to allow their students to develop the necessary skills they will need in life.  It costs money in order for these educators to be comfortable in order to teach and use the technology.  “Getting teachers confident (or, in many cases, less techno-phobe) remains a worthwhile, expensive and sensitive task.  We must realise that successful strategies for using computers to enhance learning opportunities in all subjects is the touchstone of future professional development.” (Fluck, 2000, p.127).

 

As stated earlier, ‘new’ literacies don’t override the importance of traditional literacy. Students still need to be taught these basic skills in order to be able to access new literacies.  New literacies are being used in everyday life by the majority of people.  Everything from checking your email, to ‘googling’ a question, to searching for a recipe, to playing a game on your mobile device, to accessing a friend’s photos on Facebook, are all utilising new literacy skills.  We are so immersed in this culture of having instant access to, seemingly, the entire world.

Exploring the New Literacies

A very popular form of new literacies is social networking. Facebook, Twitter and Myspace have all changed the way in which social interactions occur.  Using new media allows people to be able to keep in contact with others all over the world in a matter of seconds.  Different social cues are used on social networking sites, and these skills need to be taught to students.  “Established social practices have been transformed, and new forms of social practice have emerged and continue to emerge at a rapid rate.” (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006, p.24).  As Jenkins et al confirms, almost all of these new literacies involve social skills “These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.” (2006, p.4).  One main issue with social networking is that it is so public.  “Social network sites have complicated our lives because they have made this rapid shift in public life very visible.” (Boyd, 2007, p.23).  Young people especially, aren’t entirely aware of how public social domains are, and they put inappropriate comments or pictures online.  According to James et al, these young people “don’t necessarily understand what their actions mean and what effects those actions can bring.” (2008, p.11).  Educators need to make their students aware of the risks associated with putting their thoughts, photos and personal information on such a public forum.  As well as being potentially dangerous being on a social networking site for young people, it can be as equally damaging not to be a part of it.  Social networking is a form of socialising, and if students are denied access to it, they can be missing out on an important part of our society.  As Boyd, states “it is critical for young people to engage in broader social settings to develop these skills.” (2007, p.12).   New literacies need to be promoted as a credible way for students to extend their learning.

 

“Education is being viewed as ineffective, irrelevant and unproductive by the emerging gamer generation… It’s time to rethink the way educators deliver knowledge to learners.” Mengal et al, 2007).  As educators, we need to look at different ways that we can effectively teach and engage our students.  Using a virtual reality program, such as Second Life, allows learners to become immersed in their own education.  (Mengal et al, 2007.)  Fluck, also agrees that virtual reality can extend students’ learning, “…technological innovations generally known as ‘virtual reality’ can extend children’s learning, by giving them a simulation of an alternative learning environment… These alternative environments vary greatly in quality and in learning potential.” (2000, p.115).

Skills required for New Literacies

The new skills that Jenkins et al believe we need in order to effectively understand and use these new literacies include: “play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgement, transmedia navigation, networking and negation” (2006, p. 4).  For a more detailed understanding of each of these skills, please see Appendix A.   While these are so important for use with technology and the new literacies, these skills aren’t exclusive.  They can be effectively adapted for everyday life.  “These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom.” (Jenkins et al, 2006, p.4).

Educators need their students to develop basic literacy skills in order to be able to effectively use new media.  New literacies don’t take away from traditional literacy skills, instead they use them as a base and build on them.   “Much writing about twenty-first century literacies seems to assume that communicating through visual, digital or audiovisual media will displace reading and writing.  We fundamentally disagree.  Before students can engage with the new participatory culture, they must be able to read and write.”  (Jenkins et al, 2006, p.19).  There is no point teaching students how to search on Google to research a topic, if they can’t read or write.  Lankshear and Knobel state that these new media forms such as “…blogging, fanfic writing, manga producing, meme-ing, photoshopping, anime music video (AMV) practices, podcasting, vodcasting, and gaming are literacies, along with letter writing, keeping a diary, maintaining records, running a paper-based zine, reading literary novels and wordless picture books, reading graphic novels and comics, note-making during conference presentations or lectures, and reading bus timetables.” (2009, pg. 6).  Just because students may be using technology for these new literacies, does not take away from the fact that the students are still learning the skills that they need to be literate.

Incorporating New Literacies into the Curriculum

As we are heading into the National Curriculum, it is important to understand The Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA), opinion on the importance of new literacies. As previously discussed, students still need the basic literacy skills of reading, spelling and writing in order to use the new literacies.  The language strand of the National Curriculum allows for this; “in the Language strand, students develop their knowledge of the English Language and how it works.” (ACARA, 2011).  The Literature strand of the National Curriculum focuses on literary texts and allows for new media; “students interpret, appreciate, evaluate and create literary texts such as short stories, novels, poetry, prose, plays, film and multimodal texts, in spoken, print and digital/online forms.” (ACARA, 2011).  The third part of the English National Curriculum is the Literacy strand.  This covers the everyday use of literacy in both school and outside school settings.  “They learn about the different ways in which knowledge and opinion are represented and developed in texts, and about how more or less abstraction and complexity can be shown through language and through multimodal representations.” (ACARA, 2011).  ACARA also discuss the importance of ICT competence in students and state it as an important part of the English curriculum.  “Students also progressively develop skills in using information technology when conducting research, a range of digital technologies to create, publish and present their learning, and communication technologies to collaborate and communicate with others both within and beyond the classroom.” (ACARA, 2011).  Knobel and Lankshear discussed in their text, Discussing New Literacies, the restrictions of technology in regards to curriculum and assessment; “teachers …[can] feel bound by curriculur and reporting requirements that define literacy as encoding, decoding, and comprehension of conventional texts and curriculum delivery as an orderly progression through an official program of topics and texts.” (2006, p. 82).  Fortunately, our National Curriculum has allowed for the new literacies and the use of computers, and states that students should be exposed to the literacies and have access to the computers.

The use of computers in the school environment has been around for some time.  “In the first edition of the National Curriculum for England, computer use was designated as a section of the Design and Technology subject area, but with an understanding it would be used in other areas as well.  In the 1995 revision, information technology was promoted to an area in its own right (Department for Education 1995).” (Fluck, 2000, p.120).  Computers and technology can, and are used across the entire curriculum.  Technology has its place in each subject area, but students will need the skills in order to successfully use it appropriately.  There is no point using Photoshop in a Visual Art lesson, unless students have at least a basic comprehension of how to use the program.  DEETYA 1996, along with the Australian Council for Computers in Education decided on a structure for the cross-curriculum information technology outcomes, which they ordered into five modes and one skills-based indicator. The modes are:

  1. operations and computer components;
  2. publishing;
  3. communication;
  4. researching;
  5. problem-solving;
  6. independent learning.

(Fluck, 2000, p.122).

These outcomes can easily be incorporated in all curriculum areas.  Students also need time to play and explore the technology in which they are becoming more familiar with.  This is often where they will learn the most about the program or the technology.  “A great enabler of the learning process is playing with, or manipulating, items in the environment.” (Fluck, 2000, p.115).  Progress is monitored through formative assessment and summative assessment.

Key Infomation Technology Outcomes (KITOs) provides an understanding of what students should be achieving at their year level (see Appendix B). Obviously as students progress through their schooling, their understanding and use of technology will grow, as with the skills and knowledge of other subject areas.  The use of technology in the school environment doesn’t just apply to mainstream students, it is often extremely helpful for students with special needs.  There are many programs designed for a specific special need, they may assist a child in communicating in ways they never could before.  “It has been often reported, and illustrates the way in which new technologies have been a boon to people with special needs.” (Fluck, 2000, p.116).

Issues With New Literacies: Cyber Safety

The main issue with Social Networking sites is they are a public forum.  Students need to be aware of the privacy settings associated within social networks to know how to best protect themselves online.  Movies and television programs demonstrate just how easy it is for a predator to lurk on the internet in chat rooms and pose as different people in order to put themselves in a situation where they could attack.  Of course these are dramatised, but we all need to be aware of the risks of giving out personal information in a public forum.  Parents need to know what their child is doing online, and they need to monitor this for their child’s safety.  Educators need to make sure that their students are aware of the fact that they don’t actually know who they are speaking to via the Internet.  Legally, Facebook requires its users to be 16 years and older, but there are many users on Facebook who are much younger than that and lie about their age in order to get an account.  As previously discussed, this is all about people socialising in a different way, but young children still need to be able to protect themselves.  So, should children not be allowed access to these sites at all?  According to Knobel and Lankshear, it is the students with rich online lives who are aware of the risks and understand what is needed in order to protect themselves online. (2006, p. 84).  “These young people tend to be quite savvy about keeping themselves safe online.” (Knobel and Lankshear, 2006, p.83).  Of course, in any situation where children and young adults are using the internet to communicate, there is always a risk that they could be subject to bullying, abuse and potential predators.  But, as stated in Cassell and Cramer, they “are also at risk in the mall, walking home from school, and spending a vacation with distant relatives” (2008, p. 55). Unfortunately it is not possible to always protect our children.

Issues With New Literacies: Online Identity

There is the risk of not knowing another persons’ true identity when speaking to them online, but there are times when the user is lying about their own identity.  Avatars are created for virtual reality programs, like Second Life, and of course we want to present the best image of ourselves to others, and in virtual reality that is extremely easy to do. You won’t see many fat or unattractive avatars.  Sometimes they are over sexualised and that is how our young people online often want to identify themselves.  “There were no ‘fat’ avatars, and the environment encouraged children and teenagers to select avatars from a limited choice of beautiful cartoon or doll-type images.  Many of these cyberbodies were strongly sexualised images, also reflecting discourses of sexuality and desire.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 128).  Our online identity can be completely different to our actual identity in both physical and emotional appearance.  “When online, one’s gender, culture, lifestyle, clothing, voice, body size, age and identity are no longer bound by the confines of the embodied reality.  This offers liberation to many.  The old can feel young, the ugly can be beautiful, the shy can be extrovert, the loner can be popular and vice versa.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 17).  Being able to, in a sense, hide behind an avatar who has been created out of a fantasy offers the “opportunity to tinker and play with elements of the self.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 17).

 

In her text, Youth Online, Thomas speaks to youths in an online forum about their experiences in an online fantasy realm.  These youths discuss the idea of identity, one girl created one of her characters as a boy, simply because she could, and she wanted to see what it would be like.  These young people show that their online identity and personas, actually help them in the real world.  “I’m not sure if anybody here totally gets to know me – I’m sort of a persona.  It’s a lot like me, but minus the things I don’t like about me.  I mean, Shadow is really just me, but less scared, more careless, very joking – I joke a lot and laugh a lot, I stick up for myself more here and I think that has helped the real me do the same thing.  If I can do it online, then I am sure I can do it offline.  Online is like pretty much a place to practice how I want to be.” Shadow. (Thomas, 2007, p. 69).  Shadow uses the online forum to practice who he wants to be in real life.   Violetta also claims that talking online has helped her social skills, because it gives her time to think before she presses the send button; “I’m better irl [in real life] now anyhow, and that’s helped because talking online is not really talking, it’s a combination of writing and talking, which is why I call it talk-writing.  There’s that reflective time between writing what you say, and clicking the send button.”  (Thomas, 2007, p. 46). Tiarna talks about how you can let your online character absorb your real life.  “You can get so into a character that pulling yourself out hurts – that when you’re not in that world you wonder – you find yourself thinking as that character would at the oddest moments…There’s the danger that you’ll get so into a character that it will affect you in reality.  Which is why I am very careful with my characters… careful that they don’t take their own personality and destroy mine.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 88).  Online identity could nearly be considered as another part of growing up; dealing with how you want to be portrayed to the public, trying to put your best self forward.  “So, identity online is about the authoring of self as a living-out of these states of being, becoming, belonging and behaving through a range of everyday social and discursive practices that are connected with the body.” (Thomas, 2007, p. 8).

Issues With Technology

There are many problems involved with incorporating technology into a school environment.  Firstly, you have the aspect of the physical environment, where the computers and equipment can be safely and securely located.  The cost of keeping this technology up to date is also a lot for some schools to afford.  As new technology continues to be released at a rapid rate, the costs associated with keeping up with these releases is vast.  As Fluck confirms, “some schools are rapidly moving into the computer age.  It supersedes an age dominated by text, the written word.  We might characterise the computer age in schools as one where graphics, video, audio and even communication take a place alongside books as the method of transmitting knowledge from present to future or across the world.  Given such a prognosis, our students will require powerful computers and bandwidth to turn expectation into reality.” (2000, p. 126).

Issues With Online Safety

As previously discussed, there is always an issue with safety of children and young adults when using the Internet and the risk of them sharing personal information.  These social networking sites and new forms of media can also be used by bullies in order to intimidate and harass their victims.  “Email, as is the case with any kind of communication, can be used to harass and cyberbully.” (Levinson, 2009, p. 168).  These bullies must find that teasing and bullying over cyberspace is so much easier than doing it face to face. “…the absence of a face and voice in email has long made it especially well suited for all kinds of swindles.” (Levinson, 2009, p. 170).  Not only can new media be used to bully or stalk someone, counter attacks of these can be videoed and uploaded to another form of new media – YouTube.  “YouTube, unfortunately, has given physical bullies an additional inducement, by providing a worldwide audience for videos uploaded of the beatings.” (Levinson, 2009, p. 170).  There have been countless incidents of bullies fighting/ beating up their victims, with a friend recording it and then later uploading it to YouTube.  Fortunately, as discussed in Levinson, this can then lead to the perpetrator being identified by the police.

 

According to Levinson, cyberbullying is usually considered a group activity, whereas cyberstalking is harassment or obsessed contact by an individual.  With more and more people using the Internet for their social networking, they are making themselves available for this cyberstalking.  Cyberstalking refers to contacting a person online repeatedly.  This contact can range from affectionate, to obsessive and vicious.  This cyberstalking can be much more damaging to an individual than cyberbullying.  “Just as stalking in the real world can be much more dangerous than traditional schoolyard bullying, so can cyberstalking have much worse impact than cyberbullying.” (Levinson, 2009, p. 173).  Tools provided in social media can make it easier for cyberstalkers to attack.  If you ‘check-in’ to a place on Facebook it appears on your page where you are, complete with a link to a map.  Google Earth, and Google Maps also make it easy for cyberstalkers to search addresses and view houses from the street view and a satellite view.  “Google Earth unfortunately can provide an ideal tool for those who want to take their cyberstalking to the real world.” (Levinson, 2009, p. 173).  Along with cyberstalkers, there are predators who lurk online, who our young people could be subjected too.  As Cassell and Cramer discuss in their paper, it is “ultimately, when young women construct sexualized images of themselves, or contact strangers, that communication technologies are felt to become dangerous.” (2008, p. 68).  The majority of the time conversations are simply innocent, but it is that small minority that we need our young people to be aware of and learn how to protect their identity, by not speaking to people who they don’t know and not putting provocative photographs of themselves online.