The acquisition of literacy skills has been fundamental for several generations now in order to improve quality of life and work (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009). The influences of electronic writing, hypertext and hypermedia have contributed to create many new forms of literacy. In today’s education, work, and social life one must develop what is known as multiliteracies. This term implies that there is more than one type of literacy at play at any one given time. The New London Group (1996) and Cope & Kalantzis (2009) have presented cases for the use of the term multiliteracy, what it entails, and how it is impacting our lives. Extending from ideas submitted in a Vista posting; (Stackhouse, November 9, 2012) the discussion of multiliteracies and pedagogy needs to be understood and explored by educators.
The Adaptive Nature of Communication
Ong (1982) and Bolter (2001) present historical perspectives on how communication has evolved. From the early oral, writing and print traditions mentioned by Ong (1982) to the transformed writing spaces of electronic hypertext/media environments reviewed by Bolter (2001) it is clear to see how modern literacy has developed. In this sense, digital literacy and electronic writing with the use of hypertext and hypermedia are not separate from traditional literacy. They are part of the continuum of change of human communication.
With the newest forms and spaces of reading and writing Bolter (2001) shows that reading in the linear is limiting and that we should read “multiply” to avoid closing “off possible courses of action” (Bolter, 2001, p. 151). Bolter (2001) discusses the reader as a second author, where the reader is able to contribute to the text and pass it along to other readers (p. 153). Good writing was considered to be stable and authoritative (Bolter, 2001) where in modern literacy there is a move towards dynamic forms of interaction between the author, the reader, and the text.
Characteristics of Multiliteracies
Cope & Kalantzis (2009), revisiting the work initiated by the New London Group (1996), present the changing nature of our roles as workers, citizens, and in our personal lives. In each area there are greater demands on skills, communication, dealing with knowledge, and diversity. Thus, multiliteracy as “all forms of representation, including language, should be regarded as dynamic processes of transformation rather than processors of reproduction” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, p. 175). This points to a process of meaning making that respects the learner’s involvement. Cope & Kalantzis (2009) recognize then that through this process there must be a shift in the focus of literacy instruction. This shift encourages innovation, creativity, and diversity of thought.
Through the progression of meaning making and communication tools there are newer ways to recognize the various modes or “multimodality of meaning” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, p. 178). The modes identified; written language, oral language, visual representation, audio representation, tactile representation, gestural representation, representation to oneself, and spatial representation all represent various ways in which we can express and experience meaning-design or meaning making (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, p. 178-179). To expand on this we must consider how these various modes can interact in concert or apart from each other at any given point. These multimodalities, in connection to one another, lead to the need and use of multiliteracies.
Alexander (2008) begins his article with a quote from Yancey (2004) that discusses how students are participating in writing and reading paper, electronic writing, uploading images, audio, blogs, editing videos, and more without any demands for participation taking place. The ability to manipulate and interact with what we read and write through multiliteracies is very engaging. Students (and others) are participating in a networked environment that takes advantage of Web 2.0 and multiliteracies. Web 2.0 incorporates the use of social networking and social software tools (Alexander, 2008). Key components of Web 2.0 include; microcontent (small contributions), openness, connection and social filtering (Alexander, 2008). These factors work to create metadata and “folksonomies” as contributors participate in gathering, filtering and maintaining content (Alexander, 2008).
Literacy strategies, such as Situated Practice (New London Group, 1996), dealing with the community of learners being immersed in the learning and practice of skills in meaningful situations seems to be the approach that best suits multiliteracies. Through this approach learners engage with the material(s) and other learners. Through situated practice, combined with overt instruction and critical framing, learners can move towards transformed practice (New London Group, 1996). Kalantzis & Cope have reviewed these strategies and have labeled them as “experiencing, conceptualizing, analyzing and applying” (as cited in Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, p. 184). Learners can use the skills they have mastered to adapt to the demands placed on them in new and innovative ways with others or on their own. The benefits of multiliteracy pedagogy stimulate ideas of the learner as central and involved in the development of their meaning making. Cope & Kalantzis (2009) discuss the benefits obtained through the introduction of multiliteracy pedagogy where learners gained perspective on: cultural diversity, heritage, citizenship, collaboration, and technology. Educators are aiming to meet mission statements that target the same goals presented:
“that would equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to be active and informed citizens and workers in a changing world – a world of diversity and on in which our means of communication and access to information are changing rapidly” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, p. 191).
Understanding what literacy means today and what it incorporates is important for educators. As professionals we need to be discussing this; and it is worthwhile to bring this discourse to our students. Their perspectives might naturally include electronic writing, word processing, hypertext/media as all part of the concept of literacy. If this is the case and culture is adopting these forms of literacy we should then drop the terms digital or “multi” in front of the literacy discussion. The definition of literacy should include the newer forms of literacy rather than distinguishing one from the other.
Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and emergent multiliteracies. Theory into practice, 47(2), 150–160. doi:10.1080/00405840801992371
Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2009). “Multiliteracies”: New literacies, new learning. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 4(3), 164–195. doi:10.1080/15544800903076044
Ong, Walter. (1982.) Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.
Stackhouse, K. (2012, November 9) . The evolution of literacy [Msg]. Message posted to https://www.vista.ubc.ca/webct/urw/tp0.lc5116011/cobaltMainFrame.dowebct
The New London Group. (1996) “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies:Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review 66(1), pp. 60-92.