The Latest Meme: Multiliteracies Emerging, Mainly Everyday (and what to do about them)

The recent form or state of the Internet is often referred to as “Web 2.0”, which signifies a large change in form and use since it was first used widely. In his 2008 article, Bryan Alexander defines Web 2.0 as “a way of creating Web pages focusing on microcontent and social connections between people. It also exemplifies that digital content can be copied, moved, altered, remixed, and linked, based on the needs, interests, and abilities of users (Alexander, p. 151).” The key words or ideas we could pull from this are: microcontent, connecting, changing, and customizable. Increasingly, the web is becoming a place to share and create small chunks of information that are malleable and can be altered to suit the needs of future consumers of the information. Alexander notes that some argue academics are now more likely to create many small pieces of content rather than one or a few larger ones (Alexander, p. 153).

En route to a newer web (a semantic web or web 3.0), much of the content now created is not original thoughts, necessarily, but it is tags, labels, and links that help to organize and categorize the ever-growing glut of information. This is a good example of how online information can be reshaped as well. For example, tags can be organized into various sorts of clusters or clouds, and they become more of a visual representation. This reshaping may reveal things about the tagged information or its users that was not visible before. Bookmarking is also now more social – users can share their links with others, and this information can be tagged / labeled as well on sites like Diigo or These sets of bookmarks can also be very personal for some, serving as their external or outboard memory (Alexander, p. 156). Such shifts in thought and memory remind one of Plato’s Phaedrus, where he warned of the loss of one’s wisdom or memory due to written text and a new literacy. But – do people really need to remember as much information as they did before, or is a more modern version of wisdom being able to remember where you put things (or where new things might be) and how to find them?

Aside from a shift in memory, the many forms of information available online cause (and allow) us to be “multiliterate”, flexible, and collaborative. In one sense of being multiliterate, web users must be able to make / take meaning from different types of text (video, audio, words, mash-ups, etc.). Another side to this term is that being multiliterate also can refer to knowing what tools are available to create a text, being able to pick the right one(s) for a task, and also being able to manage and shift between more than one task at a time. Cope and Kalantzis’ version of this is multiskilling (2009). Kress’ version is multimodality (2005). Jenkins (2007) says

Students need help distinguishing between being off task and handling multiple tasks simultaneously.  They must learn to recognize the relationship between information coming at them from multiple directions and making reasonable hypotheses and models based on partial, fragmented, or intermittent information (all part of the world they will confront in the workplace). They need to know when and how to pay close attention to a specific input as well as when and how to scan the environment searching for meaningful data (p. 105).

This puts a lot of pressure on teachers to be at least as multiliterate or better than their students, which can be a challenge for many, as they may be an immigrant to today’s digital world, as Mark Prensky might say. While the teachers are getting “2.0 literate”, though, students should still be maximizing the experiences they have in the closed-world (vs. open digital world) space of their classroom (Alexander, 2008). Schools should help to form students who have a broad background in a variety of topics, and they should know when and how to solve problems on their own or with a social community or larger group, online or offline (Jenkins, 2007). Jenkins also goes on in more detail about other specific areas students need guidance in, including tool choice and judgement-making about found information, among other things.

How will teachers manage to help students learn what they need to be successful in the future? The answer to that is much greater than the scope of this commentary, but I have come across a few ideas:

  • Refer to Bates and Poole’s SECTIONS model for technology choice. It is meant for Learning Management Systems, but easily adapts to smaller pieces of software.
  • Keep Chickering and Ehrmann’s guide to using technology to implement Chickering and Gamson’s “Seven Principles for Good Practice…”. Again, this was meant for the undergraduate level, but it contains many good rules of thumb for any teacher.
  • Gee and Levine (2011) suggest using a spread-out “digital teacher corps” of digital-expert teachers, who would aid in the spread of knowledge and skills to teachers around them. Many jurisdictions in the world have technology mentors as well, with proven success (Demetriadis et. al, 2003).
  • James Paul Gee also advocates for the use of video games in learning. In his 2007 article, “Good Video Games and Good Learning”, he explains many reasons why video games are useful tools, which include many parallels to online learning – interactivity / social literacy, appropriate challenge level, the production of content, etc.

This is by no means a complete list, but, even for myself, these are things that I already use or have recently found and plan on keeping in mind. As I continue to strive to stay ahead of my students, every new idea and item I – and any other teacher – can refer to is a help.


Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and emergent multiliteracies, Theory Into Practice, 47:2, 150-160.

Bates A. W. & Poole, G. (2003). A framework for selecting and using technology. In A.W. Bates & G. Poole, Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education (pp. 75-108). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 4.

Chickering, A.W. & Ehrmann, S.C. (1996). Implementing the seven principles: Technology as lever. American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, 49(2), 3-6. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Cope, B. and Kalantzis, M. (2009). “‘Multiliteracies’: New literacies, new learning.  Pedagogies: An International Journal.  4(3), 164-195. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Demetriadis, S., et. al. (2003) Cultures in negotiation: teachers’ acceptance/resistance attitudes considering the infusion of technology into schools. Computers & Education, 41, 19 – 37.

Gee, J. P. (2007). Good video games and good learning. New York: Peter Lang

Gee, J.P., and Levine, M.H. (2011). The digital teachers corps: Closing America’s literacy gap. Progressive Policy Institute. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. (MIT Press, Cambridge). Retrieved November 24, 2012, from

Kress, G. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition, 22(1), 5–22.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon. NCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001.


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