The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

Category — Commentary 3

Multimodalities and Differentiated Learning

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

While there are many theories out there on how to meet the needs of diverse learners, there is one common theme—to teach using multimodalities. The strong focus on text in education has made school difficult to a portion of students, students whose strengths and talents lie outside of the verbal-linguistic and visual-spatial-type abilities. Thus the decreasing reliance on text, the incorporation of visuals and other multimedia, and the social affordances of the internet facilitate student learning.

Maryanne Wolf (2008) purports that the human brain was not built for reading text. While the brain has been able to utilize its pre-existing capabilities to adapt, lending us the ability to read, the fact that reading is not an innate ability opens us to problems such as dyslexia. However, images and even aural media (such as audiobooks) take away this disadvantage. Students who find reading difficult can find extra support in listening to taped versions of class novels or other reading material. Also, students with writing output difficulties can now write with greater ease with computers or other aids such as AlphaSmart keyboards.

Kress’ (2005) article highlights the difference between the traditional text and multimedia text that we often find on web pages today. While the predecessor used to be in a given order and that order was denoted by the author, Kress notes that the latter’s order is more open, and could be determined by the reader. One could argue that readers could still determine order with the traditional text by skipping chapters. However, chapters often flow into each other, whereas web pages are usually designed as more independent units.

In addition, Kress (2005) notes that texts have only a single entry point (beginning of the text) and a single point of departure (end of the text). On the other hand, websites are not necessarily entered through their main (home-) pages, readers often find themselves at a completely different website immediately after clicking on a link that looks interesting. The fact that there are multiple entry points (Kress) is absolutely critical. A fellow teacher argued that this creates problems because there is no structure to follow. With text, the author’s message is linear and thus has inherent structure and logic, whereas multiple points of entry lends to divergence and learning that is less organized. Thus it is better to retain text and less of the multimedia approach such that this type of structure and logic is not lost. The only problem is that it still only makes sense to a portion of the population. I never realized until I began teaching, exactly how much my left-handedness affected my ability to explain things to others. Upon making informal observations, it was evident that it is much easier for certain people to understand me—lefties.

Kress’ (2005) article discusses a third difference—presentation of material. Writing has a monopoly over the page and how the content is presented in traditional texts, while web pages are often have a mix of images, text and other multimedia.

It is ironic to note that text offers differentiation too. While the words describe and denote events and characters and events—none of these are ‘in your face’—the images are not served to you, instead you come up with the images. I prefer reading because I can imagine it as it suits me. In this sense, text provides the leeway that images do not.

Multimodalities extend into other literacies as well. Take for example mapping. Like words and alphabets, maps are symbolic representations of information, written down and drawn to facilitate memory and sharing of this information. Map reading is an important skill to learn, particularly in order to help us navigate through unfamiliar cities and roadways. However, the advent of GPS technology and Google Streetview presents a change—there is a decreasing need to be able to read a map now, especially when Google Streetview gives an exact 360º visual representation of the street and turn-by-turn guidance.

Yet we must be cautious in our use of multimodal tools; while multimodal learning is helpful as a way to meet the needs of different learners, too much could be distracting and thus be detrimental to learning.


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

Wolf, M. (2008). Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper Perennial.

December 13, 2009   No Comments

Storage and Performance

I attempted to work through how technologies’ characteristics of storage and performance affect fluency. It represents a start. Please follow this link to see my attempt.

December 6, 2009   No Comments



U-learning seems to be another interesting terminology in the field of education. I saw it first time when I was reading “The World Is Open” book. In that book, Bonk (2009) states that U-learning takes advantage of the capabilities of mobile and wireless technologies to support a seamless and pervasive connection to learning without explicit awareness of the technologies being relied upon. In fact, if you are using technology to learn without reflecting on it, you are likely experiencing u-learning. With the increasing mobility, connectivity, and versatility of educational technologies, there is the potential to devise environments where learning is taking place all the time and for anybody seeking it. And when options for learner participation (not just learning consumption) are added in, learning becomes a more personalized and customized 24/7 experience.

By considering that similar definitions can also be found in other on-line learning fields, in fact, is U-Learning another charming terminology for online education to beat the classroom? Or is it a really new terminology that we need? When I was thinking about these questions I just remembered Bolter saying “hypertextual writing can go further, because it can change for each reader and with each reading”. He also mentioned that technology transforms our social and cultural attitudes toward uses of technology. I think Bolter had predicted today’s learning technologies in 1991, at least in principles.

On the other hand Bolter emphasized that “in the late age of print, however, we are concerned not that there is too much in our minds to get down on paper, but rather that there is too much information held in electronic media for our minds to assimilate”.

Have internet and online technologies, with too much information, changed our minds to assimilate? I also feel that the massive amount of information available to us, from time to time, doesn’t permit us to even think critically to select or make a decision correctly. Maybe, due to lack of time and daily increase in information we have to trust to limited sources or as Bolter said, assimilate our minds. My search in this topic led me to one of the most interesting articles in this area by Salomon and Almog (1998). They started a  discussion about “Butterfly” defect.


Salomon and Almog believed that not all of the potential effects with and of learning by means of multimedia and hypermedia are likely to be positive. One of the outstanding attributes of typical hypermedia programs, as well, as the internet, is their nonlinear, association-based structure. One item just leads to another, and one is invited to wander from one item to another, lured by the visual appeal of the presentation. In fact, surfing the internet or hypermedia programs is a good example of a shallow exploratory behaviour, as distinguished from deeper search, a “butterfly-like” hovering from item to item without really touching.

11 years later, in “Lost in Cyburbia”, Harkin (2009) also notes that a problem in the online world is the quick nature of messaging and feedback on Web 2.0 sites. According to him the problem is that people pass on and respond quickly, often giving little time or attention to reflect on the information at hand. He furthers by commenting that users are often in a state of continuous partial attention.


Similar ideas considering a generation of multi taskers who lack focus, can be found in different literature. Bolter, in someway or other, responds to these types of questions by saying “the supporters of hypertext may even argue that hypertext reflects the nature of the human mind itself-that because we think associatively, not linearly, hypertext allows us to write as we think”. He added that “Writing technologies are never external agents that invade and occupy the minds of their users”. New studies by Jones and Khan (2010) supports Bolter that web-based technologies facilitate collaborative knowledge building, development of new ideas and constructs by bringing people with divergent views together.

It seems that learners, and especially young people, should be exposed to all the options they have, learn a bit about each one and from each other and then choose the fields they would like to spend more time perusing  in depth studies of. In addition to being pretty democratic, this will also increase their perceptions of learning and motivation to learn. Perhaps, sometimes instead of classic learning theories, a fun theory ! is more appropriate to follow by young generation.

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Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Harkin, J. (2009). Lost in Cyburbia. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf.

Jones, N., Khan, O. (2010). “Using Web-Based Technologies and Communities of Practice for Transformative Hybrid and Distance Education” in Web-Based Learning Solutions for Communities of Practice: Developing Virtual Environments for Social and Pedagogical Advancement. Information Science Reference. USA.

Salomon, J., Almog, T. (1998). Educational Psychology and Technology: A Matter of Reciprocal Relations, Teachers College Record, no.2, 222-41, Wint ’98.

December 3, 2009   No Comments

Social Media: Changing Perceptions of Authorship, Writing and Publishing


With the advent of social media tools, such as webblogging, social bookmaking, social writing platforms and RSS search engines, our perceptions of writing, publishing and authorship are experiencing dramatic change.  How will these changes affect values placed on quantity verses quality, public verses private works, ownership and the ability to create static self contained works?  We are in the midst of a transformation which will have significant effects on how we view writing and authorship.  In her book, Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation,” Anne Gentle states that through participation in social media “where you can either contribute or motivate others to contribute, you are empowering collaborative efforts unlike any seen in the past.”  (2009, 105)  In a world of the Internet where anyone can publish and gatekeepers are few and far between, how will the effects of this transition be felt?

 Social writing platforms such as Wikis and multi-authored bookmark pages have moved value from individual work to group collaborative wisdom.  In these new forms of knowledge output, how will we see authorship and value expertise?  Wikipedia offers a collaborative outlet to knowledge demonstration and collection, but without specific gatekeepers regulating content in which “the writer can be the ‘content curator,’ someone who assembles collections based on themes.”  (Gentle, 106) 

Widely viewed and accessible, Wikis offer both closed and open formats, providing choices for creators in terms of degree of acceptable alteration. (Gentle, 2009)  Collaborative knowledge building is becoming increasingly valued as users are “drawing on the wisdom of crowds, [whereby] users contribute content to the work of others, leading to multiple-authored works whose authorship grows over time.”  (Alexander, 2009, 153)  The result of this co-authored collaborative writing is an experience not bound by physical or temporal limitations.  Anyone with basic technological know-how can create a Wiki page and author his work, as “starting a wiki-level entry is far easier than beginning an article or book.” (Alexander, 2009), and anyone with a basic technological know-how can infiltrate and alter content.  Modern social technologies may invite alterations and commentaries because the “bar to entry is lower for the average user.  A user doesn’t have to author an entire site-just proffer a chunk of content.” (Alexander, 2009, 40)

Shared knowledge online, open to micro-commentary or complete overhaul by fellow Web users, is becoming the norm.  Alexander argues that it is “probably inevitable that intellectual property holders will initiate lawsuits investigating perceived misappropriations.” (Alexander, 42)  The concept of author control is altered as self-publishers relinquish a large degree of control over their work to others who may be more or less knowledgeable on a subject and carry a varying view point on the subject matter.  Contributors in social media spaces need to be willing to restrain from complete domination and control over their writing. (Gentle, 2009)  The UBC Wiki site warns users to “note that all contributions to UBC Wiki may be edited, altered, or removed by other contributors. If you do not want your writing to be edited mercilessly, then do not submit it here.”  If users do not wish to have the content open to scrutiny and alterations, the UBC Wiki is not the place to post work. 

Web 2.0 (also referred to as social media and widget) technologies offer choices between programs best suited for individual user needs depending on the level of openness intrinsic to the technology.  Blogging technologies can offer completely open platforms for micro-responses, Google Docs require user invitation to join in the collaborative efforts, and while “a number of wiki platforms permit users to lock down pages from the editing of others” (Alexander, 2009), most Wikis offer open editing possibilities.  Creators can decide whether or not to create an online community, a discussion group, or a folksonomy of tagging.  (Alexander, 2009)  While not all Web 2.0 technologies can be considered online communities, defined by Gentle as “a group of people with similar goals and interests connect and share information using web tools” (103), Alexander (2006) argues that “openness and micro-content combine in a larger conceptual strand…that sees users as playing more of a foundational role in information architecture” in which participants benefit from the collaboration and sharing of information. (Gentle)  Levels of openness can affect both process and product by establishing credited contributors or allowing ‘free’ contribution, where “’free’ can mean freedom rather than no cost.” (Gentle)  Despite ‘free’ access intrinsic to many social media platforms, “particular types of users are more likely to seek out online communities for information-competent, proficient performers, and expert performers… [over] novices and advanced beginners.”  (Gentle, 106)

In terms of asynchronous collaborative writing, the development time line may be short or long, with time spans ranging from days to years, or without a definitive end date.  Wikis and other open-knowledge forums have a long end date that makes monitoring more difficult.  A Wiki created one year may not be altered until the next, making up-to-date monitoring a challenge.  This issue of long verses short term asynchronous communication allows technologies such as Wikis which can be altered indefinitely, very different qualitatively from asynchronous working documents such as Google docs.  Programs such as Google Docs allow for continuous asynchronous involvement but generally are developed with an end goal in mind and abandoned as goals are completed.  Does this alter the value placed on authorship between short and longer term collaborative writing forums?  I would argue the difference is felt in the degree of control the writers can feel in their writing and production. 

Online writing has also created a new forum for publishing both in terms of quality and quantity.  Writers used to have the option of sharing, but not necessarily publishing and reaching audiences was difficult without publication capabilities.  Online writing, in the form of blogging, novels, poetry sites, and article submission has opened the doors for writers in terms of quantity.  Alexander states that “[m]any posters to social networking sites publish content for the world to see and use.  The blogosphere is a platform for millions of people to write to a global audience.” (Alexander, 2008, 153)  Technological know-how can now allow for publication beyond the relatively closed circles of the past.  Authorship venues where writers can “voice an opinion, give an honest review, and build an article or diagram or a picture or a video, perhaps by taking on a writing role [allows writers to] feel autonomous and happiness follows.”  (Gentle, 110) 

Online writing allows for self publishing which ignores the gatekeeper role of publishing houses.  What will the implications be for writers who want to pursue formal publishing methods?  Formerly, in order to have your work read by a large audience, publishing, whether self of external, was the only means to mass distribution of materials.  Web publishing now allows for mass distribution without the quality control of publishing houses but will this make formal publishing increasingly difficult and selective as the quantity of formal publishing houses diminishes and publishing standards alter?

As auto-publishing explodes on the Internet, users are finding novel ways to personalize the Web, effectively ‘writing’ themselves into the World Wide Web.  Since the onset of the Internet, search engines have moved from an emphasis on macro searching to both macro and micro searching.  Searching on the internet is becoming more personal and independent as users utilise micro search engines such as Blogpulse, Feedster, and Daypop (Alexander) which search based on users’ interests.  As search engines move from massive searches, which result in millions of hits, to micro searches, resulting in hits limited to parametres set by the user, the Internet becomes more approachable. (Golder and Huberman)  In a sense we are raising the bar of effective levels of navigational abilities where users need to have a purpose in their Web navigation.  Programs that are limited to searching blogs, or are program specific such as the soon to be released Google micro-blogging search engine, allow for more user control, directed searching, and stream-lined responses. 

To make this point clearer I will use a bookstore analogy.  In approaching a bookstore and attempting to navigate within it, a visitor is aware of categories, subcategories and alphabetization.  These systems of organization also allow for micro searching based on subject and interest within the physical structure of a bookstore.  Micro search engines allow for a similar type of searching of materials.  Users can opt to search a certain category as well as response type.  Bookstores can also differ from one another qualitatively in terms of audience, geared towards a specific audience such as children, young adults, cooks, teachers, trades people, academics, sports fans, and fantasy enthusiasts.  A fantasy enthusiast is not going to look for fantasy material within a book store based on cooking.  Micro search engines allow for a similarly controlled searches.  Book enthusiasts may enter a mega bookstore which carries a wide variety of books from nearly every genre.  Once a specific interest is established, however, the book enthusiast may choose to frequent a more specialized venue, much the same as a micro search engine user may choose to search in a very specific manner over mass broad searches offered through such search engines as Google or Yahoo. (Golder and Huberman) 

With small scale search possibilities come other forms of individualized web applications such as social bookmarking and tagging.  Where “traditionally…categorizing or indexing is either performed by an authority, such as a librarian, or else derived from the material provided by the authors of the documents…collaborative tagging is the practice of allowing anyone…to freely attach keywords or tags to content.” (Golder and Huberman, 1)  Users are able to tag sites that are of interest, creating personalized collections through such applications as del.ici.ous, and allowing users to browse information that has been categorized by others. (Golder and Huberman, 1)  Web activity becomes more focused as these programs allow users to streamline their activities through sites of interests and applicability to personal interests. (Golder and Huberman)  Social media applications such as Tweetups, are effective in “enabling people to feel related to one another.” (Gentle, 110)  Social tagging draws upon collaborative authorship as users work together to tag images, sites, blogs, and ideas in terms of applicability, personal experience and developed networks. (Golder and Huberman) 

The formerly impersonal World Wide Web is becoming more personalized, creating ownership amongst users in a way that impersonal surfing could not allow.  Micro blogging allows users to comment in limited characters, tagging allows for personalized web experiences and collaborative writing allows for knowledge building which transgresses time and physical space.  While the World Wide Web is continuously expanding, new social technologies are allowing for increased authorship through co-authorship, freedom in terms of the ability to freely voice oneself, and individual responses through collaborative experiences. (Golder and Huberman)   Changes will occur in terms of mainstream traditional forms of publishing, knowledge acquisition and authorship, but it is the Internet user who is leading the changes through technological demands and adaptation of new technologies which reflect in a practical application manner, the needs of current Internet users. 


Alexander, B. (2006)  Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning?”  Retrieved from:

Alexander, B. (2008) “Web 2.0 and emergent multiliteracies” Retrieved from:

Gentle, A.  (2009)  Conversation and Community: The social web for documentation”  Retrieved from:

Golder, S., and Huberman, B.  (2005)  The structure of collaborative tagging systems.  Retrieved from:

Hayes, T., and Xun, G.  (2008)  The effects of computer-supported collaborative learning on students’ writing performance.  Retrieved from:

Rogers, G.  (2009) “Coming soon: Google’s micro-blogging search engine.”  Retrieved from:

Wikipedia: Social media.  Retrieved from:

Wiki:  UBC.  Accessed at:

Image taken from:

December 1, 2009   1 Comment

Order Amidst Disorder: How will our children find their way?

Order amidst Disorder: How will our children find their way?

Commentary #3      Delphine Williams Young

ETEC 540                University of British Columbia

November 29, 2009

        “Technological devices and systems shape our culture and the environment, alter patterns of human activity, and influence who we are and how we live. In short, we make and use a lot of stuff-and stuff matters” (Kaplan, 2004, p. xiii).There is no doubt that the evolution of various types of technologies throughout the ages have always impacted the socialization of each generation of children. Whilst Plato cautioned about the technology of writing possessing the potential to weaken the intellectual processes used prior to its emergence, it is obvious based on the variety and abundance of technologies existing in present day society we have much more to be concerned about.

 Walter Ong (1982) suggests that the technology of writing has transformed our consciousness as humans in a way that we will never be able to recapture it. Postman (1992), likewise, bemoans the difficulties children would have organizing their thoughts due to the impact of television and computer based media. The New London Group though basically in support of the positive impact the accessibility to such a wide variety could have on education, also identifies that “[a]s lifeworlds become more divergent and their boundaries more blurred, the central fact of language becomes the multiplicity of meanings and their continual intersection” (The New London Group, 1996, p. 10). Grunwald Associates conducted a research in 2003 which revealed that two million American children had their own websites. Alexander (2006), (2008) describes an even more rapid increase in writing technologies that are affordable and readily available. With such a body of information and new ways of presenting information, where is the teacher in all of this? How does she/he face the reality that confronts her with students who are already podcasting and blogging?

Brian Lamb (2007) makes the suggestion that all we need to do is to keep abreast of the new technologies emerging and use them in the classroom rather than be overly concerned about them. But we have to be concerned somewhat. If students are to be fully digitally literate, they will have to be literate in the original sense (that is to be able to read and write) then be trained to use the technology available. However, even as we attempt to do this we will find and that there are some children who will find it difficult turn back the clock to learn foundational concepts like memorizing timetables and spelling words, having been exposed to technology which gives them the answer immediately at the click of a mouse.

 So while technology has diversified and transformed educational practices, Len Unsworth ( 2006) concedes that for teaching to be effective there will have to be more sophisticated planning and preparation to “scaffold” properly do that students with high interest needs.  Researchers: Miller and Almon (2003) in the U.S.A., Fuchs and Al (2005) in Germany, and Eshet and Hamburger (2005) in Israel have all confirmed that technological mastery has nothing to do with deep thorough thinking.  Deep thorough thinking can be accomplished through technology but this technology has to be used effectively. With every new technology that has emerged there are complaints that the earlier one had more authenticity than the newer one.

Whilst the Web 2.0 is a manifestation of where we wish to be technologically, it has to be approached with caution or we could create a generation that later on would be writing doctoral theses about getting back to the foundation of these technologies. The teacher should assess the writing spaces before sending the children to the wiki or website because the “public, community and economic life” (The New London Group, p.1) that he or she wants the children to be exposed to might not be as authentic as desired.

Despite the challenges of having a multiplicity of literacy tools and information; there are children who have been developing gradually and do not seem to have problems as others sifting through the matrix. Andrea Lunsford (2009) in a recent report on a study she carried out discovered that many students, that despite the criticisms being leveled at today’s digitally literate, write more and with richness and complexity than their counterparts in the 1980’s.  She suggests that the social networking that they always involve writing and thus implying that writing is becoming a habit among them. But we still have to look seriously at the upcoming generation of digital natives who are  Internet surfing as much as sixteen hours per week from as young as age six.  Will these youngsters be able to sift all the material that they interface with? Thus, I end with a call that as educators, we become intimately involved so that we will be able to pass on the basics which will assist the young in understanding the quality of work and critical thinking that we want them to cultivate. The Web 2.0 will not have the positive impact we want to see, according to Bryan Alexander (2008), unless educators “… revamp and extend their prior skills new literacies requisite of a Web 2.0 world.”



Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies. Theory into Practice , 150-160.

Aphek, E. (n.d.). Digital, Highly Connected Children: Implications for Education. Retrieved November 25, 2009, from :…aphek/digital-literacy

Bolter, D. J. (2001). Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Group, T. N. (1996). A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies. Harvard Educational Review , 60-92.

Ong, W. (1982,2002). Orality and Literacy. London and New York: Routledge.

November 30, 2009   1 Comment

Final project, Comment#3

cmaptransitional learning copytablenewloresThe article “Does the brain like e-books” in our readings is relevant to my educational work since I deal exclusively with adult learners who are not “digital natives” (term after Pranskey, cited in Mabrito & Medley, 2008). A typical student in my online class has grade 12 education, and ages range from 18-65, with many students engaging in online constructivist collaborative learning using modern hypermedia for the first time. The typical student seems to have a period of adaptation which is required for them to become comfortable with the new skills needed for use of computer and Internet, and to develop independent self-learning and critical thinking skills.
I dealt with the issue of the aspect of independent learning (learning how to learn) “the what” (after the New London Group, 1995, p 24) and its importance for students new to hypermedia in commentary #2. This commentary will focus on the learning of the content itself (the “how”, after the new London Group, 1995, p 24), and the social focus of web 2.0 learning, for students in transition between traditional literacy and learning methods, going into a web 2.0 environment. The research here will help to support or disprove my driving question of whether the transition learning period requires different pedagogy, as my daily observations seem to suggest. This subject is perhaps not as relevant for those in K-12 learning since these students are either digital natives or well versed in multiliteracy (term after the New London Group, 1996), and not faced with many first-time issues. The commentary will close with a reflective summary I developed to help understand integration of teaching initiatives outlined in the New London Group paper.
Other study groups such as Liu’s in California, the ”Transliteracies Project” (October, 2009) are shedding valuable light on this area. Liu reports “Initially, any new information medium seems to degrade reading because it disturbs the balance between focal and peripheral attention”. His observation does seem typical for newly-online learners who do in fact get sidetracked in class. Even for those adult learners with educational backgrounds, some time to adjust is required. In the MET 540 discussion forum Prizeman (2009) observes “The hypertextuality of digital writing spaced at first confused my linear mind, but now that I have spent a great deal of time interacting with them, I feel like “I’ll never go back”!” Her insight certainly reinforces the sense that there is a transitional period.
Liu (October, 2009) also concludes “It takes time and adaptation before a balance can be restored, not just in the “mentality” of the reader…but in the social systems that complete the reading environment.” This makes good sense as all literacy occurs in context, and so the student would be expected to adapt to the new way of learning in a bigger sense. Traditional pedagogy is didactic and students are used to being passive, linear and focused on one package of learning at a time as described in the Mabrito & Medley (2008) article. The Liu group confirms that in early phases of transition to new media “We suffer tunnel vision, as when reading a single page, paragraph, or even “keyword in context” without an organized sense of the whole. Or we suffer marginal distraction, as when feeds or blogrolls in the margin (”sidebar”) of a blog let the whole blogosphere in.”
The multidimensional environment calls on the learner to multitask. The open-ended resources on the Internet can be overwhelming at first as the learner enters this novel research realm. It is not the reading comprehension that suffers, as most students are adept at reading on a screen. In the “Does the Brain like e-Books?” article, Aamodt concludes, “Fifteen or 20 years ago, electronic reading also impaired comprehension compared to paper, but those differences have faded in recent studies.”
Aamodt (October, 2009) also reports that “Distractions abound online — costing time and interfering with the concentration needed to think about what you read. “ The deep concentration which is required to reflect on what is read, heard and seen may be reduced in this type of environment. Learning to focus on the work at hand and dismiss the outliers is a learning strategy that can be coached. Aamondt points out that, “Frequent task switching costs time and interferes with the concentration needed to think deeply about what you read.” Mark (October, 2009) concurs “When online, people switch activities an average of every three minutes (e.g. reading email or IM) and switch projects about every 10 and a half minutes”. That is bound to impact reflective learning. Mark also reports “My own research shows that people are continually distracted when working with digital information” so maintaining focus is confirmed to be a challenge, and her study did not just include learners new to hypermedia. She agrees with Aamondt about depth of engagement, “ It’s just not possible to engage in deep thought about a topic when we’re switching so rapidly.”
Well adapted online learners with established multiliteracy are comfortable with social networking, and multitasking in hypermedia, so more experienced learners will need more flexible environments to correlate with their skill set. Prizeman (2009) in our forums put it very well “The possibilities are endless, and the once hierarchical order that knowledge was presented in print, no longer exists in hypertext–I feel more in control of my learning, and with flexibility and freedom, I am able to search out the information that I need, as well as explore the connections between it and my world.”
The interface with online learning needs to evolve with a new appreciation of interacting with media versus human communication. Ong explores this concept and determines “communication is inter-subjective” (Ong, 2002, p 173). Ong refers to a media model of communication that focuses on informational, performance oriented interpretation, versus true communication which requires one to have advance appreciation for the other person’s inner self. That new setting is important as he points out that getting inside the minds of persons you will never know is not an easy thing to do, “but it is not impossible if you and they are familiar with the literary tradition they work in” (Ong, 2002, p. 174). Learning online does require this re-set of human communication through the window of the computer screen, and learning a new type of literary tradition, which takes time to become internalized.
Guided learning will help to address the distracting environment for transitioning students. Use of learning objectives, goal-oriented learning agreed upon by instructor and student and web or wiki quests help to direct newly-online learners to a subset of what is a large resource pool for relevant information. This limited structure is a guide not a limit. Bolter (2001, p169) points out that “relationship between the author, the text, and the world represented is made more complicated by the addition of the reader as an active participant”. A transitional learner will need to become adapted to the necessity of being more engaged and constructive when interfacing with electronic materials compared with one-way media. Use of RSS feeds can help students find key learning materials that are of high relevance. Another strategy to help a learner in that adaptation phase is to pair them with a mentor who is comfortable in web 2.0, and can be a resource for them. As well, collaborative grouping will allow students to split up a literature search or web search so that each has a self assigned area to focus in. Critical analysis of resources can be integrated with that orientation session. Some of these strategies will only be needed until new-online students’ multiliteracy is established.
The appendix table below will provide a summary of the critical pedagogy strategies that may be used to cultivate the intellect, and how they can be utilized in courses for learners of varying competence in multiliteracy.
In conclusion, it does appear that the literature supports observations that transitioning learners may need to have some early scaffolding and support and that their learning is constantly evolving through that period. Once transitioned, students can enjoy the full richness of multiliteracy and online networked learning.
A hanging issue is sparked by the observation reported by Mark (October, 2009 in “Does the Brain like e-Books?) “More and more, studies are showing how adept young people are at multitasking. But the extent to which they can deeply engage with the online material is a question for further research” Baxter (2009) mirrors these concerns when she posted “I’m not convinced that getting used to the extra activities does actually enable one to concentrate fully in spite of them. I’m more inclined to think that – along with a lot of other abilities, like amusing themselves during a power outage – the “digital generation” is losing the ability to concentrate fully on something that doesn’t engage them.”
Though these learning strategies summarized below will help us understand the transition to multiliteracy in an online learning environment, that is another realm of future enquiry; addressing the hanging issue of how transitioned students can effectively internalize and reflect on what they have learned which has been left as a question mark in the summary table.



Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd ed]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
[Ed’s] Does the brain like e-books? (October 2009) featuring Liu, A., Aamodt, S, Wolf, M., Mark, G. Accessed online at the New York Times, November 1, 2009 at: from
Ito, M., Horst, H., Bittani, M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., et al. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the digital youth project. From: , University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley.
Mabrito, M & Medley, R. (2008). Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read: Understanding the net generation’s texts. Innovate. Vol. 4, No. 6. Retrieved online November 1, 2009 from: Page 1 of 7

New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 66, No. 1, 60-92. Retrieved online from :

Ong, W. (2002) Orality and Literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Menthuen.
Prizeman, S. (2009). From Calculator of the humanist-Miller MET ETEC 540 Forum on November 23, 2009 10:34 am.
Baxter, D. (2009). From Origin and nature of hypertext-Miller MET ETEC 540 Forum on November 27, 2009 1:18 pm

November 30, 2009   2 Comments

Learning Multiliteracies

There are approximately 5000 – 10,000 different languages in the world (Wikipedia, 2009). According to statistics from 2001 Census of Canada, the population of visible minorities living in Canada is approximately 29,639,030 out of Canada’s total population of 3,983,845 of that 1,029,395 are Chinese, 917,075 are South Africans and 198,880 are Southeast Asians(Statistics Canada, 2001). Although many are aware that Canada is a multilingual and multicultural nation, most are ignorant about the results such differences can have on society. Today’s classrooms especially in metropolitan cities consist of students of various backgrounds; however, the current traditional approaches to teaching and learning cater mostly to students’ whose mother tongue is English. The melting pot is boiling over. The current literacy education structure needs to be re-designed and re-organized in order to better prepare students for the multiliteral and diverse environments.

In the article “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” the New London Group views that considering the multiliteracies of diverse students with various cultural backgrounds is important to teaching and learning multiliteracies for they believe “effective citizenship and productive work now require that we interact effectively using multiple languages, multiple Englishes, and communication patterns that more frequently cross cultural, community, and national boundaries” (The New London Group, 1996). Queensland’s Department of Education and Training is also advocating multiliteracies and communication media through diversity. They believe “the ability to operate in the middle world between cultures can be generated in very young learners of another language. While the experience of the so-called third place may occur through the learning of one language, it is a skill that can be transferred to dealings with other cultures in other contexts. Knowledge of the intent and tone of the language allows a true understanding of the messages in intercultural communication” (Queensland, 2004). To make intercultural communication possible the traditional four wall classroom needs to be reorganized and thought of as a borderless learning and teaching community where students can venture off to classrooms of different cultures and experiment with multiliteracies. This can be made possible with the use of various communication technologies and the analysis of various cultural texts. This valuable experience will help to equip isolated students with skills to attack real world challenges.

New London Group argues that the current literacy education system is inadequate and cannot effectively prepare students for full participation in their working, community and personal lives. We exist in an information age where information is vital to success and even survival. Even though information is more accessible than before, information is hiding behind different faces or representations. The New London Group urges that schools’ literacy curriculum be mindful to include multiliteracies closely associated with communication technology of the 21st century. According to Queensland’s Department of Education and training“multiliteracies and communications media refers to technologies of communication that use various codes for the exchange of messages, texts and information. Historically, communications media have included spoken language, writing, print and some visual media like photograph and film. Since World War II, the various electronic media such as television and other digital information technologies have provided much more complex audiovisual layers to these” (Queensland, 2004). Communication technologies alter the way people interact with information and culture. Keeping up with new communication technologies used in our information age is vital because they “change the way we use old media, enhancing and augmenting them” (Queensland, 2004) To become multiliterate “What is also required is the mastery of traditional skills and techniques, genres and texts, and their applications through new media and new technologies” (Queensland, 2004).

Multiliteracy is more than knowing how communication technologies affect information, it also includes how various texts are used together to construct meaning. Text today is blend of traditional print, visual arts and audio text. These texts do not exist in solitude. Their relationship on a page creates the overall meaning that the creator is attempting to establish. For instance, the graphs and charts that accompany a newspaper article are vital to the readers’ general understanding of the subject. The inability to read or interpret charts is the same as the inability to understand the visual images used along with written text. Decoding information from various representations to which it can be understood and analyzed requires one to have prior experience with such texts. Therefore, teaching information literacy is important in schools for such skills and capabilities will enable students to “locate, evaluate and use effectively the needed information” (Dobson & Willinksky, 2009). To do this, The New London Group emphasizes on the concept of design “as curriculum is a design for social futures, we need to introduce the notion of pedagogy as Design” as design is “the idea of Design is one that recognizes the different Available Designs of meaning, located as they are in different cultural context” because it is “through their co-engagement in Designing, people transform their relations with each other, and so transform themselves” (The New London Group, 1996). The result of the meaningful transformatin is the creation of new meanings and identities where individuals are “creator of their social futures” ( The New London Group, 1996).

The job of today’s educators is challenging because they are having to constantly learn new practices and revise learned approaches to effectively prepare young learners for the rapidly changing world. However, once learners have master the fundamentals of multiliteracies they will be able to explore and learn independently.

Dobson T, Willinsky J. Digital Literacy. In: Olson D, Torrance N, editors. Cambridge Handbook on Literacy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2009. Retrieved the November 24, 2009 from:

Multiliteracies and Communications Media. Queensland Government: Department of Education and Training. Retrieved on November 25, 2009 from

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. Retrieved, November 25, 2009, from

Wikipedia. Retrieved on November 25, 2009. Retrieved from
Statistics Canada. Retrieved on November 24, 2009. Retrieved from

November 30, 2009   1 Comment

From one literacy, to many, to one

There is no question that for students in the K-12 system in North America the ‘new’ literacies afforded by digital technologies play an integral role in their lives.  The question is what role they should play in schools.  Most of these students have never known a time without the Internet and have not had to do research when Google (circa 1998) and Wikipedia (2001) were not options.  The question of whether these new tools for finding information and the skills required to use them1 are literacy is moot for these students.  It is a question posed by those attempting to make sense of a rapid change in the learning styles and methods of their students—and in that sense it is necessary and useful.  However, any consideration of new literacies as ‘lesser’ literacies entirely misses the point.  The new literacies of what Bolter (2001) repeatedly terms “the late age of print” are additive in nature.  That is, though there is much debate about the relative merits of various forms of representation, the effect is evolutionary and cumulative rather than revolutionary and exclusionary.  Many literacies co-exist, supplement one another, extend into one another, and borrow and trade metaphors.  As Dobson and Willinsky (2009) note, “…the paradox [is] that while digital literacy constitutes an entirely new medium for reading and writing, it is but a further extension of what writing first made of language” (p. 1).  Certainly, for K-12 students, ‘new’ literacies are not new, they are simply literacy.  Thus, multiliteracy, new literacy, digital literacy and information literacy, while useful concepts in the effort to problematize and deconstruct the changes, are all facets of one, evolving and growing literacy.  Writing in 1996, the year many students currently in the eighth grade were born, the New London Group argued that “…literacy pedagogy now must account for the burgeoning variety of text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies” (p. 2).  Whether accounted for or not, those forms and technologies are taken for granted by most students.  It seems likely that ignoring this results in a type of cognitive dissonance for students which may make it more difficult for them to learn in classrooms in which print literacy is still the dominant, if not the only, mode.  A danger, however, as Dobson and Willinsky (2009) note, is the tendency to assume that “…adolescents’ competence with new technologies—is often inappropriately reconstrued as incompetence with print-based literacies” (p. 11).  Some technology enthusiasts, notable among them Marc Prensky, call for a wholesale shift from print to digital literacy.

Marc Prensky speaks in 2008.

Marc Prensky speaks in 2008.

Prensky has gone so far as to claim that “…it is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed—and are different from ours—as a result of how they grew up” (Prensky, 2001, p. 1) and their immersion in digital technologies.  While there has been some interesting research in recent years on brain plasticity, particularly with reference to interactions with technology, Prensky is justly criticized for going beyond the scientific evidence (McKenzie, 2007).  Yet he does highlight important characteristics of the way students now learn and socialize2 using technology.  Similarly, Prensky’s classification of parents and teachers as Digital Immigrants, and their children and students as Digital Natives, though overly simplistic is not entirely unhelpful in conceptualizing the current situation in classrooms.  As with other immigrants, some adults have a more difficult time adapting to a new culture than do their children who have been raised in that culture.  Of course, the situation is not as black and white as Prensky would have us believe.  It is also sometimes true that adults who have made the choice to emigrate, and have done the research and made the sacrifices necessary to act on that choice, are more knowledgeable and participate to a higher degree than do their children who take the advantages and freedoms of the new country for granted.  It is normal to find students today who have high

Ubiquitous texting teenager.

Ubiquitous texting teenager.

 speed Internet access at home, access to a family desktop computer or a desktop, laptop or netbook computer of their own, a cellular telephone (capable of texting and taking photos and short movies), and an iPod or other MP3 player.  In fact, the preceding is almost a list of standard equipment for a teenager in early 21st Century North America.  And while it is still true that many schools do not encourage the use of most of these technologies in the classroom, an interesting phenomenon can be observed when teachers make an attempt to do so.  The teacher, likely a Digital Immigrant in Prensky’s terms, has made some study of the technology to determine the ways in which it can be most usefully employed in pursuit of particular curricular objectives.  What often becomes clear is that many of the Digital Native students, who appear quite facile with technology to the casual observer, are both a.) using only limited aspects of technology primarily for social purposes (MSN, Facebook, Twitter, etc.); and, b.) not fully comprehending the implications of the uses they do make of the technology.  This is particularly evident with regard to services such as Facebook where it is not uncommon to find that students rely on default privacy settings, do not read the contract they agree to when opening an account which states that all material posted to the site becomes the property of Facebook, and do not consider the potential long-term consequences of statements or images they post.  In short, students are not only taking the technologies and literacies for granted, they have little or no explicit understanding of them. What this argues for is again something that was anticipated by the New London Group thirteen years ago:  the need for teachers and students to come together in a learning community to which both parties bring their knowledge, experience, learning styles and literacies.

To be relevant, learning processes need to recruit, rather than attempt to ignore and erase, the different subjectivities, interests, intentions, commitments, and purposes that students bring to learning.  Curriculum now needs to mesh with different subjectivities, and with their attendant languages, discourses and registers, and use these as a resource for learning. (New London Group, 1996, p. 11)

Dobson and Willinsky (2009) hit exactly the right “Whiggish” note in the closing remarks to their draft chapter on digital literacy: “We must attend to where exactly and by what means digital literacy can be said to be furthering, or impeding, educational and democratic, as well as creative and literary, ends” (Dobson and Willinsky, 2009, p. 22).  It is clear that the result of this attention must be an expansion of the definition of literacy to include many aspects made possible by its digital evolution. 


up1 Dobson and Willinsky (2009) point out that literacy in the digital age includes the skills, often defined as information literacy, “… not just for decoding text, but for locating texts and establishing the relationship among them” (p. 19).

up2 “Social software constitutes a fairly substantial answer to the question of how digital literacy differs from and extends the work of print literacy” (Dobson and Willinsky, 2009, p. 21).


Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Dobson, T. and Willinsky, J. (2009). Digital Literacy.  From draft version of a chapter for The Cambridge Handbook on Literacy.

McKenzie, J. (2007).  Digital Nativism, Digital Delusions, and Digital Deprivation.  From Now On, 17(2).  Available:

Prensky, M. (2001).  Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.  On the Horizon.  NCB University Press, 9(5).

November 29, 2009   1 Comment

Web 2.0 tools: educational friend or foe?

Commentary #3 ~ K. Kerrigan

After reading Bryan Alexander’s article, “Web 2.0 A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning? (2006), my assumption that I was a teacher who was “with the times” came suddenly crashing down. Alexander gives even a modest techie a run-down on what Web 2.0 can now offer. As a teacher, one must ask: are these tools an educational friend or foe? Within the classroom, the importance of using Web 2.0 tools, such as social networking, has a mixed reaction among educational professionals. Walling (2009) points to two different camps in education, those who think that social networking is a distraction to the education process, and those who see this tool as way to exchange ideas and enhance the education process. Motteram and Sharma (2009) discuss that by using Web 2.0 tools it allows students to be social in many sorts of ways: textually, orally, visually, and aurally.  For example, podcasting, weblogs, wikis, Skype, Google Docs, and chat programs like MSN Messenger. “The process of creating Web 2.0 materials involves the engagement of a community, consisting of developers who create tools and the users who produce the content using a range of digital technologies” (Motteram & Sharma, 2009, p. 88). Current debate is whether those users should be students within a classroom.

Why would a teacher want to use these tools?

Alexander states that “ …Openness remains a hallmark of [the Web 2.0] emergent movement, both ideologically and technologically” (Alexander, 2006, p.34). For today’s students, this openness is an easy task, whereas for teachers and parents it is a bit harder to grasp. This open, social environment can be conducive to learning with the right teacher and the right tools.  “Tech-savvy teachers who work with students to produce media will find that openness to exploring Web 2.0 strategies for idea networking and creative sharing can be highly productive” (Walling, 2009, p. 23). One might argue that it shouldn’t just be those ‘tech-savvy teachers’ who utilize these resources. Are other students and entire schools missing out on Web 2.0 and what it has to offer? For benefit of all students,  it will require for some teachers to move away from their technophobia and worries about the constant sharing of information.

Motteram and Sharma (2009) state that  “…when we stop seeing such technologies as somehow extras and when they blend into the background, they will have become as accepted as books are now, as a part of the classroom furniture” (p. 86).Teachers must first look at the inherent value of these tools and the effect it will have on their students. Web 2.0 responds more deeply to its users versus Web 1.0. As Motteram and Sharma (2009) declare, “Web 1.0 tools deliver information to people, Web 2.0 tools allow the active creation of information by users”  (p. 88).  Students are a lot more social today with the utilization of these tools. For many, it is almost second nature to blog, bookmark, or tag something for themselves and for their peer community to view. Within the classroom these tools, especially social networking sites, create a new and exciting environment for the students. “It enables the face-to-face class to be extended in various kinds of ways and also extends the time that the students spend on tasks” (Motteram & Sharma, 2009, p. 90). Students are also encouraged to be more collaborative within this environment. This can be accomplished by using wikis or weblogs.  As Alexander reminds us that “these services offer an alternative platform for peer editing, supporting the now-traditional elements of computer-mediated writing-asynchronous writing…” (2006, p.38). Editing, reading, and writing are affected when a student uses one of these tools. When they realize that their peers are going to be reading their work (via a weblog or wiki), many students create work surpassing that done within the f2f classroom. The changing face of literacy in today’s classroom also allows for the student to become the author, the producer and the critic of text. They are now active learners with these technologies, rather than passive consumers of text (Handsfield, Dean & Cielocha, 2009).  Having students who are active learners, who are passionate about literacy, and who want to post their work, means that the teacher can spend more time supporting and encouraging their students rather than fighting them on basic assignments.

In short, Web 2.0 tools need to be embraced by all teachers within the classroom. It will not only enhance their curriculum, but excite and motivate all students. Web 2.0 tools are friend to the teacher and ultimately the student, offering a plethora of resources and opportunity for collaboration among peers globally.


Alexander, B. (2006). A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning?. Educause Review, 41(2), 32-44.

Cox, E. (2009). The Collaborative Mind: Tools for 21st-Century Learning. MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 16(5), 10-14. Retrieved on November 26, 2009 from Academic Search Complete database.

Handsfield, L., Dean, T., & Cielocha, K. (2009). Becoming Critical Consumers and Producers of Text: Teaching Literacy with Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. Reading Teacher, 63(1), 40-50. Retrieved on November 26, 2009 from Academic Search Complete database.

Motteram, G., & Sharma, P. (2009). Blending Learning in a Web 2.0 World. International Journal of Emerging Technologies & Society, 7(2), 83-96. Retrieved on November 26, 2009 from Academic Search Complete database.

Walling, D. (2009). Idea Networking and Creative Sharing. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 53(6), 22-23. Retreived on November 26, 2009 from doi:10.1007/s11528-009-0339-x.

November 29, 2009   2 Comments

Multi-literacy and assessment

Commentary # 3, Cecilia Tagliapietra

Along this course, we’ve discussed the “creation” or discovery of text and how it has transformed throughout the ages; providing mankind a way of expressing thoughts and feelings. In this third and last commentary, I’d like to discuss how we’ve become literate in different areas and how literacy, as text, has also been transformed to fit new manifestations of text. I’d also like to touch upon the challenges we face as teachers, to assess and impulse the development of these competencies or literacies.

As text has transformed spaces and human consciousness (Ong, 1982, p. 78), we’ve also changed the meaning of the term literacy, integrating not only the focus on text as the main aspect of it, but also the representations, and methods in which text is manifests, as well as the meaning given or understood according to different contexts. The New London Group (1996) has introduced the term “multiliteracies” for the “burgeoning variety of text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies” (p. 60). From this understanding and meaning, we can identify different literacy abilities or competencies. The two most important types of literacies we’ll narrow down to are: digital literacy and information literacy.

Dobson and Willinsky (2009) assertively express that “digital literacy constitutes an entirely new medium for reading and writing, it is but a further extension of what writing first made of language” (referring to the transformation of human consciousness, (Ong, 1982, p. 78)). These authors consider digital literacy an evolution that integrates and expands on previous literacy concepts and processes, as Bolter expresses “Each medium seems to follow this pattern of borrowing and refashioning other media” (Bolter, 2001, pg. 25). With digital literacy, we can clearly identify previous structures and elements shaping into new, globalized and closely related contexts.

Digital technologies have recently forced us to change and expand what we understand as literacy. Being digitally literate is being able to look for, understand, evaluate and create information within the different manifestations of text in non-physical or digital media. Information literacy is also closely linked to the concept of digital literacy. According to the American Association of School Librarians (1998), an information literate, should: access information efficiently and effectively, evaluate information critically and competently, use the information accurately and creatively. We can clearly see an interrelationship between the concepts of these literacies; they both rely on an interpretation of text and an effective use of this interpretation. The development of critical thinking skills is also closely related to these concepts and the ability to use information (and text) creatively and accurately.

The use of these new literacies has also changed (and continues to do so) the way we communicate and learn; we constantly interact with multimedia and rapidly changing information. Even relationships and authority “positions” are restructured, as consumers also become producers of knowledge and text.  With the introduction and use of these new literacies, education has somehow been “forced” to integrate these competencies into the curriculum and, most importantly, into the daily teaching and learning phenomena.

As teachers, we are not only required to facilitate learning in math, science, etc.; we are also required to facilitate and encourage the development of these literacies as well as critical thinking skills. Teaching and assessing these abilities is no easy task, as it’s not always manifested in a concrete product. Calvani and co-authors (Calvani,, 2008), propose an integral assessment for these new competencies, involving the technological, cognitive and ethical aspects of the literacies (See Figure 1). In order to assess, we must initially transform our daily practices to integrate these abilities for our students and for ourselves. Being literate (in the “normal” concept) is not an option anymore. We are bombarded with and have access to massive amounts of information which we need to disseminate, analyze and choose carefully. Digital and information literacies are needed competencies to successfully understand and interpret the globalized context and be able to integrate ourselves into it.

Learning (ourselves) and teaching others to be literate or multi-literate is an important task at hand. Tapscott (1997) has mentioned that the NET generation is multitasker, digitally competent and a creative learner. As educators and learning facilitators, we also need to integrate and develop these competencies within our contexts.

Literacy has transformed and integrated different concepts and competencies, what it will mean or integrate in five years or a decade?


 Figure 1: Digital Competence Framework (Calvani,, 2008, pg. 187)




American Association of School Librarians/ Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (1998) Information literacy standards for student learning. Standards and Indicators. Retrieved November 28, 2009 from:


Calvani, A. et. al (2008) Models and Instruments for Assessing Digital Competence at School. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society. Vol. 4, n. 3, September 2008 (pp. 183 – 193). Retrieved November 28, 2009 from:


Dobson and Willinsky’s (2009) chapter “Digital Literacy.”  Submitted draft version of a chapter for The Cambridge Handbook on Literacy.


New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. Retrieved, November 28, 2009, from

Tapscott, Don. Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, Retrieved November 28, 2009 from:  

November 29, 2009   1 Comment

Social Tagging

Third Commentary by Dilip Verma

Social Tagging

Many popular web based applications are described as belonging to the Web 2.0. Alexander (2008) suggests that what defines Web 2.0 software is that it permits social networking, microcontent and social filtering. Users participate in the Web 2.0 by making small contributions that they link to the works of other contributors to form part of a participative discourse based on sharing. In social filtering, “creators comment on other’s creations, allowing readers to triangulate between primary and secondary sources.” (Alexander, 2008). One of the offspring of this new cooperative form of literacy is the creation of Folksonomies.

Folksonomies are user-defined vocabularies used as metadata for the classification of Web 2.0 content. Users and producers voluntarily add key words to their microcontent. There are no restrictions on these tags, though programs often make suggestions by showing the most commonly previously used tags. Folksonomies (also known as ethnoclassification) represent an important break with the traditional forms of information classification systems. This technology is still in its infancy; presently it is used for the categorizing of photos in Flickr, of Web pages in and of blog content in Technorati. However, its use is sure to spread as the Web 2.0 gains popularity.

Berner- Lee, designed the Web to allow people to share documents using standard protocols. His proposal for the Semantic Web (see video) is that raw data should now be made shareable both between web programs and between users. At the moment social tagging is program specific. There is no reason to assume that it will or should remain this way. For tags to be readable by different programs, they will require a common structure. A system whereby tags can be shared and analyzed across applications is possible by creating an ontology of tags. This ontology will merely be a standard of metadata that records more than just the tag word applied to an object. Gruber (2007) proposes a structure for the metadata including information on the tag, the tagger, and the source. In this way tags will be transferable and searchable across the Web, making them a much more powerful technology.

Standard classification systems are structured from the top down. Professionals carefully break down knowledge into categories and build a vocabulary, which can then be used to hierarchically categorize information. Traditionally, categorizing is a labor-intensive, highly skilled process reserved for professionals. It also requires users to buy into a culturally defined way of knowing. Social tagging is the creation of metadata not by professionals (e.g. librarians or catalogers), but by the authors and users of microcontent. The tags are used both as an individual form of organizing as well as for sharing the microcontent within a community (Mathes, 2004).

Weinberger (2007) divides organizational systems into three orders, defining the third order as a system where information is digital and metadata is added by users rather than professionals. Apart from the physical advantages of storing information digitally, the author sees that this change in the creation of metadata will “undermine some of our most deeply ingrained ways of thinking about the world and our knowledge of it.” Weinberger (2007) sees tagging as empowering, as it lets users define meaning by forming their own relationships rather than having categories imposed upon them. “It is changing how we think the world itself is organized and -perhaps more important- who we think has the authority to tell us so.” (Weinberger,2007, ¶ 48). Mathes notes that “the users of a system are negotiating the meaning of the terms in the Folksonomy, whether purposefully or not, through their individual choices of tags to describe documents for themselves” (2004, ¶ 46). In Folksonomies, the creation of meaning lies firmly on the shoulders of the user.

The interesting thing about social tagging is that a consensus of meaning is naturally formed. “As contributors tag, they have access to tags from other readers, which often influence their own choice of tags” (Alexander, 2008, p. 154). Udell notes that “the real power emerges when you expand the scope to include all items, from all users, that match your tag. Again, that view might not be what you expected. In that case, you can adapt to the group norm, keep your tag in a bid to influence the group norm, or both” (2004, ¶ 5). Folksonomies are organic as they develop naturally through voluntary contributions. Traditionally, society defines the “set of appropriate criteria” by which things may be categorized (Weinberger, 2007, ¶ 6). But Folksonomies should allow us “to get rid of the idea that there’s a best way of organizing the world” (Weinberger, 2007, ¶ 7).

However, Boyd raises some concerns about who is forming this consensus and its influence on power relations. The author notes that “most of the people tagging things have some form of shared cultural understandings” (2005, ¶ 3) and that these people are ” very homogenous” (2005, ¶ 3). The author adds that “we must think through issues of legitimacy and power. How are our collective choices enforcing hegemonic uses of language that may marginalize?” (2005, ¶ 7). At the moment the use of tags is restricted to a small homogenous group. This is representative of the wider problem of the globalizing influence of a web dominated by “a celebration of the “Californian ideology”” (Boshier & Chia, 1999). The consensus formed in Folksonomies will be representative of only a small sector of the population. To address this requires providing access and a voice in the Web 2.0 discourse to minorities. If user defined tags become the standard for metadata on the Web 2.0, it is important that all groups take part in the forming of the consensus. Without access for marginalized communities, Folksonomies will not achieve their true liberating potential.


Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies. Theory into Practice, 47(2), 150-160. Retrieved November 20, 2009 from

Boyd, D. (2005). Issues of Culture in Ethnoclassification/Folksonomy. Retrieved November 26, 2009, from Corante Web Site:

Boshier, R. & Chia, M. O.(1999) Discursive Constructions Of Web Learning And Education: “World Wide” And “Open?” Proceedings of the Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning Retrieved November 15 from

Gruber, T. (2007). Ontology of Folksonomy: A Mash-up of Apples and Oranges. Int’l Journal on Semantic Web & Information Systems, 3(2). Retrieved November 27, 2009 from

Mathes, A. (2004). Folksonomies-Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata. Retrieved November 26, 2009 from

Udell, J. (2004). Collaborative Knowledge Gardening. Retrieved November 25, 2009, from InfoWorld Web Site:

Weinberger, D. (2007). Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. New York: Times Books. Retrieved November 26, 2009 from

November 29, 2009   3 Comments

Commentary # 3

Is Web 2.0 Selling out the Younger Generation?

Commentary # 3

By David Berljawsky

Submitted to Prof. Miller

Nov 29, 2009

There is one underlying theme that involves technology and text education that I need to touch upon. Are we sabotaging the upcoming generation with the way that we teach technology? Or is it the opposite and we are actually giving them the proper tools to succeed? It is possible that in the shift to modern web 2.0 technologies we are neglecting to educate about the simplest things that we take for granted? This can include key knowledge’s such as social skills, communication and even basic literacy? Students are engaged in the web 2.0 process like never before. These technologies are creative based and offer the user a newfound ability to edit and modify information to fit into their respective wants and needs.  According to Alexander “In American K-12 education, students increasingly accept these kinds of technology-driven information structures and the literacies that flow from them (Alexander, P.2).” To me this quote acts as a double edged sword. Students are engaged in the new literacies (web 2.0) like never before, but are these new literacies appropriate and conducive to meeting proper educational standards? Or do they simply aid in creating an individualist society that is lacking a sense of community? This paper will examine some of the positive and negative aspects that occur when Web 2.0 is taught without providing the proper scaffolding. This commentary will examine its potential consequences both socially and educationally.

One needs to examine the benefits of these technologies and understand their positive influences before one can criticize them. According to the New London Group, in its article “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures, “As a result, the meaning of literacy pedagogy has changed. Local diversity and global connectedness mean not only that there can be no standard; they also mean that the most important skill students need to learn is to negotiate regional; ethnic, or class-based dialects… (New London, P.8).”  This melds together education, literacy and even community in a newfound manner. It is a mix-up or mash-up of sorts. Students are required, due to the changing landscape of the world and technology to concentrate on learning communication skills with other cultures in an online environment. One would assume that this is a positive and worthwhile endeavour to achieve towards. However, this can increase the creation of a more macro centered community. This will only increase the affects of globalization and prevent local communities from prospering and expressing themselves.

One benefit in using these technologies is that students are likely engaged in the process and the multicultural aspirations of our society. These are promoted like never before. However I can think of an obvious negative aspect. There is little actual social interaction. In Web 2.0 social interaction is promoted through websites that offer social networking in an online environment.  This certainly does have its benefits.  “Web 2.0’s lowered barrier to entry may influence a variety of cultural forms with powerful implications for education, from storytelling to classroom teaching to individual learning (Alexander, P.42).” What may occur is a socially constructed generational divide. Generation A’s perceived culturally appropriate way of communication (web 2.0) will conflict with the older generation who still use older technologies. This makes me think of an Orwellian future where we communicate entirely through electronic means, where physical interaction is seen as being against the norm. This is somewhat true already in our use of technologies such as Facebook and MySpace, where people communicate more through them then with old fashioned telephones. We are currently text electronically instead of talking with our own voices. Educators need to be aware of this paradigm shift and change their practices accordingly.

Another danger in using web 2.0 and modern computer technologies in the classroom occurs when the educators do not educate the students about why they are learning these new technologies. Simply providing the student with a blog or a wiki and expecting them to formulate appropriate arguments and concepts is unlikely to happen without the proper scaffolding. “They don’t link ideas,” the teacher says, “They just write one thing, and then they write another one, and they don’t develop the relationships between them (Dobson & Willinsky, p.3).” This can be seen as a failure in the education system. Regardless of one views of technology use in the classroom it still remains an imperative process to educate students about the proper forms of literacy and writing. Without the proper knowledge and skills communication with older generations can be difficult, especially in the workplace.

There is an inherent danger in education that occurs when any form of technology becomes dominant. What is previously seen as integral and important becomes seen as archaic and becomes lost. Educators need to allow the younger generation to develop the multiliteracies and computer intelligence needed to proceed in their career paths without ignoring teaching the traditional educational foundations. That is a huge challenge. Educators need to accept that the younger generation has different forms of communications and multiliteracies and adjust accordingly. Both educators and students need to respect the knowledge being transmitted. “We have our unique ways of knowing, teaching and learning which are firmly grounded in the context of our ways of being. And yet we are thrust into the clothes of another system designed for different bodies, and we are fed ideologies which serve the interests of other peoples (Donovan, P.96).”

If we do not accept this evolution and work on actually decreasing the social and communicative gap between the generations the divide will only be extended. The generations will have trouble relating with the each other both socially and in the workplace. This might ultimately lead to both generations harbouring feeling of resentment because they feel that their leanings and ideologies are being put down and disvalued.


Alexander, B. (2008)  “Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies.” Theory into practice. 47(2), 150-60. Retrieved, July 20, 2009, from

Alexander, B. (2006) “Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning?” Educause Review, 41(2), 34-44. Retrieved, April 5, 2008, from

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92. Retrieved, August 15, 2009, from

Dobson, Teresa, & John Willinsky (2009).  Digital Literacy. (OlsonD., TorranceN., Ed.). Cambridge Handbook on Literacy. [Book Chapter]

Donovan, Michael (2007). “Can Information Communication Technological Tools be Used to Suit Aboriginal Learning Pedagogies?” Published in “Information Technology and Indigenous People”. Editied by Dyson, Laurel. Hendriks, Max and Grant, Stephan. Idea Group. USA. 2007.

November 29, 2009   1 Comment

Commentary 3 – text will remain

Hi everyone,

Hayles explains that sometime between 1995 and 1997 a shift in Web literature occurred: before 1995 hypertexts were primarily text based with “with navigation systems mostly confined to moving from one block of text to another (Hayles, 2003).”  Post 1997, Hayles states that  “electronic literature devises artistic strategies to create effects specific to electronic environments (2003).”

Bolter and Kress both contend that technology and text have fused into a single entity. That is, in the latter half of the 20th century, the visual representation of text has been transformed to include visual representations of pictures, graphics, and illustrations. Bolter states that “the late age of print is visual rather than linguistic . . . print and prose are undertaking to remediate static and moving images as they appear in photography, film, television and the computer (Bolter, 2001, p. 48)” Cyber magazines such as Mondo 2000 and WIRED are “aggressively remediating the visual style of television and digital media” with a “hectic, hypermediated style (Bolter, 2001, p. 51).” Kress notes that “the distinct cultural technologies for representation and for dissemination have become conflated—and not only in popular commonsense, so that the decline of the book has been seen as the decline of writing and vice versa (Kress, p.6).” In recent years, perhaps due to increased bandwidth, the WWW has had a much greater presence of multimedia such as pictures, video, games, and animations.  As a result, there is a noticeably less text than what appeared in the first web pages designed for Mosaic in 1993. Furthermore, the WWW is increasingly being inundated with advertisements.

Additionally, text and use of imagery is also evident in magazines that also use visual representations of pictures, graphics, and illustrations as visual aids to their texts. Tabloid magazines such as Cosmo, People, and FHM are filled with advertisements.  For example, the April 2008 edition of Vogue has a total of 378 pages.  Sixty-seven of these pages are dedicated to text, while 378 pages are full-page advertisements.

While there are increasingly more spaces, both in cyberspace and printed works, that contain much imagery and text, there still exist spaces that are, for the most part, text-based.  This is especially evident in academia.  For example, academic journals, whether online or printed, are still primarily text. Pictures, graphics, and illustrations are used almost exclusively to illustrate a concept and, to my knowledge, have not yet included video.  University texts and course-companions are primarily text as well.  Perhaps, as Bolter states, this is because “we still regard printed books and journals as the place to locate our most prestigious texts (Bolter, forthcoming).” However, if literature and humanistic scholarship continues to be printed, it could be further marginalized within our culture (ibid).

Despite there being a “breakout of the visual” in both print and electronic media, Bolter makes a very strong argument that, text can never being eliminated in the electronic form that it currently exists.  That is, all videos, images, animations, and virtual reality all exist on an underlying base of computer code.   What might happen instead is the “devaluation of writing in comparison with perceptual presentation (Bolter, forthcoming).” The World Wide Web is an example of this.  The WWW provides a space in which millions of authors can write their own opinions; Bolter is, in fact, doing this for his forthcoming publication “Degrees of Freedom”.  The difference between Bolter’s text and others is that he uses minimal use of imagery and relies almost entirely on his prose to convey they meaning of his writing.  Be that as it may, Bolter contends that the majority of WWW authors use videos and graphics to illustrate their words (forthcoming). Text will remain a large part of how we learn absorb and communicate information, however, “the verbal text must now struggle to assert its legitimacy in a space increasingly dominated by visual modes of representation (Bolter, forthcoming).”



Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Bolter, Jay David. (forthcoming). Degrees of Freedom. Retrieved November 28, 2009 from

Hayles, Katherine. (2003). Deeper into the Machine: The Future of Electronic Literature. Culture Machine. 5. Retrieved, August 2, 2009, from

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

November 29, 2009   1 Comment

Commentary 3: Web 2.0 in Education

One of the most interesting and telling statements in the article, ‘Web 2.0 A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning?’ comes when author Bryan Alexander is discussing the wiki.  After describing how the wiki works he says, “They originally hit the Web in the late 1990s (another sign that Web 2.0 is emergent and historical)”. (Alexander, 2006)  To refer to something from the late 1990s as ‘historical’ shows how rapidly web 2.0 is developing and changing.  But this rapid development, the thing that makes web 2.0 so interesting and exciting may also be the biggest problem this emergent technology faces.  Anderson’s article is specifically intended to discuss the use of Web 2.0 in education, yet Web 2.0 has developed so fast that it has gone beyond the comfort level of many educators.  Even teachers who are at ease with the technology are leery of much Web 2.0 content, believing that the openness of Web 2.0, one of its key features, makes it rife with faulty information.  Much about Web 2.0 can be discussed and described, with the caveat, ‘on the one hand…but on the other hand…’  Even Anderson, whose intent is to showcase the positive aspects of Web 2.0 appears somewhat cautious of making a categorically positive  statement and has included a question mark in his title, inviting the reader to decide on the verisimilitude of the title statement.  This commentary will look at the Anderson article from the point of view of an educator with limited experience and knowledge of Web 2.0 and point out where some of the problems lie that will prevent this technology from gaining complete acceptance in an education setting.

As any new technology does, Web 2.0 has developed a user language; phrases, terms and even acronyms that are understood by developers and frequent users but can be problematic for the uninitiated.  The article was originally published by Educause, which bills itself as, ‘a non-profit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of Information Technology’.  With this mission statement one can assume that the article was intended for educators, not Information Technology specialists. Yet within the article, Alexander writes in a way that many educators may find confusing. Anderson points out that even the term ‘social bookmarking’ could be confusing to some users yet then goes on in the article to use such phrases as, “Ajax- style pages”, (Alexander, 2006) or, “Web 2.0 can break on silos but thrive in shared services”. (Alexander, 2006)  One of the most effective ways of separating something from acceptance by the general public is to use a specialized language.

Since the article is about the educational use of Web 2.0 Anderson discusses how the open structure of social bookmarking sites can be used with respect to research.  He envisions the collaborative sharing of research between students and instructors and gives examples of how this could be achieved using Web 2.0 based sites where the open structure allows people to not only read but to change and contribute to a site.  As intriguing as this is there are two problems with this notion, both of them related to the open structure of Web 2.0.  The problems are the quality of the information that is being shared and the quantity of information available.  Of the two, quality is by far the most serious for the student.  In the article Alexander talks about one of the best known user controlled sites, Wikipedia, an open structured site which “allows users to edit each encyclopaedia entry”. (Alexander, 2006)  Unfortunately the very openness of a site like Wikipedia and others like it can make the site unreliable.  Wikipedia and other open sites allow anyone to add or say anything they want.  Its hoped that the nature of these sites, which allows readers not only to contribute but to edit material, will naturally weed out information that is suspect or even wrong, but this is not always the case and many teachers now specifically advise  students not to use material that has been found on Wikipedia.

Blogs are another aspect of Web 2.0 that Anderson discusses in terms of their pedagogical possibilities.  He describes how, “Students can search the blogosphere for political commentary, current cultural items, public development s in science, business news, and so on.” (Alexander, 2006)  While this is true and blogs can allow students and researchers to find and share the most current material in their field, the popularity of blogs has made this a challenge.  A recent Google Blog search with the terms, ‘Digital Literacy’ returned over 350,000 hits, and one with the very general term, ‘Web 2.0’ returned over 49 million, which leaves one wondering, is this really useful? How many of these will a researcher actually look at and how much time must be invested to do so.  Realizing this problem Anderson then goes on to discuss services that can be used to filter search results, which rather than simplifying the process only made the process seem, at least for this reader,  even more complicated.

If Web 2.0 is to become ‘a new wave of innovation for teaching and learning’ its first hurdle will be educators.  The problems outlined above will have to be considered and there may have to be a change in direction in how Web 2.0 is presented.  Web 2.0 is relatively new, despite Anderson’s ‘historical’ comment and needs an introduction.  Educators don’t want to be overwhelmed by the possibilities or fantasies about what could be, or have to deal with a steep learning curve, they want to understand the basic concepts and to know how they can start using it now.  The article would have served educators better if Anderson had shown how a Wiki or a blog could be used on a small scale, e.g., show how a Wiki could be used by a group of students to collect material for a project.  Once educators had some experience and improved their comfort level they could move beyond the classroom and use the technology to its fullest potential.

Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0 A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning? Educause , 33-44.

November 28, 2009   1 Comment

Commentary 3

For this last commentary, I have selected Bolter’s chapter 9: Writing the Self. I felt this was appropriate as this course has initiated and altered my own thoughts on writing and the affects that writing technology has on the way we think and the way we interact with the actual technology.

Bolter begins the chapter with the following statement:

Writing technologies, in particular electronic writing today, do not determine how we think or how we define ourselves. Rather, they participate in our cultural redefinitions of self, knowledge and experience. (Bolter, 2001, pg.189)

As a society, we are influenced by the technologies that exist and aid in our existence.  The early hunters and gathers were aided and influenced by the use of stone and stick- to which they fashioned tools to hunt and to aid in the preservation of foods.   As a society in the knowledge age, we are influenced by our use of technologies that aid us in the rapid creation and transfer of knowledge.  We exist through the instantaneous movement of 1s and 0s, which has transformed the very quality of our life.   To imagine an existence without these technologies would be a kin to imagining what life would be like to live in a third world without food and shelter.  This existence is prevalent across the world, but not an existence that many Canadians (excluding new Canadians) can identify with.    

Bolter continues in his chapter by claiming “for many, electronic writing is coming to be regarded as a more authentic or appropriate space for the inscription of the self than print.”  (pg. 190)  I ask, is this because we truly know no other space?  Just as I can not identify with the conditions of may inhabitants of this planet, I also can not identify with those ancient cultures who used ancient technologies to carve hieroglyphs and symbols onto tablets; or cultures who employed papyrus to convey the thoughts of the time.   This same logic can be compared to the many seniors who can not grasp and use the computer and internet today; technologies that were not influencing factors in this existence!     

Bolter furthers is chapter by stating that “writing is seen to foster analysis and reflection” (pg. 192) and “writing becomes a tool for reorganizing, for classifying, for developing and maintaining categories.”  (pg. 193)  Considering the vast amount of knowledge and information that is available, this statement is logical.  Perhaps the question that one should ask is which came first, the changes in the use of writing as a knowledge organizer or the amount of knowledge that was available which required to be organized?  Generally speaking, members of a society create or modify tools for a need and not as an accident.   While much like the preverbal genesis of the chicken and egg, the answer would provide the foundations for the affects of writing technologies. 

Lastly, the portion of the chapter that I was most intrigued with implicated current writing technologies and a refined experience for the author   As “the technology of writing has always had a reflexive quality, allowing writers to see themselves in what they write” (Bolter, pg. 189), the desire of a writer want to “change her identity, by assuming a different name and providing a different description” (Bolter, pg. 199) allows the opportunity to create false selves in many virtual worlds including Second Life and chat rooms.   While writing can be a wonderful venue to escape the world, the creation of false worlds can lead to serious repercussions if the author can separate the real from the fiction. 


Bolter, J. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Mahwah, N.J. USA.

November 28, 2009   1 Comment

Web 2.0



Bryan Alexander’s article “Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning” relays the emergence and importance of Web 2.0 in information discovery. It highlights a number of important aspects of Web 2.0 including social networking, microcontent, openness, and folksonomy, and than continues on to describe how it can enhance pedagogical ideologies. Each of these characteristics will be examined below.

Information on the Internet is presented in a variety of ways. Graphics and multi-media now define the Web, challenging the very definition of literacy. Information flows in numerous directions and paths offering the ‘reader’ or ‘visitor’ multi-layered information. Web 2.0 is based on interactions between people in asynchronous and synchronous communication, offering flexability and accomodation. This has a significant impact on our society, education system and our culture.


There is much debate over the definition of Web 2.0. Alexander (2008) defines Web 2.0 as “…a way of creating Web pages focusing on microcontent and social connections between people” (Alexander, 2008, p. 151). Wikepedia defines Web 2.0 as “…commonly associated with web applications which facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web” (Wikepedia, 2009). Many argue that this is not something that is a recent technological invention, but more of an evolution of sorts.

Social Networks

Social networking is one of the major characteristics of Web 2.0. This includes listservs, Usenet groups, discussion software, groupware, Web-based communities, blogs, wikis, podcasts, and videoblogs, which includes MySpace, Facebook and Youtube (Alexander, 2008). Facebook alone has thousands of users, allowing people to stay connected using a variety of methods.

 “Social bookmarking is a method for Internet users to share, organize, search, and manage bookmarks of web resources” (Wikepedia, 2009). Social bookmarking and networking are constantly evolving, changing and metamorphing ways to acquire knowledge and stay connected. It allows various people from around the world to bond together and engage, where otherwise this would not be possible. It enlarges the definition of community and links people by topic, concerns, human interest, educational needs, political perspectives, etc. For example, Twitter allows people to instantly communicate with their ‘followers’. This type of social networking was used recently during the American Presidential campaign to keep voters and constituants in touch. Instant messaging allows spontaneous contact with others, which is strongly associated with the characteristics of immediacy within our society.


One critical aspect of social networking is microcontent. Microcontent is an important building block of the Web as information is in bite size pieces that can be accumulated, edited, manipulated and saved. Microcontent allows participants to contribute small pieces of information that can take little time and energy, is easy to use, and provides foundational pieces to web pages. An example of this is Blogs and Wikis.


Another characteristic that Blogs and Wikis share is openness and accessibility. Openness is “…a hallmark of this emergent movement, both ideologically and technologically” (Alexander, 2006, p. 34).  Users are considered the foundation in this information architecture (Alexander, 2006), and therefore play a pivotal role in developing, creating and designing spaces. Participation is key and Web 2.0 encourages openness and participation from all.


“A folksonomy is a system of classification derived from the practice and method of collaboratively creating and managing tags to annotate and categorize content” (Wikepedia, 2009). Managing tags and collecting information from peers is an important aspect of social networking and Web 2.0. Tags and hyperlinks are two of the most important inventions of the last 50 years (Kelly, 2006). By linking pages each book can refer to multiple other books. References and text are endlessly linked to each other, creating exponential knowledge.

Pedagogical Implications

There are many pedagogical implications that come with the advent of Web 2.0. A list of beneficial websites, ideas and tools for teaching with Web 2.0 applications were put together by myself, using Webslides, and can be found at These tools can be a valuable asset in the classroom. 

Social bookmarking can play a role in “collaborative information discovery” (Alexander, 2006, p. 36) allowing students to connect with others, follow links and research references. It can also enhance student group learning, build on collaborative knowledge and assist in peer editing (Alexander, 2006).

“The rich search possibilities opened up by these tools can further enhance the pedagogy of current events” (Alexander, 2006, p. 40).  This allows students to follow a search over weeks, semester or a year (Alexander, 2006). The ability to analyze how information, a story or an idea changes over time allows collaboration between classes and departments and provides the ability to track progress (Alexander, 2006).

Wikis and Blogs can chronicle student’s development over a semester, provide occasions for partnering and discussion, and provide opportunities to practice literacy skills and communication techniques. Blogs and Wikis can give each student a voice and provide equal opportunities for all participants. Storytelling provides creativity and allows students the opportunity to tell their own story. Chat can develop critical thinking skills while podcasting and voicethread can develop opportunities for documentation and interaction.

 The interactivity that Web 2.0 offers encourages group productivity and consultation. Projects like connecting students with real-time astronauts or with sister schools in another country heightens learner interest. Whether it is Science fairs or projects, English literature, history or social studies, Web 2.0 can enhance the multiple aspects of the learning paradigm.

Alexander’s arguments are compelling, however, he does not address the downside of Web 2.0. This would include cyberbullying, cyber-predators, web cameras used for pornography, and the unreliability of the Internet. Accessibility and openness is all inclusive, meaning right and wrong information can be contributed. Learners need to be taught how to find reliable sources on the Web while sifting through mountains of information with a critical eye. The Internet is a Pandora box of sorts – the good comes with the evil. Not every technology and Web innervation has acceptable pedagogical implications, or can be used appropriately in the classroom. Applications can be unstable, come with technical issues, and can be cost prohibitive for those that come with licenses.  Applications are tools to be used to assist in learning and not to replace exceptional teaching methods. However, even with multiple tools available, teachers may not use them as they may not be available for every class, they do not have the knowledge to use them, or find them too time consuming.

The Future

The future of Web 2.0 is Web 3.0, which will be a highly interactive and user-friendly version. The advancement of the above characteristics will ideally enhance applications that are already being used, and provide new applications/opportunities for learning. Skills that are developed in the classroom now will prepare students with the necessary skills that they will require in their future workplaces.


The evolution of the Web will continue to ebb and flow and evolve over time, bringing learners and creators together (Alexander, 2006). Gone are the days of ‘reading’ web pages, which are now designed to be more interactive and purposeful, inundating the user with myriads of information. The availability of social networking, microcontent, folksonomy and openness on the Web will continue to provide learners and educators with multiple learning opportunities. With guidance from the educator, learners can be provided with positive learning outcomes, while using multi-layered applications.


Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning? Educause Review, 41(2), 34-44. Retrieved April 5, 2008, from

Alexander, B. (2008).Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies. Theory into practice.47(2), 150-60. Retrieved July 20, 2009, from

Kelly, K. (May 2006). Scan this Book. The New York Times.

Wikepedia. (2009). Folksonomy. Retrieved November 11, 2009 from

Wikepedia. (2009). Social bookmarking. Retrieved November 11, 2009 from

Wikipedia. (2009). Web 2.0. Retrieved November 11, 2009 from

November 28, 2009   1 Comment

Commentary 3: Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracy Skills

Commentary #3: Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracy Skills

Erin Gillespie

ETEC 540

November 27, 2009

Recently, I attended a literacy skills planning meeting. Various curricular text types were explained including procedural text, expositional text, descriptive text, persuasive text and narrative text. The literacy committee recommended that students and teachers use the Internet to increase exposure to the curricular text types and the skills inherent in each. Several suggestions involved Web 2.0 applications, such as blogging, collaborative document creation and wiki editing.  Interestingly, the committee did not consider Web 2.0 itself as embodying an emergent form of multiliteracy skills. In digitally advanced nations, members of society read and write in Web 2.0. Why was this form of emergent multiliteracy overlooked by my curricular designers when we all share the vision of preparing students for the  future with “real world” skills? Web 2.0’s emergent multiliteracies are meaningful and deserve a place in curriculum design.

In the article Web 2.0: A New Wave of Innovation for Teaching and Learning?, Bryan Alexander (2006) describes Web 2.0 applications and common practices within the concept. The major qualities of Web 2.0 are considered by Alexander (2006) to be content blocks called “microcontent”, openness, folksonomic metadata and social software. Alexander (2006) describes how services like social bookmarking, blogging and RSS feeds reflect the qualities of Web 2.0.  He concludes that Web 2.0’s services, which are emergent and therefore risky, may not be considered highly in the field of education.  In 2008, Alexander extends his argument with Web 2.0 and Emergent Multiliteracies. Concerning the status of Web 2.0 in the field of education, Alexander (2008) posits a more optimistic opinion.   He describes the “archival instinct” of the Web and states that many pedagogical possibilities of Web 2.0 are explored by teachers and students (Alexander, 2008). The implication of increased value of Web 2.0’s emergent multiliteracies in education further strengthens the argument that this genre requires serious consideration by teachers and curriculum design teams.

Alexander (2008) describes Web 2.0 as being composed of social connection, microcontent, social filtering and openness, similar to his theory in 2006. Instructors must understand these qualities to identify pedagogical possibilities of emergent multiliteracies. Social connection is fostered by Web applications that literally connect people based on the variables of interest or personality (Alexander, 2008).  Alexander (2008) lists a number of examples, such as blogs, FaceBook and Flickr to clarify. Microcontent is considered by Alexander (2008) to be small in size and to require a short investment in learning time. Alexander’s (2008) implication is clear in that microcontent makes Web authoring, and publishing, accessible and realistic in terms of time investment for teacher and student. Social filtering is the process of relating information between primary and secondary sources of Web content. Alexander (2008) considers it “the wisdom of the crowd”, and social filtering is evident in folksonomies created through tagging. Finally, Alexander’s (2006, 2008) fourth quality of “openness” for Web 2.0 content  refers to any content posted on the Web for a global audience to see and use. Considering the literary text types I must teach this year, none seem as dynamic and exciting as the genre of emergent multiliteracies of Web 2.0.

To consolidate my teaching style with Web 2.0 multiliteracy, I must always keep in mind pedagogical possibilities related to Alexander’s (2008) four qualities: microcontent, openness, social filtering and social connection. On a practical level, how could a teacher reach the professional satisfaction of exposing students to this emergent text type in a meaningful way? One popular technique when teaching text types is to take advantage of the traditional method of storytelling. I have taught narrative text and descriptive text through storytelling.  A challenging thought is how to use storytelling to teach emergent Web 2.0 multiliteracies! However, the emergent genre of Web 2.0 storytelling, as described by Alexander and Levine (2008), supports Alexander’s (2006, 2008) theory of Web 2.0 multiliteracies and pedagogical needs.  

Alexander & Levine (2008) argue that Web 2.0 has changed the genre of digital storytelling by blending digital storytelling with Alexander’s (2006;2008) Web 2.0 qualities. Expensive desk top publishing programs are being replaced by free Web 2.0 tools, effectively shifting the pedagogical focus from mastering a tool to telling a story with a tool (Alexander & Levine, 2008).  Web 2.0 digital storytelling is considered to be fiction or non-fiction with possible blurred boundaries, and is broad in scope (Alexander & Levine, 2008). The most significant difference between digital storytelling and Web 2.0 storytelling is the singular, linear flow of the former and the multidirectional flow of the latter (Alexander & Levine, 2008). With Web 2.0 qualities of social connectedness and openness, stories can virtually go in any direction, well beyond a linear form. Curriculum designers must recognize and design for these emergent qualities before advising teachers to use Web 2.0 tools to support literacy skills.

The emergent multiliteracies of Web 2.0 have meaningful literacy skills which should be included in curricular design. For example, Alexander and Levine (2008) note that content redesign is out of the hand of the primary creator with Web 2.0 storytelling. This implies that one challenge will be in teaching students about the consequences of openness and social filtering. In other words, an emerging skill embedded in Web 2.0 multiliteracy is Web 2.0 content analysis. The proposition by Alexander and Levine (2008) that there is a Web 2.0 storytelling genre exemplifies the need for continued research and increased pedagogical recognition concerning emergent multiliteracies. The revelation that each emergent Web 2.0 literacy genre may have its own set of multiliteracy skills should make every curricular designer and practitioner in digitally advanced educational environments sit up and take notice.


Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning? EDUCAUSE Review, 41(2), 32-44. Retrieved from

Alexander, B. (2008). Web 2.0 and emergent multiliteracies. Theory into Practice, 47(2), 150-160. doi: 10.1080/00405840801992371

Alexander, B., & Levine, A. (2008). Web 2.0 storytelling: Emergence of a new genre. EDUCAUSE Review, 43(6), 40-56. Retrieved from

November 27, 2009   3 Comments

Commentary 3 Multiliteracies and Assessment

            The New London group (1996) caught my attention with the words “a multiplicity of discourses” (p.2). These words made me reflect upon how often university discourses target a restricted audience and of how sometimes we cater only for the privileged elite in our academic world. Mabrito and Medley (2008) ask us to reflect on a question that I believe is crucial for university professors “Are educators rising to the challenge of teaching these students? Some evidence suggests that they are not. The most significant problem may be that since most faculty members do not fit the profile of the Net Generation, they most likely do not share the same learning styles as their students.” (p.2).

            In my experience most college and university professors tend to be more mature as they have often had other work experience before becoming professors. It is therefore reasonable to assume that many current professors do indeed lack, not only technological skills, but more importantly the knowledge of how to incorporate multiliteracies in to their curriculum and equally important how to evaluate the results from the students.  Prensky (2001 compares these professors to immigrants arriving in a new country and he explains “our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.”(p.2).These words may sound harsh, but this is our reality, especially for those of us in developing countries.

            I believe that before we can adapt our university curriculum to include multiliteracies we must first investigate how wide the gap is. One aspect that I think must be taken into consideration is as Mabrito and Medley (2008) advise us “Learning how to teach the wired student requires a two-pronged effort: to understand how N-Gen student understand and process texts and to create a pedagogy that leverages the learning skills of this type of learner.” (p.4). As educators we have a responsibility to analyse, understand and then implement what we consider to be the most beneficial aspects of multiliteracies. Another element that I think is important is as Dobson and Willinsky (2009) comment “we must consider expertise with the medium, content-area expertise, learning styles and preferences,” (p.6).Whether we agree or disagree with the particular theories of Gardner, Dunne and Dunne or the other experts in learning styles and preferences, we cannot ignore the fact that not all students learn in the same way.   Neither can we ignore, as the New London group (1996) mention, that “Schools have always played a critical role in determining students’ life opportunities. Schools regulate access to orders of discourse – the relationship of discourses in a particular social space – to symbolic capital – symbolic meanings that have currency in access to employment, political power, and cultural recognition.” (p.9)

            In order that universities are prepared to use multiliteracies in their curriculum they must first analyse the technological abilities of their professors and students and notwithstanding the needs of the society in which they live. Barnes et al (2007) explain that many students “are frequent users of electronic tools, Net Geners typically lack information literacy skills, and their critical thinking skills are often weak (Oblinger and Oblinger 2005). They may be digital natives, but they do not necessarily understand how their use of technology affects their literacy or habits of learning.” (p.2). Bolter (2001) also expresses his concerns about how “traditional views of literature and authorship have been undermined not only by the work of academic theorist but also by the uses to which both popular culture and the academic community are putting new electronic technologies of communication” (p.165). While Postman (1993) warns us that “It is only now beginning to be understood that cultures may also suffer grievously from information glut,  information without meaning, information without control mechanisms.” (p.70). These concerns should be addressed by educators and theorists before major curriculum changes are implemented.

            Professors also need to take into account how they will evaluate multilteracy tasks, as I have seen that many professors incorporate new technology and multiliteracies into their programmes, but frequently continue to use the traditional written examinations to grade their students work. Dobson and Willinsky mention that “Hayles (2003), cautions against judging e-literature, which is still in the incunabular phase, against the standard set by print genres developed over half a millennium. A more appropriate course of action would be to develop models of reading and aesthetic response that account for the diversity of contemporary literature, both print and digital” (p.9).

            Tapscott (1998) quoted his colleague Phil Courneyeur as saying “The biggest impediments to learning are social not informational. Teachers need to have the expertise, the motivation, and the time to address the social and psychological roadblocks to learning. (p. 154). Barnes et al (2007) “educators can use technology and multimedia in appropriate ways to incorporate autonomous learning activities while also ensuring that sufficient classroom time is devoted to fostering information literacy and higher-order critical thinking skills.” (p.5) Whereas Gee is quoted by Gallo Stampino (2008) as saying that “learning technologies such as games have the potential to be exploited as tools to get us started in different semiotic domains and to acquire literacies which depart from the traditional concept associated with print texts. The recognition of multiliteracies and multiple approaches to understanding may result in a redefinition of how topics are introduced in the classroom but it also generates a challenge for assessment.”

            Kalantzis et al (2002) recommend that there are four important domains to consider, “Situated Practice”, “Overt instruction”, “Critical Framing”, “Transformed Practice” and that each of them should have be assessed according to their nature. In other words a teacher could evaluate an activity in “Situated Practice”, such as a film clip, by means of a rubric grading the degree of decoding or comprehension a student showed. Whereas, a “Critical Framing” activity would be graded on the student’s ability to make links to other materials or to make predictions based on the material seen. There is no one way to assess or grade multiliteracies and it is this diversity of grading, which although it can be so rewarding, may well be the cause of future dissention at a university level. University professors, on the whole, come from a long tradition of standardized assessments and I believe some of them will resist the change into more flexible grading schemes.    



Barnes, K. Marateo, R. and Ferris, S. (2007). Teaching and learning with the net generation. Innovate 3 (4). Retrieved the 20th of November, 2009 from:


Bolter, J. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Mahwah, N.J. USA.


Dobson T, Willinsky J. Digital Literacy. In: Olson D, Torrance N, editors. Cambridge Handbook on Literacy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2009. Retrieved the 13th of November, 2009 from:


Gallo Stampino, V. (2008). Multiples Approaches to Understanding. Retrieved the          20th of November, 2009 from:


Kalantzis M. Cope,B. and Fehring, H. (2002) PEN: Multiliteracies: Teaching and Learning in the New Communications Environment.


Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology. First Vintage Books. New York, USA.


Prensky, M. (2001 ) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. From On the Horizon. MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5 Retrieved the 12th of November, 2009 from:,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf


Mabrito, M. and Medley, R. Why Professor Johnny Can’t Read:

            Understanding the Net Generation’s Texts. Retrieved the 11th of November, 2009 from:’t_Read-__Understanding_the_Net_Generation’s_Texts.pdf


Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing Up Digital. The Rise of the Net Generation. McGraw-Hill. New York, USA

November 25, 2009   2 Comments

Formal Response 3 – Gaming and Leapfrog

There is little doubt that the written word has undergone significant changes since its inception hundreds of years ago. The continual shift of design and words promotes both cultural changes and is an indication that nothing is ever stagnant or unchanging. Jay Bolter in his book “Writing Space” indicates that “print today is continuing to remake itself in order to maintain its claim to represent reality as effectively as digital and other visual media” (Bolter, 2001, p. 47). According to Bolter, print has undergone a transformation of reverse ekphrasis in which the visual image now embodies words. Bolter also contents that print has undergone a visual renovation that appeals to all the senses in order to represent a more “real” application of reality. This notion of competition or restructuring of print establishes a situation to further examine Bolter’s contention that print has undergone both reverse ekphrasis, evident in visual media and Sparkline, and a sensual revolution, as indicated by online role playing games and technologically advanced learning toys. The “modernization” of print implies an attempt to stay current in contemporary, technical times.
The Greek term Ekphrasis has been used to describe the act of envisioning a description as if it were physically present. Bolter challenges that print has reformulated itself in a type of reverse ekphrasis in which the image portrays or explains words (Bolter, 2001). The origins can be seen in Rebus forms of communication, where pictures (or symbols) are utilized for their sounds to represent new words. Rebus systems were common in Egyptian writings and used as a tool for children to learn reading in the 19th century. Rebus systems indicate that the visual representation of words has been present throughout history. Perhaps Bolter suggests that print has reverted back to picture depiction of words due to the need for a more accurate symbol of reality. This is evident in the USA Today “Snapshots” where pictures are the data. The idea of reality as symbols is corroborated by Murray Krieger, who explains change stems from our “desire for the natural sign, the desire, that is, to have the world captured in the word” (Krieger, 1992, 11, from Bolter, 2001, p. 57).
Modern or reverse Ekphrasis is best indicated by the transfer of the novel to film. The adaptation of the novel into motion picture further stresses the shift from the written word to the visual representation of words. The novel, once a bound text, can now been seen and heard as a movie. The movie itself could be defined as a form of Ekphrasis as it is taking words of a novel and explained through a series of images. Bolter extends this argument through the example of the reproduced book. Reverse Ekphrasis is quite evident through the reproduction of a novel cover after its movie form has been produced (Bolter, 2001). The image of the movie on the novel cover serves as a symbol for the novel itself, as Bolter suggests, “the book must now do its best to recreate in words the experience of seeing the film” (Bolter, 2001, p 57). One can not help but think of the tween series “Twilight” in which the film’s main character, played by Robert Pattinson, graces the covers of the entire series. As if this were not enough, the merchandise created from the film (and somewhat due to the books themselves) further proves the shift to visual representation of words. The Twilight series has buttons, magnets, posters, and even T-shirts in which a fan can declare there affiliation for either of the two male characters vying for the narrator’s affections. These shirts simply say “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” Curiously; these words become visual symbols for the novel/film and convey implicit knowledge that aids the experience of authenticity.
Edward Tufte has designed a method of making the experience of the written word more authentic. Tufte created a data system which he aptly name Sparkline. Sparkline essentially is for “small, high resolution graphics embedded in a context of words, numbers, images” and is “data-intense, design-simple, word-sized graphics” (Edward Tufte 2006). Tufte states that traditional charts are too general and isolated from the text, whereas Sparkline graphics are succinct and located in the text where they are discussed. What Tufte has created is a visual of information acts as a “kind of “word” that conveys rich information without breaking the flow of a sentence or paragraph made of other “words” both visual and conventional” (Wikipedia, Edward Tufte). Sparkline promotes the notion of reverse ekphrasis as the data is presented as an image and represents words in a visual format. Reverse Ekphrasis is evident in our culture, yet the “remediation” of print also includes, according to Bolter, visual changes that heighten our other senses, making print more lifelike.
The sensual transition of the written word is evident as our culture shifts to a more technical medium. In today’s culture art must imitate life or it must be as authentic to real life as possible. The focus now rests of the need for authentic entertainment and this is usually found in a visual format. In order for the written word to compete, it needs to be restructured in a format that visually appeals and provides an authentic experience. Examples of this transition are clearly exposed in the fantasy role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft. Dungeons and Dragons is a fantasy role playing game created in 1974 in which each player is a character moving through another world focusing on challenges and tasks which must be accomplished. Dungeons and Dragons is a visual form of the written word. The new versions of the game are online and have books with more pictures and diagrams which are “far more pleasing to the eye” (Miller, 2008, para. 11). The visual component of the books, along with the role play which engages emotions, sound, and tactile functions, serves as a precursor to the transition of the written word into a sensual or physical format. The next generation of the physical written word is World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft, or WoW, is a multiplayer online role playing game where a story unfolds through quest text and scripted non-player characters. WoW truly is a sensual experience of the written story. It incorporates the visual component with the virtual worlds the characters must engage in, it provides the player with the feeling of “being there” as they are the character that navigates through the world. It also includes sound and even touch as the player must use the keyboard, mouse etc. to continue the reading. The player must envision and engage in the fantasy world. The game provides the player the ability to control some of the text, which offers the player a truly authentic written experience. Another example of this, as suggested by Bolter, is MOO gamers who navigate in a fantasy world where they write (similar to Ekphrasis) and envision those words as a reality world online. WoW is a more complex version of a MOO with complex storylines. WoW truly is a modern version of the written word, where the reader sees the written word in a sensual context and is intricate in the storyline. The sensual shift does not relate only to the role playing genre, but can be seen in other forms in our culture.
One such form is found in the educational toys created by LeapFrog, where the slogan itself, “See the learning” denotes a visual context. LeapFrog has been using technological advancements to enhance educational toys for young children. The LeapFrog website shows the requirement for knowledge to be sensual and states:

“See it. Hear it. Say it. Touch it. Learn it.
At LeapFrog, we surround the child with multiple ways of learning by tapping into their senses. Interactive learning experiences are further reinforced with immediate, and positive, corrective feedback. This multi-sensory approach has been consistently proven effective by third-party efficacy studies and research.” (LeapFrog, 2009, para. 5).

Case in point, LeapFrog’s book system: the “Tag Reading System”. This system is a further sign of the shift towards the written word as a sensual experience. The Tag reading system, uses a reader pen that the child can highlight over a word to sound it out, to make characters sing, or to make characters talk. The Tag reading system provides reading as a sensual experience. The website indicates this:

“The Tag Reading System engages children’s senses to make reading a rich, fulfilling experience. With each touch of the Tag reader to the book’s pages, words talk, characters sing and stories live out loud. With over 20 books and games including favourite TV, movie and classic tales, each Tag book allows children to learn at their own pace, building confidence” (LeapFrog, 2009, para. 1).

What is interesting is that the LeapFrog product advertises the need for a multi-layered experience when reading. In addition, the fact that the books contain information from “favourite TV and Movies” is another affirmation of the written word competing with its visual counterpart. LeapFrog products juxtapose the new era of the written word, as it proves that reading and writing are increasingly more visual and call for a sensual experience where legitimacy can be replicated.
Bolter’s “breakout of the visual” indicates a new form of the written word. The written word, like our culture, is not stagnant and must change and adapt to new circumstances and demands of society. This change is further ingrained due to the increase in multimedia and technological advancements. The adaptations undergone by the written word indicate our society’s desire for a more authentic experience, one where simplicity is combined with symbols and all of our senses.


Bolter, Jay David (2001). Writing Space Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Krieger, M. (1992). Ekphrasis: The illusion of the Natural Sign. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Quote Retrieved from Bolter, Jay David (2001). Writing Space Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

LeapFrog. (2009). About Us. Retrieved from

LeapFrog. (2009). Tag Reading System. Retrieved from

Miller, John J. (2008, July 1). Dungeons and Dragons in a Digital World. The Wall Street Journal Retrieved from

Tufte, Edward (2006). Beautiful Evidence. Graphics Press

Wikipedia. Edward Tufte. Retrieved on 27 October 2009. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. Rebus. Retrieved on 27 October 2009. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. World of Warcraft. Retrieved on 27 October 2009. Retrieved from

November 25, 2009   1 Comment

Hypertext in Cyberspace: A new genre & A new way of learning?

Hypertextuality in Cyberspace: A new genre and a new way of learning?
Commentary #3 [pp 26 -28 Bolter text: ETEC 540]

The use of technology for communication, the digital “word processor” and in particular the advent of the use of “hypertext” within electronic media has fundamentally altered communication, the ways we use language and twenty-first century e-learning environments. Digital modes of communication and potentially hypertextuality itself may result in the creation of more knowledge (Heim, 1987) and reshape or reconfigure our ways of thinking in positive and creative ways (Kamin, 1984). In his book, “Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext & the Remediation of Print” Bolter asserts that hypertext enables a specific type of remediation [a process involving the transition from one media to another] that allows for the emergence of a distinctive and new genre. A review of what is meant by the term “hypertext” as Bolter uses it will begin this discussion followed by an overview of three important features that distinguish it from its predecessor [print media] including it’s immediacy, flexibility and interactivity (Bolter, 2001). Finally, a specific type of learning that is uniquely enhanced by hypertext will be examined through the lens of its conceptual or theoretical support in constructivist learning theory (Mahoney, 2003).

To begin, the term “hypertextuality” is no longer “…esoteric…” but is understood by most people within every day speech, and is indeed now, at the beginning of the twenty first century, a term that is a part of our “…common cultural knowledge” (Bolter, pp27). Hypertext as defined by Bolter means “…a network of interconnected writings…” of pages of information that “…may be of equal importance in the whole text…”(Ibid, pp 27). It is more than the electronic equivalent to footnotes in a book, because as indicated above, the information that is provided may be fundamental to understanding the main body of the text (Ibid, 2001).
Bolter refines his definition of hypertext to include some broad characteristics, including such things its immediacy; versus for example a footnote in a printed book, cited from a specific printed resource. In the book format, following up on a footnote, can be a very time consuming and labour intensive activity.

Two other major components of hypertext include its flexibility and interactivity, features that according to Bolter help to transform electronic writing into a new mode and genre, that of hypertextuality (Ibid 2001). The flexibility of the use of hypertext operates on a number of levels, helping it to serve both informational and rhetorical purposes. Hypertext links can clarify meaning [contextualized to a specific use] and lead the reader back to the text or it can prompt the reader to explore entirely different sites or nodes of information related to the topic. Hypertext also encourages different types of learning styles involved in knowledge acquisition and according to some psychological literature, to ways of thinking and of cognition also (Mahoney, 2003).

Bolter asserts that hyper textual links are associative in terms of their impact on knowledge acquisition. Constructivism is just one of the major learning theories that provides conceptual and theoretical support for Bolter’s argument that hypertext is not only a different genre but supports also a different way of learning and acquiring knowledge and information. Hypertextual learning is facilitated in keeping with Constructivist notions around the importance of the search for Meaning as both an impetus for and outcome of, the process of Learning.

Within this larger theory, the principles of Engaged Participation, encouraged by the structure of hypertext itself is further promoted by facilitating unique virtual and conceptual links between the material and the reader/learner. In tandem with this feature of interactivity, hypertext also encourages synchronous movements and unique learning pathways through the virtual ‘text’.
An analysis of the process of reading and learning involved in the use of hypertext, quickly reveals that like psychology, not only are there many theories of learning, no one learning theory fits every use or application of hypertext (Jonassen 2003). Moreover, and drawing on this same parallel example, what is best for the learner [or patient] may be a combination of learning paths rather than a unity, a requirement that hypertext readily facilitates.
Hypertext and Learning: as The Search For Meaning
One of the many layers of the complexity of hypertext in terms of its functionality in e-learning contexts is its ability, from a Constructivist perspective, to provide the learner with Meaning, which is as noted above, the primary impetus for learning in this view. Hypertext provides a web of meanings, a configuration that is constructed uniquely and actively by each student, driven by their own needs and particular learning objectives and styles.
Complementary to the use of the hypertextuality in constructing meaning is its enhancement of interactivity as students engage with the layers of information provided within in a specific topic area. A self created trajectory through the electronic text enables the individual to effectively embed content more firmly within their own pre-existing schemas or world view, resulting in more comprehensive assimilation of information, better retention or memory of key concepts, and greater practical application of the new knowledge or skill (Sutherland 2001).
The notion of conceptual coherence is also inherently woven into and throughout hyper textual materials and allows innovations and improvements to learning materials by providing flexibility to the instructor or curriculum designer, in terms of its format, structure, and choice of pedagogical methodologies (Sutherland 2001).
A critical feature of hypertextuality
is that it can provide a conceptual framework, not only for the design of virtual curricular elements but also in supporting a cognitive substructure from which key concepts and learning objectives can be constructed. Importantly, hypertextuality as a learning tool, also demonstrates an effective translation of learning theory into practice, by facilitating and encouraging students to arrive at the same learning objective via their own unique cognitive or conceptual pathway.
To sum up, key elements of hypertext including its immediacy, flexibility and interactivity extend the reach of the both the type and the scope of the information provided. Bolter provides an effective argument [only briefly touched upon here] to support his contention that hypertextuality provides not only a remediation from print to digital media but that it also expands the parameters of the medium itself sufficiently to be considered a new genre. Finally, in an e-learning context, hypertextuality also enables new ways of reading, thinking and of learning, which are given conceptual support by Constructivist learning theory.

Digital Image:
Created using CMap Technology


Bates, A.W., Poole, G. (2003) Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education
Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, USA

Bolter, J.D. (2001) Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print
2nd Edition, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers

Carvin, A. (1998) Constructivism Basics
Ed Web: Exploring Technology and School Reform

ETEC 540: Module 4 (November 2009) Hypertext
Masters in Educational Technology, online course material, UBC

Jonassen, D. (2003) The Vain Quest for a Unified Theory of Learning
American Journal of Distance Education

Heim (1987) cited in ETEC 540 Module 4: Idea Processors & the Birth of Hypertext
Retrieved online from Readings, 4Nov2009

Kamin, J. (1984). The Think Tank Book. Berkeley, CA: Sybex.
Retrieved online from Readings, ETEC 540 Mod 4Nov2009

Mahoney, M.J. (2003) What is Constructivism and Why Is It Growing?
Presented at the 8th International Congress of Constructivism and Psychotherapy, Italy, June 2003
The Society for Constructivism in the Social Sciences; website

Postman, N. (1992) Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology
Vintage Books, New York, NY

Sutherland,P. (2001) A Lifelong Learning Journey; Utilizing Piaget’s and Biggs’ theories of development
Education Line Article, University of Sterling, Scotland

Thomas, M. (2002) Gestalt Learning Theory for Dummies
Minot State University

November 24, 2009   1 Comment