The Changing Spaces of Reading and Writing

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

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


I am attending an IT conference put on by my school board today.  So far, 2 of 3 sessions have been useful.  One session, however, was disappointing in that it was not what we’d hoped to learn about.  The general gist of the presentation was about students being involved in creating their own assessment.

I am sitting here reflecting on what exactly I am learning in the current session, realizing that we are all on a learning journey.  As adults in this professional learning workshop, we’ve been able to choose what to explore.  So we hope to maximize our learning as a result of choosing sessions that are part of our learning path.

When relating that to students choosing their own assessment or being involved in it at least, I wonder if that’s possible because they don’t have the ability to choose their learning path as we do.  They might choose certain elective courses and even what stream they want to follow, but those are so limited.

When you consider that most digital natives are used to choosing their information path because of the nature of the internet (hypertext links and all) and the speed at which they access all the information they need/want, is it any wonder they can’t sit still without being connected to some electronic device or feel they can decide the outcome of everything they put effort into?  I think it explains why my students seem to think they can negotiate every assignment I give them.

November 22, 2009   2 Comments

Assessment and blogs

The thought came to me last night that if I were to use a blog in my class, similar to this one, how would I go about assessing the work my students contributed?  I’ve used a wiki and found the rubric I had created for the assignment was easily transferrable.  Are there any thoughts on that?  Anyone use blogs in the high school classroom yet?

September 16, 2009   4 Comments