Literacy in the 21st Century

In response to the first two chapters of Jay David Bolter’s Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print, the concept of text is changing and thus changing the concept of literacy. Literacy today does not mean that we need to simply read and write anymore. According to the B.C. Ministry of Education, “Literacy today involves being able to understand and process oral, written, electronic, and multi-media forms of communication that are referred to as texts. Texts are no longer limited to print on paper but now also comprise audio, electronic, graphic, and multi-media formats” (2011, p. 3). Today, in the 21st Century, there exist many types of literacies: digital literacy, visual literacy, technological literacy, etc. The world in which we live today has become so complex that something as simple as reading and writing has had to evolve into a new realization that language is multi-dimensional.

Educators must realize that they need to teach differently because “… many texts might never be printed, but simply distributed in digital form” (Bolter, 2001, p. 2). The digital form of a book or text in general allows for a more stimulating reading and viewing experience, complete with the notion of choice and commentary. As Bolter states, “In the late age of print , however, we seem more impressed by the impermanence and changeability of text, and digital technology seems to reduce the distance between author and reader by turning the reader into an author herself” (2001, p. 4). This is clearly visible in the concept of blogging, where anyone can create a blog and begin to write and post pictures and videos. Bolter also speaks about the shift to the computer that we are experiencing and that “[t]his shift … may make writing more flexible, but it also threatens the definitions of good writing and careful reading that have developed in association with the technique of printing” (2001, p. 4). As an educator, this exact shift is troublesome because students do not really know how to determine what is appropriate and valid in this digital world. Students of today must learn how to manage the information by which they are surrounded. Students need to have the ability to obtain and share knowledge by means of media technology and according to the B.C. Ministry of Education, “becoming literate in this area involves finding, gathering, assessing, and communicating information using electronic means, as well as developing the knowledge and skills to use and solve problems effectively with the technology” (2007, p. 15). Becoming technologically and/or digitally literate is undoubtedly imperative in the 21st Century.

With the current educational paradigm, not only is literacy changing and becoming much more complex, but also the classroom itself is changing. Bolter also indicated, “Some educators imagine a classroom in which books are replaced by virtual environments” (Bolter, 2001, p. 5). This concept of the virtual environment classroom is a reality; it is not something that educators imagine anymore. Virtual learning environments (VLE) are sprouting up in every level of education, from elementary to university. The literacy requirements for someone who is partaking in a VLE course are considerably higher than those who are in a normal walled classroom. Students of VLEs must be able to read and access various forms of media on their own – they are no longer handed a book a told which page to turn to; they are no longer able to simply listen to understand and learn. They must now learn to be literate in multiple capacities. The New London Group discusses the concept of multiliteracies which has essentially created a “different kind of pedagogy, one in which language and other modes of meaning are dynamic representational resources, constantly being remade by their users as they work to achieve their various cultural purposes” (1996, p. 64). They argue that with the increasing number of “modes of meaning-making” a single set of standards or skills for literacy learning or teaching is not adequate. They continue their argument by stating that in order to be an effective and productive citizen, one must learn how to interact effectively using “multiple languages, multiple Englishes and communication patterns that more frequently cross cultural, community, and national boundaries” (1996, p.64). Literacy is no longer about learning and teaching to read and write in paper-based contexts that are limited to a national standard of language. The concept of literacy must be broadened to include negotiating a multiplicity of discourses especially because of the rapid expansion of the use of technology.

Due to the widespread use of technology in today’s classrooms, whether virtual or physical, educators need to be able to adapt their lessons and teach differently. Educators must remember that, according to Jones and Flannigan, “Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media (text, sound, images), to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments.” (2006, p. 9). Therefore educators need to be able to teach students not only how to read and interpret what is they are viewing, but they need to be able to teach them how to manipulate, evaluate and construct new knowledge from that which was viewed. One of the most difficult issues to overcome in education today concerning new literacies is that many teachers themselves are not comfortable with computers. Jones and Flannigan “found a common void in professional development for faculty—training needed to gain the requisite computer skills to integrate technology into the curriculum effectively” (2006, p. 9). It is hard to educate the future generations about a technological world when those who provide the education are often illiterate in technology themselves. Literacy in the 21st century is important not only for the younger generations in the school system today, but also for those who teach these juveniles.


B.C. Ministry of Education. (2007). English language arts grade 10: Integrated resource package.. Retrieved from

B.C. Ministry of Education. (2011). French (Elementary – Secondary) Curriculum Draft Document. Retrieved from

Bolter, J.D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Jones, B.R. & Flannigan, S. L. (2006). Connecting the digital dots: Literacy of the 21st century. Educause Quarterly. Retrieved from

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

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