Workshop Proposal Text

New Media, New Literacies and New Forms of Learning

Supported by the University of British Columbia and the Institute of Education

Workshop at the Institute of Education, University of London, Dec. 15, 2011

Organizers: Caroline Haythornthwaite (, School of Library, Archival and Information Studies – the iSchool@UBC – University of British Columbia; Richard Andrews (, Institute of Education, University of London; Robin Goodfellow (, The Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University; Mary Hamilton (, Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University

New practices associated with digital media are profoundly affecting many aspects of daily life and learning. The flood of information online, and the increased use of mobile and internet-based platforms, affect from whom, where and what we learn, how we constitute and engage with learning communities, and how we trust online information and relationships. New paradigms are emerging around key concepts of multimodality, networked learning, participatory practice, e-learning, gaming, and ubiquitous (anytime, everywhere) learning. Yet, there is little that brings these efforts together, particularly across disciplines and across countries. This workshop provides the base for consolidating and extending connections among leading literacy and learning researchers from Canada, UK, US and Australia, and integrating knowledge across disciplines to address these new practices and their impact on how we learn.

      The workshop addresses how we learn with and through digital media, how this challenges current notions of literacy, and how digital media can be leveraged to support educational initiatives. Common to our work is the perspective that literacy emerges continuously from the interaction of existing and new social and technological conditions, e.g., as practices of information literacy emerge with the availability of information on the web, or as practices in virtual worlds emerge with the affordances of avatar mobility and individuals’ increasing fluency with those affordances. In turning to learning and education, the task is not one of trying to ‘fit’ teaching and learning to a particular technology, but rather to look at underlying principles that sustain new forms of learning across waves of technology.

      Together we view the impact of digital media as fundamentally changing learning practices: a change to digital media is not just a transfer of class content to online venues and not just an online-only effect, but instead a change in learning practice for the digital age (Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Jones & Lindström, 2009; Gillen & Barton, 2010; Steeples & Jones, 2002; Lankshear & Noble, 2008; Haythornthwaite & Andrews, 2011). This change accompanies transformations in online practice (Web 2.0), and includes new forms of learning such as collaborative learning (Koschmann, 1996), new roles for teachers, e.g., as facilitators (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) and for students, e.g., as learner-leaders (Montague, 2006), and new conceptualizations of technologies as ‘sites of practice’ rather than locations for information or applications (Goodfellow & Lea 2007). The trend to collaborative learning changes what it means to be a learner from the ‘empty vessel’ of earlier imagery to an active, self-directed (Hase and Kenyon, 2000; Allen, Brooks, Hunter & Muehl, 2009), and entrepreneurial learner (Senges, Brown and Rheingold, 2008), creating their own user-generated contexts for learning (Luckin, 2010). While this learner may be independent, working through the ubiquitous medium of the Internet to gain knowledge (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009), the individual is equally likely to be working with others, at a distance and through computer media. Such individuals learn and engage in the real-world learning practices of collaboration, cooperation, participation and community engagement, enacted through digital media such as email lists, interest groups, collaboratories, blogs, wikis, social networking, photo and video sharing sites. Literacy and learning then become co-incident with good group practice (Haythornthwaite, 2006a), and good participatory practices (Jenkins et al., 2006).

New Literacy Themes. Our research suggests the increasing relevance of multi-modality, context, social and computer networks, and mobility as organizing principles for examining digital media; and concepts of emergence, co-evolution, and group processes as important for understanding how literate practices change and evolve into new, potentially unexpected patterns of learning and connections among learners. These areas form the basis of research questions such as: What does it mean to be a literate member of society in today’s digital world? How is digital content created, mixed, re-purposed and re-posted in the service of learning? How does the use of digital media contribute to development and identity in communities of inquiry? How can digital media be used to support personal learning contexts of people and resources? How does the presence and potential of personal digital media everywhere and at all times shape the face of learning and its integration into daily life? What digital data can we capture to provide feedback in the service of teaching and learning? The following expands on five key themes.

      1. Literacies and Discourses. Rapid, multi-modal changes in the means of communication beg for a redefinition of what literacy means in the information age, and hence what fluencies and practices are relevant in assessing what it means to be literate in today’s society (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear & Leu, 2008). In 2002, The International Reading Association noted the lack of hard data on literacy and technology, advocating for “[a]n intensive program of research on literacy and technology issues” with particular attention to the questions “What new literacy skills are required by new forms of ICT? How can we best support students in acquiring these new literacies?” (2002, p. 3). These questions are still vital. However, because online communication demonstrates an array of forms – words, images, sound, icons, diagrams, and more – read and produced through computing interfaces, and because the social contexts for communication are so different from those in conventional learning, a narrow notion of literacy (or ‘literacies’) as the reading and writing of words is no longer adequate. The idea of literacy is pushed to go beyond text-based reading and writing, whether in print or electronically, to embrace reading and writing of screens, games and virtual reality and the theoretical viewpoints of multi-literacies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2000), multi-modalities (Kress, 2003, 2010; Jewitt, 2008). Some argue that to move beyond words to other modes requires a shift in the discussion from literacies to new discourses (Andrews, 2009, 2010), which affords discussion of awider range of communicative codes or modes while including attention to communication processes in a range of social situations and contexts (Kress, 2003, 2005). Others retain the term ‘literacy’ (Goodfellow & Lea, 2007) and foreground the ideological character of literacy over its modality. Yet others draw attention to the changing landscape of literacy as it shifts from consumption to production of texts, images, video, etc. and from individual reading, writing and learning to collaborative practices, creating the need for education and acculturation into a ‘participatory culture’ (Jenkins et al., 2006). Literacy and learning then become co-incident with good group practice (Haythornthwaite, 2006a), and good participatory practices (Jenkins et al., 2006). Operating in and with these new forms of multi-modal, multi-actor collaboratives suggests the need for wider definitions of all learners as ‘e-learners’, with consequent need for ‘literacy’ in collaborative practices (Haythornthwaite, 2010). Each of these views suggest that need to widen our understanding of literacy to respond to theoretical developments in the understanding of multi-modal communication and to the rapid changes in media, modes and communication.

      2. Co-evolution of literacy and technology. In parallel with notions of literacy, another trend emphasizes the way practices of communication, group behaviour, and community emerge at the intersection of social and technical practices (Haythornthwaite & Andrews, 2011). This is seen widely in the way distributed and mobile communication technologies have transformed our practices of social, work and learning connectivity, e.g., in the impact of social media on youth interaction (Ling, 2008; Ito et al., 2008; boyd, 2007; Baron, 2008), changes in the balance of work and home life (Kramarae, 2001; Haythornthwaite, Kazmer, Robins & Shoemaker, 2000; Wellman & Haythornthwaite, 2002), changes to effect the distributed and global workplace (Orlikowski, 2002), development of online communities, peer production and crowdsourcing (Raymond, 1998; Benkler, 2006; Lessig, 2006; Haythornthwaite, 2009), and the impact of online gaming on structures for economic impact (e.g., ‘gold farming’ in World of Warcraft; Dibbell, 2006; also in crowdsourcing initiatives) and learning (Gee, 2003; Kirriemuir & McFarlane, 2004; McFarlane, 2007). Ideas of technology as somehow ‘enhancing’ existing learning practice gives way to a research paradigm that considers the emergent, co-evolutionary impact of practice on technology and vice versa. Thus, we need to widen our understanding of socio-technical processes to address not just ideas of technology-enhanced learning but to include examination of emergent, perhaps unexpected configurations of learning, context and technology.

      3. Expansive Learning. Contemporary practices of production – of software, information, social relationships – contains an active component of creation and re-creation, leading to a continuously emergent, ‘permanently beta’ state of communal knowledge (Neff & Stark, 2003). Harnessing the benefits of crowds and communities in knowledge sharing and knowledge production is of great importance for both economic and learning outcomes. We see digital media as the platform on which such creation happens, operated by crowds and communities of interested and engaged participants who give a little or a lot of their time to building living, growing, learning environments. As such, digital media provide the infrastructure for the production of learning. This is more than information creation, access and use, and more than knowledge transfer. It is expansive learning (Engeström, 2009) that leads participants to learn in areas where there is not yet a known knowledge base (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1991, 1996). It is the kind of learning that creates knowledge but also the identity of individuals in the context of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998; Wenger et al., 2002). Digital media and computer networks support learning that now entails new kinds of social processes that go beyond static and/or authoritative creation of knowledge to ideas of living information sources that are accessed, modified, morphed, reposted, and re-tweeted, and in doing so support not just information needs, but group and community identity, their ways of being, their social capital, and the technological and socio-technical definition of themselves and the knowledge important to them. Key in this is that the production of data, information, knowledge, and its collection, are in the hands of participants rather than some authority external to these participants (e.g., publishers, news editors, collection developers, etc.). This addresses a need to widen our understanding of learning production to include new and emergent knowledge and identities, and to widen our understanding of roles in learning production as how we learn online begins to resemble practices of expert learners (Haythornthwaite & Andrews, 2011), with active, self-directed learning (Hase & Kenyon, 2000) and entrepreneurial practices (Senge et al., 2008).

      4. Mobility and Ubiquity. It is perhaps obvious to point out the increased ability to have access to information and other people from anywhere, at any time. Yet, the examination of mobile learning, and the way it supports new learning practices, is an emerging field of research. As learning leaves the classroom, it also leaves many of the institutional structures that have shaped the learning experience: the sequestered space, the quiet library, faculty office hours and student study groups. Transformations are emerging in who we learn from, about what, when and where. While there is research about changes involved in teaching online, there is far less on the role of the student in such settings, e.g., for a student who is now called on to be a collaborative, peer-to-peer learner as is expected in many online degree programs. Also less well studied are the changing habits of independent learners as they use the resources of the web to support anything from learning for leisure activities to self-study for career advancement, and how such learning habits may interact with formal learning. These trends point to a need to widen our understanding of the implications and impacts of learning in different sites and sectors, and how these combine as a whole to promote literacy in a knowledge society engaged in ubiquitous learning (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009). This includes attention to formal, informal and ‘non-formal’ learning (Garnett & Ecclesfield, 2009), learning for ‘serious leisure’ (Stebbins, 2006), learning in-class and out of class, and learning across educational levels and in continuing professional development settings (Ivanič, Edwards, Satchwell & Smith, 2007; Ivanič et al., 2009; Literacies for Learning in Further Education project,

      5. Analytics. The final theme to note is the emerging work in determining what kinds of metrics and information about learning are relevant and useful to provide as feedback to instructors and learners. The use of digital media leaves traces that can be captured, analyzed and provided as feedback to teachers and learners, and for research work. Analytics applies to the learning field the methods and techniques already becoming prevalent in e-research, e-science, and data mining. Learning analytics (Siemens, 2004, 2010) can make visible the hidden structures of knowledge development, connections between concepts, and connections between people that help make sense of a group learning experience. In an age of multi-modal, multi-media and multi-actor communication, tools and techniques that provide feedback on the learning process assist in providing awareness of others and their participation patterns, evaluation of individual and group learning, support for the development of community, and facilitating literacy in the use of analytics. Attention to analytics allows us to widen the feedback, evaluation and assessment of learning and learning processes by defining, validating and creating infrastructures for enhanced data collection and presentation.


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