Digital Technologies: A new era in literacy education?

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    Digital Technologies: A new era inliteracy education?HELEN NIXON aa University of South Australia , Adelaide, AustraliaPublished online: 01 Jul 2010.

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  • Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education

    Vol. 24, No. 2, August 2003


    Digital Technologies: a new era in literacy education?

    HELEN NIXON, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

    Teachers and Techno-literacies: managing literacy, technology and learn-

    ing in schools


    Sydney, Allen & Unwin

    xxi 178 pp., ISBN 1-86448-946-4

    Silicon Literacies: communication, innovation and education in the elec-

    tronic age

    ILANA SNYDER, 2002

    London and New York, Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group

    xii 190 pp., ISBN 0-415-27668-3

    Although microcomputers have been a feature of many Australian schools for over

    twenty years, it was not until the advent of the personal multimedia and internet-capable

    computer in the mid-1990s that English/literacy educators began to pay systematic

    attention to the literacytechnology interface. Teachers and Techno-literacies: managing literacy,

    technology and learning in schools written by Colin Lankshear and Ilana Snyder with Bill

    Green, and Silicon Literacies: communication, innovation and education in the electronic age edited

    by Ilana Snyder, both enter into dialogue with and contribute to current debates about

    the complexity of contemporary literacy practices in the age of digital technologies. The

    two books are complementary in that they argue that it is not tenable to try to

    incorporate the new information and communication technologies (ICT) into conven-

    tional literacy frameworks. Both books call on educators to develop the readiness to think

    about the changing world of literacytechnology in informed and systematic ways, and

    both books contribute to the theory and information base required to enable this to


    The authors of these two books, Lankshear, Snyder and Green, were members of a

    research consortium that carried out the first major piece of Australian research on

    literacies and technologies in education in the mid-1990s, a project from which todays

    literacy educators and researchers are still able to learn a good deal. Funded by the

    Commonwealth Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs

    ISSN 0159-6306 print; 1469-3739 online/03/020263-09 2003 Taylor & Francis LtdDOI: 10.1080/0159630032000110775




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  • 264 H. Nixon

    (DEETYA) through the Childrens Literacy National Projects Program, and reported as

    Digital Rhetorics: literacies and technologies in educationcurrent practices and future directions

    (Lankshear et al., 1997), the project was jointly led by Colin Lankshear and Chris Bigum;

    other researchers on the team were Ilana Snyder, Bill Green, Cal Durrant, Eileen

    Honan, Wendy Morgan, Joy Murray and Martyn Wild. The Digital Rhetorics project is

    cited as a stimulus and resource for Teachers and Techno-literacies and it clearly builds on

    that report.

    In the space available I am unable to do justice to Teachers and Techno-literacies as a

    whole. The book comprises six chapters. Chapter 1 provides portraits of three schools.

    These portraits are used to identify issues and themes related to managing literacy,

    technology and learning in schools, which are in turn developed and enlarged through-

    out the chapters that follow. I have found this chapter a useful introductory reading in

    professional development courses for teachers new to this field precisely because the

    contrastive portraits are grounded in the realities of school life and they vividly

    foreground some of the complex philosophical and practical challenges posed by the

    perceived imperative to integrate ICT into the curriculum. The questions posed in

    Chapter 1 remain as relevant today as when they were written:

    How may literacy teachers learn to use new technologies effectively in their pro-fessional work?

    What pedagogical models exist that take literacy and technology into account in wayson which teachers can build for classroom use?

    How are literacy and technology related, and how can literacy teachers make sense ofthis relationship to build sound pedagogy?

    What sorts of principles exist for guiding the integration of new technologies intoclassroom learning?

    What methods count as sound uses of new technologies in classroom-based literacyeducation? (p. 3)

    Chapter 2 aims to integrate the three constructs of literacy, technology and learning.

    This is the most theoretical chapter of the book and, because it bears close reading and

    discussion with colleagues and pre- and in-service teacher education students, I devote

    significant space to it below. Chapter 3 provides a short overview of what educational

    policy is and does, and explores the policy roles that teachers need to play in their

    professional lives (p. xx). This chapter is a useful historical document in its focus on

    national and state-level policy documents that apply directly to the interface between

    technology, literacy and learning. Chapter 4 draws on site studies conducted in the Digital

    Rhetorics project and complements and expands on the three school portraits in Chapter

    1. The authors use classroom portraits from five schools to provide an information base

    from which to develop ideas, strategies and plans for building on existing strengths and

    addressing current shortcomings in pedagogy, policy and professional understanding at

    the literacytechnology interface (p. xx). Chapter 5 draws out a framework of patterns

    and principles for thinking about the findings of the site studies. Subsequent research into

    literacy and ICT in other schools (e.g. Comber & Green, 1999; Nixon & Kerin, 2001)

    suggests that the five patterns of classroom practice discussed herecomplexity, fragility,

    discontinuity, conservation and limited authenticityare still very much in evidence.

    The five principles for the effective integration of ICT into classroom-based literacy

    education classroom practiceteachers first, complementarity, workability, equity and

    focus on trajectoriesremain pertinent, and literacy educators need more accounts of

    these principles being adopted in educational sites. Chapter 6 translates this framework




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  • Digital Technologies 265

    of patterns and principles into suggestions and guidelines designed to assist policy makers,

    literacy educators in universities, school leaders and individual teachers to plan and

    programme in order to address the many challenges explored in earlier chapters.

    Given the prior histories of collaboration between the authors, it is not surprising that

    Teachers and Techno-literacies and Silicon Literacies proceed from a similar theoretical

    positionthat literacy is a social practice (Street, 1984). From this perspective, emerging

    technology-mediated literacy practices can be understood only when they are con-

    sidered within their social, political, economic, cultural and historical contexts (Snyder,

    2002, p. 5). This argument is most fully developed in the second chapter of Teachers and

    Techno-literacies, which is titled Understanding the changing world of literacy, technology

    and learning. The authors quite rightly claim that this chapter offers some ideas that

    will be useful to literacy teachers in this challenging and changing context (p. 23). Many

    of these ideas, first published in Digital Rhetorics in 1997, remain productive and

    provocative at the time of writing in 2003. These include the ideas that literacy is

    increasingly having technology added to it; that new information and communications

    technologies (ICT) provide new ways of doing literacy; that different contexts of social

    practice embed different forms of literacy; and that what literacy means is always

    changing along with new modes of human practice and ways of experiencing the world

    (p. 26).

    Chapter 2 of Teacher and Techno-literacies also includes an elaborated discussion of what

    has come to be known as the 3D model of literacy (Green, 1988; Durrant & Green,

    2000; Lankshear et al., 1997). The 3D model considers literacy to be an ensemble of

    social practices that involves three dimensionsoperational, cultural and criticalwhich

    overlap, intersect and are interdependent. This model was influenced by Greens (1988)

    research into the relationships between literacy and subject or content-area learning and

    was subsequently developed in response to the increasing technologisation of literacy

    (Bigum & Green, 1993; Durrant & Green, 2000). In more recent discussions, Green uses

    the shorthand device of emphasizing the IT in the word l(IT)eracy to symbolize the

    bringing together theoretically of literacy and IT within this model. The operational

    dimension of l(IT)eracy learning includes how to make the computer work from the

    basics of turning on to searching databases or operating a CD ROM. The cultural

    dimension includes understanding that we use texts and technologies in particular

    contexts to make meaning and to do things in the world. The critical dimension of

    l(IT)eracy learning includes being able to assess and critique software and other

    resources, and to appropriate or redesign them for particular purposes. This model

    emphasises that literacy learning is done as people participate in the social and cultural

    practices of making meaning for real purposes, and that textual and communicative work

    is always done in actual communities and institutions and has real effects. It foregrounds

    the socially constructed nature of any literacy into which people become socialised, and

    emphasises the potential for a literacy to be acted on and transformed. The 3D model

    of literacy thus provides a timely corrective in this era of narrow conceptions of literacy

    and so-called literacy standards, and reminds educators of the importance of adopting

    a socially critical stance as consumers and users of computers.

    The final sections of Chapter 2 in Teachers and Techno-literacies provide support for

    educators wanting to adopt a critical stance towards new technologies. Bigum and

    Greens (1995) resource-context model of new technologies is brought together with

    Paceys (1983) notion of technology practice, and Sproull and Kieslers (1991) idea of

    first and second level effects of new technologies, to argue the need for a close

    examination of the feedback loop that exists between the claims made for the new




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  • 266 H. Nixon

    technologies and the resultant changes in their settings or contexts of use. The authors

    provide a logical explanation for why computers get schooled, or made into things that

    support and sustain the technology that is the school (p. 37). Chapters 1 and 4 of the

    book, which provide snapshots of school and classroom practice, illustrate this process at

    work, showing how computers become schooled as many teachers attempt to conduct

    business as usual. However, they also suggest what it might look like for educators to

    adopt a socially critical approach to the introduction of ICT into daily workplace


    Chapter 2 of this book also challenges teachers to think critically about the literacy

    technology interface by arguing the necessity for rethinking established ways of associat-

    ing literacy and text. The questions posed here remain pressing for literacy theorists and

    educators alike:

    Is the text metaphor (Morgan, 1996) adequate or even appropriate for

    understanding multimedia practices, information flows, or meaning-making

    practices in general within a dramatically mutating semiotic landscape

    (Kress, 1995, p. 25)? Does text encompass image? Sound? Multimodality?

    Non-linearity (Snyder, 1996)? (p. 38)

    The argument is made that the shift from print technology to computing and digital

    technology problematises a number of former assumptions about the specificity of a text,

    including its boundedness in time and space:

    With the emergence of database technology, hypertext and hypermedia, we

    can now ask: Where is the text? Indeed, more radically and unusually, we can

    ask: When is the text? Also: What is the text? Which is the text and which is

    context? (p. 38)

    Finally, the authors argue that another key problem for literacy education is the

    traditional view that texts encompass or subsume information. In a society that increas-

    ingly privileges information, there is a need for us to view literacy as involving, even

    requiring, the integration of text and information (p. 39). As the authors point out, the

    new privileged status of information confronts head-on t...


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