Literacy and Technology:
Deictic Consequences for Literacy Education in an Information Age
Donald J. Leu, Jr.
© Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
To appear in M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, and R. Barr (Eds.) Handbook of Reading Research, Volume III. Mahway, NJ: Erlbaum.
Literacy and Technology:
Deictic Consequences for Literacy Education in an Information Age
Change increasingly defines the nature of literacy in an information age. Literacy is rapidly and continuously changing as new technologies for information and communication repeatedly appear and new envisionments for exploiting these technologies are continuously crafted by users. Moreover, these new technologies for information and communication permit the immediate exchange of even newer technologies and envisionments for their use. This speeds up the already rapid pace of change in the forms and functions of literacy, increasing the complexity of the challenges we face as we consider how best to prepare students for their literacy futures. Today, continuous, rapid change regularly redefines the nature of literacy. This simple observation has profound implications for literacy education.
While some might deny the value of these changes for education (Oppenheimer, 1997; Roszak, 1994; Stoll, 1995) or for literacy (Birkerts, 1994; Rochlin, 1997), it is no longer possible to ignore them in a world of networked information resources. Simply visit one of many classrooms now accessible through a recent technology for information and communication -- the Internet. You might, for example, pay a visit to the K-2 classrooms of Tim Lauer and Beth Rohloff at Buckman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon, Gary Cressman's U.S. History classroom at Enumclaw Junior High in Enumclaw, WA , Ms. Hos-McGrane's 5th-6th grade classroom at the International School of Amsterdam , Sue Pandiani's third grade classroom on Cape Cod,the classrooms at Loogootee Elementary West in Indiana , or one of thousands of other schools located at Web66: International School Web Site Registry. Many of us will find that literacy, in these and many other classrooms, differs substantially from the literacy on which most of the research in our field is based. And, it is not just that literacy has changed; it is also that literacy continuously changes in these classrooms. Return several months after your first visit and note the new forms of literacy as new technologies for information and communication, and new visions for using these technologies, are enacted by both students and teachers. Clearly, the literacy of yesterday is not the literacy of today, and it will not be the literacy of tomorrow.
A Theoretical Perspective
As we begin this review of research on the instructional applications of technology for literacy, recent theoretical work helps us to better understand the central relationship between literacy and technology. Our view of the relation between literacy and technology profoundly influences how we might view research on the inchoate patterns so characteristic of this area. One might, for example, take a transformative stance, observing that technology transforms the nature of literacy (Reinking, 1998). From this perspective, a review of research would seek to understand the new forms of literacy possible within new technologies. It would include studies of how multimedia, e-mail, and other technologies transform literacy and literacy learning in school classrooms and other contexts (e.g., Reinking, 1995; Reinking, McKenna, Labbo, & Keiffer, 1998; van Oostendorp & de Mul, 1996). Such an approach provides important insights into the many changes currently taking place in the nature of literacy and literacy learning.
Alternatively, one might take a transactional stance, observing that technology and literacy transact in multiple ways, mutually influencing one another (Bruce, 1997b; Garton & Wellman, 1995; Haas, 1996). According to this view, technology transforms literacy but literacy also transforms technology as users envision new ways of using emergent technologies for literate acts. We see an example of how earlier technologies were transformed by literacy envisionments in work by Labbo, Phillips, and Murray (1995-1996). They found teachers transforming existing technology to meet their literacy envisionments as an IBM Writing to Read lab was transformed into a more student directed context for literacy and learning. We can also find examples on the Internet where teachers and children transform the Internet every day and share these transformations with other teachers. Often, this takes place through Internet projects that teachers envision and post at locations such as Global SchoolNet's Internet Projects Registry. Stories of these Internet envisionments are beginning to appear at locations such as EDs Spotlight on Effective Practice or The Global Schoolhouse and are beginning to be studied more formally by some (Karchmer, 1998). From a transactional perspective, a review of research would focus as much on the new envisionments for literacy, as on the literacy transformations produced by changing technologies. One might explore the important transformations in literacy resulting from word processing, multimedia, e-mail, Internet, and other technologies. But one might also explore how and why teachers and children generate new envisionments for literacy with the use of new technologies (e.g., Bijker, Hughes, & Pinch, 1987; Bromley, 1997; Cuban, 1986; Labbo, Phillips, & Murray, 1995-1996; Labbo & Kuhn, 1998; Lemke, 1994, 1998; Leu et al. 1998; Leu, Karchmer & Leu, 1999).
Both of these views are useful and lead to important insights about literacy within new technologies. This chapter, however, will argue that a comprehensive theory about the relationship between literacy and technology must also include a third view. It is not only that literacy has changed because of the introduction of new technologies and the envisionments for literacy that they initiate. In addition, it is essential to recognize that we have entered a period of rapid and continuous change in the forms and functions of literacy. Today, changing technologies for information and communication and changing envisionments for their use rapidly and continuously redefine the nature of literacy (Kinzer & Leu, 1997; Leu, 1997a).
Linguists and others have used the term deixis to capture the special qualities of words like "today", "tomorrow", and "here" whose meanings change quickly, depending upon the time or space in which they are uttered (Fillmore, 1972; Murphy, 1986). For example, if I say "today" at this moment in time, it means today; if I say "today" tomorrow, it means tomorrow. And, by the time you read this, the meaning of my "today" is many days in the past. In a world of rapidly changing technologies and new envisionments for their use, literacy appears to be increasingly deictic; its meaning regularly redefined, not by time or space, but by new technologies and the continuously changing envisionments they initiate for information and communication (Leu, 1997a). It is the rapid and continuously changing nature of literacy, literacy as technological deixis, that requires our attention as we consider research in this area and the implications for literacy learning.
In order to explore the essence of the transformative (Reinking, McKenna, Labbo, & Keiffer, 1998), transactional (Bruce, 1997b), and deictic relationships between technology and literacy, I begin by briefly reviewing both the historical and the social context for the changing technologies and envisionments of literacy. This helps us to understand the unique situation in which we conduct research on the application of technology to literacy education. I then explore research on using the most recent technologies for information and communication, keeping in mind the special nature of literacy research in an era of rapid technological change and the changing envisionments for literacy that regularly occur. I conclude by exploring the consequences of viewing literacy as deixis for several areas: the nature of literacy, literacy research, literacy learning, teacher education, and public policy. In each area, the general principles at work in reshaping contemporary notions of literacy and literacy education are identified.
Exploring the Historical Context
Historically, the nature of literacy has always changed through different historical and cultural contexts as the technologies of information and communication have changed and as individuals have seen new possibilities within these technologies for literate acts (Boyarin, 1993; Diringer, 1968; Illera, 1997; Manguel, 1996). Thus, in a broad, historical sense, literacy has always been deictic, its meaning dependent upon the technologies and envisionments within many historical, religious, political, and cultural contexts.
The changing meanings for literacy have appeared as a variety of forces have influenced the development of new technologies and the literacy envisionments they prompt. In earliest societies, literacy was a way to record land, livestock, and crops, often for taxes or to record business transactions. In Mesopotamia, for example, Summerians used cunieform writing on clay tablets to keep these types of records (Boyarin, 1993; Diringer, 1968).
In many religions, literacy has been used to enforce a common dogma. This was accomplished in medieval Europe, for example, through hand-copied religious texts and a literate priesthood established to read and interpret religious texts to others (Manguel, 1996).
In post-reformation Europe, literacy became a way to seek individual salvation, as Luther argued one need not rely solely on a priest to interpret religious texts. Instead, Luther and his Protestant followers believed individuals were responsible for their own salvation through independent reading and study of religious texts. Importantly, this changing envisionment for literacy occurred only after several new technologies, developed by Johann Gutenberg, made the Bible widely available (Mathews, 1966).
In a Jeffersonian democracy, literacy was viewed as central to the survival of government as informed citizens made reasoned decisions at the ballot box (Ellis, 1997; Sterne, 1993). The rise of this political form became possible, in part, because of important changes in printing and other technologies enabling greater distribution of news and information along with an important emphasis on universal public schooling and widespread literacy (Mathews, 1966; Smith, 1965).
In an industrial world, literacy was seen as a means to accurately transmit production information from top to bottom in a hierarchically organized company. Memos, typewriting technologies, and large numbers of typists and stenographers became important to communicate information down the organizational structure to optimize production and sales.
In the information age or post-information age (Negroponte, 1995) in which we live, literacy is essential to enable individuals, groups, and societies to access the best information in the shortest time to identify and solve the most important problems and then communicate this information to others. Accessing information, evaluating information, solving problems, and communicating solutions are essential to success in this new era (Bruce, 1997a; Mikulecky & Kirkley, 1998).
Clearly, literacy has always been deictic, its meaning changing in each of these contexts, and many others, as new technologies appeared and people envisioned new ways of using these technologies for information and communication. What is unique about the current period is the technologies and envisionments for literacy repeatedly change within such short periods of time, affecting so many individuals. Our era is defined largely by repeated, rapid, and revolutionary changes in the technologies of information and communication (Harrison & Stephen, 1996; Johnson, 1997; Negroponte, 1995). Within just 20 years, we have seen the wide-spread appearance of, among others: word processing technologies, electronic data base technologies, multimedia/hypermedia technologies, e-mail technologies, and Internet technologies. Each has helped to redefine the nature of literacy and each has seen new envisionments for its use redefine the technology itself.
Moreover, the nature of literacy within each technology continuously changes as even newer technologies and newer envisionments regularly appear. Most of us, for example, have changed or upgraded word processing and e-mail software several times as new technologies regularly require us to develop new literacy skills appropriate for the communication software we use and the new possibilities we envision for its use. The same is also true for many other types of information and communication software including web-browser software, a technology that seems to change almost daily as upgraded browsers and new plug-ins appear with rapid regularity and as web pages are regularly redesigned to exploit newer technologies and envisionments for their effective use.
While literacy and literacy learning have always been intimately related to technology, never before have so many new envisionments for literacy been developed within so many new technologies that regularly change within such short periods of time. Increasingly, it appears that literacy is defined largely by change itself; its meaning dependent upon rapidly changing technologies for information and communication and the envisionments for literacy they repeatedly inspire.
The Social Context For Rapidly Changing Technologies and Literacies
Why does rapid change characterize the technologies of information and communication and the envisionments for literacy we create in today's world? At least one answer to this question is related to the information economies and the global competition defining the age in which we find ourselves. A number of recent analyses (Reich, 1992; Rifkin, 1995) demonstrate that we have moved from a time when land, labor, or capital defined power and influence, to one where power and influence accrue to those most effective at using information for solving important problems. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that networked, digital technologies provide rapid access to vast amounts of information, increasing the importance of effective information use (Harrison & Stephen, 1996).
To succeed in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, many organizations have changed the way in which they work (Mikulecky & Kirkley, 1998; Reich, 1992) as they transform themselves into "high-performance" workplaces. In most cases, this has required fundamental change in several areas. First, it requires change from a centrally planned organization to one that relies increasingly on collaborative teams at all levels in order to assume initiative for planning ways to work more efficiently. Second, problem-solving skills become critical to successful performance. As collaborative teams seek more effective ways of working, they identify problems important to their unit and seek appropriate solutions. To succeed in this task, it appears a third change is also taking place: effective collaboration and communication skills become increasingly important. The changes from a centralized to a decentralized workplace require collaboration and communication skills so the best decisions get made at every level in an organization and so that changes at one level are clearly communicated to other levels. Finally, there is a fourth change taking place in many organizations: effective information access and use become increasingly important to success. Individuals and organizations who can access information the fastest and use it effectively to solve important problems become the ones who succeed in these challenging times. As a result, informational literacy within new technologies has become a crucial determinant of success in the age in which we live (Bruce, 1997a; Drucker, 1994; Mikulecky & Kirkley, 1998).
The continuously changing technologies of information and communication are largely driven by these global forces in the nature of work. As individuals or organizations identify problems, gather information, and seek solutions, digital bits become faster and cheaper than atoms (Negroponte, 1995) and in a highly competitive context speed, information, and cost become paramount. Most of the technologies of literacy are driven by these three considerations. Successful information and communication technologies allow faster access to more information at a cheaper cost than alternatives. Moreover, the globally competitive context in which we find ourselves ensures that new technologies for information and communication will continually be developed, resulting in continuously changing literacies and envisionments for literacy.
It is possible to view these changes strictly from an economic or political view, suggesting that new technologies and envisionments for literacy are derived solely for economic gain or political control (Selfe & Selfe, 1996; Virillo, 1986), often by those most economically advantaged with a hegemonic desire to maintain and expand political power. This would not be a new development for, as many have observed, literacy typically serves those in power, not those out of power (Graff, 1981; Harris, 1989; Levi-Strauss, 1973, Shannon, 1996). At the same time, however, Giroux and Freire (1987) have noted the emancipatory effects of acquiring literacy and the humanizing developments that result. Moreover, Stotsky (1996) has demonstrated the important ways in which individuals exploit political structures, achieving personal ends that often run counter to prevailing political power structures through participatory writing. It is also but a short step to consider the historical example of samizdat in Russia, The Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe within the context of new electronic networks, such as the Internet, and expect these new electronic forms of literacy to provide potentially powerful opportunities for developing alternative views to prevailing political or economic forces.
Thus, it is possible to view these rapid and continuous changes in literacy as the result of the competition between nations for creating economically and politically powerful societies. Alternatively one could view these changes as new potentials within which to create more "just" societies. In truth, it is probably a bit of both, since historical realities clearly demonstrate the former cannot long survive without the later and the later will not long exist without the former. In either case, however, information economies, global competition, and the changing nature of work are, perhaps, the most powerful forces driving the changing nature of literacy in school classrooms. They prompt very real consequences for literacy education as we seek to prepare our students for the futures they deserve.
These consequences are increasingly clear to governments as they consider how best to prepare students for the changing demands of new electronic literacies in a globally competitive world. Policy decisions and discussions in many countries seek to ensure students leaving school are able to use new electronic literacies in order to identify central problems, find appropriate information quickly, and then use this information to solve problems and effectively communicate the solutions to others. Consider just three examples: the U. S., the U. K., and Finland.
In the U.S., with a long history of local control over education and little federal influence, we now find federal agencies as diverse as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Commerce Department, and the Justice Department initiating policy discussions and implementing decisions related to the new literacy needs of students and schools. The FCC, for example, has a major section of their web page devoted to educational policy initiatives, LearnNet. Here you discover a federal program providing approximately $2.25 billion annually in financial support to schools and libraries for Internet access, based on indicators of financial need. This revolutionary program (known formally as the "Universal Service Support Mechanism for Schools and Libraries" and informally as the "e-rate program") was established by Congress under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and is administered by the Schools and Libraries Division of the Universal Service Administrative Company, a not-for-profit organization established by the FCC for this purpose. While telecommunications companies seek to reduce the revenue stream for this program -- financed largely from a surcharge to their customers -- it appears popular support for this program is strong and will continue.
Public policy initiatives are also underway in Great Britain to prepare their children for a future in a world where effective use of information technology (IT) is the new touchstone for success. The Labour government, elected in 1990, is moving aggressively in this area. It has already implemented policies to provide free connections to the Internet and subsidized phone rates to all schools. Moreover, it has stated publicly the goals of connecting every school to the Internet by the year 2002, free of charge, and ensuring 500,000 teachers are trained in IT by that time. In addition, plans are underway to establish a "National Grid for Learning" to help identify and organize electronic information resources for use in the schools (C.S.J. Lewin, personal communication, January 30, 1998.
Public policy initiatives to prepare students for their literacy futures are also underway in Finland. In 1996, the Ministry of Education launched a three year program to teach students effective use of information technology in schools. This program includes developing new teaching methods for the use of IT, connecting all schools to the Internet before the year 2000, providing new computers to schools, and providing teachers with a five-week course of study in the effective instructional use of new information technologies (R. Svedlin, personal communication, January 8, 1998). These policy initiatives are being carried out by the National Board of Education.
Information economies, global competition, changes in workplace settings, and new national policy initiatives make solid research, especially in educational settings, critically important as we seek insights into preparing children for their literacy futures. We require useful data in order to prepare students for new technologies and new envisionments as we explore the boundaries of an information society, increasingly dependent on networked, digital technologies for information and communication.
Using New Technologies for Literacy And Learning: The Research Base
Recent reviews (e.g., Ayersman, 1996; Chen & Rada, 1996; Cochran-Smith, 1991; Mayer, 1997; Reinking, 1995; Reinking, Labbo & McKenna, 1997; U.S. Congress, 1995; Scott, Cole, & Engel, 1992) and edited volumes (e.g., Flood, Heath, & Lapp, 1997; Reinking, McKenna, Labbo, & Keiffer, 1998; Rouet, Levonen, Dillon, & Spiro, 1996; van Oostendorp & de Mul, 1996) provide a number of observations about the use of technologies to support literacy and learning. An important challenge arises, however, as one seeks to incorporate their conclusions into the use of even newer technologies for information and communication available today and the literacy envisionments they inspire. The challenge is closely related to the increasingly deictic nature of literacy within rapidly changing technologies of information and communication: As newer technologies of information and communication continually appear, they raise concerns about the generalizability of findings from earlier technologies.
Mayer (1997) reminds us that it is important to be cautious about generalizing findings from traditional texts to different forms of hypermedia because each technology contains different contexts and resources for constructing meanings and requires somewhat different strategies for doing so. It is equally important to recognize that we must also be cautious about generalizing patterns from older digital technologies to newer digital technologies. Thus, we should be cautious about generalizing from word processing technologies to e-mail technologies, and from hypermedia within CD-ROM or videodisc technologies to hypermedia within various Internet technologies. In addition, we should also be cautious about generalizing from one iteration within a particular technology to a newer iteration where the interface, speed, and resources may differ substantially. To what extent does research from older e-mail software generalize to newer, more powerful e-mail software? The answer to this question is not clear. What is clear is the two contexts will be substantially different, requiring new strategies to effectively exploit new resources, permitting different opportunities for communication.
To further problematize the issue of generalizability, one must keep in mind that individuals often create different envisionments for literacy within each technology. I may envision the use of current e-mail technologies for helping students acquire information from knowledgeable, unfamiliar others. You may envision the use of current e-mail technologies to help students share literary responses with friends and colleagues. To what extent does research from my envisionment for using e-mail generalize to your envisionment when the pragmatic aspects of these communication tasks differ so substantially? Clearly the challenges are enormous as we consider the utility of literacy research from one technology to another, from one iteration of a technology to another, and from one envisionment of literacy to another. Issues of ecological validity caused by rapidly changing technologies for information and communication and the increasingly deictic nature of literacy are critically important as we explore the literacy potentials of digital environments.
While the focus of this review is on the use of newer technologies, including hypermedia/multimedia and Internet technologies, one must be extraordinarily cautious about generalizing from work in one specific context in which digital technologies are used to any other context. The differences, to draw upon historical examples, may be as different as reading a cunieform tablet in order to determine taxes to viewing a television news program in order to make a reasoned decision at the ballot box. It is just that historical time has become compressed in an age when the technologies of literacy change so rapidly.
Unfortunately, in addition to questions of ecological validity there is a second general problem that one must recognize when reviewing work in this area: Only a small number of investigations have been published in traditional forums for reading and writing research. During the period 1990-1995, Kamil and Lane (1998) report that only 12 out of 437 research articles appearing in the four major journals of reading and writing research studied technology issues of literacy. While a number of investigations of new technologies for literacy and learning have appeared outside of the traditional literacy journals (Kamil, 1997), these are less likely to evaluate questions directly related to issues of literacy in classroom learning contexts. Often, this work evaluates adult performance, takes epistomological approaches less familiar to many in the literacy research community, focuses more on learning outcomes rather than literacy outcomes, or evaluates learning outside of classroom contexts.
Previous reviews have tended to evaluate work from one of two research communities: the literacy research community (e.g., Cochran-Smith, 1991; Reinking, 1995; Reinking, Labbo & McKenna, 1997) or the information technology (IT) community (e.g., Ayersman, 1996; Chen & Rada, Mayer, 1997; U.S. Congress, 1995). This review attempts to integrate these two bodies of research, an approach we must increasingly attempt if we hope to maximize our understanding of literacy and learning within new technologies. It focuses on recent technologies and especially on the challenges we face in conducting and interpreting work in this area for classroom use. While we face extraordinary challenges in interpreting the results of research on literacy within continually changing technologies, it is important to identify extant patterns at the same time that we are extremely cautious about their significance for new technologies, new iterations, and new envisionments that will regularly redefine the nature of literacy.
Interest and Other Motivational Factors
One of the more common patterns in research, within the greater interactivity and wider band-width media possible with newer technologies, is a generally high level of engagement, interest, or attitude (U.S. Congress, 1995) among both teachers and students when newer technologies are used. This appears to be the case among both pre-service and in-service teachers who received instruction in the use of hypermedia for teaching and learning (Reed, Ayersman, & Liu, 1995a, 1995b). Teachers seemed to be most attracted by the learner-controlled nature of hypermedia learning environments and the potential of this feature for educational settings. This may suggest hypermedia learning contexts will meet with less resistance in the classroom than previous technologies since they appear to be more consistent with concerns that teachers have for instructional relevance. On the other hand, this finding may be due to these teachers' beliefs about learning. This feature is more consistent with constructivist, student-directed beliefs about learning and this study did not evaluate participating teachers' beliefs.
Newer technologies, permitting greater control by both teachers and students as they navigate rich information resources and construct meanings appropriate to their teaching and learning needs, may permit us to overcome a fundamental paradox clear to many who studied the use of previous technologies in classrooms: While these technologies became more widely available, they were not always appropriated by teachers and systematically integrated into the curriculum (Anderson, 1993; Becker, 1993; Miller & Olson, 1994; Papert, 1993; Reinking & Bridwell-Bowles; 1991; U.S. Congress, 1995). While not all teachers take a more student-centered, constructivist stance, more open information and communication environments such as the Internet permit both teacher-directed and student-directed learning activities, thus inviting teachers from a wider spectrum of beliefs into this new learning context ( & Kinzer, 1998). The same is not true for earlier skill-oriented software which is only consistent with more teacher-directed beliefs.
Limited evidence also suggests hypermedia's defining characteristic, the ability to respond to the needs of an individual learner for information, results in an increased sense of control over the learning environment and higher levels of intrinsic motivation (Becker & Dwyer, 1994). These aspects have related patterns in the research on locus of control within traditional reading contexts, where internal locus of control is associated with higher reading achievement in reading comprehension (Hiebert, Winongrad, & Danner, 1984; Wagner, Sprat, Gal, & Paris, 1989). Thus, it may suggest the interactive features of hypermedia and the users' ability to control the direction they take within these rich information contexts may explain some of the learning gains in comprehension as users develop more intrinsic motivation and a greater sense of control over their own comprehension.
Some work, albeit with earlier technologies, has begun to explore the nature of locus of control within electronic learning environments (Gray, 1989; Gray, Barber, & Shasha, 1991). Gray et al. found internal locus of control subjects performed better at information retrieval and retention than external locus of control subjects in an early hypertext system. It would seem logical to expect much more work in this area, especially in relation to newer hypermedia technologies, such as the Internet, exploring their potential to change locus of control from external to internal attributions. Since locus of control has been a useful construct and since the Internet is user driven, one would expect Internet use might enhance locus of control and this might lead to greater comprehension over time. While the evidence in this area is merely suggestive, the potential for this explanatory mechanism seems especially important to explore with additional work.
Locus of control and the potential of hypermedia to increase intrinsic motivation may also be important to explore in authoring studies using hypermedia authoring tools or newer forms of communication software. Finkelman and McMunn (1995), for example, found that sixth-grade language arts students reported an especially satisfying aspect of using hypermedia authoring tools was the greater control over the nature of their presentations. A similar pattern appears in the extensive data presented by Tierney and his colleagues (Tierney et al., 1997).
In classroom studies such as these, however, it is difficult to separate out effects due to the technology from the instructional strategies used with the technology. As Bush (1996) discovered, students who used hypermedia from an Integrated Learning System, while working within collaborative learning groups, reported significantly more positive attitudes about both math and computer math lessons than did students who worked alone using the same computer software. This suggests that the positive effects on attitude demonstrated in the authoring studies by Finkelman and McMunn (1995) and Tierney and his colleagues (Tierney et al., 1997) may be an artifact of the instructional condition more than the consequence of the hypermedia authoring opportunities. Each contained elements of collaborative instructional strategies.
In addition to the potential confounding of instructional condition, work on interest and other motivational aspects within recent technologies suffers from a tendency to use limited measures of interest, sometimes with only a few items presented in a simple Likert scale. Moreover, these data are often collected either before or after interactions with hypermedia software, never during the actual use of the software environment; data that would be especially important for evaluating the effects of multiple media forms and various design features typical of hypermedia and Internet technologies.
Finally, this work does not appear to evaluate distinctions between what Hidi (1990) refers to as situational interest and individual interest. Situational interest is transitory and specific to a learning situation. Often it is measured after a learning experience. Individual interest is a result of long-term experiences with a topic or a domain and is much more permanent. Often it is measured before a learning experience. This distinction may be important to explore within the new technologies of literacy because Garner and Gillingham (1992) have observed individual interest may actually impede learning. This may be especially true when students have extensive experiences with electronic games (Schick & Miller, 1992). Students who enter into hypermedia learning environments expecting to encounter a game may be less interested in exploring this context to acquire important knowledge and thus less likely to learn important information.
As important as it is to evaluate the consequences of new digital literacies for interest and other motivational factors, clearly this work is in its early stages (Leu & Reinking, 1996). Richer theoretical constructs, more complex and sophisticated measures, more on-line assessment of motivational aspects, and more systematic attempts to distinguish between situational and individual interest will help us to develop richer, more comprehensive insights into the changing technologies for information and communication.
Evaluating Individual Differences And Cognitive Learning Styles
There are both intuitive and theoretical reasons for expecting newer technologies for information and communication to be especially sensitive to individual differences. Intuitively, one would expect individual differences to be accommodated better within the newer technologies for information and communication. Hypermedia, Internet, and other recent technologies combine multiple media forms within a dynamic and interactive information structure under the control of the user. One would expect these contexts to allow individuals to explore information resources most consistent with individual learning needs or styles, each using the particular information or media forms they require to optimize understanding.
Recent work is consistent with this intuitive expectation, showing how students may travel different routes through a rich, digital information structure, using different media resources, allowing each to perform at similarly high levels (Hillinger & Leu, 1994; Horney & Anderson-Inman, 1994; Liu & Reed, 1994; Toro, 1995). Hillinger and Leu (1994), for example, found a hypermedia program led to similar, high performance among both high and low prior knowledge adults on a variety of comprehension and performance tasks related to the repair and maintenance of a turboprop engine. Low prior knowledge participants achieved the same high level of learning with the hypermedia program as did high prior knowledge participants, suggesting that hypermedia may have the potential for overcoming limitations in prior knowledge for comprehension and learning, at least among adults.
Theoretically, several perspectives have been used to direct work on individual learning style differences in the use of hypertext and hypermedia: locus of control (discussed earlier), the dual coding theory of Paivio (1979, 1986), and theoretical perspectives related to field independent and field dependent learners. Studies have explored each of these theoretical perspectives.
Multimodal learning theories, such as the dual coding theory of Paivio, typically suggest information presented within multiple modalities maximizes learning for a wider variety of students, some of whom optimize information presented within a verbal context and others who optimize information presented within an imaginal (visual) context. Some results appear to be consistent with this theoretical orientation. Daiute and Morse (1994) reviewed much of the multiple modality research, concluding that appropriately combined images and sound may enhance both the comprehension and the production of text. Reinking and Chanlin (1994), however, reviewed many of the more problematic aspects of research exploring multimedia capabilities of electronic texts, especially early work in this area. While the potential continues to remain promising -- especially with the greater variety and wider-band width media available in newer technologies -- we are still waiting for more thoughtfully designed studies to systematically explore the utility of multimodal learning theories in this area.
A few studies have explored field independence and field dependence within hypermedia technologies. Field independent learners tend to be skilled at identifying useful information quickly from a complex context while field dependent learners perform less efficiently. Given the increasingly complex visual displays appearing within Internet and other newer technologies (Caroff, Fringer, & Kletsien, 1997; Tufte, 1997), one would expect field independence and field dependence theories useful to explore individual differences. Marrison and Frick (1994) evaluated this distinction among undergraduate economics students. Field independent students found a hypermedia learning context easier to use and more exciting than field independent students. Leader and Klein (1994) reported a study in which field independent students achieved at a level significantly higher than field dependent students with certain search tools in a hypermedia program. Weller, Repman, and Roose (1994) and Weller, Repman, Lan and Roose (1995) report two studies in which field independent, eighth grade students learned computer ethics better than field dependent students in a hypermedia program.
A number of feminist scholars (Belenkey, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Gilligan, 1982) propose that gender often determines learning style. As a result, an increasingly important area of exploration concerns gender differences in the use of newer technologies for information and communication (Grint & Gill, 1995; Lay, 1996; Selfe, 1990; Turkle & Papert, 1990). Work on the computer culture in general, and especially with older technologies among college students, suggested it was a greater challenge for women to become engaged with information and communication technologies than for men. A number of reasons were found for this pattern: A sense of isolation within the technology (Durndell, 1990), a lack of confidence in math skills Clarke (1990), and a dislike of competition and aggression (Clarke, 1990). Some suggest, however, that collaboration, conferencing, and networking experiences -- all central characteristics of newer networked technologies such as the Internet -- may be especially inviting to women and young girls (Eldred & Hawisher, 1995; Lay, 1996). This work only hints at possible opportunities to limit gender bias within the newer technologies. If we hope to provide optimal learning experiences for all children, exploring questions related to this issue will be an important challenge as networked communication technologies enter the classroom.
Generally, the work on individual differences and learning styles within the newer technologies for information and communication has not yet produced a consistent body of results, clearly demonstrating the primacy of a particular theoretical perspective or the clear-cut efficacy of hypermedia and newer technologies for accommodating varied individual differences or learning styles. In a meta-analysis of hypertext studies from 1988-1993, Chen and Rada (1996) found a generally small overall effect size for several cognitive styles on measures of either effectiveness or efficiency. Individual differences in spatial ability, though, consistently produced a large effect size on efficiency measures. It should be noted, however, the studies in this review contained far fewer multimedia resources than are currently available in the newest technologies for information and communication. Thus, it is possible newer technologies, with more media resources, more sophisticated interface designs, and more opportunities for networking, may produce more substantial effects.
As this work moves forward, we need to pay attention to several methodological issues. First, much of the current work on individual differences only explores issues with adult subjects. An extensive program of research needs to begin within classroom contexts to better understand the variety of individual differences in relation to the newer technologies. This is especially important since these technologies provide greater opportunity for individual control and direction of information resources. Second, work on individual difference within the technologies of literacy often fails to ensure all students were equally familiar and skilled in navigating these environments. Thus, differences may be due to a potential confounding with navigational knowledge. In future studies, great care needs to be taken to ensure that participants possess sufficient metacognitive knowledge about navigational strategies to exploit insightfully the additional media resources and more complex interfaces. While many studies of hypertext and hypermedia tend to assume strategic knowledge among participants about how best to navigate within a particular interface, this problem is especially important for studies which evaluate individual differences. Schroeder (1994), for example, found that students using a hypertext information environment performed at initially lower levels of achievement until they became more familiar and comfortable with the user interface. The failure to adequately demonstrate that participants can navigate effectively may be an explanation for studies which find little or no difference between learning style groups in this literature.
Literacy and Learning Tasks
Not all tasks within the new technologies of information and communication are alike (Jonassen, 1993). Some require one to simply find a specific piece of information. Others are far more complex, requiring participants to gather and organize multiple information resources, evaluating their appropriateness as they work toward a vaguely defined goal that may change along the way. Within the information technology community, tasks have been analyzed in many ways, but they often cluster around polar constructs such as closed and open tasks (Chen & Rada, 1996; Marchionini, 1989), or search and browsing tasks (Carmel, Crawford, & Chen, 1992; Rada and Murphy, 1992). Closed or search tasks tend to focus on specific goals, often specific, factual information, within complex information environments. An example would be searching for the answer to a given question such as, "When is the scheduled departure for the next Space Shuttle?" Open or browsing tasks tend to have open goals, often requiring users to find, evaluate, and integrate information from several sources. An example would be to compare how several authors of children literature approach their work and write a book.
In a review of earlier technologies, Chen and Rada (1996) found hypertext yielded significantly greater effect sizes for open tasks than closed tasks on measures of effectiveness. This suggests the more complex and rich information resources characteristic of hypertext systems may be especially suited for effective completion of cognitively complex tasks.
Hillinger and Leu (1994), however, reported a somewhat different pattern of results within hypermedia when individual differences in prior knowledge were evaluated. The hypermedia program developed for the study explained how a turboprop engine generated propulsion and showed how to take apart and put together the main components of this engine. The hypermedia program contained video, text, animation, digitized speech, and tools allowing the user to take apart the engine on the screen. While all participants performed better on closed tasks than open tasks, this was largely due to low prior knowledge participants who performed significantly better on closed tasks than they did on open tasks. High prior knowledge participants performed at comparable levels for both closed and open tasks. These differences suggest prior knowledge may interact with the nature of a comprehension task. It may also suggest that hypermedia technologies yield a different pattern of results from hypertext. In either case, it argues for additional work within the newer information technologies, exploring both individual differences and the effects of different types of tasks on learning outcomes.
Specific Applications of Newer Technologies for Literacy and Learning
Research in each of the preceding sections indirectly informs research on the use of new technologies in classrooms for literacy and learning. It is helpful as we seek to inform policy makers, teacher educators, and others about the optimal use of new technologies for teaching and learning. In addition, however, a number of other studies have looked at more specific applications of newer technologies for classroom literacy and learning.
One area drawing recent attention has been the use of talking books among younger readers. Talking books are hypermedia texts with digitized pronunciations of words and larger textual units. Sometimes they also include animated illustrations and other features. While talking storybooks are designed to improve comprehension and reduce the decoding difficulties experienced by beginning readers, most of this work has taken place among students eight years of age or older, often with students experiencing difficulties learning to read (e.g., Farmer, Klein, & Bryson, 1992; Greenlee-Moore & Smith, 1996; Lundberg & Olofsson, 1993; Miller, Blackstock, & Miller, 1994; Olofsson, 1992; Olson, Foltz, & Wise, 1986; Scoresby, 1996; Wise et. al, 1989; Wise & Olson, 1994). Less work has taken place to explore the potential of talking books for those at the very beginning stages of reading instruction, though some work has been done with this population (Hastings, 1997; Lewin, 1997; McKenna, 1998; Reitsma, 1988). While much more work remains to more fully understand the supportive opportunities for multimedia software among younger readers, the results have been sufficiently promising to encourage additional work. Generally, this works shows that comprehension increases when children can access digitized speech support. There is some indication (Miller, Blackstock, & Miller, 1994; Reitsma, 1988; Olson, Foltz, & Wise, 1986; Olson & Wise, 1992; Wise & Olson, 1994) that decoding ability may also increase though the exact manner in which these two patterns are related within talking book software for different populations remains an open question. Future work needs to explore the relationship between these two patterns for different populations, as well as explore optimal interface designs and strategies to connect reading and writing within these contexts. The later is especially important given recent work by Labbo (1996) showing the importance of early writing experiences within multimedia software.
Other work within hypermedia software has focused more on comprehension and learning using "responsive text" (Hillinger, 1992; Hillinger & Leu, 1994; Leu & Hillinger, 1994), "supportive text" (Anderson-Inman & Horney, 1998; Anderson-Inman, Horney, Chen, & Lewin, 1994). Generally, this work shows a positive effect on learning, though much more research on optimizing the interface of supportive structures appears to be necessary. Not all supposedly supportive aids always lead to increases in learning or comprehension. Scoresby (1996), for example, has found that interactive animation within the pictures of a story actually impede comprehension.
The work by the literacy community on early reading, comprehension, or learning tends to suffer from an emphasis on comprehension or learning as an outcome measure. In a world where time is increasingly important and where busy classrooms and limited computer time is all too common, we also need to evaluate the amount of time it takes to achieve important outcome measures. Here, the literacy community might learn from the information technology (IT) community. Time is almost always included as a dependent measure in work from the IT community; it is seldom included in work from the literacy community. In a recent study using a virtual world to help students learn a challenging scientific concept, for example, Hillinger and Leu (1997) found this hypermedia context achieved the same level of learning as a classroom approach using "hands -on" experiments but required one-third less time. We should begin to think about efficiency with these new technologies as much as we think about achievement levels.
Another area of recent research is on the use of networked information environments such as Integrated Learning Systems (ILS) and the Internet. With a longer history of classroom use, ILS research is much more extensive than the use of the Internet in classrooms. ILS research does not provide conclusive evidence for its positive outcomes despite studies showing positive satisfaction by students, teachers, and administrators (Sherry, 1990; Trotter, 1990). A meta-analysis of almost 100 ILS studies showed many methodological flaws and little conclusive evidence of ILS impact on achievement (Becker, 1992).
The Internet has attracted much recent attention and a number of books and articles describing its use in classroom contexts (Garner & Gillingham, 1996, Leu & Leu, 1998; Peha, 1995). To date, however, we have little empirical evidence evaluating its effectiveness supporting literacy and learning in classrooms. The largest, most systematic work is a study, jointly funded by Scholastic Network, the Council of Great City Schools, and the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). Participants included 500 students in grades four and six in seven urban school districts around the U.S. (CAST, 1996; Follansbee, Hughes, Pisha, & Stahl, 1997). Each classroom completed an integrated learning unit on Civil Rights using a common curricular framework and common activities. Each class was encouraged to use traditional library resources as well as technology resources, including computers and multimedia software. The experimental classes also used the Internet for on-line resources, activities, and communication. Each student completed a project as a result of their participation in the unit. Evaluation of the final project showed significantly greater achievement on a number of measures for classrooms using Internet resources.
This study provides important support for suggestions about the potential of Internet resources for classroom learning, but it is also clear we require a larger, consistent body of work in this area before conclusive claims may be made. We also require important new work evaluating how teachers optimize learning within the Internet, how new envisionments for literacy are initiated by this resource in the classroom, how the Internet may restructure traditional student-teacher relationships, and a host of issues related to the use of Internet technologies in classroom settings. It is likely this will be the most important area of research in the near future as this powerful resource enters classrooms around the world.
A central issue in the classroom use of Internet and other new technologies for literacy and learning is their integration into the classroom. The data on classroom integration with earlier technologies is instructive, revealing the important challenge we face. U.S. schools had 5.8 million computers in use for instruction during the spring of 1995, approximately one for every nine students or 2-3 per classroom (U.S. Congress, 1995). Despite this, however, teachers reported minimal use of computers for instructional purposes. Reports from secondary schools indicated only nine percent of students used computers for English class, six to seven percent for math class, and only three percent for social studies class (U.S. Congress, 1995). In elementary schools, computers were seldom integrated into central areas of the curriculum; often they were used after assigned work had been completed for games and game-like experiences (Becker, 1993; U.S. Congress, 1995).
As technological change occurs more and more rapidly, redefining potentials for literacy and learning, how do we ensure that teachers fully exploit these potentials during classroom instruction? Part of the challenge will require far more teacher education and staff development to continually support teachers as new technologies appear and as resources become available for its purchase. Current levels of support appear inadequate if we expect the continuous progression of new technologies to become integrated into central locations of the curriculum (U.S. Congress, 1995).
There is also increasing evidence that any new technology is not value free; its integration or resistance will be determined largely by the values and practices of the teacher and the organization into which it is placed (Becker, 1993; Cuban, 1986; Hodas, 1993; Miller & Olson, 1994). Thus, rapid revolutionary change is unlikely as new technologies enter school classrooms. Instead, it is more likely teachers will adopt those technologies that already fit existing practices or can be adapted easily. Some of the newer technologies for literacy and learning may make it more likely for teachers to integrate these into classroom instruction. The greater resources, interaction, and connectivity of the Internet, for example, makes possible teaching and learning practices from a wider range of beliefs, accommodating teachers who take a specific skill perspective to literacy issues, those who take more of a holistic language perspective, and those who fall somewhere in between (Leu & Kinzer, 1998). Clearly, however, much support will continually be required to support teachers as technologies for information and communication continue to change (Schrum, 1995).
An important new solution to the challenge of classroom integration of new technologies, at least at the university level, may be literacy education that takes place within the technologies themselves. This is the approach taken recently in work completed at Vanderbilt University by Risko, Kinzer, and their colleagues (Kinzer & Risko, 1998; Risko, 1995; Risko, Peter, & McAllister, 1996; Risko, Yount, & McAllister, 1992) using multimedia, cased-based instruction. This approach, perhaps regularly extended to new technologies as they appear, may naturally enable new envisionments for their use and provide an important solution to the challenge of classroom integration.
Even if adequate support appears and teachers are prepared for using new technologies in their classrooms, important equity issues, unless they are resolved, will impede our ability to prepare all children for their literacy futures. While simple data on the number of computers raises concerns about equity between urban and suburban, rich and poor, small schools and large schools, the issue is much more complicated than these simple contrasts might suggest (Sutton, 1991; U.S. Congress, 1995). Increasingly, important equity issues revolve around the age of technology, how it is used, where it is located, and who uses it (Sayers, 1995; Sutton, 1991; U.S. Congress, 1995). Bold, new initiatives such as the recent "Universal Service Support Mechanism for Schools and Libraries" will need to be continually developed to ensure equity of access for all children as new technologies regularly appear, creating new and potentially harmful disparities in equity of access to future technologies and future literacies. Just as important will be local and even classroom solutions to access to technologies. Given the complexity of equity issues, individual decisions by districts, schools, and teachers may be just as important as state and national policy initiatives.
Though many political obstacles may currently exist to Internet equity, this goal is important for all of us. As we provide access to the Internet for all children, we increase the potential of their contribution to our global community. Providing access to the Internet increases opportunities for each one of us as new discoveries are made and new advancements take place to improve the quality of everyone's life. While perfect solutions to equity issues are seldom possible, nations, states, cities, and school districts must make every effort to help each child realize their literacy futures possible in a world with new and powerful sources of information and communication.
Lessons from the Research Literature
Standing back for a moment and looking at the broad sweep of research, one notices several important lessons. Most obvious, perhaps, is the need to think systematically about work taking place from many different areas, with many different traditions. The clearest example of this problem is the work taking place within the IT and literacy communities. These studies almost never draw upon the work taking place within the other community. We need to begin to explore one another's work, drawing important insights from the special perspective each brings to questions of literacy and learning within rapidly evolving technologies of information and communication. Most of the IT research, for example, explores the most recent technologies but often with adult users. Most of the research from the literacy community, explores older technologies but often in wonderfully rich classroom contexts with children. At the very least, the IT community can provide useful insights into the latest technologies while the literacy community can provide useful insights into the use of these technologies within classrooms. Collaborative work might find even more useful synergies.
Another lesson to draw from this review is this: We have often focused more on the technology itself rather than how any technology is used in the classroom. Bush (1996), for example, reminds us that important differences in outcomes arise for any technology, depending upon how it is used in the classroom. This is one of the few studies to vary instructional condition within the use of hypermedia, demonstrating clear differences due to instructional condition. More work such as this needs to be attempted in an effort to discover the instructional conditions which maximally exploit the learning potentials within various forms of digital literacies. As Owston (1997) points out, the potential of new technologies for learning, such as the World Wide Web, is likely to be found in the way in which these new technologies are exploited, not in the technologies themselves.
To guide us in this work, we also require new theoretical perspectives and new research strategies to explore the continually changing technologies of literacy and learning. Some new theoretical work is beginning to appear such as the work on anchored instruction and situated learning (The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1990) and work on cognitive flexibility theory (Spiro & Jehng, 1990). We need additional theoretical perspectives for literacy developed within new digital technologies as these are used in classroom contexts to support literacy and learning.
New research strategies are also beginning to appear. One of the promising approaches is work using a formative experimental model initially proposed by Newman (1990) and currently being explored by Reinking and colleagues (Reinking & Pickle, 1993; Reinking and Watkins, 1997). Additionally, case studies are increasingly being used to explore the unique situational contexts of new technologies within individual classrooms (Garner & Gillingham, 1996). It is important that additional research models also emerge out of the new contexts and new envisionments possible within new technologies.
Another lesson also exists in these studies: Often outcomes from traditional teaching and learning contexts are evaluated rather than evaluating new outcomes that are becoming increasingly important in a global information environment where problem solving, information evaluation, speed, and communication are essential to success. Earlier I suggested that we begin to consider the speed it takes to acquire information as an important measure of success within various technologies. We also need to begin to explore how effective various technologies are for supporting collaboration, problem solving, information evaluation, and communication. All will be increasingly important literacy tasks in the years ahead.
While some work is taking place on electronic communication within networked environments, bringing new insights and new definitions to literacy (Eldred & Hawisher, 1995; Tao, Montgomery, & Pickle, 1997), much more needs to take place, especially with children and in classroom contexts. It is likely that work on pragmatic aspects of effective communication within e-mail and new video conferencing technologies will be especially important in preparing children for the communication requirements in their futures.
There is another important point to keep in mind as we explore research in these contexts. Roszak (1994) argues that we need to understand the important distinction between information and knowledge. Most of the research in this area has explored new ways of presenting and acquiring information. Little has explored new ways of acquiring knowledge, or using the information one acquires in productive ways. Much more attention should be paid to this distinction. Future work needs to include evaluations of how to optimize the underlying nature of knowledge, not merely how to optimize the acquisition of information.
Finally, we need to understand better how new envisionments for literacy develop and are disseminated as new technologies for information and communication continually appear. It is clear that new envisionments appear with each new technology (Bruce, 1997b; Lemke, 1998) and it is clear that young children build these envisionments as they are engaged with digital literacy tasks with new technologies (Labbo, 1996; Labbo & Kuhn, 1998). Many new envisionments take place every day on the Internet as teachers construct new collaborative projects for classrooms and invite others to join (Garner & Gillingham, 1996; Leu & Leu, 1998). We know little about how this process develops and about the literacy and learning that develops from these encounters. This information will be essential to assist new teachers entering these powerful contexts for collaboration, communication, and learning.
Literacy As Deixis: Redefining Literacy, Literacy Research,Classroom Learning, Teacher Education, And Public Policy
Reviews of various technologies and their application to instruction serve to capture the state of our knowledge at a particular moment in time. They fail, however, to capture the larger view of changing technologies, changing literacies, and changing envisionments. As a result, they quickly lose their power to inform either instruction or research.
In this chapter, I have argued that literacy is rapidly changing because information and communication technologies change quickly as do the literacy envisionments that they inspire. Moreover, new technologies for information and communication, themselves, increasingly permit the immediate exchange of new technologies and envisionments for literacy. This speeds up the already rapid pace of change in the forms and functions of literacy as society regularly discovers new ways to exploit these technological means to accomplish new social ends. Changing technologies and concomitantly changing literacies and envisionments for literacy regularly redefine our instructional worlds.
Fifteen years ago, students did not need to know word processing technologies. Ten years ago, students did not need to know how to navigate through the rich information environments possible in multimedia, CD-ROM technologies. Five years ago, students did not need to know how to search for information on the Internet, set a bookmark, use a web browser, create an HTML document, participate in a mailing list, engage in a collaborative Internet project with another classroom, or communicate via e-mail. Today, however, each of these technologies and each of these envisionments is appearing within classrooms forcing teachers, students, and researchers to continually adapt to new definitions of literacy.
As we consider the lessons we might draw from this observation, we must step back to consider the broader issues that come into focus when one views literacy as technological deixis. To simply review the research on the instructional applications of technology in our field would only serve to look back at what was. Its would provide only limited guidance about what might be in our literacy futures.
Given the increasingly deictic nature of literacy, it would not be too extreme to draw an important conclusion: For the first time in our history, we are unable to accurately anticipate the literacy requirements expected at the time of graduation for children who will enter school this year. If, only five years ago, we were unable to anticipate the important role Internet technologies would play in our literacy lives today, how can we anticipate the nature of literacy in 13 years for children who are in kindergarten classrooms today? This observation has important consequences for thinking about the instructional applications of technology, since most of our research, instruction, and policies still assume the literacy of tomorrow will be the same as the literacy of today. How do we plan for changes in technology and literacy that we cannot yet imagine? While we cannot accurately define the nature of literacy in the future, we must begin to define the general principles at work in several areas, continuously reshaping contemporary notions of what it means to become literate.
The Nature of Literacy
First, let us consider the general nature of literacy in this new context. It is likely that reading and writing ability will become even more important in the future than they are today. This is due to the increasing need for acquiring and communicating information rapidly in a world of global competition and information economies. In this context, success will often be defined by one's ability to quickly locate useful information to solve important problems and then communicate the solution to others. Proficient readers can acquire information faster by reading than they can by listening to speech or viewing a video. In an age when speed of information access is central to success, reading proficiency will be even more critical to our children's futures.
Writing will also become more important in our literacy futures. Meaning is more permanent in written form and, thus, it may be more easily stored and then accessed for later use. In addition, the greater planning time possible with written communication enables skilled authors to make meaning more explicit and precise; greater planning time also allows skilled authors to make meaning more deliberately ambiguous when that purpose might suit their needs. Finally, the recipient of a message can acquire information faster by reading it than by listening to it. Pragmatically, audiences will increasing find value in written texts over oral texts when time is essential to communicate information precisely. For all of these reasons, reading and writing will become even more important in an information age as we access information rapidly and as we communicate new solutions to important problems.
As reading and writing become more important, a deictic perspective on literacy predicts that each will also change in important ways. First, strategic knowledge will become even more important to successful literacy activities than it is today. Navigating the increasingly complex information available within global information networks that continually change will require greater strategic knowledge than is required within more limited and static, traditional texts. It is likely, too, that new forms of strategic knowledge will be required (Gilster, 1997). Becoming literate will require our students to acquire new and increasingly sophisticated strategies for acquiring information within these complex and continually changing information contexts.
Second, literacy within global information networks will require new forms of critical thinking and reasoning from all of us. Anyone may publish anything on open networks like the Internet. Traditional forces, guaranteeing some degree of control over the accuracy of information in traditionally published works, do not exist. As a result, we encounter web pages created by people who have political, religious, or ideological stances that profoundly distort the nature of the information that they present to others. In this type of information environment, we must assist students to become more critical consumers of the information they encounter. Such skills have not always been important in classrooms where textbooks and other traditional information resources are often assumed to be correct.
Third, we need to help children become more aware of the variety of meanings inherent in the multiple media forms in which messages will increasingly appear (Flood & Lapp, 1995; Labbo, 1996; Labbo & Kuhn, 1998; Meyers, Hammett, and McKillop, 1998). Information resources now have the ability to combine many different media forms, making it possible to impart many new meanings, often in very subtle ways. This may either problematize or assist the construction of meaning. Within the area of communication and composition, new media are increasingly available in digital authoring tools. These also make for more complex communication skills. Clearly, the new meanings possible by combining multiple media sources create important challenges for us as we prepare students for their futures with new media and new literacies.
Fourth, literacy will increasingly become a continuous learning task for each of us. Since new technologies and new envisionments for literacy will regularly appear, we will need to continually learn new ways to acquire information and communicate with one another. Increasingly, "becoming literate" will become a more precise term than "being literate," reflecting the continual need to update our abilities to communicate within new technologies that regularly appear.
Finally, changes in reading and writing will bring to the forefront the issue of language and cultural dominance. In the past, languages and cultures have been dominated by nations possessing superior military and economic power. In our digital futures, languages and cultures will be dominated by nations possessing superior information resources on global information networks such as the Internet. Currently, the vast majority of Internet sites and Internet traffic takes place to and from locations in the United States. One worries about the consequences of this for the rich heritage of diverse languages and cultures that characterize our world, permitting varied and unique interpretations of the reality we all inhabit. Will the Internet mean that English will become the only language of international communication? Will the Internet provide a vehicle for the dominance of U.S. culture? One hopes not, but the signs are already becoming clear that we may quickly lose our linguistic and cultural diversity if we all inhabit the same information and communication space on the Internet (Leu, 1997b).
A deictic perspective about literacy within rapidly changing technologies and envisionments for their use generates two important paradoxes for the literacy community to carefully consider. These will require us to rethink several aspects of traditional approaches to research in literacy contexts.
The first paradox is that technology often changes faster than we can effectively evaluate its utility for literacy and learning (Kamil & Lane, 1998). Since literacy is so intimately related to the technologies of information and communication as well as the envisionments they inspire, rapidly changing technologies make it difficult, if not impossible, to develop a consistent body of research within traditional forums before the technology on which it is based is replaced by an even newer technology. Unless this situation changes, and strategies for publishing research in traditional forums speed up their processes or new forums appear, it is likely that traditional research will play an increasingly less important role in defining our understanding of new technologies and new literacies. Our understanding may be informed more often by individuals who use various technologies on a daily basis and less often by traditional forms of research. Perhaps, as Broudy (1986) suggests, we will have to depend increasingly on the credibility of advocates to different claims rather than on the truth of their claims.
There is also a second paradox for research resulting from a deictic perspective about literacy and technology: It may become unimportant to demonstrate the advantages of new technologies for educational contexts if it is already clear those technologies will define the literacies of our students' futures. Technologies and the literacies they prompt are changing so quickly their importance to our children's future is often clearer before a consistent body of research evidence appears objectively demonstrating their efficacy. Several authors (Oppenheimer, 1997; Stoll, 1995; Rochlin, 1997; Roszak, 1994) have recently criticized the educational community for committing enormous amounts of money to technology without providing a compelling body of research evidence demonstrating the learning gains that will result. On the other hand, who needs hard data on the beneficial outcomes of new technologies for literacy or learning when it becomes clear these technologies, or their related successors, will be the technologies of our children's futures? While some would argue we must wait until compelling data are available; I would argue that to wait for these data will make them useless since new technologies will have appeared by then. If it is already clear that workplaces and higher education have become dependent upon networked information environments such as the Internet, who has the luxury of time to wait for a consistent body of research to appear, demonstrating its effectiveness? Research might be better spent exploring issues of how to support teachers' efforts to unlock the potentials of new technologies, not demonstrating the learning gains from technologies we already know will be important to our children's success at life's opportunities.
If technologies continually change in the years ahead, it may become increasingly important to study teachers' envisionments of these technologies for literacy and learning. Teachers' envisionments, in a time of rapid technological change, may be one of the more stable components of literacy education in the future. Clearly, new envisionments for literacy and learning are taking place now, within current Internet technologies. We see these as teachers and educators develop a wide variety of keypal and Internet projects, many of which occur between students in different countries and cultures (El-Hindi, 1998; Iannone, 1998; Leu & Leu, 1998). Unfortunately, there has been no work into how and why teachers envision and gravitate towards these new envisionments with this new technology. How do they emerge? What defines effective envisionments? How do teachers modify their envisionments over time? Why does this take place? All of these are important questions we must begin to address.
Classroom Learning Contexts
The rapidly changing nature of literacy predicted by a deictic perspective also has important consequences for designing classroom learning contexts. Because the technologies for information and communication are increasingly powerful, complex, and continually changing, no one person can hope to know everything about the technologies of literacy. As a result, literacy learning will be increasingly dependent upon social learning strategies, even more than traditional contexts for literacy learning. I may know how to digitize video scenes from a classroom lesson, but you may know how best to design a web page for a class in literacy education. By exchanging information, we both discover new potentials for literacy and learning.
If literacy learning will become increasingly dependent upon social learning strategies, socially skilled learners will be advantaged; "monastic learners", children who rely solely upon independent learning strategies, will be disadvantaged. This may be an important change in many classrooms, since individual learning has often been the norm, privileging children who learn well independently. Increasingly, we must attend to this individual difference in classrooms, supporting children who are unfamiliar or ineffective with social learning strategies.
Workshop experiences and cooperative learning activities may be especially useful with complex and continually changing technologies of literacy since they allow groups of students to share experiences and learn from one another. It may be the case that classroom use of new literacy technologies will increasingly be organized around these strategies for instruction.
A deictic perspective of literacy and technology also generates important consequences for teachers. Traditionally, we have selected teachers who were already literate and could pass their literacy along to our children. Now, however, the very nature of literacy is regularly changing because of new information and communication technologies. Many teachers, literate in older technologies, quickly become illiterate as newer technologies of information and communication replace previous technologies. If educators fail to continually become literate with rapidly changing technologies, how will they help their students become literate? We must begin to develop strategies to help each of us keep up with the continually changing definitions of literacy that will exist in our world. School systems have never faced the amount of professional support and continual re-education these new technologies will require. Determining the most effective ways to support teachers in new electronic worlds will be an important challenge for policy makers and educational leaders.
A deictic perspective on technology suggests there are at least three important public policy issues that will become important in a world where technologies and envisionments for literacy continuously change. We have already discussed the first: Equity issues in a world of continually changing technologies and envisionments for literacy. Somehow, we must develop equal access to these continuously changing technologies for all students. We must be prepared to continually provide support for schools and children to ensure equity in these new worlds for each and every child.
The second issue is related to the recent emphasis on setting national, state, and local standards for education in various subject areas. Current approaches to identifying specific literacy standards or benchmarks becomes somewhat meaningless if new technologies regularly redefine the very nature of literacy. While these may be appropriate for some areas, a deictic perspective on literacy suggests they may be somewhat misguided, since standards and benchmarks assume the nature of literacy will remain constant. If we are unable to accurately anticipate the type of literacy expected at the time of graduation for children who enter school this year, how can we develop assessment tools to guide us on the journey? Clearly, if literacy is regularly redefined by new technologies and new envisionments, assessment must also be regularly redefined in the electronic futures our schools will inhabit. The challenge, however, is to develop assessment systems that keep up with the continually changing nature of literacy. A deictic perspective would suggest the ability to learn continuously changing technologies and new envisionments for literacy may be a better target than literacy itself.
Finally, the financing of new technologies presents major new hurdles to any society. A deictic perspective would suggest that continually changing technologies of information and communication will require regular capital investments by schools if they wish to help their students keep up with the changing nature of literacy. We have never before been faced with the expenses of our literacy futures. Somehow, this challenge must be met if we hope to adequately prepare children for their literacy futures.
Summary and Conclusions
In this chapter, I have suggested that rapid changes in information and communication technologies have resulted in literacy becoming technological deixis, its meaning continuously changing as new technologies appear and as new envisionments for their use are crafted. While literacy has always been deictic in an historical sense, the current period is unique because of the rapid changes in the technologies of information and communication as well as the envisionments they inspire. As a result, literacy is regularly being redefined within shorted time periods. This takes place as rapidly changing technologies for information and communication transform literacy and as users envision new ways of using these technologies for literate acts, transforming, in turn, the nature of these technologies.
What is especially interesting about these changes is that they appear to be driven less by traditional research on the effectiveness of any technology to support literacy or learning, perhaps because changes in the new technologies of information and communication occur more rapidly than we can develop a traditional research base on which to draw conclusions. Instead, larger social and economic factors appear to exert a powerful force on the use of information and communication technologies in classrooms as we seek to prepare students for the literacies of their futures.
While reviewing the recent literature on newer technologies, I have suggested a deictic perspective makes it just as important to look forward into the consequences for our futures as it is to look backwards to the research base. Since we cannot accurately define the nature of literacy in the future, I have suggested it is critical to define the general principles at work in reshaping contemporary notions of literacy. A central challenge is how to plan for education when the very heart of the system, literacy, will be changing regularly as new information and communication technologies continually appear and as teachers and students envision new ways to exploit these resources. To assist in this task, I identified a number of principles that might be drawn from a deictic perspective in several areas: the nature of literacy, literacy research, classroom learning contexts, teacher education, and public policy. These principles may be useful to help frame the exploration of issues in our literacy futures.
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I want to thank Allyson J. Crawley for her research assistance in the preparation of this chapter. I also want to thank the following colleagues for the many important insights they graciously shared in response to an earlier draft: Maya Eagleton, Dana Grisham, Lee Gunderson, Michael Hillinger, Rachel Karchmer, Jamie Kirkley, Linda Labbo, Larry Mickulecky, David Reinking, Bob Rickleman, Victoria Risko, and William Valmont. Each has helped me to see these issues in new ways. None, however, should be held responsible for any of my errors.