The New Literacies: Research on Reading Instruction with the Internet and Other Digital Technologies
© International Reading Association
Donald J. Leu, Jr.
To appear in:
S. J. Samuels and A. E. Farstrup (Eds.) What research has to say about reading instruction. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
New forms of reading and writing are emerging as the Internet and other new technologies for literacy enter our classrooms. This chapter shows how teachers are helping children around the world develop these new literacies with Internet technologies. It also explores the nature of these new literacies that build upon traditional reading and writing experiences and explains why these new literacies are central to our children's future. It suggests we must begin to include the literacies associated with the Internet in a broader definition of what it means to become literate.
The New Literacies: Research on Reading Instruction with the Internet and Other Digital Technologies
The essence of both reading and reading instruction has always been change. Reading a book changes us forever; we return from the worlds we inhabit during our reading journeys with new insights about ourselves and our surroundings. Teaching a child to read is also a transforming experience; it opens up new windows to the world, creating a lifetime of opportunities for that child. Change has always defined our work as literacy educators. By teaching a child to read, we change the world.
Today, reading and reading instruction are being defined by change in even more profound ways. New forms of information and communication technology (ICT) such as the Internet are rapidly generating new literacies required to effectively exploit their potentials (Eagleton, 1999; Karchmer, 1999; Meyer & Rose, 1998; Reinking, McKenna, Labbo, & Kieffer, 1998; Topping, 1997; Warschauer, 1999; Wood, 1999). These technologies also make possible new instructional practices to help children acquire the literacies of their future. Traditional definitions of reading instruction will be insufficient if we seek to provide children with the futures they deserve.
The changes experienced by many students who graduate from secondary school this year teach us an important lesson about our literacy future. Many graduates started their school career with the literacies of paper, pencil, and book technologies but finish having encountered the literacies demanded by a wide variety of digital information technologies: word processors, CD-ROMs, WWW browsers, web-based editors, email, and many others. These students experienced new literacies at the end of their schooling unimagined at the beginning. Given the increasingly rapid pace of change in the technologies of literacy, it is likely that students who begin school this year will experience even more profound changes during their own literacy journeys. Moreover, this story will be repeated again and again as new generations of students encounter yet unimagined technologies of information and communication as they move through school and develop yet unimagined literacies.
We can see the beginning of these changes in the unprecedented rate at which the Internet is entering school classrooms around the world. Consider the example of the US: in 1994 only 3% of K-12 classrooms in the US had a computer connected to the Internet; in 1998, 51% of classrooms had an Internet computer; and it is expected that nearly every classroom will have an Internet computer by 2000 (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1999). Similar changes are taking place in the UK, Ireland, Finland, Australia, New Zealand and other countries (Leu & Kinzer, in press). By any measure, this is unprecedented change; never before have we seen such a rapid infusion of such a powerful technology for teaching and learning into the classroom. The Internet has entered our classrooms faster than books, television, computers, the telephone, or any other technology for information and communication. Moreover, the Internet will be the vehicle for a host of new technologies that will continue to enter the classroom, regularly requiring new literacies from all of us.
Exploring New Literacies on the Internet
You may view evidence of the new literacies being developed in schools around the world by visiting IRA's outstanding electronic journal, Reading Online (Available at: http://www. readingonline.org). You might also use the Internet to visit the many classrooms where profound changes are taking place in the nature of reading and writing. These teachers share important lessons about the new literacies.
Some of the new literacies emerge from project-based learning experiences with Internet technologies. You can see these by visiting Marjorie Duby and her fifth grade students (http://lee.boston.k12.ma.us/d4/trav/lroot.html) at the Joseph Lee School in Boston, Massachusetts to see this taking place. Marjorie is one of the most accomplished developers of travel buddy projects, collaborative Internet projects based on stuffed animals that travel from classroom to classroom sparking reading and writing experiences via the Internet. You might also visit Susan Silverman's classroom in Port Jefferson, New York (http://www.kids-learn.org/). Susan supports research projects for children, invites classrooms to contribute their results, and then posts the work from these classrooms at her site, developing an important resource for still other classrooms to use. You may also see these new forms of literacy in space science projects, such as "Women in Space," available through NASA (http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/interactive/index.html#archives) where classrooms collaborate with scientists in all parts of the world as they explore important scientific questions.
Figure 1. Stellaluna's Friends: An example of a project site developed by Susan Silverman and her students (http://www.kids-learn.org/)
The new literacies of cross-cultural understanding also emerge as the Internet enters our classrooms. You can see these by visiting the Hobart - Malang Electronic Mail Project developed between students in Tasmania and Indonesia by Peter Lelong, Ibu Wahyuni, and others (http://www.fahan.tas.edu.au//Compute/indo.html). Or, visit Book Raps (http://rite.ed.qut.edu.au/oz-teachernet/projects/book-rap/index.html) the location managed by Cherrol McGhee, a teacher at the Hillview State Primary School in Queensland, Australia. Here children from around the world engage in literature discussion groups about common works of literature they have read, exchanging insights about the world from a variety of cultural perspectives. Or, visit the location developed by Cheryl Cox: Cinco de Mayo (http://www.zianet.com/hatchelementary/Cinco.html). This is another example of how the Internet may be used to develop broader cultural understandings through new forms of reading and writing.
You might also explore the new literacies of video conferencing by visiting the sites developed by of Hazel Jobe, a former Title I Reading/Language Arts teacher at Marshall Elementary School in Lewisburg, Tennessee (http://www.marshall-es.marshall.k12.tn.us/jobe/vcsuggest.html and http://www.marshall-es.marshall.k12.tn.us/jobe/Read-Write/environment/adventures.html). Hazel and her students use this emerging technology to interview scientists about the natural world. They also exchange the results of their study in videoconferences with classrooms around the world.
Finally, you might also visit Room 100 at Buckman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon (http://buckman.pps.k12.or.us/room100/room100.html) to see the new literacies possible for younger children to achieve. Beth Rohloff and Tim Lauer publish their K-2 studentsí amazing work on their classroom home page, making it available to other primary grade classrooms around the world. All of these examples from the Internet, and many more, represent fundamental changes taking place in the nature of reading, writing, and literacy education.
What Are the New Literacies?
The new literacies include the skills, strategies, and insights necessary to successfully exploit the rapidly changing information and communication technologies that continuously emerge in our world. A more precise definition of the new literacies may never be possible to achieve since their most important characteristic is that they regularly change; as new technologies for information and communication continually appear, new literacies emerge (Bruce, 1997; Leu, in press a; Reinking, 1998). Moreover, these changes often take place faster than we are able to completely evaluate them. Regular change is a defining characteristic of the new literacies.
This simple observation has profound consequences for literacy and literacy education. The continuously changing technologies of literacy mean that we must help children learn how to learn new technologies of literacy. In fact, the ability to learn continuously changing technologies for literacy may be a more critical target than learning any particular technology of literacy itself.
A second aspect of the new literacies is that they are increasingly dependent upon the ability to critically evaluate information. Open networks, such as the Internet, permit anyone to publish anything; this is one of the opportunities this technology presents. It is also one of its limitations; information is much more widely available from people who have strong political, economic, religious, or ideological stances that profoundly influence the nature of the information they present to others. As a result, we must assist students to become more critical consumers of the information they encounter (Alvermann, Moon, & Hagood, 1999; Muspratt, Freebody, & Luke, 1996). Such skills have not always been important in classrooms where textbooks and other traditional information resources are often assumed to be correct.
A third aspect of the new literacies is that they include the new forms of strategic knowledge necessary to locate, evaluate, and effectively use the extensive resources available within complexly networked ICT such as the Internet. The extent and complexity of this information is staggering. Moreover, these already extensive resources increase each day as new computers are connected to networks and as people create new information and publish it for others to use. The extensive information networks of ICT require new forms of strategic knowledge in order to exploit them effectively. How do we best search for information in these complex worlds? How do we design a web page to be useful to people who are likely to visit? How do we communicate effectively with videoconference technologies? Strategic knowledge is central to the new literacies.
A fourth aspect of the new literacies is that they are highly social; they require even greater social learning strategies compared to traditional literacies. Literacy has always been a social phenomenon but the new literacies contain even more of a social component than traditional literacies. The technologies of literacy change too quickly and are too extensive to for us to be literate in them all. Each of us, however, will know something useful to others. Reading an instructional manual for a new technology, for example, is often less efficient than simply asking another student who is familiar with the software. Social learning strategies, such as knowing who knows what type of information and how to quickly exchange it, become essential when literacy technologies rapidly change.
Social learning strategies also become important because networked technologies for literacy permit us to communicate much more extensively with people around the world. Much of the new information that becomes available on the Internet resides in the people who inhabit it, not in isolated texts. In order to access this type of information, we must develop new social components to our literacy skills. Teachers who engage their classes in collaborative projects with other children around the world are preparing them in important ways for their future with networked ICT.
A fifth aspect of these new literacies is that they provide special opportunities to help us better understand the unique qualities in each of our cultural traditions. The new literacies allow our students to immediately communicate with others around the world from different cultural contexts and, in that communication, develop new understandings about the many different ways of knowing that exist in this world. The extent of this opportunity has never before existed in school classrooms. The new literacies enable us to develop more complex, richer, and more powerful definitions of multicultural education, helping us to better understand the diverse nature of our global society (Leu, 1997b).
Finally, it is important to recognize that the new literacies build upon, they do not usually replace previous literacies. Traditional elements of literacy will continue to be important within the new literacies. In fact, it could be argued that they will become even more essential. The ability to read text will become more important because it allows us to access information faster than listening, and speed counts in rich, complexly networked information environments. The ability to write text will become more important because written text can be easily stored and organized to generate new knowledge. While reading and writing abilities become more important in the new literacies they will also change in important ways (Eagleton, 1999). Reading and writing will take new forms as text is combined with new media resources and linked within complex information networks requiring new literacies for their effective use.
Why Are the New Literacies Important?
Not everyone is sanguine about the consequences of new technologies for education. In fact, a number of critics raise important concerns about rushing to embrace these new technologies in the classroom (Birkerts, 1994; Cuban, 1986; Healy, 1998; Oppenheimer, 1997; Rochlin, 1997; Roszak, 1994; Stoll, 1995). Most of their arguments focus on the lack of teacher preparation, the inappropriate use of technology in the classroom, and the relative cost of technology in comparison to other educational needs; they do not demonstrate hard data on the inability of new technologies to support learning and higher achievement.
While there is limited evidence that computer technologies do produce learning gains (PCAST, 1997; Follansbee, Hughes, Pisha, & Stahl, 1997; Kulik & Kulik, 1991; Kulik, Kulik & Bangert-Drowns, 1990), arguments over efficacy issues may be moot in a world where new technologies change at a rate that exceeds our ability to comprehensively evaluate their potential for literacy and learning in the classroom (Leu, in press a; Leu & Kinzer, in press).
Efficacy studies may also be less useful if one recognizes that literacy in one context may not be identical to literacy in a different context. How, for example, should one compare comprehension within a traditional text and a rich and complexly networked information resource such as the Internet where each user may take a completely different path and acquire different information about a subject? Moreover, new aspects of meaning construction become far more important in complexly networked information resources such as the Internet. Speed, for example, becomes far more important. So, too, does the ability to locate useful resources and critically evaluate their utility in relation to the task demands. Locating useful resources quickly becomes just as important as comprehending those resources.
Perhaps simple observation about the changing nature of literacy provides more powerful data than any set of efficacy studies. If, for example, one concludes that networked ICTs have become central to success in the workplace or in higher education, why should we waste valuable time and energy demonstrating their efficacy over earlier technologies? To do so means an extensive research effort to demonstrate the obvious.
Many argue we have entered a historical period where it is no longer land, labor, or capital that defines oneís life opportunities in an information age (Bruce, 1997; Mikulecky & Kirkley, 1998; 1999; Reich, 1992; Rifkin, 1995). They note that work is increasingly characterized by the effective use of information resources to solve important problems within a globally competitive economy. Since networked, digital technologies provide greater and more rapid access to larger amounts of information, the effective use of information skills such as reading and writing become even more important in competitive workplace contexts (Gilster, 1997; Harrison & Stephen, 1996). As a result, reading comprehension, problem solving, information access, and communication are essential to success. The Internet and other networked technologies will be increasingly important to enable individuals to access the best information in the shortest time as they solve important problems
This is what a number of nations have concluded including Australia, the UK, Canada, Ireland, Finland, New Zealand, the US, and many others. Recognizing the importance of preparing citizens to compete in a global information economy, these countries have recently launched educational initiatives that will lead to a convergence of literacy instruction and the Internet (Leu & Kinzer, in press).
The similarity in public policy initiatives around the world is startling. While each country is responding to the educational challenges of global competition in a distinctive fashion, nearly every nation is articulating higher standards or benchmarks for literacy, is testing on an annual basis to monitor progress, and is supporting schools with the enormous expense of infusing Internet technologies into the curriculum. You may see evidence of this important work at the Internet locations developed in many of these countries to support educators, parents, and children:
- EdNA (Australia)
- ScoilNet (Ireland)
- SchoolNet (Canada)
Figure 2. ScoilNet (English Version): The resource for educators in Ireland
What Do We Know About the New Literacies?
Any realistic analysis of what we know about the new literacies from the traditional research literature must recognize that we actually know very little. Intuitively, it is easy to recognize that new technologies such as those used for e-mail, web browsing, video-conferencing, multimedia composing, or media viewing require new forms of literacy. The important issue, however, is how can we support them in the classroom? The answers to this question are not yet clear.
There are several reasons for this. A central issue is the failure of the literacy community to recognize the importance of the changes taking place. It may be that those of us who have constructed careers around the book will be the last to recognize the fundamental changes taking place in the nature of reading and writing. Kamil and Lane (1998), for example, report that during a recent five-year period, only a single study appeared investigating reading within computer technologies. And, while a few studies are now beginning to emerge from the literacy community (e.g. Eagleton, 1999; Labbo, 1996; Tierney, et. al., 1997), even the most recent Handbook of Literacy and Technology notes the paucity of hard data on issues of literacy and technology. As Reinking notes in the introduction to this volume, "Collectively, the rich and varied questions offered or suggested by the authors whose chapters follow far exceed current efforts to collect data that might address those questions." (Reinking, 1998, p. xxvii).
Much of the empirical work that might be used to inform our understanding of new literacies comes from the information technology (IT) community (e.g., Ayersman, 1996; Chen & Rada, 1996; Dillon & Gabbard, 1998; Mayer, 1997; U.S. Congress, 1995) and the growing community exploring issues in computer mediated communication (CMC) (e.g., Jones, 1999). This work, however, provides data that is only indirectly related to questions of literacy in classroom learning contexts. Usually, it evaluates adult performance, takes epistemological approaches less familiar to many in the literacy research community, often focuses separately on either learning or communication, not literacy, outcomes, or evaluates these outside of classroom contexts. Clearly, part of our effort to understand the new literacies must be devoted to forging closer links with these related research communities as we explore issues of classroom instruction.
There is also a second challenge we face as we study the new literacies: Literacy has become deictic (Leu, in press a; Leu, 1997a). Deixis, is a term used by linguists to describe words whose meanings change quickly, depending upon the time or space in which they are uttered (e.g., now, here, today, there, etc.). Literacy is also deictic. Both the forms and functions of literacy have regularly changed over time. The current historical period is unique, however, since the forms and functions of literacy are changing so rapidly as new technologies for information and communication emerge and as new envisionments for their use are constructed. This will continue into the future at a rapid rate turning new literacies into traditional literacies and creating even newer literacies on a regular basis. As a result, traditional forms of research will always be somewhat behind the even "newer literacies" that begin to appear in the curriculum. A deictic perspective suggests that we have to be more cautious as we attempt to find connections to new technologies of literacy from research that took place with older technologies.
Common Patterns Across Technologies
One of the more common patterns we find in hypermedia and networked technologies for information and communication is that they generate greater interest and motivation. This is true for both students and teachers (U.S. Congress, 1995). Reinking (in press) suggests readers are more engaged with hypermedia texts because they promote a more active orientation to reading, are easier to read for most readers, meet a wider range of social and psychological needs, and make reading a more creative and playful activity. This may be due to the common finding that students report positively on the greater control they feel during hypermedia experiences.
Becker and Dwyer (1994) report that 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. Similar results have been reported with hypermedia authoring tools among sixth-grade language arts students (Finkelman & McMunn, 1995) who valued the greater control over their presentation, in the extensive data presented by Tierney and his colleagues (Tierney et al., 1997), as well as a recent study Eagleton (1999).
Pre-service and in-service teachers taught how to use hypermedia tools for teaching and learning (Reed, Ayersman, & Liu, 1995a, 1995b), also reported positive attitudes. These teachers were most attracted to these new technologies because they saw the potential for teaching and learning and because they valued the learner-controlled nature of hypermedia learning environments.
The Internet also permits greater control by both teachers and students as they navigate rich information resources and construct meanings appropriate to their teaching and learning needs. Students engaged in an on-line project over the Internet report increased confidence in carrying out and presenting a research project with this even newer technology (CAST, 1996; Follansbee, Hughes, Pisha, & Stahl, 1997). Teachers in this same study, many of whom were using the Internet for the first time, reported greater use of Internet technologies following the project.
This general pattern of results in interest and motivation may help us to overcome an important paradox: While technologies are becoming more widely available, they are not always appropriated by teachers and systematically integrated into the curriculum (Becker, 1993; Miller & Olson, 1994; U.S. Congress, 1995). 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 (Leu, et. al., 1998). The same is not true for earlier, skill-oriented software which is only consistent with more teacher-directed beliefs. Becker (1999) and Karchmer (1999), however, have found that early adopters of Internet technologies for classroom instruction tend to have more constructivist beliefs. It may be that teachers with more teacher-directed beliefs will also use this technology but are slower in adopting it for classroom use.
A second area that has drawn substantial research attention has been the extent to which these contexts for new literacies generate greater gains in comprehension and learning (Ayersman, 1996; Dillon & Gabbard, 1998; Chen & Rada, 1996). Most of this work has come from the IT community. The most recent review of work with hypermedia, not Internet, technologies (Dillon & Gabbard, 1998) notes the many problematic aspects of this research literature and suggests that little or no gains accrue for comprehension. I have already suggested, however, that efficacy studies may explore moot questions if we already know that effective use of networked environments for information and communication will be required in higher education and the workplace. It is interesting to note in this regard that the Presidentís Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST, 1997), a prestigious panel of scientists and educational researchers in the U.S., recently took a similar position. They argued that ICT and other digital technologies were so central to the future of the U.S. that additional data on their efficacy were unnecessary before moving to systematically integrate these technologies into schools.
What is important to study are the conditions within new technologies that lead to gains in comprehension and learning. This information can inform teachers and others about how best to use these new technologies for the classroom. Studying the effects on comprehension and learning between various individual differences and on different types of tasks, for example, can inform us in useful ways.
Unfortunately, the work in these areas has not yet produced a consistent body of results (Dillon & Gabbard, 1998). Limited evidence suggests field independent learners may perform better in hypermedia contexts than field dependent learners (Marrison & Frick, 1994; Weller, Repman, Lan & Roose, 1995). Work in earlier technologies suggested they may be less interesting to young girls (Durndell, 1990), though newer technologies with greater opportunity for collaboration, conferencing, and networking experiences may be more inviting (Eldred & Hawisher, 1995; Lay, 1996). Finally, some evidence suggest that the ability to quickly search through hypermedia contexts favors higher ability students over lower ability students, especially when the information context is very rich (Dillon & Gabbard, 1998).
Another area that has been explored is the effect of task differences on comprehension with new technologies. Tasks within the new technologies of information and communication are not alike (Jonassen, 1993). Some require you to search for a specific piece of information. Others are far more complex, requiring you to gather and organize multiple information resources, evaluating their appropriateness as you work to solve a complex problem. Within IT, tasks have been analyzed in many ways. A common distinction, however is between closed and open tasks (Chen & Rada, 1996; Marchionini, 1989), or search and browsing tasks (Rada & Murphy, 1992). Closed or search tasks tend to focus on locating specific, factual information, within complex information environments. An example would be finding the answer to a question such as, "What is the population of New Zealand?" Open or browsing tasks tend to have open goals, often requiring users to find, evaluate, and integrate information from several sources.
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 the effective completion of cognitively complex tasks.
A final general pattern should also be noted in this work: Much of the work in the new technologies of literacy tends to focus on outcome measures from traditional text environments. It doesnít always evaluate aspects of performance unique to the new contexts for literacy in an information age. For example, the speed with which an individual can locate the highest quality information available is an important concern in a richly networked technology for information and communication such as the Internet. In addition, the ability to quickly evaluate the utility of different information resources for a specific problem also becomes important. Neither of these outcome measures has been important in the traditional research on reading comprehension; they need to be central outcome measures in future research.
Research on Specific Applications
Three specific types of applications require attention because they are either common in school classrooms or will be very shortly: talking storybooks, Integrated Learning Systems (ILS), and the Internet. Talking books are hypermedia texts with digitized pronunciations of words and larger textual units, often with animated illustrations and other features. While talking storybooks are designed to improve comprehension and reduce the decoding difficulties experienced by beginning readers, most work evaluating their potential has studied their use among students eight years of age or older experiencing difficulty in learning to read (e.g., Farmer, Klein, & Bryson, 1992; Greenlee-Moore & Smith, 1996; Lundberg & Olofsson, 1993; Miller, Blackstock, & Miller, 1994; Olson & Wise, 1992). Fewer studies have explored the potential of talking story books for younger children at the very beginning stages of reading, though a few studies been done with this population (Lewin, 1997; McKenna, 1998; Reitsma, 1988). Generally, studies show that comprehension increases when children can access digitized speech support. There is some indication (Miller, Blackstock, & Miller, 1994; Reitsma, 1988; Olson & Wise, 1992) that decoding ability may also increase. Future work needs to explore the relationship between these two patterns for different populations, as well as explore optimal software designs, especially strategies to connect reading and writing within these contexts. This is important given recent work by Labbo (1996) showing the importance of early writing experiences within multimedia software.
Another area of recent research is on the use of networked information environments such as Integrated Learning Systems (ILS). Integrated learning systems are networked systems that provide individual instruction on skills important to different subject areas. They tend to follow a more direct instructional model for instruction. ILS research does not show many learning gains over other instructional approaches. A large meta-analysis of almost 100 ILS studies showed many methodological flaws and little evidence of ILS gains on achievement (Becker, 1992).
The Internet is arguably the most powerful technology available to support reading and writing experiences in the classroom and it is clear from the earlier discussion this technology will be in many classrooms around the world. A growing body of work is beginning to recognize this change (Garner & Gillingham, 1996, Peha, 1995). Unfortunately, however, there is relatively little empirical evidence evaluating the Internetís effectiveness in supporting reading and writing in the classroom.
The largest, most systematic work is a study of 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 in one of two conditions. Control classrooms were encouraged to use traditional library resources as well as technology resources, including computers and multimedia software. Experimental classrooms also used the Internet for on-line resources, activities, and communication.
During the unit, students completed a project in small groups using the available resources. These projects were evaluated on several dimensions to compare performance in treatment conditions. Evaluation of the final project showed significantly greater achievement on a number of measures for classrooms using Internet resources. The mean overall score for projects was higher for experimental groups, but only approached significance.
Becker (1999), in a national survey of teachers in the US reported an interesting snapshot of Internet use that time. Nearly 90% of teachers in this national survey reported that they considered Internet resources as either "valuable" or "essential." This study also found 18% of teachers had already posted information or student work on the World Wide Web (WWW) of the Internet and that the WWW was the third most frequently used technology in the classroom (29%), behind the use of word processing (50%) and CD-ROMs for reference (36%). Among teachers with high-speed connections, 30% of teachers reported using the Internet for more than ten lessons during the year, suggesting that as faster connections appear in schools the Internet will be used more frequently for instruction.
A disturbing pattern appears to exist with respect to who has Internet access in the classroom, at least in the US. Recent data from the US Department of Education indicates that the percentage of classrooms with Internet connections is about 1/3 less for schools when minority enrollment exceeds 50 percent or when schools have more than 71 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1999). Given the increasing disparity in incomes in some countries, such a trend in societies that profess egalitarian ideals, if maintained, presents an important threat to the long-term political stability of these countries.
The emerging work on Internet use in the classroom provides us with a beginning picture of how it is used and what the potentials are for this technology. Clearly, 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 Internet resources enter classrooms around the world.
Research on Teacher Education and Staff Development
One of the greatest challenges to the effective use of technology for reading and writing instruction is teacher education and staff development. In the US, for example, only half of the states require computer education for licensure. Of these, only two (North Carolina and Vermont) require students to demonstrate their ability with technologies within a portfolio (CEO Forum, 1999). Further, only three states require technology training as a prerequisite for licensure renewal and only 14 states require districts to spend a certain proportion of technology funds on professional development (CEO Forum, 1999). Initial steps are taking place in this area (Kinzer & Risko, 1998) but a much more widespread commitment to teacher education in the technologies of literacy are clearly necessary.
The challenges in staff development will be enormous. Consider, for example, the results of a recent survey in the U.S. where only 1 in 5 full-time public school teachers report feeling very well prepared to integrate educational technology into classroom instruction (U.S. Department of Education, 1999a). This may be due to the woefully inadequate efforts devoted to staff development in the new literacies. School districts in the U.S. spend, on average, only 20% of the recommended amount of their technology budget on staff development (CEO Forum, 1999; US Department of Education, 1999b). Clearly, staff development in the use of new technologies such as the Internet needs to be an important priority.
Thinking About New Ways of Knowing
It appears that technology may be changing faster than our ability to evaluate and communicate its utility for literacy using traditional research approaches (Leu, in press a; Leu, Karchmer, & Leu, 1999). Sometimes, an even newer technology, or a new version of an older technology replaces the technology on which a study is based, before we can develop an extensive and consistent body of published research within traditional forums. If this continues, traditional research may play an increasingly less important role in our understanding of new literacies. Instead, it may be that teachersí and othersí envisionments about literacy may be increasingly important in defining new literacies for the classroom. Teachers and children can evaluate these new literacies and quickly spread word about an especially useful strategy on the Internet faster than traditional forms of research.
What Can We Reasonably Conclude About The New Literacies?
Given the many changes taking place in literacy from the changes in technology (Reinking, McKenna, Labbo, & Kieffer, 1998) and the envisionments these technologies inspire (Bruce, 1997; Leu, in press a), any conclusions must be cautiously framed. Often, conclusions must verge on the edge of predictions since change happens so quickly. Given this conditional preface let us look at what might be reasonably concluded about the new literacies.
Change is a defining element of the new literacies
New literacies are new literacies not because they appear now but because they will continuously appear as new technologies for information and communication regularly emerge and as people regularly construct new envisionments for how they might be used. The dynamics of continuously changing literacies have profound consequences for literacy education from classroom instruction, to assessment, and especially to teacher education. Adapting to change and learning how to learn unfamiliar technologies for information and communication will be critical component of the new literacies.
Assessment also will be regularly redefined in our digital futures. The challenge will to develop assessment systems that keep up with the continually changing nature of literacy so that assessment data provide useful information for planning. This may a challenge if new literacies appear frequently.
The new literacies build upon previous literacies
New literacies complement and build upon traditional literacies. Reading and writing will always be central to the new literacies but each will be changed in important ways. Reading will require similar types of vocabulary knowledge, for example, but new strategies for locating, evaluating, and using information will be required. Writing will require similar types of spelling knowledge, but new strategies for structuring text and additional media forms will be required.
The new literacies require new forms of strategic knowledge
Mayer (1997) reminds us that each technology contains different contexts and resources for constructing meanings and requires somewhat different strategies for doing so. New technologies for networked information and communication are complex and require many new strategies for their effective use. Moreover, the future will see these technologies continue to change. Thus, the new literacies will be largely defined around the strategic knowledge central to the effective use of information within rich and complexly networked environments. There will be many types of strategic knowledge important to the new literacies.
The new literacies involve more critical reading of information and provide new definitions of multicultural education
Because networked information technologies invite more and diverse people to exchange information, the new literacies require us to read more critically and they enable us to develop new insights about far more cultural traditions and ways of knowing than we have ever experienced. Being sensitive to this diversity and developing more critical reading skills within networked ICT will be an important aspect of the new literacies.
The new literacies are, to a large extent, socially constructed
Early evidence (Labbo, 1996; Labbo & Kuhn, 1998), as well as logical deduction from current trends, suggests that the new literacies will be ever more dependent on their social construction than traditional literacies. It will be impossible for every child to become expert in every new technology for information and communication that appears. As networked information resources become more extensive and complexly structured, and as ICTs continue to change with some frequency, no one person can be expected to know everything there is to know about the technologies of literacy; these technologies will simply change too quickly and be too extensive to permit any single person to be literate in them all. Each of us, however, will know something useful to others. This will distribute knowledge about literacy throughout the classroom, especially as students move above beginning stages. One student may know the best strategies for developing a hypermedia presentation while another knows the best way to use a new video conferencing technology. We will need to support children in learning how best to learn from others. Each of us will have a certain level of understanding of core technologies that meet our needs. For other technologies, we will need to rely upon others, expert in those technologies, to show us how things are accomplished. Internet Workshop and other collaborative approaches will be especially useful (Leu & Leu, 1999).
The social construction of meanings in our texts will also be facilitated by the technologies themselves. Since the new technologies increase our connections with others, we will have the opportunity to develop a wider understanding of how others understand the texts we create. The new literacies will require us to develop even greater appreciation for the wider interpretations that are possible to any text we create. New opportunities for supporting children in understanding their multiple audiences will be possible and central to the effective use of networked technologies for information and communication.
Interest and motivation provide special opportunities for supporting new literacies
One of the more compelling and consistent findings from the research literature in this area is that children are highly motivated and interested in the new literacies (Reinking, in press; U.S. Congress, 1995). The same appears to be true for at least some teachers (CAST, 1996; Follansbee, Hughes, Pisha, & Stahl, 1997; Reed, Ayersman, & Liu, 1995a, 1995b). The fact that the new contexts for literacy appear to be highly motivating may provide special opportunities for supporting children in acquiring the new literacies and special opportunities to support the important staff development and teacher education efforts that lie ahead. It is possible that more student directed learning experiences in the new literacies may be especially useful.
That children may be especially interested in the new literacies, however, is a double-edged sword. One wonders if this will mean less interest in the more traditional literacies that form an important foundation for the new literacies. Perhaps, we will need to consider how best to support these initial steps within the more engaging possibilities of hypermedia (Reinking, in press) and networked information and communication technologies.
The teacher's role becomes even more important within the new literacies
Internet resources will increase, not decrease, the central role teachers play in orchestrating learning experiences for students. Teachers will be challenged to thoughtfully guide studentsí learning within information environments that are richer and more complex than traditional print media, presenting richer and more complex learning opportunities for both them and their students. This, alone, would make teacher education and staff development issues important priorities. In addition, however, we must recognize that as the new literacies continually change, new staff development and teacher education needs will emerge. It is safe to say that our educational systems have never before faced the professional development needs that will occur in our future. Neither staff development efforts nor teacher education program have responded adequately to this challenge. Staff development is underfunded by a factor of five. Perhaps even greater attention needs to be devoted to teacher education. As the recent report from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education noted, "Not using technology much in their own research and teaching, teacher education faculty have insufficient understanding of the demands on classroom teachers to incorporate technology into their teaching" (N.C.A.T.E., 1997).
Around the world, governments are investing in the new literacies
We have seen how national governments, in an effort to prepare their citizens for global, economic competition in an information economy, are raising literacy standards and infusing networked technologies for information and communication into the curriculum. What is significant about this movement is that it is happening in many nations with a limited history of federal intervention in educational policy. In the US, over $2 billion dollars are being spent each year by the federal government to support Internet connections. In Australia, a national plan has been developed to raise literacy levels and integrate technology into the curriculum. A national web site for classroom teachers is also being developed. In New Zealand, national plans are being developed to infuse technology into the curriculum and to raise literacy standards. In the UK, a major effort is underway to integrate It into the curriculum and to focus attention on increasing literacy achievement. In Ireland, similar national policies are being implemented. National governments are changing the ways in which they respond to educational issues because they perceive new literacies to be important to their children.
We are only able to see the beginning outlines of what the new literacies will be and how to support their development. Clearly, we have much to learn about these new forms of literacy. It does appear that change will be an important part of their definition and that our response to this change will determine how prepared our children will be for their future. The reading community needs to play a central role in this conversation, a role, unfortunately, that has yet to be adequately fulfilled. Our work must begin to focus on how these new technologies are changing reading, the touchstone of our common work, and how we can best support teachers and children in their use. There is not a more important issue for us in the years ahead. For some, change will be difficult since many of us have built our careers around the book. For all of us, change is essential if we hope to prepare children for their literacy future.
- Visit this site with links to the classrooms of many teachers who use the Internet in exemplary ways: http://web.syr.edu/~djleu/RTEACHER/rumphius.html Explore several locations. What new forms and functions of literacy do you encounter? How might these prepare children for their literacy future?
- Read the stories of several experienced Internet educators located at:
- This chapter argues that "new literacies" have appeared because of the appearance of new technologies for literacy. Why should we consider these to be "new literacies?" Are they really different from the traditional literacies of reading and writing? How?
- Discuss the changes to literacy instruction, assessment, staff development, and public policy that result from rapidly changing technologies of literacy.
- If teachers develop networks and share information about "best practices" with the new technologies of the Internet, replacing traditional research paradigms, what criteria should we use to determine when an instructional practice might be more useful than another practice?
- Visit several of these national sites, designed to support educators using Internet technologies in their classrooms:
What common patterns do you find at these locations. Why are these found in different nations?
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