One of the most startling things this course has shown me was that schools, and libraries, really will be in for a dramatic period of change with widespread implications for how we understand literacy education. While I never believed the doomsayers who argued that we were wasting our time with new technology, I also did not see a revolution around the corner. Just as VHS videos, electronic whiteboards and the internet made their appearance and were assimilated into literacy-based classes, I thought mobile devices and the apps and programs that power these were just another of these that would prove to be quite useful, though not radically so. I had read the early findings of 1:1 laptop integration in schools that found “little or no sustained and scaled effects on teaching, learning, and achievement” (Weston and Bain, 2010, p.8) and “no trend over the last decade that shows that technology in the classroom improves test scores, and in some cases, test scores have fallen” (Lenz, 2011). These seemed normal problems with dealing with new technologies: it takes time to assimilate these things well into classes, but they would be assimilated and things would go on pretty much as they had. The only change was how literacy education now had new delivery methods and new text types. Surely schools could integrate this technology and the literacies associated with them, just as they had in the past?
But this view that new technologies produce just incremental change missed some important developments. In part this was a result of the application to new media of prior views of literacy as social and cultural practices. The dominant model of literacy emphasised the operational: technical skills of communication, the cultural: capacity to use these skills meaningfully in various contexts and the critical: the capacity to “critique the tools and practices of literacy . . . that better serve social justice” (Facer, 2011, p.226). This was bread and butter stuff for Queensland English teachers in particular who were encouraged to use (see Santoro, n.d) Luke and Freebody’s Four Resource Model (see Luke and Freebody, 1999). Yet not much had changed in schools except the text types and critical approaches to text analysis it seemed.
Yet the pace and nature of mobile devices and the ubiquity of web 2.0 communication and relationships mean that schools will change, and not just incrementally. It will not be possible for schools to maintain a ‘socio-cultural’ separateness that constrains the use of web 2.0 practices and associated literacies in schools as Crook (2012, p.63) observed – the changes will force a change. The mismatch between how schools develop knowledge and how students do this in private realms will be difficult to bridge. Schools use knowledge that is ordered, arranged and related to other knowledge whereas informal everyday knowledge is contextually specific and directed to specific goals – vertical vs horizontal, in Bernstein’s conceptualisation (Bernstein, 1999 in Bennett and Maton, 2010, p.327). Schools are adept at stifling children’s use of new technologies and their “unprecedented power and authority as publishers and disseminators of text” (Dowdall, 2009, p.45). Students realise schools do not authentically incorporate web 2.0 activities, even to the point where ‘diligent’ students eschewed web 2.0 practices in schools because it was seen as a distraction (Tan, 2008, p.10). Change is thus going to be hard.
The change agent for literacy education will therefore not be change due to top-down theory, nor will it come from private student practices colonising school classrooms. The change will come from changes to the real economy and the broader culture beyond social media and private entertainment forms of the web 2.0 mediascape. Schools cannot ignore new literacies. New “post-Fordist” or “fast capitalist” (Gee, 1994, in Cope and Kalantzis, 2000, p.11) corporate and institutional ways of working demand this. As a result, schools are being asked to develop not just literacy in and of the new media (and a critical evaluation of the social and cultural factors that shape these), but a broader set of literacy competencies that “emphasises unpicking, exploring and transforming the power relations housed within and around texts, as well as an interrogation of the interplaying economic and cultural forces that act upon texts” (Dowdall, 2009, p.47). Perhaps greater elaboration needs to be given to expanding these ideas to incorporate a critical interrogation of the power relations that influence the practices and even the forms of web 2.0 literacies and their associated ways of working.
These new literacies reflect how new technologies are “changing the nature of “perennial” skills valuable throughout history, as well as creating new “contextual” skills unique to new millennium work and citizenship” (Dede, 2010, p.53). The language used here is important: skills are not the same as literacies but a critical literacy of these very skills and their associated power relations necessarily brings the two concepts together.
Some of these new literacies are beginning to be developed, although the editors of the NMC Horizon Project Short List: 2012 K-12 Edition noted that “ A detailed review of the literature found almost no research in this area, and a paucity of examples or demonstration projects related to practical assessment of 21st Century Skills” (Johnson, Adams and Cummins, 2012). Yet there are some initial elaborations of these. The 21st Century Fluency Project develops the kind of literacies explored above with creativity and skills in collaboration and problem-solving.
In a similar vein, Learning.com’s 21st Century Skills Assessment aims to provide a grasp of critical 21st century skills and to develop students’ creativity, innovation, information fluency, critical thinking, decision-making and digital citizenship. The University of Melbourne is developing a project sponsored by Microsoft, Intel and Cisco called ATC21S which “is developing methods to assess skills that will form the basis for 21st-century curricula, with an emphasis on communication and collaboration, problem-solving, citizenship, and digital fluency”. And from 2015 PISA testing will start to assess these new competencies such a collaborative problem–solving (Griffin, 2012). The significance that is placed on Australia’s performance in these tests will drive calls for schools to rapidly adapt to this focus on 21st century skills. These literacies or fluencies emphasise far more than ‘text user’ skills elaborated in Luke and Freebody’s literacy model. These literacies are inseparable from broader communicative practices and relationships that are heavily technologically mediated. The danger is that so much emphasis is given to the formulation of these literacies that insufficient thought is given to equipping students to critically assess the nature of neither the texts produced nor the processes through which they were constructed.
These changes to assessment will drive changes to classroom practice in a way that both exceeds the use of critical literacies of texts or the co-option of students’ private literacy practices into schools. Literacy in our classes must therefore juggle the need to assimilate new skills and literacies (and many technologies) with an ability to examine the underlying power and institutional structures that influence the selection and use of these literacies. The real challenge for schools will be to see if our additive model of school change will be able to cope with this massive shift in not just what students learn but how they do so or whether a radical reorganisation will be required for us to do this properly.
ATCS (2012) Innovations. Retreived 13 October, 2012 from www.atc21s.org/index.php/resources/white-papers/
Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2000). Multiliteracies: literacy learning and the design of social futures. London: Routledge.
Crook, C. (2012). The ‘digital native’ in context: tensions associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting. Oxford Review of Education. 38(1), 63-80.
Dede, C. (2010). Comparing Frameworks for 21st Century Skills. In J. Bellanca & R. Brandt, Eds, 21st Century Skills, pp. 51-76. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.
Dowdall, C. (2009). Masters and critics: Children as producers of online digital texts. In V. Carrington & M. Robinson (eds) Digital Literacies: Social learning and classroom practices. (pp. 43-61) Los Angeles: Sage.
Facer, K. (2011). What futures for digital literacy in the 21st century? In L. Stergioulas & H. Drenoyanni (Eds.). Pursuing digital literacy in compulsory education (pp. 223-240). New York: Peter Lang.
Griffin, P. (2012). Changing tests and the PM’s 2025 goal for schools. Retrieved from http://theconversation.edu.au/changing-tests-and-the-pms-2025-goal-for-schools-7280
Johnson, L., Adams, S., and Cummins, M. (2012). NMC Horizon Report: 2012 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
learning.com (2012). 21st-century-skills-assessment. Retreived 15 October, 2012. http://www.learning.com/about/index.htm
Lenz, S. (2011). Data, critics question value of technology in the classroom. Deseret News. 6 September, 2011. Retreived 13 October 2012 from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700176771/Data-critics-question-value-of-technology-in-the-classroom.html?pg=all
Luke, A. and Freebody, A. (1999). ‘Further Notes on the Four Resources Model’ Reading Online, www.readingonline.org. Posted August 1999
Santoro, N ( n.d ) Using the four resources model across the curriculum, Retreived 18 October 2012 from http://education.qld.gov.au/literacy/docs/four-resource-model.pdf
Tan, Jennifer Pei-Ling and McWilliam, Erica L. (2008) Digital or Diligent? Web 2.0’s challenge to formal schooling. In Proceedings Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) 2008 International Education Conference, Brisbane.
Weston, M.E. & Bain, A. (2010). The End of Techno-Critique: The Naked Truth about 1:1 Laptop Initiatives and Educational Change. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9(6). Retrieved 21 October 2012 from http://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/jtla/article/view/1611/1458