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Application of the New Literacies in Teaching and Learning

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The ways of teaching have changed drastically over the past three years. Although just a decade ago, a major part of the teaching and learning process was based on printed textbooks and hand-written assignments, now the list of effective knowledge instruments has been growing constantly every day. The speed of racing technology development has been quite impressive in the past few years, while the adaptability of modern educators has become a key factor in the progress of educational system. It is impossible to overestimate the meaning of the New Literacies in the education of today, as they gradually enter each classroom and offer multiple benefits (Gamble, 2000). Even though now it seems that the experience of teaching and learning is so different from what we had just a few decades ago, the journey is not over –more students every day will encounter new fascinating technologies on their way, and that is why we need to pay attention to how teachers and students manage these new opportunities.

There are many reasons why the question of the New Literacies application needs to be investigated (Leu et al., 2004):

  • The implication of modern technologies corresponds to the spirit of the time and is relevant to many phenomena that students experience every day.
  • Through using modern technologies in education and assignment completion, students acquire many important skills that are demanded of the young specialists all over the world, such as MS Office (Word, Excel, Access, Project, etc.), Adobe Photoshop, Movie Maker skills, the basics of website development, web design, and many more.
  • The speed of educational process obtains an entirely new level, and the same happens to the interactive side of learning and teaching. For instance, hand-written assignments take it longer to finish, and the teachers may get them only in real-life.
  • Images, videos, music, project presentations, and other interactive elements make education more interesting by supporting it with the elements of entertainment.
  • It is important to remember that technologies are not mutually exclusive: in spite of the former traditional view of the Internet as a “copy-paste” source, today’s Internet advancement allows checking students’ papers for plagiarism online.
  • The theoretical basis for the New Literacies is undeveloped, as there is even no clear definition of this concept existing in science.

The Importance of Literacy in the World of Today

There are several reasons why being and becoming multi-literate is so significant in the contemporary world. The first is the need to stay competitive on any market, and it especially relates to the labor market, where students have to demonstrate as many skills as possible, even if their working experience is not to their advantage. Secondly, some technology implementations are now fixed in the state laws and other legal documents. Thirdly, the Internet media is gaining more influence daily: it is now a way to bank, to spread newspaper articles, to advertise, to sell, to buy, to educate or to be educated (Gamble, 2000).

Systematizing knowledge about the influence of the New Literacies on education, setting new standards, and finding out to what extent such implementation is useful is essential for further intellectual progress and successful adaptation of both students and teachers in the future. The role of school is now changed: it should not only adapt the changes itself but also teach students how to use the existing technology benefits to the full. Right now, it is difficult to say anything about technology controls in education, since little has been done in this sphere so far. The major principles of the New Literacies include:

  • The Internet plays a central role in today’s information technology and communication;
  • The New Literacies have to be applied to the full in today’s environment;
  • The New Literacies are independent, fair, and diverse in their nature and represent the transactional link between literacy and technology;
  • The central components of the New Literacies are represented by the Critical Literacies and new forms of strategic knowledge;
  • Speed becomes an important part in using new techniques of teaching and learning;
  • The weight of the New Literacies in learning has grown sufficiently in the past five years;
  • In spite of the change of the teacher’s role into the facilitator’s role, it has become even more important (Leu et al. 2004).

The Most Influential New Literacies

Several most influential spheres of the New Literacies embrace gaming software, video technologies, social networks, search engines, and web pages. Their subcategories include CAS systems used in mathematics, multimedia (graphics, movies, slideshows, and animations), new generation of problems (work on the web, multiple choice tests online, and gateway exams), interactive webpages (with installed JavaScript, dynamic HTML, Flash and Java innovations), online databases (web encyclopedias, courses, discussion boards, and problem databases), and communication (ICQ, Skype, e-mailing, electronic discussions, and conferences, lectures) (Gamble, 2000). Obviously, there is a lot more to me applied in education, but those aspects are related to any other technological spheres and it makes them very important for learning and teaching. This list cannot be limited as the racing technology is altered every single day, and new advanced systems of communication and information access appear. Literacy practices now involve webcam talks, online chats, RPG games played on the web, and other fascinating instruments of the information exchange (Eisenhart, 1998). None of those contradict the traditional understanding of teaching and learning – the teachers have always tried to work out the most effective ways to teach the students with maximum use and convenience. As long as language and technology start to coincide and merge, they have a particular effect on the society’s understanding of communication; and surely these processes are reflected in the activity of classrooms (Andrews, 2003). Even if technology was not supposed to influence education in the first place, the New Literacies have altered the traditional ways of teaching and learning. The most interesting changes were experienced by the generation of students who did not have any of those fascinating technologies when they entered schools and graduated with the technology application skills (Leu et al., 2004).

The New Literacies may be used by both teachers and students to challenge and alter the old-fashioned ways and paradigms, get better explanations for complex concepts, look deeper into real-life cases, discover things all by oneself, get a fresh vision, share experience with colleagues/peers, organize teaching/learning better, alter the monotonous lecture style, improve audio and visual comprehension, color boring things, and attain more involvement with the student/teacher.

The Pros and Cons of the New Literacies Application

By now, not many researchers can provide reliable information on the importance of the New Literacies in real classroom conditions. But if the application of multi-literacy instruments is beneficial for the students, the teachers also need to learn how to use them in teaching. The focus of the study is set on the English language, as it is learnt in every class and would serve as a perfect example of the New Literacies implication (Knill, 2010).

In terms of the English language, the word “multiliteracies”, which is actually equivalent to the New Literacies mentioned before, is gaining more and more popularity in Australian schools. It is a direct sign that the new communicational models, as well as corresponding teaching techniques should be advanced along with the technology enhancements (Andrews, 2003). The changes in the English learning process are obvious: many new skills have stemmed from the use of new technologies. For instance, the Internet browsing or viewing has become as important as writing or reading; and noting something down is often replaced by PowerPoint presentations, videos, images, setting a drama performance, or creating a webpage (Shanahan, 1990). Even the language itself has gone beyond the boundaries of textbooks, written assignments, verbal and non-verbal communication between teachers and students. By now, anything can be a response, an idea, or a text (Leu et al., 2004).

However, some researchers still find the implications of online technologies are not as serene as they seem at first glance. With so many ways to give an answer, it is very difficult to work out a fair grade rubric to define the level of expertise of a student in the assignment completion. Many of the existing technologies have not yet been certified or standardized. Diversity may be taken as a disadvantage, as there is no common base for the open-ended assignments (Unsworth, 2002). Other researchers are afraid of the extinction of the book and hand-written experience in the life of students. Some claim that in today’s environment students are frequently overexposed to multiple gadgets, media tools, social networks, and loads of information (Macken-Horarik, 2009). The methodological dangers of the New Literacies and their investigation include danger of staying out-fashioned, irrelevance, didactic difficulties, failure to ‘digest’ the load of material, teacher’s inability to grasp the complexity, sapping concentration on the goals, technical difficulties (Meacham, 1998).  Potentially, there are multiple situations when technology’s performance is not successful. For example, the teacher may be uncomfortable with the particular tool, equipment compatibility (for example, projector) was not checked, the application crashes, a reboot is needed, and the slides are difficult to read because of the picture blurriness (Gamble, 2000). Simplification of common knowledge, teacher’s focus on certain software peculiarities, boredom brought by multiple choice questions on the computer, lack of material coverage, no freedom to think for oneself (for example, because of using the calculator), serious programming needed on the student’s behalf, the assignment incompatible with older hardware/software, lack of computer security, copyright material taken away from the student by anti-plagiarism programs, using technology instead of human resources, automated grading, and constant changes in computer programming languages have become real obstacles on the way to effective technology use. However, these drawbacks do not mean they are inevitable – everything that is required is good management (Unsworth, 2002). Technology, if not handled properly, may increase students’ laziness and the technical preparations necessary for assignment representation, decrease intellectual effort and time because of software/hardware downfalls and technical incompatibility, and thus distracting students from the essential material (Macken-Horarik, 2009).

In spite of these negative consequences of using modern technologies and the New Literacies, it is more reasonable to work out effective recommendations on how to resolve these issues, rather than eliminate the use of IT and other helpful instruments. Indeed, the process of technology introduction and innovation in the life of society cannot be stopped, and education should become a part of this process. Online technologies will not make the book and written experience fade away, but will rather serve as a supplement for them. This is proven by the astonishing success of novels like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings although their popularity has marched in step with the arrival of advanced technologies. Technology should never be used just to introduce technology in the classroom (Leu et al., 2004).

In order to reveal the multiple benefits and applications of the New Literacies in the conditions of a traditional classroom, we will look closer into three types of classes:

  • A class that uses traditional handy materials for education – chalk, blackboard, textbooks, printed hand-out materials for reading and writing, illustrative materials, and other usual supplements.
  • A class that adopts several contemporary technologies (like the whiteboard with sharpies and smart board with projector functions), but still has hand-written assignments.
  • A class that uses all existing technologies including PowerPoint, TurnItIn, printed assignments, electronic textbooks, etc., to work on assignments.

Obviously, the first class is put at a great disadvantage compared to the other two. Assuming that the students in the first class have actually had some experience in learning with the help of the New Literacies, we can conclude that it is the educational institution that drags the children behind. In case they do not have any skills acquired at home, it is even worse. The teachers have to realize that introducing printed assignments does not necessarily mean that their students will copy-paste everything. Effective anti-plagiarism tools (like the one integrated into TurnItIn) will allow teachers to check the assignments faster, as well as grammar and spelling instruments. PowerPoint, video presentations, blogs, and other interactive tools open an entirely different prospective of the surrounding world for students; and in many cases, those tools make studying more fun.

The main two problems of the New Literacies and their application at schools include the lack of research materials on how the New Literacies should be taught/learned and the inability to categorize or standardize their diversity to make the New Literacies fairly distributed for all students (Unsworth, 2002).  But if those problems are resolved with the help of researchers, statisticians, control managers, and educators, the opportunities of the New Literacies will let students stay competitive and informed about everything they need to become successful (Andrews, 2003)

Recommendations on the New Literacies Applications

Judging from the principles of the New Literacies, they gradually become central for both professional and personal communication, and certainly including teaching. The complete potential of any technology can be fulfilled only with the use of the New Literacies – especially it is true with education. To build an effective and adaptable classroom, teachers or management educators should keep several points in mind. Applying technologies in a real-life classroom does not necessarily mean that the students get a good understanding of the New Literacies and their use (Meacham, 1998). Some of the instructional software applications cannot give students a good vision of the strategies in knowledge acquisition and other dispositions so essential for the New Literacies. Teachers and educators used to believe in the increased power of instruction-based applications, but it was the cause behind the lack of development in this field. The necessary foundations of the New Literacies should not be taught through software solutions. Secondly, educators have to be aware of the incredibly fast changeability of technologies. That is why the skills taught in terms of IT can actually become outdated in a matter of month. The questions to these answers are not clear yet, but they prove that there is endless space for research and further development in this sphere. The third most significant point to remember is that integrating the New Literacies with regular classrooms will remove the problem of disadvantage that poor students often find themselves in (Leu et al., 2004). Schools where the New Literacies are not developed bring up two classes of students: the ones who have unlimited access to the Internet and hi-tech solutions and the ones who cannot afford that due to the economic inability. The New Literacies in this context may become a way to support egalitarian ideas in young students at schools, and these positive ideas will be absorbed and reflected in their behavioral patterns for the rest of their lives. At the moment, in the majority of schools, a more traditional way of acquiring the Internet skills is learning at home, and this opportunity is more accessible for well-off and white students, as proven by statistical research (Leu et al., 2004). Of course, if educators want to alter the traditional class division in students, they should develop the definition of skills required for mastering the New Literacies, as well as the ways to teach and learn those skills.

Thorough and deep research on the Internet solutions and application should start as soon as possible, as nothing has been done in the sphere of strategic knowledge, dispositions, and required skills. Literacy research communities and other educating agencies can make their contribution into such research and data accumulation. But it does not mean that only such organizations should shoulder this great responsibility where so much still has to be done. That is why everyone’s contribution into this sphere will be very valuable, especially considering that many of us have sufficient experience using the Internet. One of the offered solutions is online data accumulation that can be contributed by any experienced Internet user. The best solutions can be picked up by responsible educators and researchers manually. It is known that reading comprehension is one of the basic steps each young student has to master in his or her English class (Shanahan, 1990). That is the most recommended focus of the Internet teaching/learning techniques that are going to be offered to all students by educators and research agencies. It is especially important with the youngest students, who just learn to read; hence, the scholars should define the exact time when they start using technologies for learning and corresponding instruments that define their needs (Mackey, 1994). Another significant issue is the ability to be critical and to be aware of the multiple interpretations of each event or figure (including multicultural understanding) (Eisenhart, 1998). Diversity is not limited to different cultural backgrounds. Students who have limited abilities should not feel their difference from others in terms of the New Literacies. That is why their program for teaching/learning should be special and adapted for maximum comfort (Schwandt, 1998). 

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