Friday, October 28, 2011

Multi-Modal Literacy

One of my frustrations with education as an institution is the resistance to change within the institution. Twenty-first century citizens require a unique set of skills heretofore unavailable. Enabling students to acquire and establish competency in these skill sets is a daunting task for most educators. I have to ask why?

I contend that literacy, information literacy has always been the primary purpose of education. The ability to access, evaluate and synthesize information in whatever format the information takes. Throughout the course of history, technological advances have changed the formats of information. Aural to visual to printed formats. Tablets to scrolls to codex to digital. Which brings me to format. Multi-modal. The varied modes of the communication (sharing) of ideas and information.

The plethora of information available in digital format requires judicious and planned instruction in the skills necessary to navigate the maze of resources. Information literacy and fluency becomes tantamount in importance in a global knowledge-based economy. The ability to effectively and ethically seek, use and create ideas and information is vital. In a variety of formats. The digitization of multiple formats enables universal access to the ideas and information, it does not limit the creation of those ideas and information.

The concept of multi-literacies was first developed by The New London Group in 1994. This group of global educators met with the intent of challenging the traditional concept of literacy. They proposed that in an increasingly complex and global society, the diversity of information necessitates an expansion of the definition of literacy. No longer limited to the ability to read and write in standard codex format, literacy now encompasses the burgeoning variety of text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies. This includes understanding and competent control of representational forms that are becoming increasingly significant in the overall communications environment, such as visual images and their relationship to the written word” (New London Group, 1996).

Wow. 16 years ago. Inconceivable to me is how little the educational experience of students has changed over the last decade. One glaring reality from The New London Group is that “new communications media are reshaping the way we use language”. The multiple formats of language, the rapidity in which the formats change necessitate a change in the nature of language learning. Competent citizens must be literate in multiple formats of information, multi-literate.

Educational practices which are mired in 20th century pedagogies and technologies are ill-equipped to prepare our students for the world they will enter. Instruction in literacy in multiple modalities is necessary for multiliteracy. The dependence upon and continued instructional emphasis on text limited to a formal bound page is not instruction in multimodal literacies. I, as an educator, find it disturbing as well as unacceptable that common teaching practices do not incorporate existing and emerging technologies, literacies and modalities. Michael Wesch does a superb job of challenging us as educators to question archaic practices. Are we prepared to meet that challenge?

Working towards that time when we as educators say “Students, take our your PLD…”

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