Literacy and Technology

A review of literature and research in the domain of literacy, teaching and technology is carried out by Donald J. Leu, Jr. Syracuse University. The title of the chapter is Literacy and Technology: Deictic Consequences for Literacy Education in an Information Age. It illustrates the relationship between the nature of literacy and the changes in technology. It is shown that rapid changes in technology continuously redefines the nature of literacy. Users also keep affecting this process by bringing newer envisionments of these changes.

Theoretically this relationship can be seen from two different stances- transformative and transactional. The former suggests that technology transforms the nature of literacy. From this perspective research can understand the possible forms of literacy with in the newer forms of technology like CD ROMs, Multimedia, Internet. While the later stance, transactional, suggests that the effects of changes in technology on the nature of literacy are not unidirectional, rather technology and literacy transform each other. This stance is realized when users envision different uses of technology for literate acts.

Although both of these stances are seen important as vital indicators of relationship between literacy and technology, the author puts emphasis on a third view. This view suggests that we have entered into a phase of rapid changes in the forms and functions of the literacy and it is here with in this context that changes in technology keeps redefining the nature of literacy. A linguists would thus define literacy to be deictic in this sense.

We can widen our understanding of the literacy being deictic by seeing it in its historical context. In the earlier societies literacy enabled one to keep records of land, livestock, and crops, often for taxes or for business transactions. In many religions it served to enforce a religious dogma where only a literate priest would read and interpret the religious hand written text. In post reformative Europe with the advent of printing press techniques by Johann Gutenberg, Luther and many of his protestant followers embraced literacy to seek individual salvation. One could do so by reading and interpreting religious texts at her own.

Along the same lines with ‘Jeffersonian idea of democracy’, as the author puts it, literacy became essential for anyone to be called an informed citizen. One needed to be literate in order to make wiser ballot box decisions and to be aware of political and economic happenings through newspaper and other forms of mass media production. For an industrial society, literacy became critical in terms of transmitting production and hierarchical information. Also newer tools to produce fast drafts of memos, notices and reports came into existence. Next comes the information age, post industrial for many, where literacy is an important tool in the hands of individuals and groups to access, evaluate and communicate useful information quickly and efficiently to solve problems.

The author takes this discussion further by mentioning instances where individuals and organizations have incorporated or rather adopted ‘efficient’ practices to be able to effective control information flows and sustain the competitions. Also when these entities interact with technology, which itself is changing so fast, they envision newer uses of technologies. However from a political and economic perspective, author points to studies skeptical of the intentions behind these envisionments. A group of researchers feel that literacy often supports those in power and not those out of power while another records emancipatory effects of acquiring literacy and sensible developments it results.

The author mentions that the governments and educational policy institutions from different countries are trying to understand the relationship between literacy and technology. From a research perspective there seen are the challenges about the generalizabilty of findings from earlier technologies. To quote the author verbatim,

“Mayer (1997) reminds that it s 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 require somewhat different strategies for doing so. It is equally important that we must also be cautious about generalizing patterns from older digital technology to newer digital technologies… we should also be cautious about generalizing from one iteration with in a particular technology to a newer iteration where the interface, speed, and resources may differ substantially”.

The problem gets further complex when we acknowledge that individuals often create different envisionments for literacy with in each technology. One of the interesting observation made by the author tells us that work on interest and motivation aspects with in 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 he also observes that most of this data is often collected either before or after interactions with hypermedia software but never during the actual use of the software environment.

Also referred is Hidi (1990) to emphasize on evaluating distinctions between situational interest and individual interest. The former is transitory and specific to a learning situation and is often measured after a learning experience. While the later is a result of long term experiences with a topic or a domain and is much more permanent. Individual interest is seen to have a considerable effect on the adaptability of hypermedia in teaching environments. The author also names a couple of studies carried out to evaluate individual differences and cognitive learning styles. Also mentioned is Dual coding theory of Paivio and reviews of multi-modal research by Daiute and Morse (1994). I shall follow with a discussion on the same in a separate post.

Learning from this chapter

One of the interesting ideas brought forth by the author is the ability of users to envision probable uses of technology. He brings examples from a classroom context where teachers have envisioned a different use of the technology (other than the one proposed by the technology owners). We are hopeful that we might be able to find similar examples from developing regions. Probably what is required is to collect these cases of technology envisionment by users from developing regions and then evaluate these to gain insights into this interaction.

Simultaneously we might also look into the history of technology use by the rural population. Spreading this knowledge over a time line can help us understand how people are assimilating technological changes. Moving forward in our experimentation we can also try understanding issues of generalization as put by Mayer (1997) in the chapter. For this reason we would like to follow Mayer (1997) in the days to come. Alongside we would also like to spend some time on studying multimodal theories viz. dual coding theory by Paivio.

To follow

Mayer, R. E. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking the right questions? Educational Psychologist, 32, 1-19

Paivio, A. (1979). Imagery and verbal processes. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

Daiute, C., & Morse, F. (1994). Access to knowledge and expression: Multimedia writing tools for students with diverse needs and strengths. Journal of Special Education Technology, 12, 221-256

Becker, H. J. (1993). Computer experience, patterns of computer use, and effectiveness — An inevitable sequence or divergent national cultures? Studies in Educational Evaluation, (19), 127-148

Follow the link to the online version of the Handbook of reading research.


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