“Pushing literacy into cool directions”: New Media, Writing, and Multiliteracies

As reading and writing are increasingly performed on the Internet’s new/social media platforms such as blogs, wikis, and social networking sites, these new forms of “mixed media” writing practices (as the CCCC pointed out here) require new literacies in order for students to effectively and critically navigate the digital landscape as successful digital citizens.

In emphasizing the social and human life of writing in digital mediums, the CCCC is reinforcing the idea that information and knowledge production are social, an idea put forth by John Seely Brown in his essay, that “knowledge is inextricably situated in the physical and social context of its acquisition and use.” Similarly, the The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0 states that “social media are the new laboratories of culture and knowledge making.” In light of the social life of writing in the Web 2.0 world (or “life writing,” as Andrea Lunsford calls it, as cited in Clive Thompson’s article), there is an urgent need for new forms of literacies (not a unitary, single form of literacy traditionally related to print-based texts, but literacies that include screen and digital literacies, visual literacy, etc.) as technology revives and pushes “our literacy in bold new directions.”

The multiliteracies approach to teaching and writing, an idea developed by The New London Group more than a decade ago, is still one that we need to foster, teach, and practice so that we can be better and more critical readers, writers, and (prod)users of knowledge in a digital age. The representation of knowledge in multimodal ways incorporating different media forms is important to navigating a culturally and linguistically diverse world. According to the New London Group, a multiliteracies approach can foster “the critical engagement necessary for them to design their social futures and achieve success through fulfilling employment” (emphasis mine), an idea that is crucial for students to be critically aware of as they inhabit a world that is becoming smaller and smaller (as in McLuhan’s “global village”), and increasingly connected and collaborative via Web 2.0 technologies.

As Michael Wesch’s video shows, the mixed media form of writing and reading with hypertext, videos, etc. engage us in a very different world than the print-based model. With this in mind, what do we do with knowledge production that is based on a very social, collaborative, and open-access model? What is the difference between reading a print text versus an electronic text that allows comments, tags, and annotations? How do we focus our attention in these new forms of reading and writing so that we can still critically consume and interact with the new media texts at hand, rather than being distracted all over the Web? New forms of literacies will allow us to be able to navigate these new media waters more effectively, efficiently, and critically as we think about these questions more deeply. These new literacies will allow us to develop the skills to be more mindful of what we produce and consume in the digital age.

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