Friday, May 1, 2009

Jessie Blackburn
Theories of Reading and Writing
Dr. Jolliffe
Encyclopedia Entry: Digital Literacy and New Literacy Studies

Situating Digital Literacy Studies within New Literacy Studies
Literacy Studies is currently in the midst of internal renovation. Revisiting many of the central ideas to the field—such as literacy as emancipation, literacy as imported information, and literacy as an isolated skill—Literacy Studies may be described as overhauling some of its foundational and ideological assumptions surrounding literacy, pedagogy, and outcome. We see this inward gaze of the field being motivated by a new branch of Literacy Studies, aptly known as New Literacy Studies (NLS). Born from the process movement and intersecting with the postmodernist and poststructuralist concerns of cultural studies, New Literacy Studies finds much of its scholarly roots in the works of Gee, Street, Brandt, and Heath[1]. Brian Street’s 2003 article, “What’s ‘new’ in New Literacy Studies? Critical Approaches to Literacy in Theory and Practice,” explains that NLS “build upon the foundational descriptions of out-of-school literacy events and practices developed within NLS, to return the gaze back to the relations between in and out of school, so that NLS is not seen simply as ‘anti school’ or interested only in small scale or ‘local’ literacies of resistance (Street 83). Overall, NLS understands literacy as more than the ability to read and write. Rather, NLS situates literacy as individually and culturally performed and examines the ways that competing contexts shape “the recognition of multiple literacies, varying according to time and space” (Street 77). One of the veins of New Literacy Studies is Digital Media Studies, the exploration of the multiple literacies necessary to navigate and resulting from technology today.
As computers and the Web become more robust at the same time more affordable and portable, technology’s influence on literacy is reaching a critical point of debate as to what skills modern definitions of literacy should include and exclude. Traditional notions of western literacy are typically traced to “the development of the Greek alphabet and its cumulative impact by about 450 b.c.e” (Hahn 290) and later to “the invention of the Gutenberg press in the late 1400’s” which offered mass production of the literature and meant that “many more individuals could now join the ranks of the literate” (Hahn 291). However, we are now in the midst of another technology revolution that ultimately may rival the literacy shifts caused by the printing press or moveable type. In Gail Hawisher and Cindy Selfe’s 2004 article, “Becoming Literate in the Information Age: Cultural Ecologies and Literacies of Technology,” NLS was reminded that “we can understand literacy as a set of practices and values only when we properly situate our studies within the context of a particular historical period, a particular cultural milieu, and a specific cluster of material conditions” (646). While this article was not the first to attempt the inclusion of digital literacies under the larger umbrella of literacy studies and composition studies, we must note this article’s attention to the common agenda behind digital literacy studies: exploring and appreciating technology’s role in modern literacies.
In the same article by Hawisher and Selfe, focusing on America during the years of 1978 and 2003, we learn:
During that period, personal computers—as relatively cheap and durable, mass-
produced and mass-marketed machines—became commercially available for the first
time to many families, entered composition classrooms across the nation in large numbers,
and were broadly accepted by many school-aged children as the composing tool of choice.
Since that time, these machines have become so ubiquitous that their many effects are
becoming increasingly invisible” and it is during this time that computers “first found their
way into—and altered—the fabric of our culture. (645)
As we begin to see NLS develop and envelop some of the concerns explored by Digital Literacy Studies, we witness firsthand the evolutionary capacity of reading/writing alongside changes in civilization, and we see NLS widen its lens of inclusion to consider emerging digital literacies.
Some of the new literacies that are celebrated by Digital Literacy Studies may even seem beyond the traditional understanding of alphabetic literacies, but to NLS in the 21st century, ideas such as web surfing, text messaging, social networking, digital reading, remixing, digital composing, web designing, video essaying, and even gaming all fit into the practices seen as significant literacy performances. For example, Sara Glazer’s 2004 article, “Video Games: Do They Have Educational Value?”, asks us to consider gaming literacies and their relevance to traditional literacies. Glazer suggests that “indeed, the argument that video and computer games are superior to school in helping children learn is gaining currency in academic circles. Claimed benefits include improved problem-solving, mastery of scientific investigation and the ability to apply information learned to real-life situations.” (937) We learn from Glazer and other gaming literacy researchers like her, that “as video games become more sophisticated and broaden their audience” we must ask “whether educators will adapt those techniques to make school as engaging and complex as the best video games” (951). Placing Glazer’s article within the larger discourse surrounding NLS, it is important to note that she is currently one of many literacy scholars asking similar pedagogical questions surrounding popular literacy practices and the potential for those practices to either be incorporated into academia or, in some cases, what extracurricular literacy practices say about 21st century literacy in general[2].
Perhaps even more debatable to the current conversations on digital literacy is the definition of composition that is now witnessing its own re-visioning by NLS. Jeff Rice, in his article entitled “Networks and New Media” writes:
English studies maintains a fixed point of view through a singular notion of writing as
static, fixed, and individually composed (typically via the essay or the exam), taking place
in a unified realm of thought deemed ‘English.’ The definition of ‘writing’ produced in this
economy of thought (response essay, analytical paper, personal essay) no longer serve the
media society of networks and connections contemporary culture generates as these
definitions of writing are now performed. The time has come to rethink the metaphor of
writing because its image is too structured around fixity.” (129 emphasis in original)
For perhaps not very obvious reasons, it is worth mentioning that Rice’s 2006 article was published in College English—a not so subtle reminder to Literacy Studies that Digital Literacy Studies and NLS are increasingly reshaping the term ‘composition’ into a broader application that fits the 21st century and beyond. Specifically, we now witness the inclusion of video design and remixing as forms of composing in the literacy classroom. This modern mode of composing addresses many of the traditional concerns found in alphabetic-based literacy classrooms; however, it also includes multi-modal possibilities that illustrate literary devices such as mood, tone, style, and imagery. Many digital literacy educators now teach the video essay in an effort assess a student’s ability to write for the 21st century reader. Assessing this form of multi-modal composing, NLS pedagogues look for the writer’s attention to visual elements of mood through close up, long shot, fade in, or pan in an effort to achieve multiple effects. Likewise, a digital composer’s attention to story line and plot is often assessed through choices in camera views, times, and shot sequence. NLS classrooms tend to rely upon the PC and university provided computer labs that are increasingly fitted with editing software enabling students to film splice with digital editing—skills which many students practice extracurricularly for self-motivated purposes (i.e., YouTube). In keeping with the NLS concerns of local literacies and literacies as contextual performances, digital composing skills are validated, encouraged, and taught within 21 century literacy classrooms; likewise, the inclusion of digital composition in literacy studies now allows music, sound effects, and voice tracks to be remixed into a student’s paper or over the top of an existing text. Dennis Baron’s article “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies” points out that as literacy technology evolves, “it also goes beyond the previous technology in innovative, often compelling ways. For example, while writing cannot replace many speech functions, it allows us to communicate in ways that speech does not. Writing lacks such tonal cues of the human voice as pitch and stress, not to mention the physical cues that accompany face to face communication” (122). Essentially, Baron’s point is that when we trace literacy technologies—in the case of his article, the pencil and the pixel—we see where speech acts eventually led to alphabetic writing and now to multimodal composing. Built specifically to support these academic interests within the literacy classroom but also used by the general public is the possibility provided by the open-sourced, multi-media, and free publishing environments found through the robust, web-based Sophie book ( The Sophie book, developed by academic institutions for academic literacies, is just one example of the Web’s impinging influence on the way the 21st century literacy students, and therefore literacy scholars, see composing as a multimodal task.
While many of these multimodal composition techniques achieve the basic rhetorical elements valued in traditional literacy classrooms (e.g., narrator, audience, ethos, pathos, and logos, etc.), Digital Literacy Studies hope to expand the definition of literacy to bridge the traditional composition skills with the modern digital literacies to enrich a text and maximize its rhetorical potential. In the article “Web Literacy: Challenges and Opportunities for Research in a New Medium” (Sorapure, et al.) we learn that “many scholars in [literacy studies] believe that the viability of composition depends on such an expanded definition of literary. Aside from benefitting students by expanding their repertoire of skills in evaluating different modes and media of communication, a broader conception of literacy invites us as scholars to make connections to other disciplines” (335). Again, we see NLS folding digital literacy into its broadening goals and objectives to meet the shifting cultural ecology surrounding literacy practices.
Another cue that the dialogue of NLS now includes conversations on digital media and literacy is the journal Computers and Composition ( Devoted to publishing diverse articles focused on digital writing pedagogy; writing programs; rhetorical critique of computer software and the visual, textual digital media; and technology’s relevance to socio-economic conditions, Computers and Composition interrogates the current trends in digital media and composition studies while astutely anticipating the imminent shifts in the culturally symbiotic relationship that has developed between technology and literacy. Typical for the Journal and the field of Digital Media Studies, any edition might cover topics ranging in scope from composition pedagogy to digital rhetoric in society and politics to software programming to online portfolios to video gaming to community web design or the video essay.
Providing further proof of the widening concerns of literacy studies is the 2004 National Council for the Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement regarding 21st century literacies. NCTE states:
Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments,
the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to (1) develop proficiency with the tools of technology; (2) build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally; (3) design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes; (4) manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information; (5) create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts; and (6) attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.(
We see that as of 2004, the national organization devoted to the advancement of college level literacy education has officially and publically embraced the studies of digital literacy into its own agendas. Additionally, the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA) has also issued its position regarding digital composing in college composition courses. According to WPA:
By the end of first-year composition, students should (1) use electronic environments for drafting, reviewing, revising, editing, and sharing texts; (2) locate, evaluate, organize, and use research material collected from electronic sources, including scholarly library databases; other official databases (e.g., federal government databases); and informal electronic networks and internet sources; and (3) understand and exploit the differences in the rhetorical strategies and in the affordances available for both print and electronic composing processes and texts. (
Undoubtedly, the inclusion of digital literacy into the concerns of NCTE and WPA regarding the state of America’s higher education literacy classrooms is yet another indicator that as NLS examines its role in the 21st century, multimodal composing is a chief concern. The February 2009 Report from the National Council of Teachers of English features an article written by the former NCTE president, Kathleen Blake Yancey, entitled “Writing in the 21st Century.” In this article, Yancey traces the shifting literacy acts that took place in the 20th century into those that occur now in the 21st century. Yancy writes:
Historically, like today, we compose on all the available materials. Whether those
materials are rocks or computer screens, composing is a material as well as social practice;
composing is situated within and informed by specific kinds of materials as well as by its
location in community. We have simply never seen it quite so clearly as we do now. (8)
She concludes her article by revisiting the NLS commitment to literacy pedagogies that match the times in which they are taught. She claims this most recent publication is a call to action for the field to “articulate the new models of composing developing right in front of our eyes” and to “ design a new model of a writing curriculum K–graduate school” (8). While Yancey does not speak for all literacy scholars, she certainly situates her concerns at the feet of NLS and Digital Literacy Studies in her emphatic quest to acknowledge and explore the influence of digital media on the literacy practices of the 21st century composer.
With the inclusion of Digital Literacy Studies into the larger concerns of New Literacy Studies, we see the field’s continued commitment to “tak[ing] nothing for granted with respect to literacy and the social practices with which it becomes associated, problematizing what counts as literacy at any time and place and asking ‘whose literacies’ are dominant and whose are marginalized or resistant (Street 77). The direction of NLS is sure to be defined by the constantly shifting identities of literacy performers as well as the evolving contexts in with literacy acts take place. NLS has entered into the early 21st century, and it seems only to be gaining momentum among literacy scholars—especially those interested in emerging digital literacies.

Works Cited
Baron, Dennis. “From Pencils to Pixels: The Stages of Literacy Technologies.” Computers in
the Composition Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Sidler, Michelle, Richard Morris, and Elizabeth Smith, eds. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008.
The Council of Writing Program Administrators. Glazer, Sarah. "Video Games." CQ Researcher 16.40 (2006): 937-960. CQ Researcher Online. CQ Press. 10 April 2009

Hahn, Dan. F. Political Communication: Rhetoric, Government, and Citizens. State College:
Strata Publishing, 2003.
National Council of the Teachers of English. “The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies.”
NCTE Position Statement. February 15, 2008.

Rice, Jeff . "Networks and New Media. " College English 69.2 (2006): 127-133. 10 Apr.
Selfe, Cynthia L., and Gail E. Hawisher. “Becoming Literate in the Information Age: Cultural
Ecologies and the Literacaies of Technology.” CCC. 55.4 (2004): 642-692.
Selfe, Cynthia L., and Gail E. Hawisher. Literate Lives in the Information Age: Narratives of
Literacy from the United States. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004. Sidler, Michelle, Elizabeth O. Smith, and Richard Morris. Computers in the Composition
Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008. “Sophie Book.” <>
Sorapure, Madeleine, et al. “Web Literacy: Challenges and Opportunities for Reasearch in a New
Medium.” Computers in the Composition Classroom: A Critical Sourcebook. Sidler,
Street, Brian. “What’s ‘new’ in New Literacy Studies? Critical Approaches to Literacy in
Theory and Practice.” Current Issues in Comparative Education, 5.2 (2003): 77-91.
Michelle, Richard Morris, and Elizabeth Smith, eds. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008.
Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Writing in the 21st Century.” Report from the National Council of Teachers of English. February 2009 NCTE.
[1] For more on this, see Gee’s Social Linguistics: Ideology in Discourses (1991) and “The New Literacy Studies” (2000); Brandt’s Literacy in American Lives (2001); and Street’s "Literacy Events and Literacy Practices" (2000) and Social Literacies (1995).
[2] For more on gaming literacy, see James Gee’s text, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003), in which Gee asks similar questions and proposes simliar implications for the literacy classroom.

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