What is New Literacies?

What is New Literacies?

Here with the New Literacies Collaborative, we frequently use the term new literacies and at many talks, presentations and conferences new literacies is added into a title or abstract…but what does New Literacies actually mean?

For a class on new literacies that I teach here at the University of Connecticut I start the course by having the students answer a very simple question: “What is New Literacies?” This definition is collaboratively written by groups of students on Google Docs for the first two weeks. They then revisit and revise the definition at the end of the course after reading a wealth of literature. As you can imagine, this is a pretty difficult task. Their definitions are all very different, and are in a constant state of change. And so I thought it may be beneficial for us to each engage in a little mental activity… try to define for yourself…”What is New Literacies?”

As a researcher with the New Literacies Research Lab, I frequently cite the literature that supports the theories of New Literacies and new literacies, but then again the more specific research being conducted on the new literacies of online reading comprehension. For those of you that don’t frequently take a dive into the waters of Google Scholar…briefly…here is some of what you might find…

You might find that the nature of literacy is rapidly evolving as the Internet and other communication technologies (ICTs) emerge (Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu, 2008). These changes demand an expanded of “text” to include visual, digital and other multimodal formats (Rose & Meyer, 2002; New London Group, 2000; Alvermann, 2002). A richer and more complex definition of literacy requires a richer and more complex theoretical framing of research (Leu, O’Byrne, Zawilinski, McVerry, & Everett-Cacopardo, 2009).
This larger definition of New Literacies serves as the broader, more inclusive concept and benefits from the work taking place in the multiple, lower case dimensions of new literacies. This is seen as an advantage, as it allows the broader theory of New Literacies to keep up with the richness and continuous change that will always define the Internet. To help us fully understand the richness of New Literacies, as noted by Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, & Leu (2008), the theory has four principles:
  1. ICTs require us to bring new potentials to their effective use;
  2. the acquired skills are central to full civic, economic, and personal participation in a globalized community;
  3. they are deictic and change regularly;
  4. and they are multiple, multimodal, and multifaceted.
Is important to recognize that this is one viewpoint that strives to understand a rapidly changing system. And these changes have been recognized by different names in different fields. You’ll encounter the terms: digital literacy, multiliteracies, 21st Century Literacies, visual literacy, etc. At times, these terms are all pointing to the same changes that we’ve recognized and defined as New Literacies.
So, once again I ask you dear reader. You’re in the middle of this change in literacy, technology, communication, socialization…I ask you…What is New Literacies?

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