Volume 2 [Issue 1], 2010


Special themed issue: Beyond ʻnewʼ literacies

Dana J. Wilber


As I write this editorial, I am amazed at the world in which it is located – a place and space that is constantly changing with the development of new technologies and the concurrent rise of complimentary new language and literacy practices. Ten years ago the term “new literacies” was only used by those prescient researchers who perceived that new technologies were going to shape language and literacies, such as Lankshear and Knobel’s (1997) early work on literacies and texts in an electronic age. Others, such as the New London Group (1996) through their work on multiliteracies, were instrumental in evolving the idea of literacies shaped by technologies and contexts; setting the stage for new literacies to become the vibrant field it is today. While the field has grown over the past decade, the central concern of new literacies research remains the same; researchers scrutinize and analyze how the rapid development of new tools and technologies are shaping language and literacy practices. In this special themed issue of Digital Culture and Education (DCE), we begin a conversation that compliments how we think about conceptualizing, viewing and talking about “new” literacies.


The language of Webkinz: Early childhood literacy in an online virtual world

Rebecca W. Black


In recent years there has been an explosion of virtual worlds intended for early childhood populations; however, because the majority of research on games and such worlds has focused on adults and adolescents, we know very little about these spaces. This article attempts to address this gap by providing a qualitative content analysis of the affordances that Webkinz World an online environment that as of March 2010 had over 3 million unique site visitors per month, offers for children’s literacy and language development. Analyses suggest that the site provides unique opportunities for immersion in literacy-rich contexts and academically-oriented practices that may enhance those that are readily available in many children’s daily lives. However, looking beyond the discrete linguistic and technical aspects of learning in Webkinz World reveals a designed culture with limitations on learning and a constrained set of literacies and social messages that warrant further critical exploration.

Classroom uses of social network sites: Traditional practices or new literacies?

Maryam Moayeri


The purpose of this study was to examine the practices of two teachers who had chosen to use the social network site (SNS) Ning to create online classrooms as supplements to their physical classrooms in order to bridge the self and school-selected literacies of adolescents. The study further aimed to identify whether the ways in which the teachers were using the SNS constituted a new literacy practice and if so in what ways. It supports and adds to the new literacies theory in four ways: 1. by revisiting the notion of what constitutes literacy, 2. by identifying attributes that do and do not constitute new literacies, 3. by supporting the view that new technologies do not automatically correspond to new literacies, and 4. by showing that new technologies may end up devaluing other modes of learning.


Talking past each other: Academic and media framing of literacy

Katherine Ognyanova


The technological and social shifts of the past several decades have brought about new modes of learning, participation and civic engagement. As young people work, play and socialize in online spaces, the academic community is exploring the challenges and possibilities of education in the digital age. New definitions of literacy emerge to address the importance of digital skills, play and collaboration. This paper explores the diverging perspectives on literacy adopted by new media scholars and old media outlets. Thematic coverage in the New York Times from the last four years is analysed and compared to academic texts produced in the same period. Measures of salience for literacy as a topic are used in conjunction with framing analysis based on semantic mapping. The results of this study suggest that mainstream media employ a legacy literacy frame, stressing basic language competencies and traditional institutions. That perspective is markedly different from the academic discourse, which emphasizes a host of new social, technological and critical evaluation skills.


Improvable objects and attached dialogue: new literacy practices employed by learners to build knowledge together in asynchronous settings

Rebecca Ferguson, Denise Whitelock and Karen Littleton


Asynchronous online dialogue offers advantages to learners, but has appeared to involve only limited use of new literacy practices. To investigate this, a multimodal approach was applied to asynchronous dialogue. The study analysed the online discussions of small groups of university students as they developed collaboratively authored documents. Sociocultural discourse analysis of the dialogue was combined with visual analysis of its structural elements. The groups were found to employ new literacies that supported the joint construction of knowledge. The documents on which they worked together functioned as ‘improvable objects’ and the development of these was associated with engagement in ‘attached dialogue’. By investigating a wider range of conference dialogue than has previously been explored, it was found that engaging in attached dialogue associated with collaborative authorship of improvable objects prompts groups of online learners to share knowledge, challenge ideas, justify opinions, evaluate evidence and consider options.

Education remix: New media, literacies, and the emerging digital geographies

Lalitha Vasudevan


This article explores instances of youth educating themselves beyond the boundaries of school through engagement with and production of “digital geographies,” or the emerging landscapes that are being produced through the confluence of new communicative practices and available media and technologies. A framework of digital geographies, which is grounded in theories of spatiality, literacies, and multimodality, is used to analyze the social media practices and multimedia artifacts produced by two court-involved youth, who are part of an ongoing, multi-year ethnography of an alternative to incarceration program. Attention to digital geographies, and attendant communicative practices, can yield important insights about education beyond the school walls. The conclusion addresses the implications of this research for meaningful educational contexts for adolescents’ literacies and how learning might be conceptualized and designed within school.


Digital Technologies and performative pedagogies: Repositioning the visual

Kathryn Grushka & Debra Donnelly


Images are becoming a primary means of information presentation in the digitized global media and digital technologies have emancipated and democratized the image. This allows for the reproduction and manipulation of images on a scale never seen before and opens new possibilities for teachers schooled in critical visuality. This paper reports on an innovative pre-service teacher training course in which a cross-curricula cohort of secondary teachers employed visual performative competencies to produce a series of learning objects on a digital platform. The resulting intertextual narratives demonstrate that the manipulation of image and text offered by digital technologies create a powerful vehicle for investigating knowledge and understandings, evolving new meaning and awakening latent creativity in the use of images for meaning making. This research informs the New Literacies and multimodal fields of enquiry and argues that visuality is integral to any pedagogy that purports to be relevant to the contemporary learner. It argues that the visual has been significantly under-valued as a conduit for knowledge acquisition and meaning making in the digital environment and supports the claim that critical literacy, interactivity, experimentation and production are vital to attaining the tenets of transformative education (Buckingham, 2007; Walsh, 2007; Cope & Kalantzis, 2008).