MET:New Literacies

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This page by Philip Salembier (2008). Edited by Craig McLeod (2009). Edited by Maria Donovan (2009).

New Literacies (Literacy 2.0)

New literacies (Literacy 2.0) is a term that attempt to describe the changing definition of literacy resulting from the growing widespread use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). As these literacies are tied to constantly evolving technologies: “A more precise definition of these new literacies may never be possible to achieve because their most important characteristic is that they change regularly” (Leu, 2004). ICTs accelerate the convergence of multiple meaning modes (linguistic, visual, gestural, spatial and audio) and these modes and their semiotic interactions constitute new literacies (New London Group, 1996). It is now widely accepted that there are multiple forms of literacy, that “social, cultural, political, economic and historic practices” (Knobel & Lankshear, 2007, p.1) shape and otherwise influence literacy, thus the emergence of new literacies.

Adopting new literacies should include the following principles:

  1. The Internet and other ICTs are central technologies for literacy within a global community in an information age.
  2. The Internet and other ICTs require new literacies to fully access their potential.
  3. New literacies are deictic.
  4. The relationship between literacy and technology is transactional.
  5. New literacies are multiple in nature.
  6. Critical literacies are central to new literacies.
  7. New forms of strategic knowledge are central to new literacies.
  8. Speed counts in important ways within the new literacies.
  9. Learning often is socially constructed within new literacies.
  10. Teachers become more important, though their role changes, within new literacy classrooms.

Leu, et al. (2004)

Historical Perspective

Changes in literacy, brought on by advances in technology, are not a new phenomenon. “Throughout history literacy and literacy instruction have changed regularly as a result of changing social contexts and the technologies they often prompt” (Leu, 2004, p.4). For example, the earliest evidence of written language, in the fourth century BC, came about with the improvement of agricultural technologies. These early people in the Sumerian society developed new technologies for the purpose of recording business type transactions (p.3). The changing role of the church in the 15th century, within a society that was becoming more secular, created an increase demand for books. The invention of the printing press in about 1450, allowed individuals more access to these written literacies, thereby contributing to the spread of conventional literacies, as we know them. Today, with the invention of digital technologies and the internet, the definition of literacy is again changing, which are contributing to important implications for education itself. “Teachers must be ready to meet the needs of students who compose meaning not only with words, but also with digitized bits of video, sound, photographs, still images, words, and animations and to support communications across conventional linguistic, cultural, and geopolitical borders” (DeVoss, 2004, p.183). Today, literacy is moving away from printed text as the “primary source of meaning making” (Kapitzke, 2003, p. 53).

Educational Primer

The widely accepted assertion that there are multiple forms of literacy is of critical interest to educators, because many students now come to school immersed in a range of communication technologies (blogs, wikis, podcasts, instant messaging, social networking sites, etc.), only to find that traditional teaching methods continue to centre on, and thus privilege, standard print literacy. A growing economic argument which asserts that in order to properly prepare students for careers in a technologically-driven global marketplace, they must be facile with ICTs and able to work effectively in the social, distributed and collaborative manner that these technologies permit and encourage will begin to pressure educational change. “As the medium of the message changes, comprehension processes, decoding processes, and what ‘counts’ as literacy activities must change to reflect readers’ and authors’ present-day strategies for comprehension and response” (Leu, 2004).

A Digital Divide

A new kind of mindset has begun to emerge and new kinds of literacies have begun to evolve. We call these ‘new literacies' (Knobel & Lankshear, 2006), which in turn has created a digital divide. A generational divide between students and many of their teachers- a difference in mindsets. ICTs have enabled “(new) ways of thinking about the world and responding to it (Knobel and Lankshear, 2006). Schools have not yet adapted to the new literacies and thus students feel disconnected from their studies and in cases where schools have tried to incorporate new literacies there have ended up being merely the reproduction of familiar conventional literacies albeit with the use of new technologies. This leads to the development of a digital divide- a kind of dichotomy, in the lives of students who access new literacies at home yet are educated in conventional ones at school. “At school they operate in a one literacy ‘universe,’ and out of school they operate in another. For some learners this experience is confusing and/or frustrating” (Knobel & Lankshear, 2006, p. 30). Students will need to be comfortable in both realms,

both the new and the conventional, in order to participate most effectively in society. The challenge is to develop a dialectic through literacy education that will give students the ability to mediate the two. “The world is being changed in some quite fundamental ways as a result of people imagining and exploring news ways of doing things and new ways of being that are made possible by new tools and techniques” (Knobel & Lankshear, 2007, p.10). Some of these changes involve the time and space in which learning, and other activities, occur. Many students operate outside school in multitasking mode so that even the idea of doing one thing at time in a specific place is foreign to them. Similarly, formal systems of organization, taxonomies such as the Dewey Decimal system used in libraries, for example, are not seen as necessarily more authoritative than informal, folksonomic organization such as the tags individuals assign to content in blogs, wikis or social bookmarking sites such as While Literacy 2.0 clearly present some challenges, if educators and schools ignore them they not only risk irrelevance, but depriving students of “expertise ... (that) helps individuals have more satisfying personal lives, more engaged civic lives, as well as more productive professional lives” (Leu, 2004).

Digital Natives (Prensky, 2001), Millennials (Gee, 2002, p. 59) and the Google Generation create an ICT generation gap between Mindset 1, the outsiders and Mindset 2, the insiders (Knobel and Lankshear, 2006, p. 34). They have identified the following list of traits that separate and identify the two mindsets. Such notions as collective intelligence, distributed expertise and value in dispersion have profound implications for pedagogy.

Mindset 1 Mindset 2
The world is much the same as before, only now it is more technologized, or technologized in more sophisticated ways: The world is very different from before and largely as a result of the emergence and uptake of digital electronic internetworked technologies:
The world is appropriately interpreted, understood and responded to in broadly physical-industrial terms The world cannot adequately be interpreted, understood and responded to in physical-industrial terms
Value is a function of scarcity Value is a function of dispersion
An 'industrial' view of production:
  • products as material artefacts
  • a focus on infrastructure and production units (e.g., a firm or company)
  • tools for producing
A 'post-industrial' view of production:
  • products as enabling services
  • a focus on leverage and non-finite participation
  • tools for mediating and relating
Focus on individual intelligence Focus on collective intelligence
Expertise and authority 'located' in individuals and institutions Expertise and authority are distributed and collective; hybrid experts
Space as enclosed and purpose-specific Space as open, continuous and fluid
Social relations of 'bookspace'; a stable 'textual order' Social relations of emerging 'digital media space'; texts in change

Challenges Ahead

Critical Lens

Due to the concern about the commercial nature of much Internet content, Kinzer & Leander (2003) suggest that educators (see Educators and Web 2.0) adopt a critical perspective when researching using technological tools such as the Internet: “locations on the Internet often are populated with commercial, political, and economic motives, it becomes essential to be able to carefully evaluate these while gathering information” (as cited in Leu, 2004).

Cornered Curricula

Curricula that continue to view students as fact receptacles represent a serious challenge to new literacy education. In B.C., subject-specific Integrated Resource Packages typically contain long lists of Prescribed Learning Outcomes. Teachers, especially those of provincially-examinable subjects such as math, biology, physics and the like, are under great pressure to cover all the PLOs and prepare students for terminal exams worth forty per cent of their grade. This dependance on a set curricula, stifles and limits the extent to which new literacies may be taught most effectively.

Privacy Over Progress

Incorporating Web 2.0 tools as a means of engaging students in the advancing of new literacies is a strategy that is gaining wide acceptance, however privacy issues arise in many jurisdictions. In British Columbia educators are constrained by FIPPA (the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) and by many district's interpretation of it in our increasingly litigious society. Privacy concerns arise particularly when students store identifying information on servers that may be owned by corporations in foreign countries.

Life Long Learning

As new technologies constantly evolve, teachers require training in how to structure digital learning environments most effectively and how to assess work from technologically-mediated collaborative efforts. Leu (2004) argues that to adequately incorporate new literacies teachers will need “to be (a) aware of emerging technologies for information and communication, (b) capable of identifying the most important new literacies that each requires, and (c) proficient in knowing how to support their development in the classroom.”

Further reading

  • Leu, D.J, Zawilinki, L., Castek, J., Banerjee, M., Housand, B.C., Liu, Y. & O'Neil, M. (2007). What is New about the New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension? In L.S. Rush, J.A. Eakle & A. Berger (Eds.), Secondary School Literacy: What Research Reveals for Classroom Practice. Available from:

External Links

New Literacies Research Team The Complete Web 2.0 Directory

Will Richardson, Web 2.0 in education advocate


DeVoss, D., Hawisher, G., Jackson, C., Johansen, J., Moraski, B., & Selfe C. (2004). The future of literacy. In C. Selfe & G.E. Hawisher (Ed.). Literate lives in the information age: Narratives of literacy from the United States (pp. 161-183). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Gee, J. P. (2002). Millennials and Bobos, Blue’s Clues and Sesame Street: A story for our times. In D.E. Alvermann (Ed.) Adolescents and Literacies in a Digital World. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 51-67.

Kapitzke, C. (2003). Information literacy: A review and poststructuralist critique. Educational Theory, 53 (1), 37-53.

Knobel, M. & Lankshear, C. (2007). A new literacies sampler. New York: Peter Lang. Available:

Knobel, M. & Lankshear, C. (2006). New literacies and the challenge of mindsets. In M. Knobel & C. Lankshear, New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning (2nd Ed.). New York: Open University Press, 29-62.

Leu, D.J., Jr., Kinzer, C.K., Coiro, J. & Cammack, D. (2004). Toward a theory of new literacies emerging from the Internet and other information and communication technologies. In R.B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading 5th Edition (1568-1611). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Available from:

New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66, 60 -92. Available from:

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the horizon, NCB University Press, 9(5), October 2001.