'Today's teens have grown up zooming among hyperlinks in cyberspace and conversing in an online world of Twitter and text messaging where acronyms, assorted shortcuts and creative punctuation have redefined everyday discourse.
Experts figure that kids today read and write even more than previous generations. And they do so in a broader and more complex environment — though not always in academic ways.
The fire hose of online content, plus evolving media platforms, present new challenges for students — and teachers rushing to keep up with technology — as 21st-century literacies blend with traditional skills.
"I'm not going to say it's a good thing or a bad thing," says Elizabeth Kleinfeld, assistant professor of English at Metropolitan State College of Denver. "But it's a thing for sure, and we have to deal with it in our classrooms, in our workplaces and in our relationships."
Her research indicates that students have a troubling tendency not to read deeply, though she's quick to add that there's no evidence that previous generations fared any better.
"Our culture has been moving toward prizing efficiency over taking time to do things," Kleinfeld says, "and we've been moving in that direction for decades."
As state standards and national policies embrace the relationship between technology and language, specific skills have emerged as central to new literacies.
Addressing rapid-fire data
Mastering the technical aspects of multimedia tools is essential. And both reading and writing in the digital world demand a more collaborative approach, played out before an ever-widening audience equipped for rapid-fire feedback.
Perhaps most important, the breadth of information that flows from Internet search engines requires that students cultivate a discerning eye. It's not enough to Google something; the trick is to filter the reliable information from the digital flotsam.
"If we don't start helping kids to slow down and think, they could get overwhelmed and not read deeply at all," says Julie Coiro, an assistant professor at the
In other words, kids need to be taught when to stop clicking and start thinking more carefully. Increasingly, teachers are equipping students with means to evaluate websites rather than taking them at face value.
"I don't think the Internet itself is creating all these problems so much as the lack of ability to keep up with constant changes and how to address them in school," Coiro says. "The Internet offers incredible opportunities to build high-level, deep thinkers if we provide the instruction that's needed."
New literacies aren't about displacing mainstream standards, says Michele Knobel, a professor of literacy education at
Still, for some who didn't grow up with this generation of technology, the concept can trigger what Knobel calls a "false memory" of deeper engagement with the written word.
"If you choose to see (new literacies) as dumbing down, you're going to see lots of evidence of that," Knobel says. "But if you choose to see it as something new and opening up all sorts of opportunities for young people to really think about media, how truth itself is often up for grabs, then there are all sorts of ways of understanding it.
Kevin Simpson: 303-954-1739 or firstname.lastname@example.org
*This is a précised version of Kevin Simpson’s article from the Denver Post