Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Reflecting on Elizabeth Daley's "Expanding the Concept of Literacy"

This reflection is in response to Elizabeth Daley's article published in the 2003 March/April edition of EDUCAUSEreview, p. 33-40.

Ms. Daley begins by giving the commonly held meaning of literacy, which she defines as "the ability to read and write, to understand information and to express ideas both concretely and abstractly. The unstated assumption is that 'to read and write' means to read and write text." Her thesis is that this definition does a severe disservice to media literacy and computer literacy. She also notes that when asking about the nature of language, the "underlying assumption, so accepted that it is never stated, is that language means words." I have to say that I have fallen unwittingly into these common meanings. I now have a chance to gather my wits and examine my definitions.

While (overall) I do not disagree with her thought-provoking and intelligent treatment of this subject, I have to say that I am reluctant to throw my old concept of literacy onto the compost pile. I would still say that literature, literally (word for word), means words that are, or can be, in text form; i.e., books, poems, plays, or sources of written informaton. However, I also think that literacy can mean more than a wide-ranging knowledge of traditional literature, including computer literacy. The ability to fully use computers, after all, depends primarily upon being able to understand and utilize written words.

I realize that children are often incredibly adept at navigating computers through the use of pictures or symbols; however, I would not say they are fully computer literate. This does point out that the visual language of computers is largely keyed to symbols. Language, as opposed to literature, is difficult to separate. Computers are, perhaps, blurring these lines more than ever before.

The written "words" that must be navigated in computer literacy are not always a traditional language. The programming of computers involves a language of its own. This brings me to a disagreement with Ms. Daley's assertion regarding the definition of language. Language is not pervasively assumed to mean only words. Language has already been expanded to essentially mean a form or style of communication. There is sign language, body language, the language of love, etc. Different forms of art are styles of communication, and thus, may be broadly termed "languages." Therefore, the interplay and communication of multiple medias described by
Ms. Daley already falls within the definition of language. Indeed, she, herself, seems to acknowledge this by using the term the "language of art" (p. 35). This term has been around long before film and computers.

This quibbling over definitions does not negate the important points proposed by Ms. Daley. It simply seems that Ms. Daley has sought to create an "against the establishment" scenario to emphasize her position.

Ms. Daley's four main points are as follows:
  1. The multimedia language of the screen has become the current vernacular.
  2. The multimedia language of the screen is capable of constructing complex meanings independent of text.
  3. The multimedia language of the screen enables modes of thought, ways of communicating and conducting research, and methods of publication and teaching that essentially differ from those of text.
  4. Lastly, those who are truly literate in the 21st Century will be those who learn to both read and write the multimedia language of the screen.

I essentially agree with these broad assertions; however, being truly literate in the 21st century does not mean being only able to read and write in this multimedia format. In my mind, a literate person would incorporate this modern language of the screen while also having an awareness and understanding of traditional literature.


Blogger kathyholster said...

I like you discussion on language as opposed to literature, especially your statement, "Language is not only words."

I fully agree with you about being truly literate in the 21st century not simply being able to read and write in the multimedia format.

12:42 PM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Toni said...

I agree with what you have written about literacy. I also appreciate your comment on my blog. I agree with you in wishing for more time to learn all of this stuff. With our busy lives it is hard to fit in any time!!

7:16 PM, December 03, 2005  
Blogger Joanna said...

I agree with you completely regarding throwing the old way of doing things to the compost pile. I will embrace this technology, but will not forget my roots! Way to go! You're opinion speaks volumes.

5:27 PM, December 04, 2005  

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