In contemporary society, literacy has come to mean more than just being able to decipher the print word. Teachers need to acknowledge that new media and new literacy practice are vital components in engaging students in learning across the disciplines. Research into which types of literacy the visual arts and media studies value needs to look beyond traditional forms of reading (decoding) and writing (encoding) text as advancements in technology have changed the way information is produced and obtained, media is created, and meaning is constructed.
Moje, through her research into literacy teaching and learning, poses a poignant question: “Does literacy simply refer to the cognitive processes of decoding, comprehending, encoding and composing informational print texts?” (2008, p. 99). To answer this question, it must be acknowledged that visual and media literacy are valued as the highest forms of literacy within the visual arts and media curriculum. Burton (2005) states that “visual literacy is a fundamental building block of complete media comprehension, making a learner conscious of visual processes and articulate in using them” (p. 95). Media literacy refers to “the ability to ‘read’ and understand visual, aural and digital messages. It means having the skills to understand and interact with the media analytically, critically and knowledgably” (Burton, 2005, p. 95). In response to Moje’s question of the importance of visual literacy in media literacy, it could then be surmised that literacy no longer ‘simply refers’ to print text, rather to all forms of print, analogue and digital representations of information.
The open plan, glass fronted classrooms of the educational institution where I completed a Professional Experience placement presented the opportunity to observe various teaching practices in different discipline areas. One afternoon, as I walked from the Media classroom to the staff room, I counted seven classrooms where the lights were off and some form of multimedia was being examined on the data projector. When I approached some of the teachers to ask about their use of media in the classroom, I was expecting to discover that media was being used as a ‘time filler’ or ‘busy work’ for the students.
One English teacher recounted how the use of film and images - placing content within a multimedia context - was her favourite way to introduce students to new text-based material. Using a similar method with pictures for her reading workshop class, Tovani praises her students’ thinking by saying, “Look what you guys did as you ‘read’ this picture. You questioned the validity of it. You asked questions. You made connections to what you know about the world. You were thinking as you read the piece. Whether you know it or not, you are thinking all the time. When you look at a picture or watch television, you are thinking. The type of thinking you did today is the same type of thinking you want to do when you read” (2004, p. 68). The use of multimedia across the disciplines is becoming more and more prevalent. It provides students with an opportunity to enter into comprehension discussions, engages students in deeper analysis of what is being examined and is used as a bridging tool for more traditional forms of decoding and encoding literacy.
Students’ knowledge of digital media should be recognised and utilised within the confines of education. Teachers need to be aware that literacy learning is not just constrained to books. “A reconceptualised view of secondary literacy suggests that a person who has learned deeply in a discipline can use a variety of representational forms-most notably reading and writing of written texts, but also oral language, visual images, or artistic representations-to communicate their learning, to synthesize ideas across texts and across groups of people, to express new ideas, and to question and challenge ideas held dear in the discipline and in broader spheres.” (Moje, 2008, p. 99). What Moje is saying here is that teachers need to provide students with different opportunities to demonstrate literacy learning. Students provided with multimedia and multiliteracy alternatives to decoding and encoding content may be enabled to engage deeper in learning across all areas of the curriculum.
Media permeates almost every aspect of modern society and helps construct knowledge about the world. Advancements in, and increased access to technology means that information can be quickly and easily accessed from even the most remote locations. In his study on media literacy, Luke (2007) infers that “mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDA) or the internet and networked computers are both media and digital technologies that demand new hybrid forms of visual and print literacy, Internet and information literacy, technology and media literacy” (p. 51). The integration of information and communication technology (ICT) has become an integral component of pedagogy. Most schools have Internet and network connected computers; most students have a mobile phone, and there is a section in most education and curriculum policy documents focusing on the incorporation of ICT in the classroom. The learning and understanding of media literacy is an essential component of modern day education across the disciplines.
While examining the question “What kinds of literacy does my discipline value?”, it became obvious that the concept of literacy in modern society is complex and still evolving. Visual and media literacy are important components of the media and arts curriculum, but are relevant across the disciplines and in the world beyond the classroom. The value of traditional forms of literacy must also be acknowledged in the study of media and arts. The ability to write about works and the creative process, for example, is a necessary component of being a professional visual or media artist.
Burton, L. (2005). What is this Media Literacy thing? Primary and Secondary Classroom Ideas from across Australia, Screen Education, 38, 93-98.
Campbell, R., & Green, D. (2006). Literacies and Learners: Current Perspectives (3rd ed.). NSW, Australia: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Luke, C. (2007). As Seen on TV or Was that My Phone? New Media Literacy, Policy Futures in Education, 5(1), 50-58.
McQueen, M. (2008). The ‘New’ Rules of Engagement: A Guide to Understanding & Connecting with Generation Y, Australia: Hyde Park Press.
Moje, E. B. (2008). Foregrounding the Disciplines in Secondary Literacy Teaching and Learning: A Call for Change, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(2), 96-107.
Tovani, C. (2004). Do I really have to teach reading? Content Comprehension, Grades 6-12. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.
Walsh, C. (2008). Teaching Literacy in the New Media Age through the Arts, Literacy Learning: the Middle Years, 16(1), 8-17.
Western Australian College of Teaching. (2009). Talking to learn: Dialogue in the classroom, The Digest, July, 1-17 Retrieved from http://www.wacot.wa.edu.au/index.php?section=36