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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Multimodal Literacy In The 21st Century Classroom

Multimodal Literacy In The 21st Century Classroom: Literacy education has, for thousands of years now, revolved around reading and writing static texts. The ability to read and write is often considered one of the most important transformative capacities that our species has developed. Up until recently, the standard definition of literacy has been centered almost exclusively upon the reading and writing of traditional texts in a country’s standard dialect.However, continual advances in technology, the convergence of media types, global migration, social transformation, and sociolinguistic mixing have resulted in it being redefined by some to incorporate nontraditional multimodal literacies such as a range of internet, multimedia, and subculture specific practices or dialects. 

Multimodal Literacy In The 21st Century Classroom


Russell Hazard conducts educational research at the AidiTeaching, Learning, and Innovation Center in Beijing, China. In research presented at the European Conference on Language Education at University College London, Hazard argued that we must break out of education systems that fail to value emergent digital media literacies, modes of expression that are used by different cultures, subcultures, and social movements, as well as new modes of communication such as collaborative mashups if we are to keep education relevant and inclusive. He also noted that if we can increase the diversity of the voices represented in literacy education, we can potentially improve mutual understanding and learn to value a wider range of perspectives in a multicultural, globalized world.
The importance of taking a broader view of literacy is rooted in the work of The New London Group, which was published before full adoption of the internet in the mid 1990s. Even then, they argued that a multiliteracies perspective was critical to understanding the tremendous range of communication types that were already occurring within our educational, work, civic, and private contexts. They also argued that, without this approach, it would become increasingly difficult to educate the majority of students toward being able to design their social futures, find successful employment, and live in increasingly culturally diverse cities.
This sort of “multimodal” approach to literacy education is becoming more prevalent. For example, multimodal texts are clearly defined as learning targets in the Australian curriculum where they are described as the strategic use of ‘two or more communication modes to make meaning’.These modes include (but are not limited to) images, gestures, sound/music, spoken language, and written language in a variety of forms or dialects. Stepping beyond the simple mashing of media and language types as a description of multimodal literacy, communications studies Professor Renee Hobbs argues that the ability to understand and create these new types of communication grant marginalized groups an important form of social power. As one example, at an institute on digital literacy held at the University of Rhode Island, Hobbs showed student activists communicating and building support for the Black Lives Matter movement by publishing multimodal videos on YouTube. Other examples of marginalized groups using new literacies to project their voice have emerged globally over the last decade and compliment more mainstream multimodal communication types such as art instillations, film, fashion, and mixed media websites. 
As the form of literacy is itself more diverse than the traditional, multimodal literacy education tends toward diverse process-oriented activities, twenty-first century skills, and assessments. Eric Robinson, an elementary school teacher in Chelsea, Michigan is taking the steps to incorporate innovation and a multimodal approach to literacy in his 2nd grade classroom. In an interview with The Sun Times, he addresses the changing educational expectations for students and teachers in the article, How do you teach students when their job may not be invented, yet? 
Robinson discusses the importance of technologically enhanced, multimodal, twenty-first century learning in otherwise traditional school classrooms. In his interview he states, “In the past, teachers were seen as the fountain of knowledge. Then, along came the internet and it fundamentally changed the way that we interact and learn. There is a good possibility that the students in my classroom will have a job that hasn’t been invented yet. In order to prepare students for this future, there are new skills they must master. These include collaboration, sharing and acquiring information using technology, critical thinking skills, and developing problem solving skills,” says Robinson.
In his own research, Russell Hazard also discussed the future of education and how it interacts with twenty-first century skills, technology, accepted textual genres, and the assessment types that are currently favored in many parts of the world. Hazard points to the research of Carey Jewitt in posing the question of whether more traditional literacy education practices such as formal essays and report writing should still dominate newer textual forms even when they may be both less enjoyable and less relevant to the lives of large numbers of young people. Furthermore, he noted that the format of many of the standardized tests that act as gate keepers for universities and employers are not generally designed with these modern multimodal skills and understandings in mind.
Russell Hazard cautioned that the decision to consider multimodal literacy is not about dropping traditional literacy education altogether, as classic forms of reading and writing are still valuable forms of expression and also important for many job positions. However, he pointed to the fact that many creative, desirable, and well paying positions can be had without writing long traditional reports or reading technical texts. Furthermore, he noted that one of the primary goals of the 21st century skill movement is to foster entrepreneurial opportunity and motivation. For this purpose, diverse project management skills, the ability to understand what is being communicated and is valued by people from a range of different backgrounds, and the ability to collaborate effectively with those people toward a common goal are likely to be useful.
As early as ten or fifteen years ago, the structure of a traditional classroom mostly involved desk work and an “all eyes on the teacher” approach.  Educators around the world used to define literacy education as being able to read and write in very limited genres, often with a focus on classical texts such as Shakespeare and Hemmingway. This was regardless of how relevant those texts might be to the lives of their students and without much consideration of the consequences of having large numbers of students disengage with their educations.  
In today’s modern classroom, there is much more collaboration and investigation taking place as students communicate and acquire information in new and increasingly complex ways. As traditional teaching methods continue to shift toward newer, more innovative practices, we may soon find that a more inclusive multiliteracies approach will become the norm. The question then becomes how we assess and reward those who master these types of literacy through more authentic and process-oriented test formats so that their work is valued and deemed credible by both universities and employers.