31 SES 04 A, Multiliteracies and Multimodalities: Sociotechnical and Participative Perspectives on Information Creation and Consumption
This paper comes at a time when the effects of misinformation, disinformation, and information abundance are producing life and death outcomes. What began as an urgent situation most widely recognized in the aftermath of elections held around the world, has come into sharp focus as the COVID-19 pandemic exposes how virulent and damaging information illiteracy can be. It would not be an overreach to suggest that how we engage with information is fundamental to human wellbeing as well as the health of a democracy (Hochschild & Einstein, 2015; Kahne & Bowyer, 2016; Peters, 2017). While students growing up in this age of information abundance have the benefit of nearly limitless access to knowledge, they are also implicated in coping with abundance, lies, manipulations, biases, and technological subterfuge. My research question emerges out of this context, asking: How are schools preparing students for these new realities and responsibilities? Or, put another way, what is the role of literacy in an era of misinformation, disinformation, and information abundance?
This research draws from three bodies of literature: I.) the post-truth era and the new information environment; II.) the changing nature of student meaning-making; III.) and ongoing development of a broader conception of literacy, known as multiliteracies, which comprises current research on critical and digital literacies.
The conditions for the emergence of the post-truth era have been documented to include: (1) economic instability, anxiety about terrorism, fear of the other and of being left behind (Drexl 2016; Suiter, 2016); (2) a growing preference for ease over substance, which places a lie on equal footing with a fact and resists the complexity of debate (Drexl, 2016); (3) the rise of social media that curb exposure to diverse points of view by making use of algorithms (Drexl, 2016; Pariser, 2011).
Sampasa-Kanyinga et al. (2015) note that social media use has become the daily and common activity among teenagers, and that high levels of social media use are correlated with lower levels of school engagement. In a 2014 study, Mao (2014) shows that 58% of students reported that they log onto their social media accounts many times a day. In addition to this frequency of use, Mao (2014) determined that not only are students using social media for entertainment and social purposes, they are using it as a source of information. For this study, I was immediately concerned about the notable gap in understanding that exists between the educational context and the practical reality of students’ lives. If students are engaged in any activity for hours a day, that activity should be, not only acknowledged by schools, but central to learning mandates.
Finally, this research is underpinned by The New London Group’s seminal text Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures, which characterizes multiliteracies as “a different kind of pedagogy…in which language and other modes of meaning are dynamic representational resources, constantly being remade by their users as they work to achieve their various cultural purposes” (Cope et al., 2000, p.5). To account for new forms of social exclusion within shifting capitalist economies, and vital in responding to the pervasive threat of mis- and disinformation, Cope and Kalantzis (2013) also relate literacies to emancipatory outcomes, noting: “a pedagogy of multiliteracies may … create conditions of critical understanding of the discourses of work and power, a kind of knowing from which newer, more productive and genuinely more egalitarian working conditions might emerge” (p. 100).
This study is located within the interpretivist tradition of qualitative research and aims to attend to research questions by conducting an in-depth case study (Glesne, 2011), as we embedded in a senior English class in a diverse, public high school in Canada. My research assistant and I collected data through a series of in-class observations, student artifacts, photographs from the classroom, student surveys, semi-structured interviews with students, and semi-structured interviews with teachers. Twenty-three students and three teachers composed the participant pool for this study. Data collection began with in-class observations as the students and teacher launched a research project. We documented observations of student discussions and student work and engaged in casual conversations with students focused on the strategies they used to locate information for their group and individual research projects. We made note of the teacher’s talk, actions, and resources as she introduced the project and conducted one-on-one student conferences at the mid-point of the project. Following these observations, we conducted one-on-one interviews with the classroom teacher to better understand how she plans for, instructs, and assesses student research practices. We also asked two additional teachers of English and Social Sciences about their perspectives on changing student literacies. Since a significant component of the research asked questions about what is (and what is not) happening in the classroom, it was useful to gain a sense of the teachers’ experiences with student research, trends they have observed as classroom teachers, and critical (digital) literacy practices they have employed. We also surveyed the students to get a better sense of their social media and news media habits, following these surveys with focus groups and one-on-one interviews to uncover more insight into the students’ out-of-school practices, preferences, and learning. Lastly, a basic curricular analysis was conducted using Ontario, Canada’s English language documents across grades 1-12. Data were analyzed in tandem by the authors through methodological triangulation and thematic coding (Creswell, 2012), facilitated through the qualitative data analysis software NVivo. We began compared and contrasted themes between in-school and out-of-school literacy experiences, as well as between student and teacher perspectives. This research received requisite ethics clearances from the participating school district and university. All data sets have been anonymized and quotes have been edited lightly for clarity.
The findings indicate an urgent need to consider multiliteracies pedagogies in response to the evolving information environment. Students described their literacy education as inadequate. Teachers echoed these sentiments, expressing frustration about the gap between existing curriculum and the new challenges posed by mis/dis/information. They were increasingly concerned about their students “becoming inaccessible” to them and the broader implications for society. Both students and teachers voiced a desire for a holistic literacies education that will empower young people to engage with the world around them with better criticality: this included a desire for more opportunities for debate, consideration of affect, and a literacy curriculum that recognises the web of social, cultural and political constructs that comprise meaning-making. My findings are in keeping with the Pew Research Report (Anderson & Jiang, 2018), determining that young people’s engagement with social media largely governs their time and the ways in which they learn about the world. In addition, consistent with Beam et al. (2018)’s work on how educational gaps contribute to differing skills in the online environment, another finding pointed to the potential for inequalities to emerge based on a lack of focused education on misinformation, disinformation, and technological manipulations. Students and teachers noted that it was likely that the lack of formal education would exacerbate existing injustice, not only in school, but in political and social realms. The call for more relevant education is also consistent with multiliteracies literature, which notes that literacy has a key role to play in promoting social and cultural equity (Burwell & Lenters, 2015; Cumming-Potvin, 2004; Giampapa, 2010; Smythe & Toohey, 2009). Overall, my findings suggest that teachers must be equipped to support students’ navigating the information environment, especially when the harms—to health and democracy—are manifest.
Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, social media & technology 2018. Pew Research Center. Beam, M. A., Hmielowski, J. D., & Hutchens, M. J. (2018). Democratic digital inequalities: Threat and opportunity in online citizenship from motivation and ability. American Behavioral Scientist, 62(8), 1079-1096. Burwell, C., & Lenters, K. (2015). Word on the street: Investigating linguistic landscapes with urban Canadian youth. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 10(3), 201–221. Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2013). Towards a new learning: The scholar social knowledge workspace, in theory and practice. E-Learning and Digital Media, 10(4), 332–356. Cope, B., Kalantzis, M., & New London Group. (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. Routledge. Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research: Planning, conducting, and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (4th ed.). Pearson. Cumming-Potvin, W. (2004). Disrupting literacy practices in a learning community: Empowerment through voicing. McGill Journal of Education, 39(02), 199-219. Drexl J. (2016). Economic efficiency versus democracy: On the potential role of competition policy in regulating digital markets in times of post-truth politics (Research Paper No. 16- 16). Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Giampapa, F. (2010). Multiliteracies, pedagogy and identities: Teacher and student voices from a Toronto elementary school. Canadian Journal of Education, 33(2), 407–431. Glesne, C. (2011). Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction (4th ed.). Pearson. Hochschild J., & Einstein K. L. (2015). Do facts matter: Information and misinformation in American politics. University of Oklahoma Press. Kahne, J., & Bowyer, B. (2016). Educating for democracy in a partisan age: Confronting the challenges of motivated reasoning and misinformation. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1), 3-34. Mao, J. (2014). Social media for learning: A mixed methods study on high school students’ technology affordances and perspectives. Computers in Human Behavior, 33, 213–223. Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you. Penguin. Peters, M. A. (2017). Education in a post-truth world. Educational Philosophy and Theory,49(6), 562-566. Sampasa-Kanyinga, H., & Lewis, R. F. (2015). Frequent use of social networking sites is associated with poor psychological functioning among children and adolescents. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(7), 380–385. Smythe, S., & Toohey, K. (2009). Investigating sociohistorical contexts and practices through a community scan: a Canadian Punjabi–Sikh example. Language and Education, 23(1), 37-57. Suiter, J. (2016). Post-truth politics. Political Insight, 7(3), 25-27.
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