Digital and online media are rapidly evolving new tools that are changing the ways that people communicate, read, and write. Adolescents and adults are taking up these communication technologies at an unprecedented pace and on a previously unattainable scale. Adults’ use of social networking, for example, increased 33 percent between 2009 and 2010 (Madden, 2010), and 72 percent of all adults were texting in 2010 (Lenhart, 2010).1
In today’s world, expectations for literacy include use of digital and online media to communicate with a wide range of other people and to produce, find, evaluate, and synthesize knowledge in innovative and creative ways to meet the varied demands of education and work. Indeed, in the last decade, government, business, and education organizations have asserted in commissioned reports, position statements, and syntheses of research that certain skills are needed in the 21st century for full civic and economic participation in this increasingly networked, mobile, and globally interconnected world (see North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2003; National Council of Teachers of English, 2008, 2009; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and Statistics Canada, 2005; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2009).
1The committee did not evaluate the methodology of polls used to get the usage numbers reported in this appendix. Although the methodologies generally appear to be sound, there are questions about whether the subset of the population who need literacy enhancement might be underrepresented, simply due to lesser likelihood of pollsters reaching them and lesser likelihood of their responding to these kinds of surveys.
Researchers have begun to study the particular social practices, skills, strategies, and dispositions associated with full participation in this technological and media-saturated society (Jenkins et al., 2009). An assumption of this research is that literacy is connected to a range of skills used in conjunction with information and communication technologies (ICT) to select, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and share information (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010); to think critically and creatively (Silva, 2008); to make and apply knowledge flexibly and adaptively (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009); to develop proficiency with tools of technology (including the design and creation of a variety of texts for multiple, global audiences, and various purposes) (National Council of Teachers of English, 2008); and to communicate and collaborate effectively (e.g., North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 2003). Many of these critical thinking and learning competencies are not new or unique, but there is a need to understand the digital and online literacy skills that are required to live in a globalized and technologically mediated society transformed by new economic, social, and political realities.
Although most research on new media and literacy has focused on adolescents in out-of-school contexts, researchers have begun to document how adults use information and communication technologies in their everyday lives and in their pursuit of continuing education (Lenhart, 2010; Madden, 2010; Mellar and Kambouri, 2004; Smith, 2010a, 2010b; Tamassia et al., 2007).
In this appendix, we report findings from 32 empirical studies conducted between 1995 and 2009 on the relation between new information and communication technologies and adults’ literacy practices and beliefs involving new media.2 The first section of this appendix draws from these studies and other widely cited studies to describe practices and proficiencies related to the use of new technologies that now contribute to what it means to be literate. The second section examines what the research says about
2Our review included peer-reviewed journals from 1995 to 2010. It excluded studies that did not focus explicitly on literacy and technology. The primary search term used was “adult”; secondary search terms were “literacy,” “reading,” and “writing”; tertiary search terms (combined with each secondary term) were “computer,” “digital,” “ICT,” “information and communication technology,” “information technology,” “internet,” “multimedia,” “multimodal,” “online,” “technology,” and “web.” Databases used were ERIC, JSTOR, and Google Scholar. Four categories of journals were also searched individually: (1) general education journals (American Education Research Journal, Harvard Educational Review, International Journal of Educational Research), (2) literacy journals (Written Communication, Journal of Literacy Research, Reading and Writing, Reading Research Quarterly), (3) technology journals (Journal of Computer Assisted Learning; Journal of Computer Mediated Communication; International Journal of Learning and Media; Learning, Media, and Technology), and (4) adult education journals (Adult Education Quarterly, International Journal of Lifelong Education, Adult Basic Education and Literacy Journal).
how and why people engage in these literacy practices. The third section examines various instructional practices and learning environments that promote these proficiencies, especially for adult populations with different levels of literacy. The final section notes that empirical research on the role of new media in adult literacy development is scant, particularly for those adults who struggle with foundational reading and writing skills. The frameworks available in the field of digital media and learning to explain why adults need to develop proficiencies relating to these technologies to meet their learning goals can inform future studies. This issue and recommendations for research are discussed in Chapter 9.
As digital reading—whether on computers or, increasingly, mobile devices—becomes more commonplace, a central question for literacy researchers is how these contexts affect reading patterns and comprehension processes (Alexander and Jetton, 2003). Research on the online reading practices of youth in educational settings has emerged as a focus (Coiro et al., 2009), as has research on the online reading practices of adults, particularly ones who struggle with reading and writing in print (Attar, 2005; Ercetin, 2003; Mackey, 2007; McEneaney et al., 2009; Zhang and Duke, 2008). Early research on online reading processes with proficient readers (both youth and adults) suggests that reading online is not isomorphic with reading print texts (Coiro and Dobler, 2007; Zhang and Duke, 2008). Reading both online and printed texts requires the integration of prior knowledge, the use of inferential reasoning strategies, and frequent self-regulation, but online reading also demands that readers use these skills and strategies in ways that are different and may involve more complex and adaptive combinations (Coiro and Dobler, 2007; Zhang and Duke, 2008).
Readers in online contexts must draw on prior knowledge not only of the topic and text structures but also of online structures such as hyperlinks, websites, and search engines (Coiro and Dobler, 2007; Miller et al., 2004; Zhang and Duke, 2008). While studies have primarily been conducted with proficient youth (Coiro and Dobler, 2007) or proficient adults (Zhang and Duke, 2008), the importance of prior knowledge to reading success suggests that struggling adult readers, particularly those with less prior knowledge about ICT structures, are likely to struggle with online reading, especially since traditional reading competencies are needed in more complex combinations for online comprehension (Cromley and Azevedo, 2009). In addition to drawing on more sources of prior knowledge, readers of online texts must use extended and multilayered inferential reasoning strategies. In particular, they must make more forward inferences, that is, predictions (Coiro and Dobler, 2007), as well as more flexible and adaptive
self-regulation of reading processes, particularly across short time cycles, different reading purposes, and physical spaces (Coiro and Dobler, 2007; Zhang and Duke, 2008).
Interactive media, such as the Internet, place special demands on the reader for strategic search, coordination of multiple sources, and discernment of relevance and credibility. Readers in such environments make implicit and explicit decisions about the level of resources to invest in particular texts and supporting multimedia materials, and about when to shift attention among them (Duggan and Payne, 2009; Pirolli, 2007; Pirolli and Card, 1999; Reader and Payne, 2007). Thus, searching for information (e.g., perusing web pages) and consuming information (e.g., reading the text on a particular web page) are separable processes, with particular cognitive underpinnings (Hills et al., in press). Individual differences in both working memory and knowledge can impact the effectiveness with which information is obtained and integrated in such interactive environments (Sharit et al., 2009).
A number of studies examining the Internet search strategies of adults, including inexperienced adult computer users, have found that (1) prior knowledge about the topic, computers, and online text structures facilitates search capabilities (both in speed and in success) and (2) navigation of online structures plays a crucial role in finding and reading information (Attar, 2005; Cromley and Azevedo, 2009; McEneaney et al., 2009; Rouet, 2006). Prior knowledge and navigation skills mattered more than age in determining whether users were successful in their tasks (Cromley and Azevedo, 2009), suggesting that as inexperienced adults become more familiar with online structures of websites and hypertext, they can develop more proficient reading practices. This conclusion is further supported by findings from the latest Program for International Student Assessment study, which found that increased familiarity with computers and the Internet was associated with higher test scores (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010), although socioeconomic status might have contributed to this correlation.
One of the central difficulties facing inexperienced users, either adult or youth, in navigating online reading contexts is the ability to recover from breakdowns in meaning. Proficient Internet readers have self-regulation strategies to fix up and repair breakdowns that are part of their overall reading strategies (Bilal and Kirby, 2002; Coiro and Dobler, 2007; Zhang and Duke, 2008). But inexperienced users struggle to monitor and repair breakdowns in meaning (Attar, 2005; Bilal and Kirby, 2002), having problems similar to those that struggling readers encounter in reading print texts (Pearson et al., 1992). Furthermore, inexperienced adults encountered more difficulties in mapping what they know onto the new Internet context and struggled in navigating the spaces of the web pages (Attar, 2005). However,
knowing what strategies to employ in which circumstances while planning, predicting, monitoring, and evaluating is particularly important in online reading contexts, which demand more flexible and often simultaneous deployment of strategies across even faster cycles of self-regulation (Coiro and Dobler, 2007; Zhang and Duke, 2008).
Research with adult users of information and communication technologies shows that such a central capacity for online reading is flexible deployment of appropriate strategies depending on one’s purpose and stance (Clover, 2007; Cromley and Azevedo, 2009; Mackey, 2007; McEneaney et al., 2009; Zhang and Duke, 2008). This adaptive capacity is important not only in comprehending text but also in reading multimodal texts that combine images, audio, graphics, and video in complex combinations, a kind of multiliterate meaning-making capacity enabling users to do many things at once (Clover, 2007) and to make meaning across and with multiple representations. Research that looks at search strategies across different age groups suggests that there is no single ideal hypermedia search strategy (Cromley and Azevedo, 2009) but that a variety of strategies must be deployed, sometimes simultaneously, according to people’s varied stances toward and purposes for reading and searching (McEneaney et al., 2009). Whether seeking to be entertained, to gain general knowledge, or to find specific information, readers monitor their reading processes, apply their prior knowledge, and evaluate online texts using a range of strategies flexibly and adaptively (Zhang and Duke, 2008). As texts increasingly point to other texts through hyperlinks and incorporate multiple and hybrid text structures and multimedia content, readers must read not only strategically but also intertextually—across modes, media, genres, and content (Mackey, 2007; Perfetti, Britt, and Georgi, 1995; Rouet, 2006).
Just as adults need to develop a sophisticated strategic repertoire to navigate online contexts, so too do they need to develop a strategic and flexible composing repertoire for writing in multimodal contexts. Research on multimodal composing processes facilitated by information and communication technologies suggests that this involves sophisticated textual work (Brass, 2008). Writers can now reappropriate symbolic materials across a range of modes—audio, video, graphics, etc.—and take advantage of intertextual possibilities in new contexts (Ranker, 2008), drawing on prior knowledge, locally meaningful texts, and popular culture in multiple combinations. This kind of multimodal braiding of meaning from different sources, now seen as a commonplace strategy by many (Mackey, 2007), allows writers to compose new meanings by layering and synthesizing across a number of available modes, with the created meaning transcending the collection of its constitutive parts (Hull and Nelson, 2005; Ranker, 2008).
With an expanding number of ways to create meaningful communications through the orchestration of these multiple modes, the explicitly
performative and multivoiced nature of many digital texts, and the circulation of these texts, readers and writers are faced with increasing textual complexity (Lewis and Fabos, 2005; Mackey, 2007; National Council of Teachers of English, 2008). Writers in complex digital contexts must be strategic in how they compose, to whom, and for what purposes (Mackey, 2007; Ranker, 2008), not least because of the potential to connect to people in new ways, across national and generational borders (Chandler-Olcott and Mahar, 2003; Lam, 2006). Multimodal composing also offers rich implications for writers’ identities, especially in inviting experimentation and playfulness (Boyd, 2008; Chandler-Olcott and Mahar, 2003; Lam, 2006). Research suggests that using computers to compose might facilitate adults’ negotiation of this textual complexity by encouraging revision and self-monitoring (Li, 2006), although the impact of composing in digital contexts has not been sufficiently explored with adults who are less familiar with ICT or traditional print literacy practices.
Recent surveys of U.S. households point to a more connected, more participatory, and more engaged public than ever before. More people report getting online and using new technologies to connect to one another, with 74 percent of all adults over 18 now online3 (including 93 percent of young adults ages 18-29) (Lenhart et al., 2010a). Most of these users are taking advantage of digital connectivity by getting online via cell phones (Smith, 2010a); texting (Lenhart, 2010); watching videos online (Purcell, 2010); blogging (Lenhart et al., 2010a); reading, commenting on, or creating the news (Purcell et al., 2010); and connecting on social networking sites (Madden, 2010), although it remains unclear whether the target adolescent and adult literacy population uses the more literacy-demanding of ICT affordances. In particular, older Americans are connecting with others online in increasing numbers, and although most still prefer email to communicate, more older adults are connecting via social networking sites (the number grew from 22 to 42 percent of all online adults over age 50 in the last year) (Madden, 2010), with 46 percent of all online adults now having at least one social networking profile (Madden and Smith, 2010). Some reports indicate that this digital connectedness is beneficial (or at least not harmful) in creating core social networks to fight social isolation, with most people who connect online reporting a broader and more diverse core social support network (Hampton et al., 2009). However, many of the same social stratification issues that affect young adults offline are
replicated online, with users from a resource-rich background also reaping more benefits from their online practices (Hargittai and Hinnant, 2008). While issues of access remain a concern, more people of all income and education levels are getting online, many of whom are using mobile devices to close the participation gap (Smith, 2010a).
A number of studies have explored why some adults engage with information and communication technologies and others remain nonusers or limited users. It appears that motivation and disposition are more important indicators than access in determining who gets online or uses computers (Attar, 2005; Selwyn, 2004; Selwyn and Gorard, 2004; Smith, 2004, 2010a, 2010b; Stanley, 2003; Vandenbroeck et al., 2008; Warren-Peace, 2008). In particular, anxiety plays an important role (Vandenbroeck et al., 2008), as some unconnected older adults report being fearful, lacking self-efficacy around computer use, or not imagining themselves as the kind of people who engage with such technologies (Stanley, 2003). A recent Pew Research Center report found that 21 percent of the American adults surveyed do not get online, with more than half of them saying that they do not feel comfortable or knowledgeable about it (Smith, 2010a). Charness and Boot (2009) also found both attitudinal and cognitive barriers to Internet use and recommend a combination of training and better design to enhance accessibility. Other adults report not being interested in going online (Smith, 2010a) or do not see its usefulness to their daily lives (Smith, 2010a; Selwyn, 2004). Selwyn and Kvasny (2006) both argue that use of information and communication technologies among adults is multifaceted and historical, tied less to issues of access and more to historic inequalities and relationships around technology use that people develop over time in their local, everyday communities.
This issue of people’s perceptions of new technologies—which are of course mediated by people’s social, historical, and cultural backgrounds—plays a central role in whether and how adults use them (Chu and Tsai, 2009; Gorard, Selwyn, and Williams, 2000). Although most adult education programs in the United States (80 percent) offer some use of computers for instructional activities, it is unclear how these programs are addressing participants’ motivation and disposition toward using information and communication technologies, including going online (Tamassi et al., 2007). Since studies have indicated that self-efficacy and self-determination around ICT use are important to how those adults use new technologies (Chu and Tsai, 2009; Vandenbroeck et al., 2008), it seems central to know how adult basic education programs support historically underserved populations who may be disenfranchised from their use (Coryell and Chlup, 2007; Clover, 2007; Jacobson, 2008; Webb, 2006). Just as there is less research on other aspects of the adult literacy population, so also there is less clarity about their inclusion in samples from which inferences about the ubiquity of tech-
nology use are made. Better understanding of the technology access and use patterns of the target population of this report is particularly important, given research that indicates that increased ICT use improves participants’ attitudes and motivation, including more positive attitudes about their own self-efficacy in reading and writing and a wider strategic repertoire (Chu and Tsai, 2009; Clough et al., 2007; Ercetin, 2003; Kambouri et al., 2006).
Although the research on particular instructional practices with information and communication technologies that have implications for adults’ literacy practices is not extensive (see Tamassi et al., 2007), some studies do indicate that more experience and familiarity with online reading and writing have positive implications for users’ attitudes toward online literacy practices, particularly for ones that integrate technology throughout the course (Goodyear et al., 2005). For example, Attar’s (2005) longitudinal study of adult education participants in the United Kingdom indicates that explicit instruction about the structure of online interfaces helped make the logic of web pages, hypertext, and search engines more transparent. This explicit and guided instruction helped participants become more familiar with language about the Internet and increased their knowledge about (and thus comfort with) online texts and interfaces. Similarly, Warren-Peace’s small-scale study (2008) reported that structured guidance helped the two older adults in the study become more familiar with technologies over time and increased their enjoyment in engaging in them. Furthermore, in Ercetin’s (2003) study of adult participants enrolled in a program of English as a second language, practice and experience in guided reading in new media environments helped participants find reading more enjoyable, suggesting that offering adults opportunities to engage with information and communication technologies might increase self-efficacy.
Some studies, while not specifically on the target U.S. adolescent and adult literacy learner population and often on small samples, also suggest that increased engagement and familiarity with online literacy practices have implications for literacy learning more broadly. For example, Kambouri and colleagues (2006) examined the literacy practices of 13 young adults in three UK literacy centers who played a high-quality educational game designed to engage learners who were disaffected by traditional literacy practices (but who were experienced with the video game genre). Findings indicate that users were more actively engaged in creating intertextual connections (especially incorporating their lived experiences into the formal educational context), innovating new literacy practices around the game, and developing their critical literacy practices (including taking control over their learning). Other work (Dede and Grotzner, 2009; Shaffer, 2006)
has emphasized the need to access technical information (such as reading text) as it is needed in serious game environments and that mentorship is needed in order to coordinate games and academic material to achieve science learning. This underscores the challenges of integrating subject-matter content in motivating games. In a different context, a longitudinal study of adult women involved in community technologies in rural villages, Clover (2007) found that engagement with them, including resistance, increased women’s critical literacy capacities, empowering them to decide how best to adapt literacy practices involving technology to their everyday purposes.
A number of studies suggest that programs that create supportive learning environments that take into account adults’ prior life experiences and offer opportunities for self-directed learning seem to set the stage for successful learning experiences. Controlling one’s learning environment is important for learners’ self-efficacy and motivation (Chu and Tsai), which may be why many youth turn to online communication contexts outside formal educational contexts for the opportunity to shape their environments (Chandler-Olcott and Mahar, 2003; Lam, 2006; Lewis and Fabos, 2005) and why many adults seek out informal learning opportunities via mobile and online practices (Clough et al., 2007). In adult learning settings, successful programs are ones in which students are supported individually, are given enough time to work on computers (including for personal purposes), and allow collaboration between students and between teachers and students (Coryell and Chlup, 2007). Furthermore, programs that offer structure and guidance can have an impact on how relevant adult participants find information and communication technologies as well as their attitudes toward learning with them (Warren-Peace et al., 2008).
However, learning environments that include top down administration, particularly involving staff members who believe that technology is neutral and who are not adequately trained, can lead to resistance, dropping out, or other problems with participant attitudes toward learning (Clover, 2007). Furthermore, the presence of technologies alone in these programs cannot overcome the social and cultural inequities that affect adults’ beliefs and attitudes toward lifelong learning and technology (Gorard, Selwyn, and Madden, 2003; Kvasny, 2006), which can also affect teachers’ integration of them into adult basic education programs (Kotrlik and Redmann, 2005). After years of absence from formal learning situations or having negative earlier schooling experiences, adult students can be intimidated by overly structured, test-centered programs (Stanley, 2003). Many times these programs, full of young people, presume basic computer literacy or English proficiency, and they do not take into account how adults who have not been involved with ICT use can be intimidated and anxious about adopting these new roles in unfamiliar educational settings (Attar, 2005; Stanley, 2003). Furthermore, many of these programs have a narrow view
of technology and literacy, prescribing constrained uses of computers and not taking into account the wide range of purposes people might have in using technology (Kvasny, 2006). This may account for why some studies examining computer-aided instruction do not necessarily find that achievement scores improve, particularly when computers are used in ways with which students do not identify and without teacher support (Batchedler and Koski, 2003). When considering technology-enhanced instruction, programs that allow students to work at their own pace, offer individualized instruction, have strong community ties, and support learners with myriad work and familial responsibilities have been shown to promote literacy learning through ICT use with their adult students (Clover, 2007; Coryell and Chlup, 2007; Menard-Warwick and Dabach, 2004; Silver-Pacuilla, 2006; Stanley, 2003).
Research, especially experiments, on how to develop literacy with new media is scant, but the available theoretical literature on new technologies for literacy can inform future studies. Specific priority areas for research are discussed in Chapter 9.
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