ICT and Literacy

Edited by Nikki Gamble and Nick Easingwood
Published by Continuum

Reviewed by Moira Monteith
This review first appeared in the MAPE Newsletter Autumn 2001

This subject is highly relevant for us as teachers now.
The collection introduces a wealth of viewpoints including those of teachers and librarians, and as all contributors differ in terms of their own thinking, experience and development their viewpoints also differ considerably. It is a useful book to have on your shelf but you may want to pick and choose which chapters suit you at your point of experience.
The book's particular strength lies, I think, in its ability to encourage positive debate as it offers material for discussion on forms of literacy/literacies as well as current methodology. It is not prescriptive.
Steve Heppel is an exceptionally shrewd commentator and emphasises the importance of making our assessment and tasks fit the computer (not the other way round). He claims that we often have 'a deficiency model of children' and need to encourage their creativity to keep our place in 'the league table of world economies'. Nikki Gamble describes how she is drawn into CD-ROMs and computer games, for example, Myst, because they have the same effects on readers as other narratives do. She dislikes the way 'literacy' and 'technology' are often used rhetorically in terms of training for employment and deplores curricula that emphasise key skills at the expense of knowledge and creativity.
Sue Brindley coolly considers how we define literacy in a post-print society. She outlines the elaborate networks we have constructed to ratify these definitions. She believes there is a gap which exists between 'schooled literacy' and hypertext; we therefore need some literacy requirement in relation to screen-based texts. Angela McFarlane is outspoken and stimulating: 'Current school culture is one which attaches great importance to neat handwriting and spelling, reading “good” books and poetry and generally valuing the work of dead white men'. She distinguishes between skills children use at school and those at home where they watch TV and video, use phones and computers. Skills such as 'classifying information, building categories and developing connections' are not present in the formal assessment criteria currently driving the school system. She also states it is 'impossible to find a universally accepted definition of visual literacy.' I wonder if that's why the traditional, centuries-old definition of literacy is so narrow; at least everyone can agree it is concerned with reading and writing.
Richard Millwood wants a mental model of learning which would give us a principle for ICT use rather than relying on examples of 'good practice'.
He believes 'the editing process is what makes a film' and makes the revolutionary suggestion that video could be a choice for expression rather than writing.
Nick Easingwood finds there is now more emphasis on communication and less on receiving information passively. He believes email is a medium which motivates writing. 'Samples of email illustrate clearly how the act of writing has been fundamentally changed. The content of the message and the medium become important, often to the detriment of traditionally important elements such as grammar, punctuation and spelling.'
Becky Jones encourages teachers to be more resourceful in stimulating pupils to read longer narratives as generally children are accustomed only to short sound bites of information. She reviews historical computer games which motivate children to explore a given information context by encouraging them to explore data from particular viewpoints such as those of spies. Sarah Mears explains how librarians can help with homework clubs particularly when children are using ICT. 'Modern children have a need for literacy skills which go beyond the book'.
She includes good reviews of two useful websites.
However, I would have liked some figures as to how many children go to libraries; the current position about library closure and whether children can join 'online' libraries.
Marilyn Foreman's chapter appealed to me (my point of development presumably). She claims '. . .probably the most effective learning emanates from the teacher being only a few levels above that of the learner.' That agrees with my experience. She includes Margaret Meek's thought-provoking quotation that new literacies create new illiterates.
However, she follows this by presenting an example of a child who found a set of literacies all at once.
Angela McGlasn believes ICT actually allows children with special educational needs to reveal their capabilities. This chapter is an excellent introduction for those who don't know the range of existing ICT for SEN. The concluding chapter is rather disappointing, as although the writers are discussing an innovative course developed at Anglia University, the material does not add very much more to the concepts already discussed. They sensibly steer clear of what the technological future holds: 'The future is about ethics and values as much as it is about what the technology will be able to do and achieve.' I am sure you will find your own specific ICT and literacy interests promoted in this collection.


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