Metaliteracy and Multiple Literacies

Metaliteracy and Multiple Literacies

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3534-9.ch005
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In networked digital culture, individuals communicate through multiple literacies including linguistic, visual, audio, gestural, and spatial ways of making meaning from information. Producing and consuming content requires new literacy skills and an ability to access and evaluate information in all modes to construct knowledge. Information is shared instantly through channels such as text messaging, blogging, social networking, videomaking, and podcasting. Processing information, in numerous modes, requires the metaliterate learner to utilize four domains (metacognitive, cognitive, behavioral, and affective). This chapter explains the emerging term ‘metaliteracy', advocates the use of this new term in the metamodern age, and examines best practices of learning and communicating in participatory environments.
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“Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” ---Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize laureate

The transition from a traditional literacy-based world of reading and writing to the new age of networked culture happened quickly at the turn of the 21st century and picked up speed after smartphones and mobile devices came on the scene in about 2007. Scrutiny of the information seeking behavior of digital citizens, the evolving venues of digital communication, and the platforms through which a vast amount of information bombards us daily commands a fresh look at literacy. Onomastic processes make use of neoteric lexicon, helping us clarify new concepts with new words. This chapter aims to illuminate the need for revision of literacy theory which coincides with the pivotal milestone of our philosophical moment in history.



The nature of literacy is undergoing radical change due to information and communication technology (ICT). “Modern information and communication technologies have created a “global village,” in which people can communicate with others across the world as if they were living next door” (Christensson, 2010). The impact of ICT has issued a new era into civilization, an era in which literacy is deictic – full of changes that depend on context of identity, space and time.

Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, Castek, and Henry (2017, p. 5) profess, “The rapid transformations in the nature of literacy caused by technological change is a primary source for the deictic nature of literacy; new technologies regularly and repeatedly transform previous literacies, continually redefining what it means to become literate”. Validation of those rapid transformations means new discourse and nomenclature at the risk of coining a phrase or new term only to be discarded for a different one. Here, we tackle this problem with the proposal of the term metaliteracy, arguing for use of a sharpened and clear name.

The impact of the Internet on literacy, discussed in Chapter 2 is evident to anyone who communicates on a mobile device; however, the conceptual framework of literacy and even the basic definition is often misunderstood. “We believe that we are on the cusp of a new era in literacy theory, research, and practice, one in which the nature of reading, writing, and communication is being fundamentally transformed by the Internet (Leu, et al., 2017, p.12)”. Transformation in any organism or organization may be fraught with discomfort, confusion, or pain; but the change may be necessary or inevitable. Perhaps, as these researchers point out, literacy is amid a profound metamorphosis. “To be literate tomorrow will be defined by even newer technologies that have yet to appear and even newer discourses and social practices that will be created to meet future needs” (Leu, et al., 2017, p, 1.).

Understanding the monumental charge to explore and define literacy beyond the rise of networked participatory culture, an examination of multi-modal types of literacy is important. These modes include oral, visual, audio, tactile, gestural, and spatial patterns of meaning found in physical, augmented, digital or virtual spaces. These various modes and the terms used to explain them are not “thrown out” by the term metaliteracy but are understood within it.

As defined in Chapter 1, metaliteracy is explained as “an overarching, self-referential, and comprehensive framework that informs other literacy types” (Mackey & Jacobson 2011, p. 70). Not only does the metaliterate learner access information in different modes, they create, “mix” and “mash-up” new content themselves. Mackey and Jacobson (2014, p. 22) suggests, “Our information literacy instructional practices must move beyond a search and retrieval mode to acknowledge the interactive social resources for creating original materials such as shared texts and hypertexts, tags, bookmarks, digital images and audio, multimedia and virtual worlds.”


Inaugurating A New Definition Of Literacy

The proposal to revisit and redefine literacy is evident and requires a look at complex issues. A first step toward adoption of a new term is understanding the importance of nomenclature with any field.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Personal Learning Network (PLN): A “go-to” network of online communities, colleagues or friends for help with strategies or tips (usually technology related). Also called a professional learning network.

Biliterate Brain: (Coined by Maryann Wolf) Developing a thinking process in both physical and digital realms.

Folksonomy: A system of classifying and organizing online content into different categories through metadata or electronic tagging created by users.

Metacognition: A personal awareness of one’s thought processes.

Digital Portfolio: A digital collection of student work and projects created over time.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT): The technologies, infrastructures, and components that enable networked computers and digital devices.

Taxonomy: A branch of science concerned with classification systems.

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