New Literacies in New Times: A Multimodal Approach to Literacy Learning

New Literacies in New Times: A Multimodal Approach to Literacy Learning

Hsiu-Ting Hung (National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology, R.O.C.)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-788-1.ch018


The focus of the chapter is two-fold: on one hand, it seeks theoretical understanding of literacy as social practice; on the other hand, it explores how emerging technologies afford and transcend the practice of literacy in social interaction. The chapter begins with a re-conceptualization of literacy from the perspective of New Literacies Studies and outlines key principles pertaining to the plural notion of literacy to provide a theoretical context for the discussion of a multimodal approach to literacy learning. The chapter then links the development of the emerging literacy approach with the advent of technology to explore new possibilities in language and literacy classrooms. Vignettes of emerging technologies, more specifically, social networking services are also presented to demonstrate possible pedagogic uses of multimodal resources in education. The chapter concludes with directions for future literacy research, promoting a multimodal approach to learning that attends to teaching and learning with emerging technologies.
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Background: “Old Literacy” To “New Literacies”

A commonly held dictionary definition of literacy is the ability to read and write. This traditional view of literacy is usually referred to as functional literacy that involves these two basic skill requirements. Literacy researchers generally adopt this view in assessing and reporting literacy statistics on a national scale. It is probably for this reason that for decades literacy practitioners in school settings have predominantly emphasized understanding and producing print-based texts. In recent years, New Literacies Studies (hereafter, NLS) emerged as a developing framework with the social turn movement in education (Gee, 2000). It builds upon a wide range of perspectives from sociology, educational psychology, applied linguistics, and cultural anthropology to illustrate the social nature of literacy and its interplay with social contexts. The use of the adjective “new” is purposeful with NLS researchers’ intention to emphasize its differences from early literacy studies. At the risk of oversimplification, “old” literacy is used in this chapter to generally refer to the conventional view centering on reading and writing as fundamental skills necessary to function in society – the dominant view in the field of literacy research prior to the rise of NLS.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multimodal Literacy: The competence to make sense of multiple modes of representational and communicational resources (e.g., text, image, sound, and video) which are mostly realized by digital technology.

Flickr: A Web 2.0 tool, lunched in 2004, which provides photo-sharing, social networking service (

Web 2.0: A term invented by Tim O’Reilly in 2005 and later refined to refer to the read-write web or web-based services that utilize the Internet as platform.

Social Networking Services: Web-based services that allow for building and expanding people’s social networks through a variety of interactional means, such as file sharing, instant messaging, discussion posting, blogging, and so on.

New Literacies Studies: A“new” line of research that has been developed into a framework for contemporary literacy studies with the social turn movement in education. The use of the adjective “new” is purposeful with the researchers’ intention to emphasize its differences from early literacy studies.

YouTube: A Web 2.0 tool, funded in 2005, which provides video-sharing, social networking service (

Literacy: The competence that conventionally refers to fundamental skills centering on reading and writing but such a view is currently challenged with the rise of recent literacy studies.

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