The Appification of Literacy

The Appification of Literacy

David Gerard O'Brien (University of Minnesota, USA) and Megan McDonald Van Deventer (University of Minnesota, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8310-5.ch017
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Appification represents the rapid movement of digital tools and media from a Web-based platform to mobile apps. While appification makes the former Web-based tools and apps more accessible, and improves users' quality of life, it also undermines traditional literacy skills and practices associated with print literacies. After defining appification and presenting examples, the chapter explores how appification impacts literacy in the broader society and critiques how schools, via standards, are adapting to the broader appification. Apps and appification play a significant role in changing globally what is meant by literacy. Yet, in the US, schools and educational policy are not keeping up with the rapid transition. Although schools are increasingly embracing the idea of apps and portable devices like tablets, there is little systematic connection between using the new technologies in schools and improving literacy required to be proficient in the app-o-verse.
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Succinct Review Of Research: The Future Of Literacy In An App-Centered World

Because of apps and the way they package and define digital media and literacy, new literacy practices are emerging that engender new kinds of literate engagement and new competencies (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, Castek, & Henry, 2013). Children, youth, and adults all benefit from these new media via apps, but usually to the detriment of some time-honored print-centric practices at the heart of our learning and a significant part of the essence human culture. We continue to explore these positive and negative affordances below, by first framing the discussion with cybernetics and the networking of humans.

Peter F. Hamilton (2012) in the book Great North Road constructs a future world that many critics say is a believable view of our possible future relationship to digital technologies and apps in about 130 years. In that future world, the emerging Internet of things has morphed into a world in which we are the things—we all have nodes, or IP address-like connections. These private Electronic Identities (EIs) link us to the net and our body meshes, retinal sensors, and processors are all part of the network. We can share our perceptual data to communicate with others instantaneously. Although we still have identities outside of the net and make the usual sentient decisions to use various technologies, the ecosystem is a collective of experiences and digital data streams that connect everyone.

In Great North Road, the EI is the central app that controls and monitors other apps, but apps are part of our identities, a bioelectronics connection to the world. Granted, any view of life in the future is limited by the restriction of how we envision possibilities grounded in both our current experiences and where we have been in our relationship to technologies. But Hamilton’s world is a viable outcome of the current trajectory of apps and connectivity. We explore this further with a focus on the present.

Aside from the role of apps in organizing and proliferating media consumption overall, apps have replaced or automated countless tasks ranging from reading a children's book to organizing a grocery list, to controlling and monitoring home security systems and appliances, to checking one’s biometrics related to life style. As apps have automated tasks and afforded more “efficiency” in our daily lives they have also replaced many other digital spaces—mostly Web sites where we used to go to read to get static content. Apps are replacing larger pieces of digital real estate that included lots of print on relatively large screens, to less print on small screens and replacing the functionality of those web pages with other modalities more suited to small screens—or, they are replacing linguistic information with icons.

Apple Watch, mentioned previously, is the most extreme example of shrinking digital viewing space. The Internet of things, and, most recently what Elgan (2015) calls the Internet of Self, specifically the Quantified Self, fully eliminate linguistic modes and language in communication. For example, Elgan notes that each day we render lots of biometric data, and apps use biometric sensors to compile data like blood pressure, heart rate, skin surface temperature, respiratory patterns and even sleep patterns. The analyses of these Quantified Self data by software within apps provides information about health and life styles But the compelling point Elgan makes, an assertion that is the remarkably similar to the EI in Great North Road, is that Quantified Self data can be used to command the objects in the Internet of Things directly. In short, apps provide an interface for people to communicate directly with things based on our biometrically indicated states and needs. An app that works with a biometric monitor knows when you are waking and turns on the light next to your bedside. The next step in the Internet of things, with us as things, is networked bio-electronic communication among humans that bypasses traditional written and oral language.

Key Terms in this Chapter

App-o-Verse: A reference to the digital world in which an increasing use of apps will replace Websites.

Multimodality: A reference to the use of various ways to construct and communicate using print, visual, auditory, or even performance modes in combinations. Although the term if often associated with digital modes, it has also been used to distinguish between print and other visual modes that appear in genres like graphic novels.

Common Core State Standards: A set of standard constructed by representatives of states, via the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) including governors and state commissioners of education. The standards are intended to provide more consistency across the US states in education standards.

Portable Texts: A document that previously took the form of a printed stack of pages that is now in a digital format an digitally transportable. For example a portable document file (pdf) is an image of a print document that could be easily transported to other formats and across digital space. An equally important affordance of these documents is that you can continue to change the document, edit it, embellish it, insert queries into it, annotate it and then send it on. The portable text is evolving as it “travels.”

Appification: The replacement of Websites and Web pages with programs that run on mobile operating systems and mobile devises. With appification instead of the Web being a user’s primary user interface, it becomes an underlying service layer for apps, which become the new user interface.

Digital Literacies: The literacy practices needed to be successful in working with digital tools and in digital spaces, including reading and writing digital texts, understanding how to understand and use online information, and use apps.

APP: A program that runs on a mobile device or interfaces a Web site to a mobile device. Native apps are programs that run on a mobile device’s operating system and reside there. Web apps are Internet-enabled apps that are on mobile devices but can also be accessed via a mobile device or computer browser.

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