Theoretical and Practical Concerns Regarding Digital Texts in Literacy Instruction

Theoretical and Practical Concerns Regarding Digital Texts in Literacy Instruction

Lourdes H. Smith (College of Community Innovation and Education, University of Central Florida, USA) and Vassiliki I. Zygouris-Coe (College of Community Innovation and Education, University of Central Florida, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0246-4.ch004


The role of literacy and learning is easily incorporated into many areas of using technology in the classroom. The purpose of this book chapter is to share results from a research study that provides a framework for teachers to develop their knowledge about open educational resources (OERs) as digital texts for developing students' disciplinary and literacy knowledge. Specifically addressed is how participants expressed their knowledge and understanding about using OERs to support their students' online reading comprehension skills (i.e., questioning, locating, evaluating, synthesizing, and communicating), along with recommendations for preparing students to become 21st century literate.
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The ever-evolving digital technologies have created new vistas for teaching and learning and have also been responsible for the evolving nature of literacy in the 21st century. According to the International Literacy Association’s (2018) definition of literacy,

Literacy is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context. The ability to read, write, and communicate connects people to one another and empowers them to achieve things they never thought possible. Communication and connection are the basis of who we are and how we live together and interact with the world.

The new concept of literacy, often deemed the New Literacies, is considered multimodal, dynamic, deictic, and multifaceted as we consider how new technologies are created and generated (Baker, Pearson, & Rozendal, 2010; Karchmer-Klein & Shinas, 2012; Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, Castek, & Henry, 2013). Students require not only a change in the delivery of the content, but a change in the skills, strategies, and dispositions of the reader (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004). Leu asks, “Is someone who is 'digitally literate' equally literate when searching for information, when critically evaluating information, when using Snapchat, when using email, when using text messaging, when using Facebook, or when using any one of many different technologies for literacy and learning? I think not” (Heitin, 2016). With this in mind, and as technology, like social media, digital applications, digital environments, eTextbooks, and other types of media continues to grow, so does our view of what literacy instruction means today to educators.

Recent educational standards (e.g., Common Core State Standards (CCSS) (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers [NGA & CCSSO], 2010) and policies provide a focus on the importance of digital materials, digital literacies, and technology in 21st century teaching and learning. Specifically, the English Language Arts (ELA) Anchor Standards of the CCSS state that students should be able to integrate and evaluate information that uses media and other formats, including visual, quantitative, and audio while also making strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data. Although some see the focus on digital literacies and technology in the standards as a step in the right direction, others call for new curricula and pedagogies (Heitin, 2016).

Technology has become ubiquitous in almost every aspect of daily life. As a result, mobile and other forms of technology have been introduced in schools to support teaching and learning. Since the early 2000s, specific kinds of technological tools, digital texts, and Open Educational Resources (OERs), have been gaining much attention at the college and university level, with an increase in the use of digital textbooks and open course curriculum by professors and students in academic courses (Ross, 2015). Though initial interest focused on higher-education, states, school districts, and publishers have begun considering how best to support K-12 students with their content and literacy learning by using some of the same types of digital tools and applications (Ross, 2015). Both the 2017 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) and the 2010 National Broadband Plan advocate that the best of modern technology is needed in order to transform how teachers teach and how students learn.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Texts: electronic versions of a written text or words or images that make up that text. Accessing digital text can be done via computers, tablets, and other handheld devices like phones.

Multimodal Literacy: understanding the different ways of knowledge representations and meaning-making. This type of literacy focuses on using various modalities, (e.g., visual, aural, somatic), and considering the interaction and integration in constructing messages and meaning in text.

Digital Distraction: can occur when digital devices are used for activities unrelated to class time or work time. This often includes text messaging, emailing, web-surfing, using social media, and playing games.

New Literacies: new forms of literacy made possible by digital information and communications technologies (ICTs) and developments. These may include applications to use on mobile devices or the device themselves. It also references the technological and cognitive processes that are utilized when using ICTs.

Open Educational Resources (OERs): free, digital materials that are used for teaching, learning, and research that are found in the public domain or that are designated under an open license.

Online Reading Comprehension: encompasses the skills, strategies, and dispositions needed when using information and communications technology (ICT) to read multimodal texts online.

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