Designing Online Learning for Multiple Literacies: Part 1 of 2

dan_photoDr. Dan Melzer, Associate Professor of Writing at California State University-Sacramento, joined us for a bonus DOLCE meeting at the end of January. Run more like a workshop than a lecture, I walked away with not only a strong understanding of why online learning and multiple literacies are compatible, but also with a few clear strategies for implementing this philosophy in my classroom.

To give a brief overview, Melzer draws from the New London Group’s pedagogy of multiliteracies to argue for “linguistic pluralism,” which redefines literacy as reading and composing not just print texts but also digital texts that include other communication modes like audio and visual. And it is not just about multimedia—multiliteracies acknowledges that there are multiple languages and multiple Englishes. The Standard English used for Academic Writing is not the same language used in civic or popular discourse. To put it another way, students operate in multiple “lifeworlds”—they have a school world, a workplace world, and a personal world, and each of those worlds require different literacies. Multiliteracy advocates argue that rather than give students a template for one Standard Language, we should teach them to move between languages, between modes, between literacies.

It is not surprising that replacing single-mode composition with multimodal forms of composing makes some people anxious. How do we teach students to write in these multiple modes, and even if we do teach them to do it, how do we assess it? Will it prepare them to write research papers in college, which other professors are sure to assign? Are we still teaching “writing”?

In response to these anxieties, Melzer asked us to list all of the kinds of composing we did over winter writing and typingbreak. We named email, text message, pinterest, Facebook, Word, making notes in the margins of books, and using online “to do list” software. Then he described his own composing as an academic scholar—to compose for a print journal article, he uses various online resources to conduct research, email, Track Changes in Word, and online collaborative tools. Melzer’s point is that we practice multiliteracy in our professional and personal lives. This is not in the future; it is the way people are composing in the present. It is happening now. So we may be anxious about it, but that shouldn’t stop us from moving forward.

Furthermore, teaching multilitearcies does not mean you are replacing one literacy with another. You are simply giving students the rhetorical ability to operate in a pluralistic society where there all kinds of composing and communicating tasks are expected.

So how do you do this in practice? I’ll give you specific details and links in part two.

You can also watch the video of the meeting, and participate by following along on the Designing Online Learning for Multiple Literacies Handout.

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