Moving targets

Online literacy is currently a moving target. Whenever a new online communication tool emerges, it seems that those who study it attempt to re-define literacy practice in terms of the new tool’s features…for example, engagement, participation, dynamic content, data filtering, hyperlinks. True, a moving target is hard to study, but if we know a little about targets and a little about motion, we have a starting point. When I first started my study, I tried to compose a definition of literacy, based on the literature I read. I cast a broad net and studied perspectives from library science, communication, education, educational technology, composition, media studies, computer science, psychology, art, new media, sociology, even geography. What I realized is there are things we know about literacy and how to study it that transcend the medium. We know that learning can be measured using established retention and transfer tests. We also know that literacy practices can be studied using think aloud protocols and writing assessments. While these methods are neither infallible nor comprehensive, they provide a starting point to anchor the target and to understand what it is we’re aiming at. The next step is to test these measures in preliminary experiments by first narrowing the type of literacy practice we wish to study and then leveraging the combined strength of quantitative and qualitative approaches.

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