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Vol 39  No 6
Nov. 23, 2006


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Bridging the gap: new vs. traditional literacies

by Kristine Hamlyn

Memorial University hosted the first new literacies workshop last month. Invitees from across Canada and various international locations participated in Researching New Literacies: Consolidating Knowledge and Defining New Directions, which was supported by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE).

“Schools, teachers and departments of education worldwide are trying to figure out how they should incorporate new literacies, i.e. the kinds of skills children have or might acquire due to the use of new technology, into curriculum,” said Dr. Roberta Hammett, associate dean for graduate programs at Memorial’s Faculty of Education and co-host for the conference. “There is a divide between traditional school literacies, which are mostly print based, and digital literacies, which involve the use of the Internet, gaming, e-mail, etc. One of our goals is to find out how that divide might be bridged for the benefit of education.”

Dr. Hammett said the conference’s purpose was to explore recent research; define themes, establish future research agendas and potential collaborations; and develop a cohesive scholarly community to generate and disseminate research in this important field.

Dr. Hammett believes new literacies most definitely present a challenge for schools due to the fact that today’s students are more familiar with web and computer-based environments. She said, in school they are not given the same opportunity to think about the use of digital technology as they are with print literacies such as genre characteristics or the meaning behind a specific use of language.

Dr. Guy Merchant of Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K. was one of two keynote speakers at the conference. He said that “in a world in which there is much talk about the blurring of boundaries, we should begin to think in more creative ways about defining new spaces in and out of educational settings that allow for exploration of popular digital literacies in the belief that this is where the most powerful learning occurs and where, as it happens, digital practices seem to flourish.”

The conference invitees plan to continue discussions electronically over the coming months. The result will be a first-of-its-kind electronic journal exploring how to bridge the gaps identified between traditional and new literacies, followed by a book focused on the newly emerging topic.

More information about the conference including a list of participants, presentations, discussion topics and papers can be found at www.mun.ca/educ/newliteracies.

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