Digital Literacies for Learning. Edited by Allan Martin and D. Madigan, Facet Publishing, 2006, ISBN 978-1856045636, 304 pages.
In the changing, and increasingly digital world, learners and teachers are more and more subject to information overload and the noise this generates. Teachers must cope with larger cohorts and more disparate communities. Increasingly, information communication technologies are being used to address these issues and it becomes clear that new skills are required to operate effectively in the learning environment.
In Digital Literacies for Learning, editors Allan Martin and Dan Madigan set out to show in Part One how emerging (digital) learning environments require learners and teachers to develop new skills. Starting from a generalised definition of 'literacy' Chapter One shows how a number of 'literacies' are required to ensure rich, fulfilling and effective learning in this digital world.
Subsequent chapters in Part One go on to explore the new literacies further, develop arguments that suggest institutions should start investing in developing these literacies and putting them into the context of the changing learning landscape. Interestingly the discussion is balanced between the need to develop hard (computer) skills and soft (communication) skills. For Information Communication Technology to succeed, it seems there is a requirement for learners and teachers to learn how to communicate effectively, without regard for the communication medium. This is refreshing discussion and suggests that this book is not just for the technically minded - it is also a social study and provides ammunition for those trying to develop e-learning skills in institutions.
Just as you are starting to share the enthusiasm for the need for new literacies, starting to enjoy the arguments and realising how they may be used as part of your day-to-day work, the book changes tack, throwing you into Part Two. The second half of the book presents real examples of how new literacies are being developed across the globe, from Antigua to Hong Kong via Milton Keynes. (This alone is enough to make you think about the way the learning environment - and the world - has changed). A complete breakdown of the work's chapters is listed below.
A thread that runs through the latter part of the book is the potential for 'inclusion' brought through the use of information and communication technology in e-learning. Like the World Wide Web, electronic learning environments have the potential to reach geographically diverse participants, building multi-cultural, single interest communities, and taking first class education (and the institutions that created them) not just to the four corners of the globe but to the people just down the road who never dreamt of studying before - supporting and enabling life-long learning.
But, of course, to realise this potential, learners need the skills to exploit the technology, which brings the book full circle, and the reader is reminded of (and may want to explore again) Part One.
As with all 'reader' style books, while the essays included in Digital Literacies for Learning cover broadly the same ground, if you read the book cover to cover, it can feel a little disjointed. For example, you cannot help but notice repetition in some of the chapters of Part One - in the definition of literacy; or discrepancy in these definitions. Reading the book as a coherent whole, this jars. The writing styles vary significantly and some chapters are weaker than others. Sometimes the jumps are refreshing, sometimes they can be disconcerting and I couldn't help thinking that the book would have benefited from an epilogue, pulling things together. That said, the book works without it and the introductory chapters go some way to providing the necessary conceptual glue.
While only briefly mentioning the potentially significant development of what are called Web 2.0 technologies, the book does not feel out of date, which is quite remarkable for a book in this field. I feel this is because the literacies remain more constant than the technologies. I had one minor gripe: the citation style (and this is probably because it is not what I'm used to). While most chapters have comprehensive references and further reading - providing opportunies to explore the subjects in greater depth, or read more on the projects presented, usually through their Web sites - sometimes it is hard to link the reference to the body text of the chapter.
In conclusion, Digital Literacies for Learning challenges the reader to reflect on the way in which the world is changing. Not only is the reader asked to consider that we may well be on the edge of a pedagogical paradigm shift and what that means for the educational institutions we serve, but also how emerging technologies are creating new, geographically disparate, communities, creating challenges for learners and teachers alike. The work shows that this provides incredible opportunities to share knowledge, anecdote and experience, creating a richer learning environment, but only if (and it is a big 'if') learners and teachers are given the skills and incentives to embrace these new learning technologies. To be literate, it seems, requires so much more than it used to.