Thursday, June 11, 2015

New Literacies and Creativity are Intertwined: A Chapter 1 Response to Lankshear and Knobel


As a primer to UC Denver’s INTE 5340 Digital Storytelling course, I decided to take my professor’s advice and begin an early read of the course text New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Social Learning by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel.


When the book arrived three weeks ago I was intrigued to see a cover with what looks like web interfaces and digital icons for different social media platforms. I can honestly say that I could only identify half of the icons on the cover and only regularly use a couple of the platforms. I didn’t have a Twitter account until a couple of weeks ago and I have only used Facebook for a year. Never the less, I was excited to learn about these ‘new literacies’ and perhaps face the fact that in terms of literacy, in this context, I am in some ways ‘illiterate.’

In conjunction with the course text for course work in INTE 5340, students focused on a theme of one’s choosing based on personal interest. As an instructor in a visual art related field, and a person that sees the world through the lens of a visual artist and educator, I chose to focus on ‘the importance of creative arts in education.’ My scholarship in this area is limited but my participation and inquisition to the subject at hand is somewhat broad. In the past I’ve been an art history tutor, and an artist in residence in my local library, and currently a teacher of design and drawing for nearly three years. I got the opportunity to, in many ways, see the issues directly through interactions with students and have the chance to make an impact in this area of interest.

Because of this interest, I was drawn to the works of Sir Ken Robinson, a thought leader and prolific writer of educational works that focus on creativity and education. After reading the first chapter in “New Literacies” I was reminded of Ken Robinson’s TED talk: How Schools Kill Creativity because Ken mentions literacy and creativity in the lecture. Although I do not believe Ken meant to describe literacy as ‘new literacies’ at the time, I believe current discussions of literacy in education reform must include these new literacies to adequately describe literacy as a sociocultural concept. Therefore, I synthesised the ideas of creativity as Ken Robinson described it and literacy with the response to the first chapter in “New Literacies.” I believe 'new literacies' and creativity are intertwined and inseparable.

Chapter 1 Response

Chapter one, in review, was very important for setting the stage for the concept of literacy in a historical context. I deduced in order to better comprehend what was described as ‘new literacies,’ one must first understand the classic sense of literacy, how the concept developed, and how literacy is part of social structures. Lankshear and Knobel provided many examples from around the world, mainly Britain, USA, Canada, and New Zealand but he also mentioned the work of Paulo Freire who was influential in the establishment of literacy as a sociocultural theory (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 7). It is noteworthy to mention Freire’s “praxis of reflection and action,” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 6) which in turn has the potential to bring about social change through “knowing the world better: more ‘deeply’ and ‘critically’,” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 5). This may be compared to the current practice of digital storytelling courses, such as DS106, by exploring the many examples of critical consumption, creation, and dissemination of knowledge present in the works of the participators. In other words, DS106 serves as a means to become ‘literate’ in ‘new literacies.’ However, somewhat beyond the scope of DS106 are the essential tools to make quality contributions to the practices of digital storytelling courses which roots draw from creative arts and technology. For example, if one does not know how to effectively manipulate drawings in digital software how can one deliver an effective digital drawing assignment that can be consumed and has meaning and value? Essentially, to champion the efforts of ‘new literacies’ society must place high value in integrating creativity and arts education from K-12 through higher education instead of ‘killing it’ as Ken Robinson refers to in “How Schools Kill Creativity.”

In addition to acknowledging the power of literacy to bring about social change, it is critical to note, according to Lankshear and Knobel, “To participate effectively and productively in any literate practice, people must be socialized into it. But if individuals are socialized into a social practice without realizing that it is socially constructed and selective, and that it can be acted on and transformed, they cannot play an active role in changing it,” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p.18). As a society that is ultimately responsible for how K-12 students are socialized in education, since the young students would most likely be unaware of being socialized, it is important to encourage activities and creative expression that contributes to the socialization of ‘new literacies.’ In Ken Robinson’s point of view, students may actually be discouraged from creative practices that relate to being engaged in creativity, and thus, the means necessary to engage effectively in ‘new literacies.’

“The thing they were good at in school wasn’t valued or was actually stigmatized. And I think that we can’t afford to go on that way.” Robinson, K. (2006, Feb). How Schools kill creativity.

Furthermore, it should be expected that higher ed students contribute powerful and meaningful ideas that have value. As this has been the historical tradition of higher education and is part of our culture and society. If the future of ‘literacy’ is ‘new literacies’ how can we as a society expect college level students to be ‘literate’ when there may be a lack of deliberate and encouraging socialization into ‘new literacies’?

The final lasting notes from Lankshear and Knobel in chapter one define ‘new literacies’ as two main concepts: ‘paradigmatic’ and ‘ontological’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 27). The paradigmatic approach is concerned with literacy as a ‘social phenomenon’ rather than previously established ‘psycholinguistics’ understanding (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 27). Where as an ontological concept would involve social practices that include new technologies. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 28). I found that these terms adequately describe two key facets of ‘new literacies’ and they encapsulate what was described in chapter one. As I begin to develop concepts in ‘new literacies’ I will recollect these terms to describe ways in which ‘new literacies’ are being expressed.

As I look forward to a deeper understanding of ‘new literacies,’ as described by Lankshear and Knobel in the following chapters, I hope to develop a broader sense of humanity or understand new concepts in ‘human ecology.’ As Sir Ken Robinson would put it:

“I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of richness of human capacity.” Robinson, K. (2006, Feb). How Schools kill creativity.


New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Social Learning Third Edition by Colin Lankshear and Michele Nobel. McGraw-Hill Education 2011.

Robinson, K. (2006, Feb). How Schools kill creativity.