Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy


In this issue: Literacies for Today

Literacies for Today Photo by Jim Ziv

SESP professors and alumni examine learning with today's new media, including digital tools and graphic stories. Learning with comics is a research focus for associate professor David Rapp, who works with student researchers including Max Sutton-Smolin (right). Alumna Camillia Matuk (PhD10) studied student understanding of the World of Viruses educational comics series represented on the cover.

Penelope Peterson

Dear Friends,

Last November we inaugurated our new Baldwin Learning Studio, made possible by a generous gift from alumna Eleanor R. Baldwin. This Learning Studio is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, featuring a 20-foot high-resolution video wall, which allows teaching and learning in a live media-rich context with learning materials from multiple sources at once. These sources include, but are not limited to, the web, cell phones, iPads and laptops, and these media streams may come from both local and remote sites at the same time. This new media-rich environment supports significant interaction among students and teachers and affords opportunities for using and developing new literacies above and beyond the three "Rs" that all of us learned in school.

These kinds of media with which learners now interact continuously call into question our conventional narrow definition of literacy. In a recent 2011 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, researchers found that in a typical day kids from ages 8 to 18 spend 7.5 hours using various media, including cell phones, computers, TV, video games, movies and print. While literacy traditionally has been defined in terms of ability with reading and writing text, today we need a new definition — to encompass not only reading and writing in the traditional textual sense but also facility with different types of visual, audio and computational media and understanding of today's critical issues.

These literacies bring many benefits and offer many opportunities, as you'll discover in this issue of Inquiry. Learning Sciences faculty members Bruce Sherin, Uri Wilensky, Mike Horn and Matt Easterday argue that "computational literacy" will be indispensable for learners of the future. Eva Lam explains how web sites and social networking sites promote online literacy and multilingual learning. Comic books and graphic stories can foster reading and comprehension skills, as we see in the work of faculty member David Rapp. Digital narrative skills help develop identity and self-discovery, as evidenced by alumna Erica Halverson's projects applying the work of professor Dan McAdams. Combining media "languages" gives graduate student Patrick Squire an edge in getting meaning across, and alumna Tiffany Simon Chan's original spin on ecoliteracy can aid in building a more sustainable world. As you read each of these stories, I'd be interested in your response to the issues raised about learning and development.

Today's college freshmen were born five years after the advent of the Apple computer, and today's first graders are growing up in a world where smartphones, web sites, social networking and multimedia are ubiquitous — and an explosion of new media tools is still to come. What a rich environment we have for developing new literacies and using these new literacies to enrich learning! Join us in exploring innovative ways to harness today's literacies for improved learning.

Sincerely yours,

Penelope Signature
Penelope L. Peterson, Dean