New Media and New Literacies: Reconstructing Education for the New Millennium

Douglas Kellner. Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs. Editor: Leah A Lievrouw & Sonia Livingstone. Sage Publications. 2002.

As we enter a new millennium, most people are by now aware that we are in the midst of one of the most dramatic technological revolutions in history which is changing everything about the ways that we work, communicate and spend our leisure time. The technological revolution centres on computer, information, communication and multimedia technologies, is often interpreted as the beginnings of a knowledge or information society, and therefore ascribes education a central role in every aspect of life. This great transformation poses tremendous challenges to educators to rethink their basic tenets, to deploy the media in creative and productive ways, and to restructure schooling to respond constructively and progressively to the technological and social changes that we are now experiencing.

At the same time that we are undergoing technological revolution, important demographic and sociopolitical changes are occurring in the United States and throughout the world. Emigration patterns have brought an explosion of new peoples into the US in recent decades and the country is now more racially and ethnically diverse, more multicultural, than ever before. This creates the challenge of providing people from diverse races, classes and backgrounds with the tools and competencies to enable them to succeed and participate in an ever more complex and changing world.

In this chapter, I argue that we need multiple literacies for our multicultural society, that we need to develop new literacies to meet the challenge of new media and technologies, and that literacies of diverse sorts—including a more fundamental importance for print literacy—are of crucial importance in restructuring education for a high-tech and multicultural society and global culture. My argument is that in a period of dramatic technological and social change, education needs to cultivate a variety of new types of literacies to make it relevant to the demands of a new millennium. My assumptions are that media are altering every aspect of our society and culture, and that we need to comprehend and make use of them both to understand and to transform our worlds. My goal would be to introduce new literacies to empower individuals and groups traditionally excluded and thus to reconstruct education to make it more responsive to the challenges of a democratic and multicultural society.

Technology and the Restructuring of Education

To dramatize the issues at stake, we should seriously consider the claim that we are now undergoing one of the most significant technological revolutions for education since the progression from oral to print-and book-based teaching. Just as the transition to print literacy and book culture involved a dramatic transformation of education, as Marshall McLuhan (1962; 1964), Walter Ong (1988) and others have argued, so too does the current technological revolution demand a major restructuring of education today with new curricula, pedagogy, literacies, practices and goals. Furthermore, the technological revolution of the present era makes possible the radical reconstruction and restructuring of education and society argued for in the progressive era by Dewey and in the 1960s and 1970s by Ivan Illich, Paolo Freire and others who sought radical educational and social reform.

Put in historical perspective, it is now possible to see modern education as preparation for industrial civilization and minimal citizenship in a passive representative democracy. The demands of the new global economy, culture and polity require a more informed, participatory and active citizenship, and thus increased roles and challenges for education. Modern education, in short, emphasizes submission to authority, rote memorization and what Freire called the ‘banking concept’ of education in which learned teachers deposit knowledge into passive students, inculcating conformity, subordination and normalization. These traits are becoming obsolete in a global post-industrial and networked society with its demands for new skills for the workplace, participation in new social and political environment, and interaction within novel forms of culture and everyday life.

In short, I wish to argue that the technological revolution renders necessary the sort of thorough restructuring of education that radicals demanded during the last century, indeed back to the Enlightenment if one includes Rousseau and Wollstonecraft who saw the enlightened restructuring of education as the key to democracy. Today, however, intense pressures for change now come directly from technology and the economy and not ideology or educational reformist ideas, with a new global economy and new technologies demanding new skills, competencies, literacies and practices. While this technological revolution has highly ambiguous effects—that I’ll note in this study—it provides educational reformers with the challenge of whether education will be restructured to promote democracy and human needs, or whether education will be transformed primarily to serve the needs of business and the global economy.

It is therefore a burning question what sort of restructuring will take place, in whose interests, and for what ends. Indeed, more than ever we need philosophical reflection on the ends and purposes of education, on what we are doing and trying to achieve in our educational practices and institutions. In this situation, it may be instructive to return to Dewey and see the connections between education and democracy, the need for the reconstruction of education and society, and the value of experimental pedagogy to seek solutions to the problems of education in the present day. Hence, a progressive reconstruction of education will urge that it be done in the interests of democratization, ensuring access to new media and technologies for all, helping to overcome the so-called digital divide and divisions of the haves and have nots, so that education is placed à la Dewey (1997 [1916]) and Freire (1972; 1998) in the service of democracy and social justice.

Yet we should be more aware than Dewey of the obduracy of divisions of class, gender and race, and work self-consciously for multicultural democracy and education. This task suggests that we valorize difference and cultural specificity, as well as equality and shared universal Deweyan proper values such as freedom, equality, individualism and participation. Theorizing a democratic and multicultural reconstruction of education thus forces us to confront the digital divide: that there are divisions between information and technology have and have nots, just as there are class, gender and race divisions in every sphere of the existing constellations of society and culture. The latest surveys of the digital divide, however, indicate that the key indicators are class and education and not race and gender: hence the often circulated argument that new media and technologies merely reinforce the hegemony of upper-class white males must be questioned.

With the proper resources, policies, pedagogies and practices, we can, I believe, work to reduce the (unfortunately growing) gap between haves and have nots, although I want to make clear that I do not believe that technology alone will suffice to democratize and adequately reconstruct education. That is, technology itself does not necessarily improve teaching and learning, and will certainly not of itself overcome acute socioeconomic divisions. Indeed, without proper resources, pedagogy and educational practices, technology might be an obstacle or burden to genuine learning and will probably increase rather than overcome existing divisions of power, cultural capital and wealth.

Studies of the implementation of technology in schools reveal that without adequate teaching training and technology policy, the results of introducing computers and new media into education are highly ambiguous. During the rest of this chapter, I want to focus on the role of computers and information technology in contemporary education and the need for new pedagogies and an expanded concept of literacy to respond to the importance of new media and technologies in every aspect of life. My goal will be to propose some ways that new media and new literacies can serve as efficacious learning tools which will contribute to producing a more democratic and egalitarian society and not just providing skills and tools to privileged individuals and groups that will improve their cultural capital and social power at the expense of others. How, indeed, are we going to restructure education to provide individuals and groups with the tools, the competencies, the literacies to overcome the class, gender and racial divides that bifurcate our society and, at least in terms of economic indicators, seem to be growing rather than diminishing?

Before taking on this challenge we must address the technophobic argument against new media and technologies per se. I have been developing what I call a critical theory of technology which criticizes uses or types of technology as tools of domination; rejects the hype and pretensions of new media and technologies; sees the limitations of pedagogy and educational proposals based primarily on technology without adequate emphasis on pedagogy and on teacher and student empowerment; insists on developing educational reform and restructuring to promote multicultural democracy; and calls for appropriate restructuring of technology to democratize education and society. Yet a critical theory of media and technology also sees how they can be used, and perhaps redesigned and restructured, for positive purposes such as enhancing education and democracy and overcoming the divide between haves and have nots, while enabling individuals to democratically and creatively participate in a new economy, society and culture.

Hence, a critical theory of technology avoids both technophobia and technophilia. It rejects technological determinism, and is critical of the limitations, biases and downsides of new media and technologies, but wants to use and redesign these tools in the interests of education for democracy and social reconstruction in the promotion of social justice. It is also, in the Deweyan spirit, pragmatic and experimental, recognizing that there is no agreed way to deploy new technologies for enhancing education and democratization. Thus, we must be prepared to accept that some of the attempts to use technology for education may well fail, as have no doubt many of our own attempts to use new media and technologies for education. A critical theory of technology is aware that media and technologies have unforeseen consequences and that good intentions and seemingly good projects may have results that were neither desired nor positive. However, such is life, and it is now a time to be daring and innovative and not conservative and stodgy in our rethinking of education and the use of new media and technologies in educational practices and pedagogies.

Consequently, the question is not whether computers are good or bad in the classroom or more broadly for education. Rather, it is a question of what to do with them: what useful purposes can computers serve, what sort of skills do students and teachers need to effectively deploy new media, computers and information technology, what sort of effects might they have on learning, and what new literacies, views of education and social relations do we need to democratize and improve education today?

Education and Literacy

Both traditionalists and reformists would probably agree that education and literacy are intimately connected. ‘Literacy’ in my conception comprises gaining competencies in effectively using socially constructed forms of communication and representation. Learning literacies involves attaining competencies in practices in contexts that are governed by rules and conventions. Literacies are socially constructed in educational and cultural practices and involved in various institutional discourses and practices. Literacies evolve and shift in response to social and cultural change and to the interests of the elites who control hegemonic institutions.

Literacy thus involves gaining the skills and knowledge to read and interpret the text of the world and to successfully navigate and negotiate its challenges, conflicts and crises. Literacy is thus a necessary condition to equip people to participate in the local, national and global economy, culture and polity. As Dewey (1997 [1916]) argued, education is necessary to enable people to participate in democracy, and thus, without an educated, informed and literate citizenry, a robust democracy is impossible. Moreover, there are crucial links between literacy, democracy, empowerment and participation, and without developing adequate literacies the differences between haves and have nots cannot be overcome and individuals and groups will be left out of the emerging economy, networked society and culture.

To accompany reading, writing and traditional print literacies, one could argue that in an era of technological revolution and new media we need to develop new forms of media literacy, computer literacy and multimedia literacies that I and others call by the covering concept of ‘multiliteracies’ or ‘multiple literacies’. New media and cultural forms demand novel skills and competencies, and if education is to be relevant to the problems and challenges of contemporary life it must expand the concept of literacy and develop new curricula and pedagogies.

I would resist, however, extreme claims that the era of the book and print literacy are over. Although there are discontinuities and novelties in the current constellation, there are also important continuities. Indeed, one could argue that in the new information-communication technology environment, traditional print literacy takes on increasing importance in the computer mediated cyberworld precisely because one needs to critically scrutinize and scroll tremendous amounts of information, putting new emphasis on developing reading and writing abilities. For instance, Internet discussion groups, chat rooms, e-mail and various forums require writing skills in which a new emphasis on the importance of clarity and precision is emerging as communications proliferate. In this context of information saturation, it becomes an ethical imperative not to contribute to cultural and information overload, and to communicate concisely one’s thoughts and feelings.

Media Literacy: An Unfulfilled Challenge

In the new multimedia environment, media literacy is arguably more important than ever. Cultural studies and critical pedagogy have begun to teach us to recognize the ubiquity of media culture in contemporary society, the growing trends toward multicultural education, and the need for media literacy that addresses the issue of multicultural and social difference.  There is expanding recognition that media representations help construct our images and understanding of the world and that education must meet the dual challenges of teaching media literacy in a multicultural society and sensitizing students and publics to the inequities and injustices of a society based on gender, race and class inequalities and discrimination. Recent critical studies see the role of mainstream media in exacerbating or diminishing these inequalities and the ways that media education and the production of alternative media can help create a healthy multiculturalism of diversity and more robust democracy. They thus confront some of the most serious difficulties and problems that face us as educators and citizens at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Yet despite the ubiquity of media culture in contemporary society and everyday life, although it is widely recognized that the media themselves are a form of pedagogy, and despite copious criticisms of the distorted values, ideals and representations of the world in media culture, media education in K–12 schooling has never really been established and developed. The current technological revolution, however, brings to the fore more than ever the role of media such as television, popular music, film and advertising, as the Internet rapidly absorbs these cultural forms and creates new cyberspaces and forms of culture and pedagogy. It is highly irresponsible in the face of saturation by Internet and media culture to ignore these forms of socialization and education; consequently a critical reconstruction of education should produce pedagogies that provide media literacy and enable students, teachers and citizens to discern the nature and effects of media culture.

Media culture teaches proper and improper behaviour, gender roles, values and knowledge of the world. One is often not aware that one is being educated and constructed by media culture; thus its pedagogy is often invisible and subliminal, calling for critical approaches that make us aware of how media construct meanings, influence and educate audiences, and impose their messages and values. A media-literate person is skilful in analysing media codes and conventions, able to criticize stereotypes, values and ideologies, and competent to interpret the multiple meanings and messages generated by media texts. Media literacy thus helps people to use media intelligently, to discriminate and evaluate media content, to dissect media forms critically, and to investigate media effects and uses (see Kellner, 1995a; 1995b).

Yet within educational circles, there is a debate over what constitutes the field of media pedagogy, with different agendas and programmes. A traditional ‘protectionist’ approach would attempt to ‘inoculate’ young people against the effects of media addiction and manipulation by cultivating a taste for book literacy, high culture and the values of truth, beauty and justice, and by denigrating all forms of media and computer culture. Neil Postman in his books Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) and Technopolis (1992) exemplifies this approach. A ‘media literacy’ movement, by contrast, attempts to teach students to read, analyse and decode media texts, in a fashion parallel to the advancement of print literacy. Media arts education in turn teaches students to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of media and to use various media technologies as instruments of self-expression and creation. Critical media literacy, in my conception, builds on these approaches, analysing media culture as products of social production and struggle, and teaching students to be critical of media representations and discourses, but also stressing the importance of learning to use the media as modes of self-expression and social activism.

Developing critical media literacy and pedagogy also involves perceiving how media such as film or video can be used positively to teach a wide range of topics, like multicultural understanding and education. If, for example, multicultural education is to champion genuine diversity and expand the curriculum, it is important both for groups excluded from mainstream education to learn about their own heritage and for dominant groups to explore the experiences and voices of minority and excluded groups. Thus, media literacy can promote multicultural literacy, conceived as understanding and engaging the heterogeneity of cultures and subcultures that constitute an increasingly global and multicultural world.

Critical media literacy not only teaches students to learn from media, to resist media manipulation, and to use media materials in constructive ways, but is also concerned with developing skills that will help create good citizens and that will make them more motivated and competent participants in social life. Critical media literacy is thus tied to the project of radical democracy and concerned to develop skills that will enhance democratization and participation. Critical media literacy takes a comprehensive approach that would teach critical skills and how to use media as instruments of social communication and change. The technologies of communication are becoming more and more accessible to young people and average citizens, and can be used to promote education, democratic self-expression and social progress. Thus, technologies that could help produce the end of participatory democracy, by transforming politics into media spectacles and the battle of images, and by turning spectators into cultural zombies, could also be used to help invigorate democratic debate and participation (Kellner, 1990; 1998; 2000).

Indeed, teaching critical media literacy could be a participatory, collaborative project. Watching television shows or films together could promote productive discussions between teachers and students (or parents and children), with emphasis on eliciting students’ views, producing a variety of interpretations of media texts and teaching basic principles of hermeneutics and criticism. Students and youth are often more media savvy, knowledgeable and immersed in media culture than their teachers, and thus can contribute to the educational process through sharing their ideas, perceptions and insights. On the other hand, critical discussion, debate and analysis ought to be encouraged, with teachers bringing to bear their critical perspectives on student readings of media material. Since media culture is often part and parcel of students’ identity and most powerful cultural experience, teachers must be sensitive in criticizing artifacts and perceptions that students hold dear; yet an atmosphere of critical respect for difference and inquiry into the nature and effects of media culture should be promoted.

Media literacy thus involves developing conceptions of interpretation and criticism. Engaging in assessment and evaluation of media texts is particularly challenging and entails careful discussion of specific moral, pedagogical, political or aesthetic criteria of critique. That is, one can, à la British cultural studies, engage the politics of representation in discussing the specific images of gender, class, race, ethnicity, sexual preference or other identity categories in media texts (Kellner, 1995a). Or one could discuss the moral values and behaviour represented, what specific messages or representations of social experience are presented, how they are interpreted by audiences, and potential pedagogical effects. One can also attempt to determine criteria for aesthetic evaluation, discussing what constitutes a good or bad media text.

In developing media literacy, one needs to develop sensitivity to visual imagery, sound and discourse, as well as to narrative structure and textual meaning and effects. Thus, one draws upon the aesthetics developed in literary, film and video, and art studies, combining such material in addressing the specificities of the particular text or artifact in question. Media studies is exciting and challenging in that it can embrace artifacts ranging from familiar film and television programmes, to popular music, to buildings and cities.

A major challenge in developing critical media literacy, however, results from the fact that it is not a pedagogy in the traditional sense with firmly established principles, a canon of texts and tried-and-true teaching procedures. Critical media pedagogy is in its infancy: it is just beginning to produce results, and is thus more open and experimental than established print-oriented pedagogy. Moreover, the material of media culture is so polymorphous, multivalent and polysemic that it necessitates sensitivity to different readings, interpretations and perceptions of the complex images, scenes, narratives, meanings and messages of media culture which in its own ways is as complex and challenging to decipher critically as book culture.

It is also highly instructive to teach students at all levels to explore critically popular media materials, including the most familiar film, television, music and other forms of media culture. Yet, here one needs to avoid an uncritical media populism, of the sort that is emerging within certain sectors of British and North American cultural studies. In a review of Rethinking Media Literacy (McLaren et al., 1995), for instance, Jon Lewis attacked what he saw as the overly critical postures of the contributors to that volume, arguing: ‘If the point of a critical media literacy is to meet students halfway—to begin to take seriously what they take seriously, to read what they read, to watch what they watch—teachers must learn to love pop culture’ (1996: 26). Note the authoritarian injunction that ‘teachers must learn to love pop culture’ (italics are Lewis’s), followed by an attack on more critical approaches to media literacy.

Teaching critical media literacy, however, involves occupation of a site above the dichotomy of fandom and censor. One can teach how media culture provides significant statements or insights about the social world, empowering visions of gender, race and class, or complex aesthetic structures and practices, thus putting a positive spin on how it can provide significant contributions to education. Yet one ought to indicate also how media culture can advance sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice, as well as misinformation, problematic ideologies and questionable values, thus promoting a dialectical approach to the media.

Furthermore, critical media literacy teaching should engage students’ interests and concerns, and involve a collaborative approach between teachers and students since students are deeply absorbed in media culture and may know more about some of its artifacts and domains than their teachers. Consequently, students should be encouraged to speak, discuss and intervene in the teaching/learning process. This is not to say that media literacy training should romanticize student views that may be superficial, mistaken, uninformed and full of various problematical biases. Yet exercises in media literacy can often productively involve intense student participation in a mutual learning process where teachers and students together learn media literacy skills and competencies.

It is also probably a mistake to attempt to institute a top-down program of media literacy, with fixed texts, curricula and prescribed materials. Diverse teachers and students will have very different interests and concerns, and will naturally emphasize varying subject matter and choose examples relevant to their own and their students’ interests. Courses in critical media literacy could thus be flexible enough to enable teachers and students to constitute their own curricula to address material and topics of current concern, and to engage their own interests. Moreover, and crucially, educators should discern that we are in the midst of one of the most intense technological revolutions in history and must learn to adapt new computer technologies to education and to develop new literacies.

Computer Literacy: An Expanded Concept

In this section, which is looking toward education in the new millennium, I want to argue that students should learn new forms of computer literacy. This involves learning how to use computer technologies to do research and gather information, as well as to perceive computer culture as a terrain which contains texts, spectacles, games and interactive multimedia which call for new literacies. Moreover, computer culture is a discursive and political matrix in which students, teachers and citizens can all intervene, engaging in discussion groups and collaborative research projects, creating their websites, producing innovative multimedia for cultural dissemination, and engaging in novel modes of social interaction and learning. Computer culture enables individuals to participate actively in the production of culture, ranging from discussion of public issues to creation of their own cultural forms. However, to take part in this culture not only requires enhancing skills of print literacy, which are often restricted to the growing elite of students who are privileged to attend adequate and superior public and private schools, but also demands new forms of literacy, thus posing significant challenges to education.

It is a defining fact of the present age that computer culture is proliferating and transforming every dimension of life from work to education. Thus to respond intelligently to the dramatic technological revolution of our time we need to begin teaching computer literacy from an early age. ‘Computer literacy’, however, itself needs to be theorized. Often the term is synonymous with technical ability to use computers, to master existing programs, and maybe undertake some programming oneself. I suggest expanding the conception of computer literacy from using computer programs and hardware to a broader concept of information and multimedia literacy. This necessitates promoting more sophisticated abilities in traditional reading and writing, as well as the capability to critically dissect cultural forms taught as part of critical media literacy and multimedia pedagogy.

In my expanded conception, computer literacy thus involves learning how to use computers, access information and educational material, use e-mail and list servers, and construct websites. Computer literacy comprises the accessing and processing of diverse sorts of information proliferating in the so-called ‘information society’ (for critiques of this concept see Webster, 1995). It encompasses learning to find sources of information ranging from traditional sites like libraries and print media to new Internet websites and search engines. Computer information literacy involves learning where information is found, how to access it, and how to organize, interpret and evaluate it.

One exciting development in the current technological revolution is that library materials and information are accessible from the entire world. To some extent, the Internet is potentially the all-encompassing library, imperfectly constructed in Alexandria, Egypt, that would contain the great books of the world. Yet while a mind-boggling number of the classics are found on the Internet, we still need the local library to access and collect books, journals and print material not found on the Internet, as well as the essential texts of various disciplines and the culture as a whole. Information literacy, however, and the new tasks for librarians, thus also involve knowing what one can and cannot find on the Internet, how to access it, and where the most reliable and useful information is at hand for specific tasks and projects.

But computer and information literacies also involve learning how to read hypertexts, to traverse the ever-changing fields of cyberculture, and to participate in a digital and interactive multimedia culture that encompasses work, education, politics, culture and everyday life. There are two major domains of hypertext: one that is primarily literary and involves avant-garde literary/writing strategies and practices (see Joyce, 1995), and one that is more multimedia, multisemiotic and multimodal and that mushroomed into the World Wide Web. Hypertext was initially seen as an innovative and exciting new mode of writing which increased the potential for writers to explore novel modes of textuality and expression (Landow, 1992; 1997). As multimedia hypertext developed on the Internet, it was soon theorized as a multisemiotic and multimodal form of culture. This mode is now increasingly seen as the dominant form of a new hyperlinked, interactive and multimedia cyberculture (see Burbules and Callister, 1996; 2000; Snyder 1996; and the articles in Snyder, 1997).

Hence, on this conception, genuine computer literacy involves not just technical knowledge and skills, but refined reading, writing, research and communicating ability that involves heightened capacities for critically accessing, analysing, interpreting, processing and storing both print-based and multimedia material. In a new information/ entertainment society, immersed in transformative multimedia technology, knowledge and information come not merely in the form of print and words, but through images, sounds and multimedia material as well. Computer literacy thus also involves the ability to discover and access information, as well as the intensified ability to read, to scan texts and computer databases and websites, and to access information and images in a variety of forms, ranging from graphics, to visual images, to audio and video materials, to good old print media. The creation of new multimedia websites, databases and texts requires accessing, downloading and organizing the digitized verbal, imagistic, and audio and video materials that are the new building blocks of multimedia culture.

Within multimedia computerized culture, visual literacy takes on increased importance. On the whole, computer screens are more graphic, visual and interactive than conventional print fields. This disconcerted many of us when first confronted with the new environments. Icons, windows, mouses and the various clicking, linking and interaction functions involved in computer-mediated hypertext dictate new competencies and a dramatic expansion of literacy. Visuality is obviously crucial, compelling one to quickly scan visual fields, perceive and interact with icons and graphics, and use technical devices such as a mouse to access the desired material and field. But tactility is also important, as one must learn the navigational skills of how to proceed from one field and screen to another, how to negotiate hypertexts and links, and how to move from one program to another if one operates, as most now do, in a window-based computer environment.

Thus, in my expanded conception, computer literacy involves technical abilities concerning developing basic typing skills, mastering computer programs, accessing information, and using computer technologies for a variety of purposes ranging from interpersonal communication to artistic expression to political debate. There are ever more hybridizations between media and computer culture as audio and video material becomes part of the Internet, as CD-ROM and multimedia develop, and as new media and technologies become part and parcel of the home, school and workplace. Therefore, the skills of decoding images, sounds and spectacle learned in critical media literacy training can also be valuable as part of computer literacy as well.

Multimedia and Multiple Literacies: The New Frontier

The new multimedia environments thus necessitate a diversity of types of multisemiotic and multimodal interaction, involving interfacing with words and print material and often images, graphics, and audio and video material. As technological convergence develops apace, one needs to combine the skills of critical media literacy with traditional print literacy and new forms of multiple literacies to access and master the new multimedia hypertext environments. Literacy in this conception involves the abilities to engage effectively in socially constructed forms of communication and representation. Thus, while reading and interpreting print was the appropriate mode of literacy for books, critical media literacy entails reading and interpreting discourse, images, spectacle, narratives and the forms and genres of media culture. Forms of multimedia communication involve print, speech, visuality and audio, in a hybrid field which combines these forms, all of which involve skills of interpreting and critique.

The term ‘multiple literacies’ thus points to the many different kinds of literacies needed to access, interpret, criticize and participate in the emergent new forms of culture and society. Obviously, the key notions here is the multiple, the proliferation of media and forms that demands a multiplicity of competencies and skills and abilities to access, interact and help construct a new semiotic terrain. Multiple literacies involve reading across varied and hybrid semiotic fields and being able to critically and hermeneutically process print, graphics and representations, as well as moving images and sounds. The term ‘hybridity’ suggests the combination and interaction of diverse media and the need to synthesize the various forms in an active process of the construction of meaning. Reading a music video, for instance, involves processing images, music, spectacle and sometimes narrative in a multisemiotic activity that simultaneously draws on diverse aesthetic forms. Interacting with a website or CD-ROM often involves scanning text, graphics and moving images, and clicking onto the fields that one seeks to peruse and explore, looking for appropriate material. This might lead one to draw upon a multiplicity of materials in new interactive learning or entertainment environments, whereby one must simultaneously read and interpret images, graphics, animation and text.

While traditional literacies concern practices in contexts that are governed by rules and conventions, multiliteracies are currently evolving so that their pedagogies comprise a new, although bustling and competitive field. Multimedia sites are not entirely new, however. Multisemiotic textuality was first evident in newspapers (consider the difference between The New York Times and USA Today in terms of image, text, colour graphics, design and content) and is now evident in textbooks that are much more visual, graphic and multimodal than the previously linear and discursive texts of old. But it is CD-ROMs, websites and new multimedia that are the most distinctively multimodal and multisemiotic forms. These sites are the new frontier of learning and literacy, the great challenge to education for the millennium. As we move further into the twenty-first century, we need to theorize the literacies necessary to interact in these emergent multimedia environments and to gain the skills that will enable individuals to learn, work and create in emergent cultural spaces and domains.

Cultivating new literacies and reconstructing education for democratization will also involve constructing new pedagogies and social relations. New multimedia technologies enable group projects for students and more of a problem-solving pedagogy à la Dewey and Freire than traditional top-down teaching models. If students are to access information, engage in cultural communication and production, and gain the skills necessary to succeed in the new economy and culture, they are compelled to acquire enhanced literacies, to work cooperatively with others, and to navigate new cultural and social terrains. Such group activity may generate more egalitarian relations between teachers and students and more democratic and cooperative social relations. Of course, it also demands reconsideration of grading and testing procedures, rethinking the roles of teacher and student, and constructing projects and pedagogies appropriate to the new cultural and social environments.

Moreover, we are soon going to have to rethink standard assessment tests and other instruments in relation to the new media and technologies; having the literacy and skills to successfully access material sought after, communicate, work and create within computer and multimedia culture is quite different from reading and writing in the mode of print literacy. While traditional skills of reading and writing continue to be of the utmost importance in cyberculture, they are sublated within multiliteracy, so eventually an entirely different sort of test is going to need to be devised in order to register individuals’ multiliteracy competencies and to predict success in a new technological and educational environment. In this new environment, it becomes increasingly irrational to focus education on producing higher test scores on exams that themselves are becoming obsolete and outdated by the changes in the economy, society and culture.

Critical pedagogies of the future must also confront the problem of online education, of how the emergent cultural terrain of cyberspace produces new sites of information, education and culture, as well as novel online forms of interaction between students and teacher. In addition, possibilities of students developing their own spaces, cultural forms, and modes of interaction and communication should be promoted. The challenge will also arise of how to balance classroom instruction with online instruction, as well as sorting out the strengths and limitations of print versus online multimedia material. Indeed, the new media and cultural spaces require us to rethink education in its entirety, ranging from the role of the teacher, through teacher–student relations, classroom instruction, grading and testing, and the value and limitations of books, multimedia and other teaching material, to the goals of education itself.

Online education and virtual learning also confront us with novel problems such as copyright and ownership of educational materials; collaborations between computer programmers, artists and designers, and teachers and students in the construction of teaching material and sites; and the respective role of federal and local government, the community, corporations and private organizations in financing education and providing the skills and tools necessary for a new world economy and global culture. Furthermore, the technological revolution of our time forces a rethinking of philosophical problems of knowledge, truth, identity and reality in virtual environments. Hence, both philosophy and the philosophy of education most be reconstructed to meet the challenges of democracy and a new high-tech economy.

The technological revolution thus forces us to radically rethink and reconstruct education. The terrain and goals of education must be reconsidered and the conception of literacy expanded. Questions of the digital divide must be confronted and the ways that education can promote democratization and social justice should be discussed and developed. While there are certainly dangers that the technological revolution will increase divisions between haves and have nots, it is possible that old gender, race and class divisions can be overcome in a society that rewards new literacies and provides opportunities for those who have developed competencies in the new media and culture. In this context, it is especially important that appropriate resources, training and pedagogies be constructed to help those groups and communities who were disadvantaged and marginalized during the past epoch of industrialization and modernity.

In addition, individuals should be given the capacities to understand, critique and transform the social and cultural conditions in which they live, gaining capacities to be creative and transformative subjects and not just objects of domination and manipulation. This necessitates developing critical thinking, reflection, and the ability to engage in discourse, cultural creation, and political action and movements. Active and engaged subjects are produced in social interaction with others, as well as with tools and techniques, so social skills and individual capacities for communication, creativity and action must be part of the multiple literacies that a radical reconstruction of education seeks and cultivates.

Crucially, multiliteracies and new pedagogies must become reflective and critical, aware of the educational, social and political assumptions involved in the restructuring of education and society that we are now undergoing. In response to the excessive hype concerning new technologies and education, it is necessary to maintain the critical dimension and to reflect upon the nature and effects of new media and the pedagogies developed as a response to their challenge. Many advocates of new media and technologies, however, eschew critique for a purely affirmative agenda. For instance, after an excellent discussion of new modes of literacy and the need to rethink education, Gunther Kress (1997) argues that we must move from critique to design, beyond a negative deconstruction to more positive construction.

But rather than following such modern logic of either/or, we need to pursue the logic of both/and, perceiving design and critique, deconstruction and reconstruction, as complementary and supplementary rather than as antithetical choices. Certainly, we need to design alternative technologies, pedagogies and curricula for the future, and should attempt to design new social and pedagogical relations as well, but we need to criticize misuse, inappropriate use, overinflated claims, and exclusions and oppressions involved in the introduction of new media into education. The critical dimension is needed more than ever as we attempt to develop improved teaching strategies and pedagogy, and design new pedagogies and curricula. In this process, we must be constantly critical, practising critique and self-criticism, questioning our assumptions, discourses and practices, as we experimentally develop novel and alternative literacies and pedagogy.

In all educational and other experiments, critique is indeed of fundamental importance. From the Deweyan perspective, progressive education involves trial and error, design and criticism. The experimental method itself comprises critique of limitations, failures and flawed design. In discussing new media and multiple literacies, one also needs to constantly raise the question of whose interests these new media and pedagogies serve. Are they serving all social groups and individuals? If not, who is being excluded and why? We also need to raise the question of the extent to which new media and literacies are preparing students and citizens for the present and future and producing conditions for a more vibrant democratic society, or simply reproducing existing inequalities and injustice.

Finally, creating multiple literacies must be contextual, engaging the life-world of the students and teachers participating in the new adventures of education. Learning involves developing abilities to interact intelligently with one’s environment and fellow humans, and calls for vibrant social and conversational environments. Education requires doing and can be gained from practice and social interaction. One can obviously spend too much time with technologies and fail to develop basic social skills and competencies. As Rousseau, Wollstonecraft and Dewey argued, education involves developing proficiencies that enable individuals to develop successfully within their concrete environments, to learn from practice, and to be able to interact, work and create in their own societies and cultures. In contemporary US culture, for instance, multiple literacies necessitate multicultural literacies—being able to understand and work with a heterogeneity of cultural groups and forms, acquiring literacies in a multiplicity of media, and gaining the competencies to participate in a democratic culture and society (see Courts, 1998; Weil, 1998).

Reconstructing Education

From the policy perspective, it seems clear that it is the duty of the federal, state and local government, as well as other interested parties, to provide the necessary equipment and tools to teachers, students and schools in order to make it possible for education to cultivate the skills necessary for participation in the new global economy, networked society and cyberculture. Second, it is necessary that teachers have proper training to make use of the technology in their classrooms and that there are labs with training or support people who have the proper skills and can ensure that teachers and students can effectively deploy the new media and technologies. Recent studies have indicated that without proper teacher training the technology itself will not do the teaching and may be a source of frustration, thus blocking the educational goals desired (see Rawls, 2000; Zimmerman, 2000). Consequently, teacher training and intelligent computer lab design and use, as well as development of more intelligent and user-friendly software, are necessary to improve education in the information age.

But, as I have argued in this chapter, teachers and students need to develop new pedagogies and modes of learning in the new information and multimedia environment. This could involve a democratization and restructuring of education such as was envisaged by John Dewey and Paolo Friere in which education is seen as a dialogical, democraticizing and experimental practice. New information technologies encourage the sort of experimental and collaborative projects proposed by Dewey (1997 [1916]) as important for progressive education. This could also involve the more dialogical relations between student and teachers envisaged by Paolo Freire (1972; 1998) in which teachers learn from students and promote collaborative, dialogical and non-authoritarian teaching methods.

This re-visioning of education involves the recognition that teachers can learn from students and that often students are ahead of teachers in various technological literacies and technical abilities. Many of us (and this is true of myself) have learned much of what we know of computers and new media and technologies from students. We should also recognize the extent to which young people helped invent the Internet and have grown up in a cyberculture in which they may have cultivated technological skills from an early age. Peer-to-peer communication among young people is highly sophisticated and developed, and democratic pedagogies should build upon and enhance these resources and practices.

One of the challenges of contemporary education is to overcome the disconnection between students’ experiences, subjectivities and interests rooted in the new multimedia cyberculture, and those found in the classroom situation and grounded in print culture and traditional learning and disciplines (see Luke and Luke, 2001). As early as the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan (1964) had pointed to the disconnection experienced by students raised on radio, television and popular culture when confronted with print materials. Today, the disconnection is even more striking in the contrast between an interactive and multimedia cyberculture and traditional forms of authoritarian lecturing and problematic print materials, thus suggesting a generational divide as well as a digital divide.

The disconnection and divides can be overcome, however, by more actively and collaboratively bringing students into interactive classrooms or learning situations in which they are able to transmit their skills and knowledge to fellow students and teachers alike. Such a democratic and interactive reconstruction of education thus provides the resources for progressive social reconstruction, as well as cultivating the new skills and literacies needed for the emergent global economy and cyberculture. So far, arguments for restructuring education mostly come from the high-tech and corporate sector who are primarily interested in new media and literacies and the reconstruction of education for the workforce and economy. But restructuring can serve the interests of democratization as well as the global economy. Following Dewey, we should accordingly press for education that is aimed at producing better democratic citizens, as well as players in the new economy.

Further, to cultivate new literacies for democratizing education and society in the new millennium, we need the Deweyan experimental method of trying out and testing ideas in how computers and new information technology can aid reading, research and the teaching of traditional material. This involves trial and error, attempting to discern what works and what does not in using new media to democratize and enhance education. Thus, like Dewey, we need to perceive the interconnection of science, technology, education and democracy in the present conjuncture. To have an enlivened democracy, we must have educated and informed citizens who require training in science and technology, and in the acquisition of new multiple literacies. Cultivating multiple literacies involves the scientific method of trial and error, seeking collaborative solutions to problems, and working together to reconstruct education and society democratically. As Dewey noted, this experimental and collaborative method is also the ethos of democracy, which involves dialogue, cooperation and working together, as well as designing and properly using voting machines. (I am, of course, ironically pointing to the non-results of the 2000 US presidential election, and suggesting a massive disconnection between the high-tech economy and cyberculture, and traditional voting machines and practices.)

It appears that technology will certainly drive the reconstruction of education, but we should make sure that it works to enhance democracy and empower individuals and not just corporations and a privileged technoelite. Producing democratic citizens and empowering the next generation for democracy as well as a new economy should be a major goal of the reconstruction of education in the new millennium. Moreover, as Freire (1972; 1998) reminds us, critical pedagogy comprises the skills of both reading the word and reading the world. Hence, multiple literacies include not only media and computer literacies, but a diverse range of social and cultural literacies, ranging from ecoliteracy (e.g. understanding the body and environment), to economic and financial literacy, to a variety of other competencies that enable us to live well in our social worlds. Education, at its best, provides the symbolic and cultural capital that empowers people to survive and prosper in an increasingly complex and changing world and the resources to produce a more cooperative, democratic, egalitarian and just society. Thus, with Plato, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Dewey, Freire and others, I see philosophy of education as reflecting on the good life and the good society and the ways that education can contribute to creating a better world. But as the world changes, so too must education, which will be part of the problem or part of the solution as we enter a new millennium.

The project of transforming education will take different forms in different contexts. In the overdeveloped countries, individuals must be empowered to work and act in a high-tech information economy, and thus must learn skills of media and computer literacy, in order to survive in the new social environment. Traditional skills of knowledge and critique must also be enhanced, so that students can name the system, describe and grasp the changes occurring and the defining features of the new global order, and learn to engage in critical and oppositional practice in the interests of democratization and progressive transformation. This process challenges us to develop a vision of how life can be, of alternatives to the present order, and of the necessity of struggle and political organization to realize progressive goals. Languages of knowledge and critique must thus be supplemented by the discourse of hope and praxis.

In much of the world, the struggle for daily existence is paramount and meeting unmet human and social needs is a high priority. Yet everywhere education can provide the competencies and skills to improve one’s life, to create a better society, and to fashion a more civilized and developed world. Moreover, as the entire world becomes part of a global and networked society, gaining the multiple literacies discussed in this chapter is important everywhere as media and cyberculture become more ubiquitous and the world economy demands ever more sophisticated technical skills.

This is a time of challenge and a time for experiment. It is time to put existing pedagogies, practices and educational philosophies in question and to construct new ones. It is a time for new pedagogical experiments to see what works and what doesn’t work in the new millennium. It is a time to reflect on our goals and to discern what we want to achieve with education and how we can achieve it. Ironically, it is a time to return to the classical philosophy of education which situates reflections on education within reflections on the good life and society, at the same time as we consider how we can transform education to become relevant to a high-tech society. It is time to return to John Dewey, to rethink that intimate connection between education and democracy at the same time as we address the multicultural challenges that Dewey—in the midst of a still vital melting-pot ideology and liberal progressivist optimism—did not address.

Most saliently, it is time to take up the Deweyan attitude of pragmatic experimentation to see what it is that the new media and technologies can and cannot do in order to see how they can enhance education. But we should also resist the hype, maintain a critical attitude and pedagogy, and continue to combine print literacy and classical materials with new literacies and materials. It is a mistake to advance an either/or logic of print literacy versus computer literacy, or to privilege books over new media, for both can enhance education and life and require different literacies. In the current turbulent situation of the global restructuring of capitalism and worldwide struggles for democratization, I believe that we have for the first time in decades a chance to reconstruct education and society. In this conjuncture, technology is a revolutionizing force, whereby all political parties and candidates pay lip service to education, to overcoming the digital divide, and to expanding literacy. Hence, the time is ripe to take up the challenge and to move to reconstruct education and society so that groups and individuals excluded from the benefits of the economy, culture and society may more fully participate and receive opportunities not possible in earlier social constellations.