Nov 5, 2013 (5 years and 4 months ago)



Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies

Neil Klein

Vanderbilt University

Peabody College


Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies



Technology has changed the way we read. The expanding world of digital literacies has
brought about new challenges that will be presented and discussed in this review, most notably in
relation to critical thinking skills.
The 21

Century Workforce Commiss
ion (2000) suggested that “the
current and future health of America’s 21

century economy depends dire
ctly on how broadly and
deeply Americans reach a new level of literacy


century literacy”’
. The digital literacy skills
identified by various 21

century consortiums include proficiencies such as basic print literacy,
scientific, economic, technological, visual, information, and multicultural literacies

as well as global
awareness (NCREL, 2003).

What makes skills and literacies “new” is how they mo
bilize very different
kinds of values and priorities and sensibilities than the literacies we are familiar with (Lankshear &
Knobel (2007).

As teachers and educators, we need to expand the definition of
literacies, they

can no longer be
thought of simply a
s words and symbols on paper

The new literacies for the 21

century can be
succinctly defined as follows:

The new literacies of the Internet and other ICTs include the skills, strategies, and dispositions
necessary to successfully use and adapt to the
rapidly changing information and communication
technologies and contexts that continuously emerge in our world and influence all areas of our
personal and professional lives. These new literacies allow us to use the Internet and other ICTs to
identify impo
rtant questions, located information, critically evaluate the usefulness of that information,
synthesize information to answer those questions, and then communicate the answers to others (Leu,
Kinzer, Coiro, and Cammack, 2004).

What is “critical thinking”

in response to (new) literacies?

An essential tool of inquiry; purposeful, self
regulatory judgment that results in interpretation, analysis,
evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological,

or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based. ...


…….. is the art of reflecting and evaluating our conscious understanding and ways of thinking with the hope of
improving them.


Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


The fo
ur domains of education: Learner, Learning Environment, Curriculum and Teaching
Strategies, and Assessment are looked at from a variety of perspectives in order to get a better
understanding of ways in which educators can help students think critically whe
n it comes to digital
literacies. In addition, ideas will be brought forth and discussed in regards to changes needed to bring
about the reemergence of these critical thinking skills.

Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


Learners and Learning

Fact: Book reading by adults
and youth of all ages, races, income, and education levels is declining
(National Endowment for the Arts [NEA], 2004, 2007).

Fact: Reading scores drop and voluntary reading rates diminish as children move from childhood to
late adolescence (National Assess
ment of Educational Progress, 2005; NEA, 2007).

Fact: A recent surve
y indicates that young people (ages 15
19) read only six minutes per weekday for
pleasure but spend 50 minutes each day playing games or using a computer (Bureau of Labor
Statistics, 2007)

Fact: Youth are engaged in a digital culture

9 in 10 American teens between the ages of 12 and 17
are Internet users (Lenhardt, Madden, Rankin McGill, & Smith, 2007).

It is important to consider how youths’ literacy, learning, and identity practices
are both shaped
by and shape the interactions they have in online spaces (Jensen, 2003). Knowing this can also help
educators understand, and cater to, the learning needs of students in regards to both on and offline

Learning to effectively u
se and adapt to technological innovations is a skill that will
serve youths well in the 21

century (Black, 2009).

One challenge for online readers lies in the
composition of the webpage: Where does the reader first look on the screen and where does that
him or her? (Rowsell & Burke, 2009).

Components of digital literacy are:

Learning to learn,
‘study skills’ for a digita
l age, for which learning outco
mes are often defined
in terms of
: reflection, action planning, self
evaluation, self
analysis, self
management (time,

Academic practice
(an alternative conceptualization of general learning skills), for which
learning outcomes are often defined in terms of: comprehension, reading/apprehension,
organization, analysis, synthesis, argumentation,
problem solving, research, inquiry, academic

Information literacy,
for which learning outcomes are often defined in terms of: identification,
accession, organization, evaluation, interpretation, analysis, synthesis, application.

Media literacy
so ‘visual’, ‘graphic’, ‘audio’, ‘filmic’ etc. literacy), for which learning
outcomes are often defined in terms of critical reading and creative production.

ICT/computer literacy,
which is very variously defined, and often in terms of technologies that
e already fading fro use, but some learning outcomes might include: keyboard skills, use of
capture technologies, use of analysis tools, use of presentation tools, use of social tools,
personalization, navigation, adaptivity, agility, confidence.

(Sharpe &

Beetham, 2010).

Some scholars in the field (of digital literacies) suggest that digital reading involves a different
logic and set of practices governed by multimodality. In this context, multimodality is defined as an
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


understanding of different modes of

communication (visual, acoustic, spatial) working together
without one being dominant.

Students may use available designs in linguistic, gestural, visual, and
spatial modes, and in turn redesign it however they see fit to make it more meaningful (Rowsell
Burke, 2009).
Such a wide variety of digital media also has the advantage of catering to all types of
learning styles and levels (struggling readers, ELL students, oral learners, visual learners, etc.).
designing process can be described as one that

“transforms knowledge by producing new constructions
and representations of reality” (The New London Group, 1996).

Digital texts offer many ways for
readers to experience the reading process
. Furthermore, adolescents need a critical awareness of the
tics of language, (i.e., language as design), which is essential to the critical understanding
f the
composition and production of digital texts

(Rowsell & Burke, 2009).

In a digit
al age, learners need to
e and experiment with different ways of ena
cting their identities, and adopt subject positions
through different social technologies and media (Beetham & Oliver, 2010).
When reading online, a
reader performs different “comprehending selves” when the

read across online texts (Tierney, 2006).
selves represent the plural nature that reading online affords and demands (Wiszniewski &
Coyne, 2002). Flexibility and purposively marshaling the comprehension strategies tha
the stances of these various reading selves, readers become critics o
f the veracity of information
e, aesthetes of sudden fiction and online poetry slams, searchers for the minutiae of media star
trivia, and synthesizers and linkers of disparate people, information, and events (
Hartman, Morsink,
&Zheng). This pluralism

is instrumental in helping students build not only comprehension skills, but
critical thinking skills as well.

critical practices involve two generic components: analysis and eval
uation. A critica
l orientation
implies judging, comparing or
evaluating on the basis of careful analysis.

Second, critical peda
gogy and

critical literacy engage stude
s and

teachers collaboratively in ma
explicit the socially constructed character of knowledge, language and literacy, and asking in whose
ts particular ‘knowledges’ and textual practices are constructed, legitimated and given
privileged status within education (Lankshear & Knobel, 2002).

Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


With a drastic increase in the use of technology in the classroom, e
ducators have seen a decline
in the way students think critically
about, and respond to, what
is being


most notably relating to
new literacies.
Children around the globe have ‘entered an enduring and passionate love affair with the
computer …. and e
ducators must address the question of how the relationship between children and
computers affects learning. Understanding this relationship will be crucial to our ability to shape the
future (Paper
, 1993).

Today’s readers are immersed in multimodal experi
ences and, consequently,
have a keen awareness of the possibility of combining modes and media to receive and communicate
messages (Larson, 2009)

When Deng Xiao Ping was asked to allow the people of China to access the Internet, he
ed that he would
like fir
st to meet with the president of the

t Corporation
. “There is no
Internet Corporation,” his adviser answered/ “Well, then who is in charge of it?” Deng asked. “No
one,” the adviser answered. That’s just it. Anyone can place information
online, no matter what its
accuracy or content. Although that empowers individuals to post their own content online, it’s also a
warning that we need to lead students to critically and responsibly choose and evaluate what they find.
(Burke, 1998).

ogy (the internet) has made it too easy for students to find information.
We know that
most learners read only the first page of results returned to them by a Google search, have little idea
how to evaluate information for relevance, accuracy or authority
(Williams & Rowlands, 2007) and are
generally uncritical about messages offered to them via online media (Ziegler, 2007).
In a review of
research on learning on the Internet, Kuiper et al. (2005) found that students skim Web sites, often
engaging in answer
grabbing techniques,

even when the task calls for a

more thoughtful and sustained

Research on comprehension on the Internet suggests that while students enjoy using the
Internet, they encounter difficulties with all aspects of Internet inquiry a
nd new literacies processes
(Dalton & Proctor, 2008). Much more needs to be done in making sure students have the skills
necessary to use digital technologies with a deeper understanding.

With the

abundance of


information comes the need for student
s to critically evaluate the
source and the author’s intended message/viewpoint.

It is vital that the students consider many
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


questions while gathering information on line, such as: Where does the information come from? What
is the author’s intent? Who bene
fits from the publication of this information?

Technological change
always results in winners and loser

Without critically thinking about these questions, students may
use the information they find out of context, or worse yet, copy directly from on


Issues of
plagiarism are compounded where cyberpapers and digital resources abound. Students roam the
Internet, often finding inappropriate content of suffering from information overload (Postman, 1993).

Given the


of material on
, s
tudents need to learn to slow down and think critic
ally about
what they find
. Methods need to be put in place to gauge this critical understanding (see appendix A)

At the same time, most schools (if not all) try to control what t
he students can access via

the I
(blocking sites deemed

inappropriate). Access to the I
nternet outside of school does not offer this
. This lack of control ups the literacy ante, requiring that students learn to be critical consumers

to deconstruct messages, to
identify bias, to ask whose voice is represented, whose is not, and to
what end? (Dalton & Proctor, 2008). Critical consumers are also producers of their own messages,
skillfully manipulating tools, text, and media with a heightened awareness of agency, au
dience, and
purpose (Hobbs, 2006).

At the same time, s
emantic technologies are accelerating an underlying trend for knowledge
work to be distributed among human and non
human agents (search engines, data mining applications,
etc.) in complex networks of ex
pertise (Cliff et al. 2009). If some of the more routine tasks of research,
for example, can be carried out by intelligent search engines, human researchers can focus on
developing higher level skills such as those involving critical evaluation an judgment
. An important
aspect of literacy becomes the capacity to work with expert, non
expert and non
human others, and to
deal with hybrid knowledge (Beetham & Oliver, 2010).

Learners do not learn from technology; they learn from thinking about what they are doi
Focus has to be placed on learning with the technology rather than learning from or about the
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


technology (Kajder, 2003).
Much more of this type of meaning
making practice needs to take place.
Means and Olson (1997) go on to state “Technology can help t
o make students’ thinking processes
more visible to the teacher.”

In addition,
McKenzie (2000) write

that students need to become
“infotectives,” capable of asking good questions about data in order to convert the data into
information and eventually into


One of the most effective tools in this regard is the WebQuest.
WebQuests motivate student learners by asking a central question that honestly needs answering
(Kajder, 2003). Tom March (2000)

that “when students are asked to understand, hy
pothesize, or
solve an issue that confronts the real world, they face an authentic task, not something that
only carries meaning in a school classroom.” This type of activity requires the student to critically
evaluate the central question being as
ked, the path chosen in solving/answering the question, and the
resources used to aid in completing the task.

Technology can support students’ acquisition of higher
order thinking and problem
solving skills in a number of ways

(Barron & Goldman, 1994)
. At
level, students’ use of technology as a tool in school projects contributes to the authenticity of the
projects, because technology pervades much of society today

(Sheingold, 1991).

For example, it is
realistic to expect students to use desktop publish
ing software to produce a class newspaper, a
spreadsheet to develop a budge

for a class project, and telecommunications to share information with
students from other geographic areas (Barron & Goldman, 1994).

Technology can motivate students to
attempt ha
rder tasks and to take more care in crafting their work (Means & Olson, 1994).

In addition,
technology can be customized to aid in the building of skills in all students, regardless of their level or

Technology also allows for co
learning using computer conferencing. Computer
conferencing is an ideal tool for collaborative or co
operative learning. It’s an electronic environment
with various ‘areas’ set aside for small group work, large group work, socia
lizing and resources

ett, Warren, & Brunner, 1998). This type of learning environment enables students to take
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


, and some control, over the work they do. Co
operative learning is geared toward process
rather than product learning.

The reflective skills that digit
al leaners exhibit

attending to their peers’
input, reflecting on their own outpour, responding to feedback

are also vital to make them fully
rounded, competent members of the education community. Once honed, these reflective skills will
enable student
s to adapt and develop their academic output, experimenting with when and how o take
risks (Walker, Jameson, & Ryan, 2010).

Learning Environment

Over the last decade or so, there has been pressure on schools to equip classrooms with the
latest computers a
nd software. Simply supplying this equipment is not enough

teachers need to
undertake training in order to use this equipment to its full advantage (time is something most teachers
don’t have an excess of). Due to this lack of additional training, most s
tudents don’t take full
advantage of what this technology has to offer. An unexpected finding in current research (Cuban,
2001) holds that even when equipment is made available, students aren’t using
to extend, enrich, an
enhance understanding. They
se computers in schools to complete assignments, play games, explore
ROM’s to find information, and conduct Internet searches (Kajder, 2003).

To further this, simply
bringing this equipment into the classroom has a tendency not to change the curriculum,

it simply
maintains what is already being done.

Teachers must learn not only the ways to work with equipment
but also the skills for facilitating learning in a technology
rich, constructivist learning environment

(Kajder, 2003).
In addition, resources fo
r technical support must also be in place.
Much more needs to
be done in order to take full advantage of this equipment in a manner that allows the students to
immerse themselves critically in all that the technology has to offer.
As Englis
h teachers, we a
enraptured by

the printed word, and computers paired wit
h the Internet and hypertext are

revolutionizing how readers think, process, and understand information (Kajder, 2003).

The following
chart summarizes the ideal culmination of technology in an acad
emic setting.

Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


Requirements for Effective Use of Technology (David, 1994)

Literacy practices themselves are changing. Writing has moved from a paper based to a largely
screen based medium (Kress, 2003), while texting

sometimes seen as a hybrid form
between writing
and t
ranscribed speech

has arguably

accelerated the casualization of the written word (Beetham &
Oliver, 2010).

Whereas previously students lea
ned through the formal absorption of authoritative
knowledge transmitted didactically in lectu
res, John Seeley Brown (2002) suggest that student learning
is beginning to be more ‘discover based’, linked to the ready availability of ‘infotainment’ in masses of
based information and entertainment resources.

These new digital literacies dictate a

new learning and thinking style

not only for the
students, but for teachers as well.

Bridging the gap between standard school literacy (paper, pencil,
print) and what students experience outside of school (Internet, web technology, etc.) needs to become

a priority for all educators.

Learning theories are evolving to accommodate and frame new ways in
which we may now be learning as a result of the rapid explosion in e
learning technological
developments in the twenty
first century (Siemens, 2005).

goes on to state that hehaviourism,
cognitivism, and constructivism, which he classifies as ‘the three broad learning theories most often
utilized in the creation of instructional environments’, are now giving way to a new learning theory:
use of





Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies



In addition, Siemens argues that new kinds of group learning are evolving, in which
skills of connecting with other people in digital networks are increasingly important.

The modern classroom needs to be restructured in a manner that allows for more stude

centered learning

(leading to higher level thinking and problem solving)
. The teacher’s role is shifting
from lecturer to that of facilitator. In so doing, students have more opportunity to interact with each
other as well as with the teacher

gy tends to support teachers in becoming coaches rather
than dispensers of knowledge. In classrooms where students spend large blocks of time using
technology to design, compose, or solve complex problems, lecturing by the teacher is minimized
(Means & Ols
on, 1994).

In some instances, technology can simulate a real
world situation that is not feasible for
youngsters to explore otherwise (for example, space travel) or one in which complex episodes must be
revisited or examined for information in a way that
time activity does not allow. Thus, technology
affords opportunities for making teaching and learning more efficient, more applicable to real
problems, and more accessible to students with different backgrounds than the materials and
al approaches of the traditional classroom can afford (Fishman & Duffy, 1992).

Literacy is now defined as “the ability to use the most powerful cultural tools available for
making, communication, and enacting meaning.” The change that this demands in the
culture of our
classrooms is enormous (Wilhelm, 2000).

How do we, as educators create classrooms that are open to
what Lankshear and Knobel (2007) referred to as “ethos stuff” of new literacies. This might involve
creating classroom environments that
emphasize inquiry
based, participatory forms of learning in
which students are encouraged to explore alternative interpretations of literature and classroom
materials. Activities would, of course, require expert guidance by teachers’ however, in keeping wi
the ethos of new literacies and 21
century proficiencies, they also would involve a great deal of
collaborative learning among students and would stress the importance of accessing, evaluating, and
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


integrating knowledge across available on

and offlin
e sources. Such an approach presents an
alternative to the “teacher as authority” model and allows students to build on their existing
competencies, consider the validity of multiple perspectives, and enact powerful identities as both
teachers and learners

(Black, 2009).

This type of learning environment also encourages students to
delve deeper into the work they do while thinking of how the work extends beyond the classroom (to
real world situations and uses).

The essence of the Internet is how computers
send data to each other

over various carriers,
such as telephone lines, cable TV wires, and satellite channels. The data can be text, e
mail messages,
sounds, images, or software programs

Lee, 1997). A classroom or school equipped with the
net allows students to immediately have access to “an increasing network of people: writers, great
thinkers, parents, community members, and specialists” (Kajder, 2003). According to Lenhart and
Simon (2001), more than 98 percent of U.S. public schools hav
e some kind of Internet access for

One of the most prevalent
new literacies is that of hypertext. This can be defined simply as a
set of documents of any kind (images, text, charts, tables, video or audio clips) connected to one
another by links

(Murray, 2001). These links allow for a non
inear approach to reading. Instead of the
traditional paragraph (linear progression), reading with hypertext gives the reader the opportunity to
construct his or her own pathway through the text (and multimodal

components). In doing so, the
reader determines what pieces of information are important, going back to the idea that
the author’s
message needs to be considered in determining the validity of the chosen information.

Hypertext has
the potential to empower

student reader
; however, it also has the potential to become an indiscernible
maze that mystifies and confuses readers (Kajder, 2003).
In order to successfully navigate Hypertext,
students must be able to think critically and holistically about the inter

this type of reading
requires a new non
linear way of thinking (a skill which must be learned).

Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


Podcasts are also becoming prevalent both in the classroom and in society as a whole. A
podcast is a series of digital media files that are released
episodically and often downloaded through
web syndication (Wikipedia, 2011)
. The explanation goes on to state that the word (podcast) replaced
webcast in common use with the success of the iPod and its role in the rising popularity and innovation
of web fe
eds. A podcast is one of several Web 2.0 digital social
networking tools, including blogs,
YouTube, and Facebook, that provide platforms for the creation and sharing of user
generated content,
often by means of portable media players, such as iPods and MP3

players (Smythe & Neufeld, 2010).
As this type of technology is prevalent in students’ lives outside of school, it is necessary to


into students’ classroom lives
as a means of engaging

them in learning new content.

The process of co
nverting written text to that of a digital recording allows the student to identify
and correct errors in the writing, as well as give them a sense of the layout and flow of the text.

type of project also tends to be more collaborative (peer work), th
ereby giving classmates the
opportunity to offer not only their opinions, but grammatical corrections as well

hearing this type of
input from peers tends to be more beneficial than that coming from a teacher. Al
though experiences
with more va
ed texts
in the classroom is also necessary, this extended practice in critical reading and
writing of their own and peers’ narratives supported the s
tudents to read and write to red
undancy (Ball,

and thus to acquire the depths of experience, confidence, and
learning with print narrative that
the required for academic success (Neufeld & Toohey, 2008).

Literacy Learning in Networked Classrooms
, Mary McNabb (2006) identified three ways in
which the Internet can provide curricular benefits (1) designing Inter
based activities to help meet
the diverse needs of students by engaging them through personal interest, (2) customizing teaching
learning cycles in ways that motivate students, and (3) fostering self
directed leaning (Rowsell &
Burke, 2009).

ing these (and other) strategies is vital in re
engaging today’s students as well
as a means of
ing higher
level critical thinking skills.

Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


Curriculum and Teaching Strategies

Before intro
ing a novel to a group of language arts students, teachers

make sure the students
have the skills necessary to understand and respond critically to what they read. There is a tendency,
however, to let students engage with technology without these skills
. Why is this so? More
importantly, how can this possibly ben
efit the students?

In order to construct

challenging curriculum

and standards
based activities that effectively
integrate technology into English instruction, teachers need to work as
instructional designers


One such way to do so is to use i
nnovative programs


pair teachers with tech
savvy students
who work to maintain the hardware and network needs of the classroom, freeing teacher time for
instructional design a
nd student assessment (Kajder,

average English teacher is still teaching reading using traditional texts, the

printed word as
und in a standard text, and ap
plying this to the reading of digital texts. When on
e comes to
understand th
e design inherent in digital te
xts, one comes closer
to bridging this gap between the
digital realm of literacy and the traditional. More importantly, without this

understanding, educators
are only scratching the surface of their students’ learning capacities (Rowsell & Burke, 2009).
thinking of new lit
eracies, an educator cannot simply use old skills with the new technologies. A new
pedagogy needs to be constructed considering critical thinking, meaning making, and communication.
Progressing from paper based projects to those that incorporate the Intern
et should be a gradual

slowly introducing aspects of new literacies so as not to overwhelm students. For example,
in a study conducted in a Singaporean high school, a teacher made the following progression.

The teacher started with literacy acti
vities that focused on reading advertisements in brochures
and newspapers, follo
ed by designing tasks tha

allowed her students to produce brochures to
promote school programs and events. These literacy activit
es engaged the stude
s in interacting with
based multimodal tests.
The next step was to incorporate reading moving multimodal texts
(viewing videos) and finally projects that involved designing multimedia productions using software
like Flash Macromedia and MediaStage (a 3D animated learning
environment that allows users to
create different genres such as short films) (Tan & Guo, 2010).

Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


While it is necessary to incorporate new literacies into the language arts curriculum, there are
many things to consider. In regards to hypertext, who control
s what is read? How does the reader
know how much is enough (or to much) to read? Is the order of what is read important (why/why not)?
As there is no beginning, middle, or end when it comes to hypertext, how does the reader make sense
of what they are exp
osed to? Navigating through hypertext can take an already ambiguous text and
load the reading experience past the understanding of student readers (Kajder, 2003). Kajder goes on
to tell us that students need tools for determining how to navigate text, unpa
ck and comprehend
meaning, and figure out how they got to that text in the first place.

The use of hypertext should not be
taught to students at the expense of traditional texts

the two should be complimentary. We live in a
hypertextual world and mus
t pr
epare our students to live i
n one. This doesn’t mean that literature is
dead, or that we won’t read novels or poetry

it just means that these arts will exist in a new writing
space, with new possibilities and permutations, sometimes in conjunction with a
rt and video and sound
(Wilhelm, 2000).

In hypertext, sequential reading is supported by nonlinear jumps to alternative idea
caches, with inevitable repercussions for comprehension (Gilster, 1997).

In constructing lessons that
allow the students to use dig
ital literacies, the teacher needs to set a stringent balance in regards to
student’s outcome. Too much discovery can lead to wasted instructional time and loss of student focus
and understanding. Too much control leads to students’ working down a prescrib
ed path, producing
confined work (Kajder, 2003).

To understand the complexities of reading online, teachers need to understand how the reading
of linear print text forms differs from the reading of digital texts. Digital texts depend more readily on
design and representation of language and thus require a semiotic understanding on the part of the
. This means that reading content online requires a repertoire of skills, from interpreting visual
clues, to mastering the nuances of subtext, to follo
wing ideas in a nonlinear fashion, to decoding of
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


simple reading

(Rowsell & Burke, 2009).

All of this needs to be taken into account when designing

Rosenblatt (1996) explains that through the medium of words, the text brings into the reader’s
onsciousness certain concepts, certain sensuous experiences, certain images of things, people, and
actions. In the past, this held true with traditional printed text. It is vital that educators lead students to
achieve the same results with all forms of ne
w literacies.

One such way educators (and other adults) can begin to close the gap between reading and
computer use is by forming online book clubs. Many public libraries offer summer online book clubs
to encourage pleasure reading and also provide online

forums for kids to discuss the books and
socialize (“new” literacies practices) (Scharber, 2009). This type of book club can easily be adapted
for use in any classroom. One such adaptable resource is
. T
his website is free, secure
and offers many ways to engage the club members (daily greetings, surveys, discussions/topics,
hyperlinks, chatrooms, etc.). In addition, as this is an established and secure site, teachers can set up
their own book clubs quickl
y and easily. This site also incorporates components such as grades and
quizzes for use in a school setting. Other advantages include readers joining in at their convenience,
readers in any local can join in

distance is no obstacle (allowing students to
gain insight from other
cultures), different forms of media can be brought into the club, and most importantly, this interaction
would foster critical thinking by having the club members support their
comments and
ideas. These
based clubs capitali
ze on kids’ interest in new literacy practices while complementing, and
hopefully encouraging, traditional reading practices (Scharber, 2009).

To take these book clubs one
step further, educators may choose to use e
books rather than
printed bo
oks. E
books are available in forms ranging from toy
inspired books, CD
storybooks, online texts, and downloadable books and documents (Larson, 2009).
In addition,
can be viewed on a number of devices (laptops, desktops, hand held devices). As

Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


progresses, e
books continue to expand the reading experience by adding multi
modal features. These
include such things as video, audio, hyperlinks and other interactive tools.

Such tools invite readers to
physically interact with the text thro
ugh inserting, deleting, or replacing text; marking passages by
highlighting, underlining, or crossing out words; adding comments by inserting notes, attaching files,
or recording audio comments; and manipulating the page format, text size, and screen layo
ut (Larson,
Features such as these allow the readers to interact with the text and make notes for future
discussion as well as engage with the text on a more personal

and cognitive


Rosenblatt’s (1938/1995) transactional theory

of reader respo
nse explains th
at each reader
breathes life into the text through personal meaning making and individual experiences. E
clearly offer new opportunities and extended possibilities for personal interpretations of and
engagement with texts (Hancock, 200

WebQuests are yet another way to engage students in online (reading) activities. WebQuests
have an immediate connection to the constructivist English classroom in that they are inquiry
and centered on a doable, differentiated, engaging task. The i
nnovative twist, outside of its structure, is
that the activity, its resources, and possibly even its product are all found online (Kajder, 2003). A
complete WebQuest consists of an introduction, a task, a process for completing the task, online
(preselected by the teacher), and an evaluation (Kajder, 2003).
WebQuests are flexible and
popular enough that a teacher can use ones already created, adapt one to meet his or her requirements,
or create one that allows the integration of specific standard
s and/or expectations/goals. This flexibility
also enables the teacher to cater to particular student needs

and push them to strive beyond where they
were before

and a bit outside their comfort zone

Technology implementation often stimulates teachers
to p
resent more complex tasks and material. Technology appears to stretch teachers’ expectations
concerning what their students might be able to accomplish. The functionality of the technology
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


suggests complex tasks, and teachers see these tasks as feasible gi
ven technological supports (Means
& Olson, 1994).


A current obstacle to integrating new liter
acies is the lack of curriculum
based standards for
these literacies


much is centered around traditional printed text. Even if the school is agre
eable to
pedagogical reform that allows critical multimedia literacy to be incorporated into classroom practices,

is constant juggling of two systems

new pedagogical approach

but the same mode

assessment. Although it has been argued that to s
ecure social futures in an increasingly globalized
world, new literacies should be developed in the learners, this may not be effectively practiced in
classrooms when the alignment between curriculum and assessment remains weak (Tan & Guo, 2010).

As an exa
mple, students working on a podcast could only be assessed based on the written
(preliminary) component, as the digital component is not covered under most state’s curriculum
standards and/or prescribed learning outcomes.

There is broad recognition that t
o change our expectations about what students should know
and be able to do will involve also changing both the standards by which student achievements are
judged and the methods by which students’ accomplishments are assessed (Sheingold & Frederiksen,

When asked how technology is affecting students, teachers mention positive changes in such
student abilities as sophisticated problem solving, writing, collaborative learning, global awareness,
independence and efficacy, and engagement and motivation,
as well as in students’ specific technology
skills (Baker, Herman, & Gearhart, 1989).

Current standardized tests do not assess these types of skills
(problem solving, complex thinking, etc.) and thusly need to be either restructured or done away with
etely. One such example illustrating this problem is student writing.
During standardized testing,
students are required to complete an essay in one sitting

very little room is given for revising or
reviewing. Standardized testing does not allow for the
word processing skills the students have learned
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


to be assessed


word processing encourages a more in depth writing process (critical thinking) and
allows students to revise their work.

Technology is predominantly used in formative (as opposed to summ
ative) assessment and

provides an excellent way to ai
d student learning, giving key feedback when it is needed. A
technological solution to assessment has many advantages over its paper counterpart:


it allows more than one


it can supply hints or a
‘cheat’ key


it can give immediate feedback


it can guide students’ reading as a result of the test


you can feed in distracters to students as they progress

In addition, technology can be used in assessment in a variety of ways:


to collate, disseminate and a
nalyse course and assessment data


as a tool of assessment


to assess learning

(Maier, Barn
ett, Warren, & Brunner, 1998)

The current trend of assessing based on performance (as opposed to recalling facts) is a large
step in the right direction. Many

systems now require students to keep, build on, and turn in,
portfolios of work done over an extended period of time (in some cases, several years).
allows these portfolios to be stored electronically, eliminating the need for cumbersome paper
materials that constantly need to be transported. In addition, having electronic versions of student work

reviewing of performances giving educators ample opportunity to evaluate the work without
having to rely solely on memory. More room for
group discussion is also made possible given this

These portfolios provide useful evidence of the student’s growth and development, as well
as of the final levels of performance attained. In assessment programs that rely on portfolios, students

are often encouraged to consider what should go into their portfolios, why they have made their
particular choices, and how their work has evolved over the period their portfolios cover (Sheingold &
Frederiksen, 1994).

When students are active participant
s in their own performance assessment, they
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


are more likely to think critically about what work is included and why (keeping in mind strengths and
weaknesses of their work

and ways to improve).

Through modeling and close monitoring of student thinking, t
eachers need to ensure that
students have strategies for assembling knowledge and understanding content (Kajder, 2003).

Exercises such as KWL charts and other graphic organizers can be used to assess student

s knowledge
and understanding in regards to hypertext (and other forms of new literacies). As in traditional text,
discussion following the reading of online/hypertext is a valuable tool in assessing what students take
away from what they read in addition
gaining an understanding as to the path they chose and why

Implications and Conclusion

Technological c
hanges and advancements
in today’s society

dictate that changes need to take
place in the classroom as well. In regards to the Language A
rts, educators need to place more
importance on new/digital literacies

(as well as the importance of critically thinking about these

and their implications both in and out of the school environment.
Traditionally, an English
class has relied he
avily on print based media. While this form of literature is still very important and
should not be disregarded, it should no longer be the main

Bringing about these changes also requires that teachers have a strong knowledge base
in regards to

these new literacies and best methods needed to engage all students regardless of cultural
background or skill/achievement level

teaching strategies need to be in place for ELL’s, struggling
students, high achievers, and students from all et
hnic and eco
nomic backgrounds

(a teacher can only
teach what he or she knows well

this holds true with critical thinking and new literacies just as it
does with math and science)
The teacher also needs to believe that these
new literacies are important
and that the
re is a
need for them to be an integral part of the modern classroom

if he or she places
Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


little or no value on new literacies, they won’t be successfully taught and the students will not see
learning about them as relevant/important in relation to their

In many cases, teachers need strong support and training in order to successfully incorporate
new literacies into their curriculum

(he or she may not be aware of these technologies

aspects of the technologies

some of this support may

very well com
e from the students themselves.
If teachers are not comfortable with new literacies, they

will need to step out of the confines they are
used to in order to
use these literacies in ways that
make connections to the lives of their students.
teachers must


have a strong understanding of popular culture (what the students are
interested in) and ways to use
pop culture and technology

to engage the students.

Creating a more interactive, collaborative based learning e
nvironment w
ill aid in allowing
students to work with
their peers

as well as with the teacher. This
type of
atmosphere encourages
students to immerse themselves deeper in their work, making it more personal (bringing in connections
to their lives outside of school) as

well as work and communicate with other students (the importance
of teamwork and peer input).

When the students work together collaboratively, they place themselves
in the role of a teacher, enabling them to take more ownership of their learning.

As the

role of the student changes, so must t
he role of the teacher. It is no longer viable for a
teacher to solely impart knowledge

he or she should now take the part of facilitator

allowing for a
more s
centered classroom.
As the teacher becomes more
of a facilitator, he or she will have the
advantage of learning from the students

aspects of their backgrounds, their learning styles, and their
interests (all of which should be incorporated into the subject matter
and projects
covered in class).
More e
mphasis needs to be placed on the students, their experiences, and their backgrounds.
When the
students see that the teacher values their knowledge and input, the students are much more likely to be
enthused and engaged.
the interaction between pee
rs and teachers
, students have the tendency
to become


Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


As technology is an ever
changing environment, teachers and classrooms today and in the
future (including my own) must be malleable. It is vital that educators impart skills relevant to th
current forms of technology, digital literacies, as well as the critical thinking skills necessary to
fully use and these forms of media. In conjunction, professional development needs to become
much more of an ongoing reality in order to make sur
e teachers have the necessary skills to not only
use these new technologies, but methods to teach and use them in ways that engage the students
(incorporating aspects of student’s lives, interests and experiences).

In direct correlation, standards and
ssment must reflect these new technologies and ways of thinking


they are no longer
given modern times.

“We need to advocate for better standards, demand better reading assessments,

support greater professional development and instruction, enc
ourage school
leadership, and build bridges with reading communities and online literacy”
(Leu, 2010).

Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies




Scoring Rubric for Evaluating Reliability and Credibility of Web Pages






Rich and Relevant Information


Determine the author’s
expertise on the topic

Information includes the author’s
occupation, experience, and educational
background. This is found within the site,
not just on the target page.


Learn more about the site
where the page appears.

Information includes who supports the
Web site (an individual’s page, an
educational site, a commercial site, and
organization) and contact information.


Check out the links from the
author’s page to other pages.

The facts/pictu
res/videos can be
substantiated at other sites. Links add to
both credibility and resources available.
External links are to helpful sites.


Find out which Web pages
have links pointing to the
author’s page or to the
sponsoring organization’s

Information from sites that link to the
author’s page is legitimate and provides
documentation for the author’s page.


Look for “pages on the
Web” rather than Web pages
about the author or

Information is triangulated
availabl from
more than

one source, preferably three

from traditional sources such as
newspapers, magazines, or library
resources on the Web.


Determine how recently the
pge was published or

Information is included about the date of
publication. That date is timely,
especially in relation to the content.


Assess the accuracy of the
information in the document.

Information is included about the
accuracy of the content and its
presentation (grammar, spelling,
punctuation, layout).


Look for bias in the
presentation of

the Web

Information includes an examination of
the language within the document
(extreme, appeal, limited perspective).


Assess the evidence
presented to support
opinions or conclusions
expressed in the document.

Information includes evidence to

opinions and conclusions expressed in the
document (data
driven, references
provided, author contact information).


Check to make sure that the
information included is
complete and, if applicable,
cited from a current source.

Information is not
“under construction.”
Copyrighted material is cited and an
effort to maintain its timeliness is clearly


Check whether design of the
site promotes the
information and reflects
balanced “splash”.

Multimedia, if included, assist in
information AND are
appropriate. Site follows the 80/20

Critical Thinking in Response to Digital Literacies


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