Saturday, September 25, 2004

United Kingdom Literacy Association (UKLA) 2005 Research Day - Digital Literacies

The United Kingdom Literacy Association's 41st Annual Conference takes place July 8-10 in Bath. Already, a great programme is emerging which includes speakers such as Barbara Comber, Eve Gregory, Suaib Meacham and Eve Bearne.

Of particular interest to those of us researching and teaching in the field of digital literacies is the 2005 Research Day preceding the conference on the 7th July. This is titled "Digital Literacies" and will include as speakers - Mizuko Ito, Keri Facer, Carey Jewitt, Julian Sefton-Green and Valerie Walkdine. Each of these speakers is researching at the cutting edge of the implications of digital technologies for identity and literate practices. Registration and further information can be found at

Looking forward to seeing you there in 2005.

Online games, digital literacy and identity

Digital texts and their particular affordances are fascinating. This is a screen capture of an online game called "Mucha Lucha" which is based on a hugely popular (but admittedly strange) Warner Brothers masked wrestling themed animation of the same name. While amusing, it is at the same time instructive of the ways in which young people can now understand themselves and their access to the world outside home, school and local community.

To play this small online game, one goes to the site, constructs a wrestler (in the same way that any avatar is constructed from a limited range of stylistic options) and then waits for someone else to enter the arena and agree to a wrestling match.

Out in the world beyond the computer screen, another person has also constructed a wrestler and chosen to enter the online wrestling arena. Although this person is anonymous and known only by their avatar and self-chosen wrestling name (i am known to my fans as "The Tick" -- a name sure to create terror in all adversaries) s/he represents a living, breathing person somewhere else in the world with which I can interact in a shared virtual space and shared enterprise. Suddenly, i am no longer limited to my loungroom or neighbourhood. I am a citizen of a wider world who shares skills, knowledge and practices with others outside my immediate sphere.

One of the consequences of the rapid shift to digital technologies has been the ways in which children and young people are increasingly able to gain access to other people across the world. Issues of time, distance and economic capacity are no longer the same kinds of limiting factors they once were. Children in Australia are able to engage with the young (and not so young) in Poland, Singapore, Ukraine, America and many places in between. This kind and speed of access was unimaginable even ten years ago.

This seemingly simple shift, represented here in this one online game, has profound implications for literacy educators, particulary those of us who work in primary and early childhood settings. Where once, childhood texts were easily monitored and regulated and interactions with those outside home and school were limited, this is no longer the case for increasing numbers of children. These children have new skill sets, new views of themselves as active participants in a range of virtual and physical social sites, and new expectations of how and why they might manipulate text. As educators, how are we to respond? The debates are ongoing.