Friendly Neighbourhood Computers - Continued from Page 1
For many of the project participants, learning computer basics was accompanied by instruction in basic print literacy. They were equally as worried about their ability to read and write as their ability to use computers. Participants improved their writing skills through using the word processors spelling and grammar cues, reading and composing a broad range of texts, and communicating through many genres and media. The learners set their own goals and decided on their own projects. Some participants were learning English as a second language. Along with their friends and fellow participants, they wrote e-mail messages, composed stories and other texts for their children, began journals, and created signs and greeting cards.
For all of the participants, multiple literacies were acquired in concert. Literacy with images was acquired through taking digital pictures, scanning photographs and other images, then manipulating them to achieve a desired effect. As the project continued, tutors and participants together designed special workshops to learn additional literacies. For example, workshops incorporated discussions on how to evaluate the validity and accuracy of information found on the Web, and analysed electronic games and their pros and cons for children.
As I have demonstrated, the concept of multiliteracies conveys an expansion of definitions of texts and text practices, extending beyond skills of decoding and encoding print texts to include the ability to understand and use information and a wide variety of texts for active participation in a knowledge-based society. It means being able to function effectively in a broad range of social, cultural and democratic contexts. A multiliteracies pedagogy such as that practiced within our project incorporates the everyday practices of reading, writing, viewing, speaking, listening, and participating in community, into social events.
In our project, social interaction was encouraged in a variety of ways. Several participants, often with tutors, crowded around five networked computers, in a small computer room. Participants tutored new learners, volunteered in the school computer room, wrote for the Brighter Futures Newsletter, and delivered presentations at international conferences. Most importantly, the learners were producers of their own texts for their own purposes, rather than consumers of others texts and programmed activities.
Computer activities promoted readiness to learn and provided opportunities to practice multiliteracies, which led to improved reading and writing. For one individual, who declared himself illiterate at the beginning of the project, the process of learning computers and basic literacy was dramatic. Beginning by reading and keyboarding a childrens ABC story book, he gradually progressed, with the help of his tutor Laura, to creating and illustrating with clip art his own accounts of events in his life and his familys life. He wrote and read to his twin sons a record of their activities together. He began to write letters to provincial politicians and distributed a petition in his neighbourhood. He wrote an article for the Brighter Futures Newsletter, and composed and delivered a speech about his participation in the project. He left the project to join another work readiness program, with increased confidence and new literacy practices.
Through learning multiliteracies, the participants constructed new identities. They moved into different social contexts, ones opened up to them through learning new literacies and discourses. Learning to use computers was viewed as an accomplishment, a source of pride, an important activity that carried more status in the eyes of the learners than learning print literacy. As strong supporters of adult literacy projects, Phyllis Artiss and I urge the provision of computers for all such projects. We believe that the availability of computers will promote the learning of multiliteracies that are valuable for citizens in the twentyfirst century.
For more information about multiliteracies and the New London Group, see B. Cope & M. Kalantzis (Eds.), Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures (Routledge, 2000). This research project was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the National Literacy Secretariat, whose vital support we gratefully acknowledge. It was also generously supported by our community partner, the Brighter Futures Coalition. I also acknowledge gratefully the vital contribution of the many graduate and undergraduate tutor-researchers and the research participants, whose enthusiasm and hard work made it all worthwhile.
Roberta F. Hammett is Associate Dean for Graduate Programs, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland. The computer project continues under the leadership of Mabs at Brighter Futures Coalition, project participants, and committed tutors.
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