New Media, New Literacies, New Schools

Research area to be addressed:

 The advent of digital technologies and concomitant widespread digitization of materials, media, and tools has led to several important digitally-induced changes (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003). These are:

  1. Changes in the world to be known, arising from the ever-expanding digital world based on bits (as opposed to the traditional analog and physical world based on atoms)
  2. Changes in conceptions of knowledge and processes of ‘coming to know’ contingent upon deeper incursions of digitization into everyday practices
  3. Changes in the constitution of knowers, reflecting the impact of digitization (see also Negroponte, 1995)
  4. Changes in the relative significance of, and balance among, different forms and modes of knowing, associated with the impact of digitization

These changes have profound implications for living and working in a 21st century world. They also portend inevitable changes that are needed if teaching, learning, curriculum, and assessment are to effectively serve the educational needs of present and future generations of students.

Central to the changes highlighted above is the development and preparation of students as digital epistemologists. Since the time of Plato, Western thought has adhered to the epistemological model of knowledge as “justified true belief.” This has led to an emphasis on the teaching of subject content, the core of justified true beliefs, and, to a lesser extent, the disciplined procedures associated with the development of that content. Teacher-directed learning and curricular partitioning have thus become entrenched as the ‘deep grammar’ of schooling (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003), and the transmission of propositional knowledge has held sway in classrooms.

The present era of digital technologies and new media call for a fundamental reconsideration of the literacies required in a media-rich and highly interconnected world (Chee, 2002). In this era where digital technologies can readily manipulate material media that used to be incontrovertible evidence of ‘truth’ (e.g. photography in the past was a source of strong evidence, but this is no longer the case given the ready availability of digital image editing software), it becomes imperative for students to develop a critical awareness and personal understanding of the entire process of knowledge construction and to be able to make sound judgments of knowledge claims. Deep awareness and understanding can only be developed in the context of direct engagement in the critical production and consumption of all forms of media, accompanied by processes of reasoning, design, creativity, innovation, imagination, critical thinking, and cultural participation (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, & Weigel, 2006). As a developmental learning process, students learn to develop their own voice and sense of identity, and they learn to eventually function as full members of multiple authentic communities. School ceases to be a preparation for living. It becomes a participation in authentic everyday living. As media and knowledge workers, even while in school, students learn to work with digital technologies and new media to take the knowledge construction/reconstruction process continually forward (e.g. via machinima and mashups), with constant reinvention and recreation of knowledge, to achieve new ends and purposes (The New London Group, 1996). Thus, the epistemological focus shifts from an overriding concern with justified true belief, based upon norms of scientific method, to a performance epistemology: knowing as an ability to perform in ways that create personal, social, economic, and creative value. Performance epistemology is, in turn, situated in the context of collective and distributed intelligence (Levy, 2000; Salomon, 1993) where learning is no longer oriented toward “getting knowledge into individual heads.”



Chee, Y. S. (2002). Refocusing learning on pedagogy in a connected world. On the Horizon, 10(4), 7–13.

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Ronbinson, A. J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Chicago: IL: MacArthur Foundation.

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2003). New literacies: Changing knowledge and classroom learning. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

Levy, P. (2000). Collective intelligence: Mankind's emerging world in cyberspace (New edn.). New York: Perseus Books Group.

Negroponte, N. (1995). Being digital. New York: Vintage Books.

Salomon, G. (Ed.). (1993). Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations. New York: Cambridge University Press.

The New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1).

Authored by Chee Yam San
Learning Sciences Lab, NIE, Singapore
26 February 2007


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