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Revisiting Multiliteracies & Moving On

I have been interested in a multiliteracies approach to English language learning and teaching for almost a decade now. I've been blogging about it since 2010 and I gave a presentation on this for two conferences in Iowa. I decided to put this interest aside so I could complete my dissertation on another topic and search for jobs. Now that a few years have passed, I'd like to share how my interest has changed.

The foundation of my interest is best represented by the Prezi I made (below) for my 2010 MIDTESOL Conference presentation:



My primary reference was Stuart Selber's 2004 book Multiliteracies for a Digital Age, published by Southern Illinois University Press. While working for the Kirkwood Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (KCELT), I found some similarities between my highlighted concepts from Selber's book and the Framework for 21st Century Learning, which you can view at http://www.p21.org/our-work/p21-framework. The third category (Information, Media, and Technology Skills) focuses on these literacies, which have been becoming trendier topics at teaching conferences. One of my colleagues, Michael Griffin, wrote about how these 21st Century Learning outcomes can be distracting to English language teachers.

Teacher Resistance to a Multiliteracies Approach

After spending a year promoting 21st Century Learning practices at KCELT and failing to find wide support to integrate multiliteracies into an intensive English program's curriculum, I have come to the conclusion that most teachers are resistant to adopt a multiliteracies approach. One reason for this is that there is no model for the immediate context. Some of the intensive English program (IEP) teachers were interested in this approach, but they needed to see it in action. Granted, only one study from the literature I reviewed for my 2011 presentation on multiliteracies was in a similar context in Canada, but it only was applied to academic writing.

Another reason for resistance, which hadn't become clear to me until after reviewing my two presentations, is that the term "multiliteracies" is most likely a buzzword that did not get enough buzz. The term "21st Century Learning" took elements from multiliteracies and overshadowed it. Because this term is thrown around so much by publishers and education technology industries that many teachers have lost interest as it seems its more about the product or the brand than actually learning in the classroom.

Abandoning the Buzzwords

I am still very interested in integrating digital literacy and information literacy into the English language classroom. Information literacy is very well established and English language teachers can consult their local or school librarian on ideas of how they can help integrate information literacy into assignments, courses, and curricula. In fact, the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) provides an excellent resource for information literacy competency standards at http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/informationliteracycompetency#stan. If you teach English for academic purposes, you may be surprised or comforted to see how your class already addresses many of these standards.



Digital literacy is not as clear cut as information literacy. Deakin University (Australia) provides a useful 13-page guidebook on digital literacy at http://www.deakin.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/38006/digital-literacy.pdf, but I find it overlaps quite a bit with the information literacy standards from the ACRL. Canada's Centre for Digital and Media Literacy has a website dedicated to these concepts at http://mediasmarts.ca/. You can see how digital media is interwoven with information literacy and is part of multiliteracies.


As a curriculum developer, my favorite resource is from Open University. They have a digital and information literacy framework available to the public at http://www.open.ac.uk/libraryservices/subsites/dilframework/. Here teachers can find inspiration to design activities, lessons, and syllabi to integrate these literacies into the English language classroom.

Going Back to Communication

What I liked about the original proposal for a multiliteracies approach to education was that it took into consideration how sociocultural differences within and beyond the classroom could create barriers in communication. And communication is an (if not the) underlying purpose for learning a language. Because of this, I believe it is important that we give intercultural competence as much weight as information and digital literacies, which are only tools to communicate and interact with people.

So I propose that curriculum designers and teachers integrate intercultural competence into their courses. I assume that this should be the easiest of the three areas (in addition to information and digital literacy) to integrate into a class because language and culture are bound together. However, assessing intercultural competence is and some would say it's impossible to measure. There are some tools out there for measuring intercultural competence and the University of Michigan's Center for Research on Learning and Teaching provide some good resources at: http://www.crlt.umich.edu/interculturalcompetence.

My Plan


Because I anticipate teacher resistance to integrating information and digital literacies and intercultural competence into the English language classroom, my plan is to create a blended curriculum that can be used face-to-face, online, or both. I would like to use Wikipedia as the "textbook" as it is an open educational resource (OER). However, I am aware that some countries, like Turkey, do not have access to Wikipedia, so it's not completely accessible to everyone around the world. And I would like to pilot the online version myself for free. Would anyone be interested in trying out a face-to-face or hybrid version when or after I offer the online version?

I anticipate this will take some time (3-12 months) to create. This blog post demonstrates my first step, which is collecting standards and performance indicators for this curriculum. Of course, I also included outcomes for learning English for Academic Purposes. These outcomes are central to the other add-on outcomes that will make this course unique. If you know any other examples of a similar curriculum, please let me know. I'm willing to collaborate, but I'm also interested in finding sponsors. I need more substance before that latter step, but I'm not sure it's something I can scale up.

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