Table of Contents

Breakaway Literacies:
New Composition Models and Challenges in the 21st Century

children in school library at computers reading and collaboratingA distilled definition of literacy is the capacity to both compose and understand what goes on a page. Frans Hals 1600 painting of a boy reading the Frans Hals painting of the year 1600 on the left, to a school library computer lab on the right from the year 2000, the culture requirement to read has only expanded. However, "best practices" for the communication of 21st century working adults has put the definition of "page" through a rapid, expansive and multimedia-injected transformation (Lanham, 1995^; Lankshear, 2006^). This has consequently encouraged a growing sub-population of more digitally privileged young adolescents to follow. Some have built on school literacy (Bruce, 2009^; Jenkins et al, 2009^; Mioduser, Nachmias & Forkosh-Baruch, 2008^; Rhodes & Robnolt, 2009^) and others have been sufficiently frustrated to break from school curriculum "to drop out of or graduate early from school" (Jenkins et al, 2009, p.3^). These youth have instead used the participatory culture of the Web to learn the challenging curriculum of what might be called the breakaway literacies of the digital palette. A slightly older group of the digitally privileged use this knowledge as the foundation for driving the exponential growth of entrepreneurship in the 21st century (Friedman, 2005^, 2010^). The challenge and danger to addressing the enormous problems of the 21st century are that so few are aware and competent to use the full range of these new ideas to not only invent solutions to the questions at hand but to sift the unanalyzed and ignored accumulating data of the knowledge explosion to find new questions and answers.

Such developments foreshadow education's need to address the oncoming tsunami of the Web on a computer at each student desktop in the classroom, moving this knowledge about digital composition and understanding beyond the homes of the advantaged. Middle level educators may be uniquely empowered to exploit this emergence, not only by virtue of the age they teach, but by many tenets of middle level educational theory (NMSA, 1995^; NMSA, 2009^). However, irrespective of age level, a need has emerged for a new framework for literacy that provides guidance and priorities for building the curriculum structures that will integrate the full scope of new literacy needs. A reconceptualization is needed (Luke, 2002^). These thoughts are intended to help educators with the vision, models, knowledge, curriculum and questions that will help bring a new paradigm in world culture to life in our classrooms and our communities. What are the implications of the emergence of 21st century literacy?

Some Questions

As reading is a response to the composition of others, identifying transitions in knowledge about composition on a page will also set the stage for new requirements for reading and as well as writing and additional forms of composing. Using the less than comprehensive examples of the next paragraph, a 21st century literate person would be one who can compose text, interactive formats, video and statistical data, and knows how to put the video and the mathematics on a digital page combined with further analysis such as graphing.

The examples of this paragraph show that composing a Web page can include text, video,

and an interactive and dynamically changing table of data and graphs.

This means that all these forms of communication must be "read" and the integration of the collaboration of their ideas contemplated. As examples of this reality, interact with these elements. Click the TV news show image for the CBS news video feed of the moment (which will generally require enduring a commercial for the privilege). Such embedded video could also be previously recorded. The video news might even be directly impacting the stock market data table with its dynamic graphs. This information in turn might make obsolete the analysis of the accompanying text. Enter a different stock symbols such as IBM or AAPL as examples. Are teachers and students in K12 or higher education ready to compose and teach composition for even this common level example of 21st century thinking? What would an even more significant level of compositional convergence look like? What level of additional instruction would that require? What progress is being made to teach this level of literacy to college students, let alone K-12?

Preparing to meet such needs will likely encounter numerous strategic issues. One classic definition for determining world literacy rates is the ability to read and write a simple sentence in any language or as stated by the CIA Factbook in publishing world literacy rates, "the ability to read and write at a specified age" (CIA, 2009^). If it is the responsibility of the person designated as the language arts teacher to address reading and writing text, then who should have responsibility for the new agenda? Does pouring the new digital wine in the old wine skin of our current educational system cause it to break or does it expand? If the teaching role does not expand through greater inclusion within existing job descriptions, is the alternative to broaden the definition of literacy in some hyphenated way but to restrict the definition of reading and writing to text? Should the expansion be a "digital literacy" teacher? Such an expanded view of literacy may introduce some dissonance for those for whom reading means reading and writing written characters only. If the role of reading and writing is not expanded, then eventually a new territory must be carved out for a digital literacy specialist who must also cover the role of text in integration with all the rest of the multimodal possibilties for a Web page. Do the principles of effective writing and reading of text have important things to contribute to digital literacy or not?

The UNESCO definition for literacy is the "ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts" (UNESCO, 2004^). UNESCO's definition has clearly recognized the need to incorporate digital thinking into the development, but the logic and grammar of this sentence are striking in regards to its use of the word compute. What does it mean to compute? Does it refer to the computer printing out written materials or users creating something on a computer in order to print it out? Is compute an oblique reference to the Web or the ability to use a calculator or skill with word processing? In attempting to include the digital age UNESCO tacks on the concept of computers in a way that does nothing to explicate their new role, adding little to the meaning of literacy in the process of its inclusion. The awkwardness of UNESCO's reference to compute is a sign that the historical paradigm for literacy couched in the framework of printed and written materials is not stretching well to cover a new age of literacy.

Many are at work in urging a new language that is more inclusive (Bruce, 2009^; Mioduser, Nachmias & Forkosh-Baruch, 2008^; Rhodes & Robnolt, 2009^). A new definition must serve as a springboard for asking a more basic question. Is there a way to categorize and operationalize the instruction for what adults in the working world are increasingly doing, in a way that is inclusive of both paper and pages on the Web? Considering answers returns full circle to the distilled definition. Literacy is the ability to understand and compose what goes on a page. What is not being articulated by educational practice or funded by educational finance is that the definition of page has passed through a major transition, a transition which is more fundamental and deeper than the addition of the word compute.

Growth in the creation of Web pages (which in turn link with multiple forms of media) has been significant. Though the size of the Web is a difficult thing to measure, Google reported one measure, an index of over a trillion unique Web addresses in July of 2008 (Alpert & Hajaj, 2008^). This collection is likely to be just a tiny fraction of the portion of the Web that is behind passwords. Web pages certainly loom large in any future scenario of information management. A set of questions guides these considerations in providing help for this transition in literacies. What are the major forms of composition that are routinely placed on the pages of the Web? How are these digital Web forms being strategically combined and integrated with the historical precedents of 21st century literacy? By what strategies will society incorporate the new literacies into public school and higher education curriculum for all students? How can educators create deeper recognition of the national and global economic opportunity of the mission for new literacy?


These questions and the rapid changes that have stimulated them have also created tensions about definition and goals for literacy as well as opposition to the replacement of many canons of educational practice with the unsettled and seemingly untamed nature of the Net. The ideas below provide two models that explore the evolution of the symbiotic relationship of literacy's key components, composing and understanding in relationship to available technologies. This language is a new rhetoric intended to replace the phrase of reading and writing in a way that accommodates both the print and the digital era. These and additional models help address practical definition, strategy and theory on how digital literacy can be visualized for those educators and families seeking to build digital competencies at each level of learning and in each of the digital model's content area.

The first sections address a model for thinking about and making digital composition more accessible for educational integration. A later section explores a philosophical and strategic model for reaching new levels of understanding with the aid of the digital environment. Another section covers some of the current problems while a final section sets out an agenda for future strategies.


The Explosion of the Literacy Palette's Capacity to Compose

We are living within multiple exponential trends (Houghton, 2008a^) experiencing rapid growth in knowledge and knowledge systems that are running in parallel with a culture and climate facing ever higher rates of change, uncertainty and urgency. It is not surprising then that this has been accompanied by an "explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways" (Jenkins et al, 2009, p.8^) for symbol manipulation and idea management. The relentless drive of exponential developments, such as Moore's Law of doubling capacity and dropping costs, has enabled a new literacy to broaden its democratic reach. Our children are appropriating the tools of the new media scribes as such resources fall into the price range that children can access them and as the tools are simplified in order to grow their markets. In turn, learning these new forms of communication is supported by a new global digital library that teaches them as they reach for answers. How can we characterize and categorize the salient nature of this effort? The concept of an artist's palette provides one useful model for defining where literacy has been and where it is going within this milieu.

image of an artist's palette showing 3 blobs of paint on palette representing the ideas of frames, text, & imageThe paper literacy palette on the left represents the culmination of thousands of years of pre-digital communication on a surface, e.g., stone, bone, clay, papyrus, animal skins, paper and more. The last several hundred years could be described as Gutenberg focused, based on a foundational palette of text, cut and arranged into different sized frames of paper and into sidebar and inset divisions within a page. In recent history, this communication has been increasingly enhanced by color and still images.

State level assessments in K-12 and higher education however generally focus on a single element of the cellulose palette, text (Leu et al, 2004^), not on its image partner. This can readily be seen in the North Carolina Writing Assessment Proposal (2008b^) which projected plans through the year 2011. Building knowledge of how to compose an image whether by camera or graphics application apparently stills awaits the nod of approval for even 21st century education. However, even within the Gutenberg paradigm, the dominance of text on a paper page is sometimes reversed with image or images as the primary object with an overlay or annotation of text, as with the opening pages of most National Geographic articles, books for our youngest readers or maps. Compositions from books to magazines to posters to billboards built on this knowledge of text, frames and images. In spite of its increasingly significant use in 20th century print communication, image composition knowledge was barely taught in school curriculum, let alone evaluated and required in school compositions. Image thinking that leaps from almost every print and video means of communication still remains an endless stream of new literacy warning shots.

image of computer screen clicks to detailed graphic of examples and explanations of each of the 9 elements of digital literacy will explode a graphic with screen examples of windows from different applications with examples & explanations of the nine areas These warning shots were persistently ignored by educational systems and their curriculum and then the revolution happened. Late in the waning moments of the twentieth century, innovative thinkers using computer networks and a range of small to large computer systems forged the World Wide Web. The Web has become the synthesis of all prior forms of communication and a creative nursery for new ones. Its growth has been nothing short of astonishing. Though several educational scholars (Anstey & Bull, 2006^; Kalantzis and Cope, 2008^; Leu et al, 2005^; New London Group, 1996^; Selber, 2005^; Unsworth, 2001^) have urged a deeper look at the depth, relevance and importance of the Web's rich forms of communication, the discussion has lacked a summarizing analysis of the fundamental components. Luke (2002^) pointedly called for "...conceptual or practical frameworks for guiding the mix or blending of print and nonprint, visual and non-visual engagements". Obliging that request requires answering a basic question, which will determine what must be learned and taught. What are the current standard "best practice" modes of expression in the world of professional communication?

9 blobs of paint on the same palette shape as before but this time for 21st century communication with frames, text, images, video, sound, 2D & 3D animation, sensors, & reader inputOne purpose of the initial view of the digital literacy palette on the right is intended to address this need for a more clearly articulated view of the areas of Web composition knowledge. Historically, the Digital Palette also began with a foundational surge of text, digital text composing that accelerated and diversified with the spread of personal computer email, word processors, spreadsheets, databases, slideshows, desktop publishing, laser printers, the early Internet and more from the 1970s onward. The new palette's multimedia elements shot into public view with the commercial opening of the Web from 1994 onward. It is these new forms that provided the foundation of the breakaway literacies now surging around us.

This 21st Century Communication flowered into full life with the expanded Internet bandwidth available at the dawn of the 21st century. A more fully nuanced digital palette will gather other ideas about to be discussed present that image in the conclusion. graphic of pc screen showing one or more computer application windows or icons demonstrating use of frames, video, 2d, sound, images, 3d, text and sensors(Click the computer screen hotspot in the image to the right to explode out a view that provides annotated examples of applications for these categories. Click "hotspot" or this thumbnail image on the left, if the central image area does complete the click as indicated.)

There are nuances to this visual model that a still image does not articulate. In spite of the communicative strengths of a still image, the static 2D image does not and cannot fully represent the underlying palette ideas. The next evolution of this image needs to include 3D visualization for each media element to represent a continuum. This continuum includes the use of the media as both a form of individual static creation ( e.g., paragraphs of text, a Podcast). It further includes the use of the media as a form of interaction ( e.g., text chat, audio Web conference). Each of the current elements of the palette is both a composition medium and a live interactive communication medium. Two examples of their collaborative nature may suffice. Text is used to compose essays but also live text chat and 140 character Twitter messages via cell phones as well as computers. Sound is used for musical essays, radio shows and podcasting but also for Skype phone messages and large group Web audio conferencing. The continuum would also include the medium as a form of egalitarian collaborative editing (e.g., Wikipedia,’s Myna).

Each element needs to be animated, slowly morphing each blob of paint, each element merging into a new more complex morphing shape in the center. This is needed to express both the idea of the Web’s constant change in contrast to the historic idea of library as collection of “frozen in time” works and to express that the merging center represents the symbiotic, that is mutually enhancing aspect of mixing media. However, this is not a new reality. Human thought and composition have always worked in this way, but with the Web it happens faster, more integratively and more visibly.

The palette is also incomplete, and given the nature of human inventiveness, may perpetually be so. Some new elements can be predicted. Eventually the sensor category will include digital composition tools for the human senses now absent from the palette: smell, touch and taste. Other have perhaps not been imagined.

Because of the networked nature of these media, the new literacy is about more than mastering new technical skills. It has created a new mindset, forming different cultural priorities.

"What we want to say here is that in addition to being made of different ‘technical’ stuff from conventional literacies, new literacies are also made of what we might call different ‘ethos stuff’ from what we typically associate with conventional literacies. For example, they are often more ‘participatory’, more ‘collaborative’, and more ‘distributed’, as well as less ‘published’, less ‘individuated’ and less ‘author-centric’ than conventional literacies." Lankshear, 2006^, p.25.

Computer networks are inherently collaborative in their nature and the boundaries for this collaboration have not stopped with adults. Youth, largely without guidance by an adult advocate, are using the collaborative nature of the Web to not only gather and communicate at digital watering holes but to form composition teams irrespective of geography to create interesting work that is valued by adults. Educational professionals would benefit from demonstrating the courage to follow the youth in using the Web's collaborative systems to form new age collaborative teams that are irrespective of the location of their partners, for doing their own work of choice. That is, live online team teaching over the Net is well within reach of current school resources but educational systems lack the knowledge and organizational structure to readily put such teams together.

Different software applications and sometimes different hardware are needed for each of these categories of literacy. In an important parallel development, the source of the applications for these media has also been shifting, from the desktop computer to Web 2.0 technology, e.g., Web servers providing online composition and collaborative capacity for almost every application imagineable (Houghton, 2008b^). Beyond the paper medium of frames, text, and image, this palette's six additional forms of media are routinely and increasingly mixed and transformed in significant ways with each other and text on this Digital Palette and "painted" on the Web.

The accent of ongoing discussion defining new literacies for the 21st century varies with the professional experience and focus of many scholars. Reading scholars discuss new literacies in the context of word text skills, particular the digital text skills with sentences and phrases including word processing, chat, graphic outliners and slideshow work (Barone & Wright, 2008^; Mokhtari, Kymes, & Edwards, 2008^; Reinking et al, 1998^). Mathematics scholars accent the computer accessible text literacy of numeracy and quantitative thinking (Lange, 2008^). Media literacy scholars (Frechette, 2002^; Jolls & Thoman, 2008^; Livingstone, 2004^) take a critical thinking and media-centric view. At the same time the 1300 plus page digital literacy handbooks from both Coirio, Knobel, Lankshear & Leu (2008^) and Voogt & Knezek (2008^) and have pried open a wider perspective of literacy that is emerging from the narrower gaze of text-based and office-centric thinking. Though concluding that new literacy options were so diverse that it was now impossible for anyone to be fully literate, Coirio, Knobel, Lankshear & Leu (2008^) have encouraged educators to expand their curriculum to include the new literacy skills. In digesting the rich multiplex of these and other overlapping and competing definitions of literacy, Mioduser, Nachmias and Forkosh-Baruch (2008^) take a slightly different slant. They described a distinct gap between the inner world of print based educational systems and the outer world of the growing Web-based knowledge society. They urged education to support the "mastering of skillful functioning" in this emerging Web culture.

Society has financed a world that is building digital convergence for working adults but to date has only been willing to fund an intensive world of paper communication for K-12 school student activity. Digital convergence refers to the seemingly magnetic forces of attraction that are unleashed when the elements of information are made of the common denominator of digits. Within the sphere of cyberspace and the digital age, digits are the fundamental ones and zeros within computer chips, the on-off switches of which all content is made. All of the physical machinery of cyberspace is designed to support the flow and shaping of the patterns of these digits by those working and playing within this datasphere. The consolidation and combination of forms of communication unleashed by the invention of computer digits contrasts with the pre-digital age in which separate technologies were required to make a phone call, play a sound recording, share a picture, watch a movie or read a book. Put most succinctly, digital convergence is co-mingled bits (Negroponte, 1995^). The multiple media once housed in different rooms on multiple shelves have morphed into a common digital platform that evolving language began to call multimedia and then became multiliteracies. The ubiquitous and ever morphing designs of computers have become the glue, the nucleus for expression, to which the composers of the world increasingly turn to compose, share and explore a wide range of possibilities for self-expression, understanding and problem solving.

The leading edge of digital convergence is guided by the concept of "unified communications" (Pleasant, 2008^). The vision to date is working towards a set of tools that provides a consistent user interface and user experience across real-time communication services, multiple devices and media types (Haskin, 2007^). This goal is forging new ways to simplify and focus by unifying not just the technical means of communication, but enabling all to easily see and find the connectedness of ideas and sources of information related to a particular project or team mission (Rybczynski, 2007^). The separated and disjointed streams of ideas flowing through email, Web searches, visual media, phones messages, databases also need a ring that pulls related ideas together. Google's announcement of a product called the Wave (Perez, 2009^) and the joint announcement of UC2 by Cisco and IBM (Lawson, 2007^) are part of the early developments in this effort.

While adult practices accelerate over the horizon, many educators have noted the critical need to learn and teach youth the increasingly common multimedia forms of composition (Anstey & Bull, 2006^; Coiro et al, 2008^; Bearne, 2005^; Evans, 2005^; NCTE, 2008^; Selphe, 2008^; Voogt & Knezek, 2008^; Whitin, 2009^) that are shared in a variety of formats ranging from iPods to DVDs to the increasingly dominant World Wide Web. This instruction is just a beginning point. As the work on unified communications implies, this will require teaching not only the basic compositional knowledge of each form, but the means by which these forms are combined and recombined into new models of interaction and thought. Though research has been showing the significant impact of applying this new digital literacy to standard curriculum goals such as writing text (Waller, 2009^), these innovative forms of digital communication are generally uninformed by and have broken away from school educational leadership. Educational systems are often lacking some of the technical capacity and much of the in-depth knowledge needed to support let alone teach the full range of a palette of digital elements for composition and understanding, elements that make up the new literacy.

On what basis should the decision on the new definition and implementation of literacy be made? One of the major strategies in a long distance bicycle race is known as the breakaway. A rider attempts to sprint so far out ahead of the pack that the rider becomes out-of-sight to those behind. The leader is now able to set a slower pace but one still faster than those in the chase. Those following can only norm their pace on those around them and hope that the leader will become so exhausted at the faster pace that the trailing pack can catch up, but often does not. That is, a practical solution to the question would be to ask educators what they need but as their training and current curriculum requirements are so centered on the old palette, that like the trailing pack of bikers, the data collected might be a survey of those who do not yet have the vision of the present moment. The founder of Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford, is reputed to have said: ""If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse."

Determining need in a rapidly changing environment is as much about vision and concept as about surveys of practitioners to support predicted need. Consequently, the more functional solution taken here has been to examine adult communication on the Web to determine what is both present and emerging. Mr. Ford did not have an infrastructure of paved highways in place on which he could measure types of use. In the 21st century the digital highway is in place and the depth and breadth of use of the Digital Palette is a measure of its real-world application. One more change in basic assumptions is percolating through world culture and once again different world views are challenged to communicate with each other (Kuhn, 1962^). Addressing the Digital Palette model will require a gathering of new voices and a new strategy of K-20 scope and sequence development for each of its elements. Along with such innovation, there will be more discovery of artful ways to blend the palette's digital paint.

The Digital Literacy Palette also suggests development and strategy for the makers of the 21st century composition pad, the computer industry. The application suites on computers that provide highly integrated commands and procedures for digital composition have so far only yielded partial collections of the Digital Palette's composition tools that come with the operating system. Even the most advanced conceptualization, Apple's iLife suite, only covers half of the palette's composition array: text, still image, audio and video with a communication suite via iChat which lacks a whiteboard for still image communication. The other four modes of composition, 2D and 3D graphics and animation and sensor design are still missing from the suite. The extra expense of separate purchase and extra time to learn and use non-integrated applications slows their adoption.

The Digital Literacy Palette is not a means to settle these interlocking tensions of emerging definitions of literacy. It is used here to meet a more basic goal of identifying the obvious common ground from which further development can spring for all content areas. Any communication medium can diversify into rich complexity, but the composition foundations of Web media are increasingly free and knowable. In fact, increasing their knowability is an important goal of new literacy.



Exploring Composition and the Elements of the Digital Palette

Each element of the palette has the potential to add additional perspective that aids thinking and understanding. This has as much value for the author of the composition as it does for the composition's reader. Though not discussed in this brief overview, it should be noted that each of the new palette's areas has its own grammar or metalanguage for analysis and criticism, for talking about its compositional form. What is meant by each of the palette's forms of composition and communication that go beyond text?

icon representing Imageicon representing video icon representing sound Images, Video and Sound

The more common and readily understood terms on the Digital Palette include images, video, and sound. The iconic as well as marquee Web sites of Flickr (still images), YouTube (video) and the iPod and iTunes music store (audio) have firmly established the popularity, practicality and wide range of uses for these media on the Web, as both stand-alone media and their combined presence within Web pages. New competitors and variations on their offerings constantly emerge.

Other terms on the Digital Palette require some further explanation. The least familiar words on the digital palette are frame and sensor.


icon as a blob of grey paint representing in the icon for Frames Frames

On paper, frames are the shape of the printed page itself, as well as areas within the page, creating concepts such as a sidebar. The decisions about the size of these frames have been primarily made by publishers. To those same paper concepts, the web adds the capacity to mix different pages from different sources as different smaller frames within the same web page frame, the equivalent of displaying and independently controlling the contents and frame sizes of two or more books, side-by-side, within the same window (frame). Examples would include a simple essay with example to Google's image search results with one small frame at the top independent of the larger scrollable frame at the bottom or to the triple frame display of this essay besides the pages to which it links. "Digitally literate people not only represent an idea by selecting modes and tools but also plan how to spatially and temporally juxtapose multimodal texts to best represent ideas" (O�Brien & Scharber, 2008^, p.67). Frames are the means by which spatial and temporal structure are achieved. Part of literacy's new challenge is to enable all to both understand and create with the fullest range of digital literacy's capacity for frames. However, a frame by itself is not a composition, but rather the somewhat invisible and yet fundamental enabling technology in presenting all composition.

icon blob of paint for 2d & 3d composition2D and 3D Animation

The image, video and sound elements on the above Digital Palette are somewhat self-explanatory. However, though 2D and 3D animation compositions are common, their presence has been a later development in the history of the Web. These 2D and 3D elements of the Digital Palette refer to composition and use of two-dimensional and three dimensional animated multilayered images. This includes 2D applications such as Adobe Flash and gif animators and 3D applications such as Bryce or social 3D sites such as Second Life and almost every video game system on the market.

Second Life is just one of dozens of 3D applications that work over the Internet. Click the play button in the bottom left of the image area for a two minute example of some aspects of this 3D setting. The volume setting on the computer must be up in order to hear the audio track.


The uses of 2D and 3D animation and imagery also include statistical modeling of real world phenomena, new art forms, attention-getting animation in distracting advertisements, demonstrations and simulations of real and fictional world events and movies of great variety in length.

icon of blob of paint on the palette representing reader input Reader Input

The idea of reader input is of course not new, just transformed by the Web era. The history of the audience (e.g., the reader or observer) recording their comments or annotations related to some work is as ancient as the origin of composition. In the pre-Gutenberg manuscript era (before the printing press), manuscripts were kept in shared libraries. Annotations on the manuscripts themselves formed a social message thread with other readers. In the post-Gutenberg era of the Web, many mechanisms have already appeared that allow readers to once again add their own content to a Web composition, but this time unrestricted by the marginal space of a page. The historical period in between these periods of time has been referred to as the Gutenberg parenthesis (Pettitt, 2007^), the printing press era where cheap private ownership of books hides marginalia within the works on the private bookshelves of their owners. There is much to suggest that today's culture is in a transition to the post-Gutenberg era (Knobel & Lankshear, 2008^; Pettitt, 2009^; Rettberg, 2008^), increasingly expanding on pre-Gutenberg era ideas of constant recontextualizing, remixing, and playful interactive fluidity.

Reader Input means that digital writers/composers can plan for the composition of others in their own composition using a growing variety of digital systems and that Web readers can expect to be encouraged to write. The digital reader has become a medium. That is, Reader Input also deserves its own separate category on the above Digital Literacy Palette.

When a digital piece is written and posted to the Web, its meaning is in part refreshed with each reader's input. Web readers are increasingly encouraged to add input at the end of an article or at any point or even edit on the same page as the original authors, all within a richer variety of frame designs for displaying such information and activity. Blogging led the way to common use with its standard comment options. The CommentPress (Vershbow, 2007^) product provides an online annotation system for the more traditional essay style, allowing running comments for each paragraph. There would not be much further programming required to extend a comment option to each sentence or to give each paragraph or sentence its own unique Web address. The BookGlutton (2009^) site already provides social annotation for any paragraph for over 2,000 books, along with also providing searchable public notes and live built-in chat. Wiki composition goes one step further. It has enabled direct editing of the original author's text itself and this in turn accelerated online collaborative writing. Web editing systems can further assign multiple creators the authority to write and update even the tinest elements of a page. However, these annotation and editing systems are just the first examples that are likely to be followed by further innovative designs for comment and social editing.

This recent change to easily support reader input on the Web is being called the "read/write web" or Web 2.0. This model of annotation is being extended to other media, so that a video clip may be the comment to a video composition (blogging method), or the initial video clip might allow editing by someone else (wiki method). Bit by bit culture is reclaiming an understanding of the communal nature of knowledge.


Interactive Communication

Each of the eight digital forms of composition and their framing has also been used on the Web in another very significant way, as a system of interactive communication. This is increasingly live interaction that occurs between people, between people and digitally enabled machines, and between machines. This interactivity began first with text for email and live chat and then has expanded to other media. As with the Flash animated graphic of this paragraph, constant streams of video data can be both sent and received live by a personal computer. Sound is the basis for both a central web server machine that broadcasts Web radio live or as podcasts and an interactive Web phone call. That is, each of these media play a dual role, not only as a form of creative composition, but also as a stream of dialog using that media which in turn integrates other media within it or alongside of it.

People to people communication via the Web is a major part of Internet traffic whose educational value is barely understood. Where the language arts curriculum has always attended to the interactive nature of oral communication, the Web has contributed a nova-like eruption of interactive capacity, not only in forms of interactive communication between friends and work associates, but in the immediate planet-wide nature of its communication. For example, text literacy supports both global asynchronous email and computer synchronous text chat and phone text messaging, through personal computers and hand-held devices including smart phone text messaging. Other media are mixed included with this in a wide variety of ways. Just the long term impact of teachers teaming live via Web conferencing software between their formerly career long isolated classrooms will be immeasureably profound, a great next step in digital literacy for all teachers.

People to machine communication also may not be so obvious, but it is also a major part of Internet traffic. By one measurement, there were 22.4 billion search engine queries in April of 2008 in just the Asian-Pacific market alone (Vollman, 2008^). Some 450 millions searches occur every day in the United States of America (Helft, 2009^), heading towards a two searches a day average for every man, woman and child in the United States. For immediate examples of person-to machine communication, right-click on the word asynchronous or synchronous in this sentence and choose search from the menu that appears. Did such a menu appear? All the most common and most current browers support this two-click immediate person to machine communication. That is, right clicking any word on a page enables a web text search of Web servers for definition, including additional background information derived from the global net of servers. Further, Web search is just one kind of people to machine communication. Machine to machine under human supervision and direction was addressed in the sensor section above.

Interactive communication has also moved beyond text to all other media. Pairing of asynchronous and synchronous forms of communication continues through each of the options of the Digital Palette. For example, inexpensive webcams and phones enable quick synchronous Web page sharing of images and can also be used for live collaborative drawing across multiple computer screens either as a specialized function (e.g., the extraordinary GE Imagination Cubed site which will create an immediate sharable drawing page) or part of a larger set of webconferencing system features (e.g., Elluminate) . Increasingly, these devices are sharing live video as well. Inexpensive microphone-headphone sets combined with the Web's sound capacity turn the Internet into a giant jukebox of music and podcasts as well as a system of free global phone and video conference calls that can be multi-party conversations. Virtual reality sites such as Second Life routinely allow 2D and 3D animated objects to become elements of multi-party systems of communication and adventure. Screen movie capture programs also provides a video recording function that can capture the screen's 3D animation, webcam views and audio at any time. Thousands of Second Life YouTube video clips have been uploaded such as this one overviewing some of Second Life's educational possibilities. Second Life also provides private protected areas behind passwords. Many universities and other educational systems have their own private islands on which they have built numerous simulations for educational purposes.

The Web has allowed programmable person to machine and machine to machine interaction between sensors and their robotic operations whether computers are managing living spaces, plants, pets, a garden, an agricultural field or industrial manufacturing. New buildings are likely to have more Internet connections to devices in the infrastructure of the building itself than there will be computers being used by people within the building. The IP Smart Objects (IPSO) Alliance recommended that all sensors have their own unique Internet address, with examples of sensors including motion, structural stress, temperature and biometric (Nemertes Research, 2008^). The Internet Engineering Task Force is ready to make its recommendations and guidelines official in June of 2009, a development viewed with intense interest by by the massive financial interests of the Cisco Corporation and others. As a further example, planetary exploration using this sensor/robotics literacy is extending sensor communication capacity to Mars and beyond to the known universe.

The rich combination of media objects (e.g., text, audio, video, etc.) as rich elements of discussion for interactive streams of dialog over a computer network provide significant tools for building cooperative and collaborative people networks. Building on Vygotsky's (Wertsch, 1988^) theory of social learning, the visible nature of information in digital networks makes it easier to use and improve the social and therefore distributed knowledge (distributed cognition) of a team or larger community including those of students and teachers (Angeli, 2008^; Chan, van Aalst, 2008^; Hollan, Hutchins, & Kirsh, 2000^; Hutchins, 1995a^; Hutchins, 1995b^; Hutchins & Klausen, 2000^; Roberts, 1964^; Salomon, 1993^). In short, the power and the ease of forming divergent collaborative teams at any distance using these interactive formats is already having profound cultural and economic effects on a scale that ranges from neighborhoods to the globe (Friedman, 2005^). The global nature of the Net also provides significant opportunities for multi-cultural communication and stimulation for instruction in other languages, which could further extend the definition of what 21st century literacy should include.


icon representing sensors as red blob of paint Sensors

Sensor composition means to be able to find, engineer designs, place and setup electronic sensors to collect relevant data to solve a problem or manage an ongoing one. map of water sensors across the United StatesThis might include reporting the data to remote devices where it is later collected or sometimes automatically sending it to a server on the Internet for instant retrieval and automated insert into other compositions, ranging from functional forms such as an article's graphs and charts, to aesthetic forms of Web based art and music. It could include using continuous live accelerometer data from mobile cell phones to measure the reach of earthquakes or working from fixed position sensors to immediately control motors and gears of mechanical devices in various robotics uses. Sensors provide a significant real-world source of reading and composing of raw data for STEM agendas (science, technology, engineering and math). For example, the hotspot clickable WaterWatch map on the right of the 1.5 million water sensors of USGS or the more sophisticated NWIS Mapper can drill down to an array of sensors at multiple points of almost any stream in the United States. "We are really at a moment of sensor revolution, where you can look at what is happening with cell phones and what we can actually take in as inputs from the world. There's all kinds of new types of data to interact with" (Mayer, 2009^).

At the most basic level, sensors are simple measuring devices of great variety employed in compositional forms of great variety and range, foundational to higher levels of composition in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). "The impact of sensors will be as surprising in the decade ahead as microprocessors were in the 1980's and lasers were in the 1990's" (Saffo, 2002^). The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) plans to announce technical guidelines in June of 2009 that will give each sensor its own unique Web location, enabling the data from any sensor to be just as accessible and referenceable as any document or media composition that has a current Web address (Meritt, 2008a^). The Internet Protocol for Smart Objects Alliance (IPSO) (2009^) announced in the spring of 2009 that they had "successfully demonstrated interoperability with standards-based IP networks and Internet test servers", sensors and several varieties of wireless communication (Yahoo! Finance, 2009^). The chair of the IPSO Alliance, Geoff Mulligan notes that wireless Internet technology can be put in an under $2.00 device (Meritt, 2008b^). Can't find your toothbrush? A search of this emerging Internet of Things may report its current location and generate past history of its use. Given past history with the current Web and the immediate value of sensor data, it is a reasonable prediction that Internet based sensor use for STEM communication will be seen as having as stratospheric an impact on culture as has the growth of the Web to date.

Examples range from sensors that measure the acidity of a stream to the temperature of rooms throughout a building to complex sensor systems such as robots roaming the surface of Mars. a picture of 8 lego robotics sensors with the computer brick in the centerHome security and garden systems increasingly exploit such capacity. Some arrangements provide more, including historical data, graphs and maps of real-time ongoing events from an array of sensors. Text sensing must also be included in this category, for example, Google News alerts that use remote servers to constantly scan for user defined terms in the news and periodically send findings to user's email accounts. At the school level, WeatherBug has developed a nationwide network of weather centers. Also, Lego Robotics systems can not only connect their robots to the sensor set in picture of this paragraph, but also to Vernier's catalog of school targeted sensors for collecting real-world data. New sensor product companies (Perez, 2009^) are positioning themselves for the market of the Internet of Things are constantly emerging.

These examples of sensor systems barely hint at what will merge with existing Web compositions. Buildings will have more Internet enabled sensors in them than the people in that building will have Internet enabled computing devices such as iPhones and laptops. Cars that already contain dozens of sensors are morphing toward transportation robots that will maintain and communicate continuously with traffic monitoring and vehicle maintanence systems. Our houses, plants and outdoor gardens will seem to sing with wired and wireless data as they morph towards a PF (Personal Farm) era of solar powered home self-sufficiency in many forms of food. Toys may not only come with accessory sensor kits to rival any Barbie doll catalog but communicate with each other and their owners in forms of play barely imagined. Science and mathematics classes will see exponential growth in the immediate relevance and the social connectedness of what can be done and researched with real world data. It should also be noted that this development will come with the same leavening of reality that haunts the current Web with hackers, crackers and dictators probing for their own nefarious purposes. These are the quick and easy developments to imagine. As the Web has gone far beyond the imaginings of those who conceived of the Internet, so will sensor compositions and their role in the multimodal compositions of the future.

The sensor composition category also represent one of the most organized of the breakaway literacy developments of the digital literacy palette. Youth around the globe have been organizing as community and after-school clubs and teams from primary grades through high school. These teams use sensor compositions called robots to learn science and mathematics skills in a wide variety of robotics competitions, including: FIRST, with approximately 200,000 youth from over 38 countries (2008^); BEST (Boosting Engineering, Science, and Technology) with some 10,000 middle and high school students from over 700 schools in 2009; and Vex (approximately 10,000 middle and high school students in 2009).

It needs to be emphasized that the composition of sensor projects is closly allied with the composition of physical things, engineering. Not only can boxes of Lego parts be assembled into a wide range of protype designs, but the Lego bricks, the tiny shaped pieces of plastic, can be custom designed and ordered from the company Web page. It is a small step from here to 3D printers that lay down plastic in tiny layers to incrementally build up shapes that are baked in the 3D printers to allow the custom engineering of any shape and increasingly larger sizes. Teaching sensor composition thereby includes far more than selected a sensor to plug-in to the socket of a pre-built design.

Nike plus shoe, ipod, maps, graphThe manifest destiny of digital convergence leads to ever greater levels of integration across and beyond the digital palette. Sensor systems are being merged into ever more comprehensive compositions. Of exceptional relevance in the era of a national obesity epidemic, an examplar for convergent design is the Nike+ product, some elements of which are shown in the clickable video-linked graphic on the right. Consider the number of elements of the digital palette that are integrated in Nike's composition. A sensor embedded in the runner's shoe collects pace data, transmitting it to a iPod. The iPod is also playing music into a headphone set during the runner's activity. Some models also have other sensors which can simultaneously record audio and video from the run and share it online. The same music playing device then passes the sensor data to the person's computer, which then uploads it to a Web site. The Web site in turn provides animated 2D and 3D graphs of athletic progress based on the sensor data, maps of runs, goal setting pages, motivational stories and reader input through discussion forums for interactions with other runners working on similar goals.

For school systems, sensors in a variety of pre-built or student engineered designs provide data for higher level thinking for not only science and mathematics literacy activities, but all content areas. Data analysis in turn guides science, policy and legal decisions that are in turn the grist of curriculum in language arts and social studies.


Author's Fruit Salad or Milkshake or Reader's Collage

screen photograph of a readers collage of all media types of the paletteThis mixing of compositional forms or modes becomes richer with each passing month. The Digital Literacy Palette is, in short, a new world view for composition, a perspective driven by the urge for digital convergence. One of its impacts is to decenter text so that text can play new roles at many levels. Most significantly, any of the media of the palette can be the primary focus of the composition on which the other media forms are added and mixed in a supporting role, a dominant role that Web text has generally filled. Different degrees of balance and mixture between the forms will increasingly be explored as this knowledge expands. For which topics will the elements be a collage of media assembled by a reader, as with the graphic on the leftt of this paragraph or be composed by an author with designs that are loosely integrated, a fruit salad type composition, or more tightly blended media usage, a milkshake type composition? (Clicking the graphic will open a description map of the media elements.) At the dawn of the 21st century, a wide range of examples is just beginning to appear.

In short, all previous forms of human communication have been extended with digital capacity and all can be combined and active within one page, one page on the Web. To compose and contribute a single Web page document to the Internet is a simultaneous set of acts, an act of contributing all of the composition's individual text (words, phrases and numerical data) and media elements to a global database of search information, an act of composition and an act of archiving and globally sharing a publication. To share work with others also opens that work to review and criticism. Consequently, it is not enough to just be able to create. As noted in the complete framework by the National Council of Teachers of English Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment, students must be able to : "...create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts. Students in the 21st century must be critical consumers and creators of multimedia texts" (NCTE, 2008b^). Such thinking is also extending itself into the creative arts. The Council of Arts Accrediting Associations (CAAA) that addresses a wide range of artistic work is actively working to "facilitate and synthesize a field-wide discussion on multimedia and multidisciplinary studies in higher education" (2009^).

As formative and summative communication follows such sharing, all of the media of the palette are available in their interactive communication roles. For example, text chat, or audio conferencing or video conferencing might be used for reviewing and criticism. Such communication can enable both asynchronous and synchronous input from the reader/observer on the same Web page with a spot for text chatting built in to the essay or built into the Web page sharing a video production as well as providing a place for a video composition from the reader that reacts to the author's video composition. Innumerable combinations are possible. Richness and complexity go hand-in-hand. With the Digital Palette, the capacity of a literate person to create communication through the knowledge of each medium and to create through the combining of all media, is much deeper and more powerful. However, such communication will require a new level of literacy, one that will require more education than is currently being provided by early 21st century education systems.

Measuring Digital Literacy Progress

Another purpose of the digital literacy palette is to stimulate thinking about its growth and evaluating the progress in mastering this array of thinking and communication skills. There are some elements of digital literacy that are possible to measure but will require some significant work and research that has not been done. There are other aggregate aspects of digital progress that are being measured in a reasonably useful way.

Possible Measures

This raises a number of questions for which our educational system and educational research has no answers. bar chart of personal progress with each level of the digital literacy paletteThat is, if one can imagine a 20 point scale of curriculum skills and knowledge that spreads over a range from kindergarten through a doctoral degree, some 20 years of instruction and practice, what would a bar graph of the progress an individual, or group, school or state look like? It might look something like the data and graph on the right but beyond the individual speculation about this author's personal development, there is no such data for larger groups. Readers can contemplate their own Digital Palette Literacy by downloading this Progress with DPL spreadsheet to enter numbers as personal conjectures, which will automatically reformat the graph.

What progress has been made in developing such curriculum in each of the areas of the digital palette? One could argue that this is well articulated in the category of text, for a doctoral degree represents a high degree of mastery with text analysis and composition. A well defined range of curriculum in the knowledge of text is provided by public education systems extending from kindergarten through a university level doctoral degree. But how much of the digital age mastery of text is currently required? One might also argue that such curriculum development has also been developed for image skills with K-12 art and music curriculum and the higher education curriculum leading to a Masters of Fine Arts. But art and music are highly specialized along traditional lines of the fine arts esthetic. How much of the knowledge of the relevant digital age skills is actually integrated with K-12 art and music curriculum through a Masters of Fine Arts degree? How far along are the instructors and teachers in various grade levels in their own professional skills for the digital age? To what degree does this art and music curriculum integrate the digital elements of 2D, 3D, sound, video and still images? How much does science and math curriculum include of composing with sensors and the computer programming knowledge needed for such integration? Are the current curriculum content fields the correct containers for such curriculum or does some new structure need to be forged to make sure that such knowledge is adequately integrated into the larger challenge of effective thinking and problem solving with such an array of skills? Does English, Science, Art or Music or Other take responsibility for teaching video composition? Though there is much that is not known about such developments, it is not to hard to imagine vast holes in the curriculum in regard to such questions.

The Measured

What is the nature of the evidence about the degree of human use and composition of such digital media? A variety of measurements are available, though each used different approaches done in different years. Some snapshot surveys of Web data growth have put the overall growth of all media information at 33% growth per year (Lyman & Varian, 2003^) or at the pace of Moore's Law (Pinaroc, 2009^) which refers to the doubling of the capacity of chips every 18-24 months. There are also a number of corporations for whom measuring the world's progress in composing and sharing data on the Web is critical to their survival and reporting large numbers is important to help drive future business growth, so need to be taken with the appropriate grain of salt. This would include search engines promising a comprehensive index to the world's information through their search systems, such as Google's and Microsoft Bing's search engines. Such companies must carefully track the nature of this growth in order to purchase the hard drives and expand and build the data centers around the world that will house just the index to this information. In August of 2009, Google Vice-President for Search Products and User Experience Marissa Mayer reported in a presentation that their indexing data showed that the quantity of information on the Web had increased from 5 exabytes in 2002 to 281 exabytes in 2009 a 56 fold growth rate. User generated data is showing a 15 fold increase over the same time period. Mayer noted that this “data explosion is bigger than Moore's law" (Mayer, 2009^). IDC has been producing the Digital Universe survey since 2007, funded by EMC which specializes in digital network storage, data recovery, and information management. IDC's measurements claim a 44 fold increase to 35 zettabytes of digital data can be projected by 2020 (IDC, 2010^). By any available measurement, citizens of the United States and the world are actively and increasingly composing for the Web. Hopefully, the next rounds of research will report the physics of data by the different media of the digital palette.

Summarizing the Explosion in Composition

Given this discussion, a reworking of the UNESCO definition of literacy noted earlier is achieveable, it just hasn't been done. Perhaps in the future a new team will rework the UNESCO definition of literacy noted earlier. What might such a definition become based on recognition of the reality of the Net?

Here's one possible definition that UNESCO could use. A literate person can identify, understand, interpret, create, and communicate information found in paper pages integrating text and images and information found in Web pages integrating text, images, audio, video, 2D &  3D animation, and sensors.

That could be made more concise. A literate person can identify, understand, interpret, create, and communicate information found in pages in paper and on the Web integrating integrating text, images, audio, video, 2D &  3D animation, and sensors/robotics.

Here's a further and expanded possible definition that includes a rationale for literacy along with a wider mission. A literate person can solve real world problems as an individual and as part of global teams using their ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, and communicate information found in pages in paper and on the Web integrating integrating text, images, audio, video, 2D &  3D animation, and sensors/robotics. All these personal musings are obviously not the last word. The goal here is to stimulate thinking and debate about how to better set goals for integrating human capacity with the computer age that is still expanding that capacity. Irrespective of the definition of literacy that UNESCO may or may not create, how well does our personal definition move us towards making the most of the literacy that the world now provides?

The current state of the art suggests a need for global teams of educators and professionals working in the fields of these topics to articulate a graduated curriculum for each topic on the digital palette. If such knowledge was added to current K-12 curriculum, what other curriculum would have to removed or downsized to make room for it? How long will it take for teachers and instructors to come up to speed in teaching such knowledge? Much hard educational work for the 21st century remains to be started let alone done. How else will world culture break away from past literacy practices and build a new framework for thought?



The Explosion of the Literacy Palette's Capacity for Understanding

Because the Digital Literacy Palette is beginning to transform the goals of the writing agenda, a similar transformation is underway in the reading agenda. New media and new mixes of media drive new ways to think about what it means to understand each medium and the mix. Given the need for further analysis and theory on the impact of digital thinking for literacy (Leu et al, 2004^), educational policy makers as well as readers would benefit from a new strategic analysis, an analysis that connects the major elements of emerging digital composition with a model for understanding in this new digital format. The noted philosopher Karl Popper (1999^) has suggested an interesting theoretical and strategic direction in his statement that all life is problem solving. The challenge in the 21st century is to connect theory with strategy and method for understanding and composing that fits the emerging digital age. This challenge includes meeting the " to develop the next level of implementation, that is the curriculum and assessment aspects" of schools in order to meet the growing " for educators to teach these multiliteraies and associated metalanguage..." (Callow, 2008, p. 60, 61^). As a central goal of reading is to understand and a central methodology is to question, a three-part model for digitally empowered understanding will be explained as one possible approach to these challenges. This problem processing model will then be integrated with the prior Digital Palette model that addressed the composition side of the literacy coin.

graphic of two way nature of problem process model of find, share, solveThis spiraling three-fold view of understanding that will be increasingly dependent on knowledge of the Digital Palette is made up of problem finding, problem framing and problem solving (see clickable graphic on the right).With the finding (recognizing, creating or posing) of a problem or question, the find process is empowered through a variety of digital means to collect, share and respond to questions. With the framing of questions, first attempts are restated in light of higher order and other thinking perspectives. The solving of a problem through a variety of patterns can easily generate further problems which generate future turns of the cycle depending on the needs and motivations of the person and situation. At each of the three stages, the wide ranging nature of mixed digital media challenges our capacity to understand and compose. This model is called the CROP model, Communities Resolving Our Problems (Houghton, 1994^).

The sparkplug for this model lies in the problem finding stage. Effective readers generate questions as they read for understanding (Chin & Brown, 2003^; Paalincsar & Brown, 1984^; Rosenshine et al, 1996^). Consequently, to read can be seen as beginning a question process. The process is modeled in the above paragraph's clickable multilayered graphic with its focus on finding, framing and solving. It will take several clicks to work through the layers of imagery as each level of the model leads to more details in the next, each providing greater detail towards the integration of digital resources and curriculum content areas. The continuance of such a pattern promotes spiraling development to ever higher levels of comprehension. The model implies that though basic comprehension is important, acting on that growing comprehension with new increasingly integrated multimedia compositions that lead toward solution of authentic problems represents the higher goal of understanding.

The need for such problem processing skills is recognized by national groups and curriculum organizations. In the position statements of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2008^), the National Science Teachers Association (1998^; 1999^), the National Council for the Social Studies, the need for inquiry and questioning skills supported by digital knowledge is noted multiple times, as in NCSS's call for "inquiry and critical thinking, communication, data analysis and the prudent use of twenty-first century media and technology" (2008^). One of the five major goals of NCTE 21st century standards is to "build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally" (2008^). Multiple sub-goals throughout other NCTE major goals directly address elements of this problem process (2008^): "Do students, independently and collaboratively, solve problems as they arise in their work? Do students work in a group in ways that allow them to create new knowledge or to solve problems that can’t be created or solved individually? Do students use inquiry to ask questions and solve problems? Do students solve real problems and share results with real audiences Do students manage new information to help them solve problems?"

combined models of composition palette and 3 stage problem processing model links to image of apps of digital palette on a computer screen The model of the Digital Literacy Palette should be seen as embedded in the larger CROP problem processing model (see the clickable graphic of this paragraph). In each of the elements of the Digital Palette, what it means to "read" in that media, the method by which one understands content in that medium, is evolving. To become a more sophisticated and fluent reader in a medium means mastering a much wider range of options for managing the flow of information and making a wider range of decisions in comprehending within that medium. In this new perspective, world culture has invented the global idea processor and the outline of this Internet based processor, like icebergs appearing through the fog, has begun to emerge. The combined literacy model presented here outlines current knowledge about digital literacy capacity, a model which fully integrates the Digital Palette at each of the three levels understanding as defined by the problem process: finding, framing and solving. This offspring of generations of computer operating systems and applications appears to be an IOS, an intellectual operating system.

Readers of all kinds of media integrate these three major elements at a variety of different scales depending on their needs. Various system have evolved for sharing questions over the Internet, from email to email conferencing systems, blog sites and web forums. More recently a database approach to question communication is gaining ascendancy perhaps because of its single minded focus on the question itself in contrast to the enormous amount of extraneous information in email communication. Problem finding or sharing (Houghton, 2008b^) begins with questions in the reader's mind, the more important ones written in the margins of paper or moved on to other systems of capture and share. Over 50 online searchable question and answer database systems have appeared in recent years. These contain hundreds of millions of questions, systems that are also building online social networks into the basic fabric of their design. Such systems can directly contribute to one of NCTE's subgoals, "Do students solve real problems and share results with real audiences? (2008^)" The online question becomes the watering hole around which minds congregate and self-organize. The largest of these online systems is Yahoo Answers, claiming over 70 million users. There is not yet any comprehensive review of which system is best, yet questions once hidden or lost to history in private letters, email, forums and oral discussions are coming out and receiving formal recognition, storage and sharing. These question and answer system are also simple, fun and easy to implement with paper versions in classrooms. The capacity to create or compose and share a question is a fundamental element of 21st century composition.

Problem framing or shaping is the least integrated and formalized into desktop and web applications. For now, concepts for problem framing are merely online overviews of the levels of higher order thinking (Bloom's taxonomy) and other definitions of frames of thought, whether critical, ethical or creative. To edit the question to facilitate its resolution is another fundamental form of 21st century composition. Problem solving is highly integrated with digital tools at each of its four stages of information development: looking, evoking, assessing and publishing/performing. The problem solving stage contains within it the need to compose solutions using the full range of the digital palette, another element of 21st century composition. Each composition that works toward a solution helps shift understanding to a higher level. The three elements of problem processing (finding, framing and solving) represent a nonlinear system with any of its elements serving as starting or ending point, a system merely requiring in time due deligence at each.

In short, the requirements for a literate person to understand and create the full range of what can go on a 21st century Web page has exploded into new life in a decade. The number of times that a new level of literacy has rather suddenly thrown an entire generation or three of highly competent thinkers into a new form of illiteracy is strikingly few. The last time this happened in human history occurred in the transition from oral culture to a written culture around three thousand years ago, varying with the cultures of the time. Echoes of the tension of that transition can still be read in Plato's writings of the dialog with his illiterate mentor Socrates. This 21st century is not your grandmother's literacy but a new literacy born of the digital capacity to paint with the full spectrum of the "colors" of the Digital Palette at each stage of the problem process. Reading and composing have personal value through growing the knowledge and thinking capacity of an individual, a process accelerated and magnified by the Digital Palette. Literacy also provides a significant social impact. The global social impact of Web communication has been staggering within a very short period of time. The radical changes in a number of industry and business models are but the tip of the iceberg of the Web's creative destruction borne of the Internet's new ways to operate more efficiently and creatively. This is what Street referred to as the autonomous value theory of literacy (1985^). Literacy is good for us.


Some Problem Areas

There are other points of view in regards to literacy that have not been addressed to this point. What has emerged represents a new level of intellectual complexity and cultural conflict whose outcome on many fronts is still uncertain.


Beyond the type of compositional form, the ideological aspect of literacy persisted long before grandmother's time. Ideology steeps the compositions and understandings which any literacy and culture creates (Street, 1985^; Gee, 1997^). The Internet as global computer has merely provided a fresh sparring ground between the conservative forces of centralized hierarchy and the multi-decade ascending pressure of decentered heterarchy (Bollier, 2009^; Toffler, 1970^). This competition plays out in both political and economic arenas.

The Web has provided new forms of ammunition for the ongoing social and political battle between the nonlinear, open-ended free-wheeling ideology of democracy established by the Web's democratic inventors and the dictatorial forces of the planet that continue to apply a growing technology of web restrictions in countries around the world. These restrictions vary from Internet blackholes such as China's Golden Shield (Wikipedia) or Great Firewall of China project (Healy, 2007^; MacKinnon, 2007^) that "defends" its citizens from the full range of the world's knowledge to a wide range of Internet censorship restrictions (Wikipedia) implemented by many countries (Deibert et al, 2008^; OpenNet Initiative, 2009^). Projects such as the Berkeley China Internet Project (BCIP) and its publication China Digital Times (2009^) provide a place to track whether the Net aids or hinders the emergence of Chinese democracy.

The economic arena has also created its own odd versions of Internet blackholes, or to mix metaphors, "walled gardens". " More than 200 million people—about one-fifth of all Internet users—have Facebook accounts" (Vogelstein, 2009^). Because Facebook does not allow Google to index any of its information, Facebook itself has become a blackhole to the vast majority of Net users. If someone in Facebook shares an important idea or creation within Facebook's pages, then it will never be found by a Google search or that of any other public search engine. This complicates the Internet concept of a free flow of information. For example, a comprehensive searcher must also have a Facebook account and use the search system within Facebook. Just as dark matter is reputed to make up most of the mass of the universe, so such Internet blackout zones make up most of the matter of the Web.

Digital systems have provided a challenging new form of property and copyright through the invention of Creative Common licenses (e.g., copyleft). The universal standards of Internet protocols have provided a kind of economic invisibility cloak for "flat world" intellectual products that sail past border police and have also encouraged tariff removal for physical products.

The digital palette, with all its tensions of application, is resetting the depth and breadth of human creativity at many levels.


The position taken here is that the term literacy itself needs to be redefined but instead the literature of the field is challenged by numerous terms that are distancing to the un-initiated. These include: literacy plus, new literacy, 21st century literacy, media literacy, visual literacy, multimedia, multimodal, multiliteracies (Cope et al, 2000^), information literacy, computer literacy, unimedia, New Literacy Studies (O�Brien & , 2008^) comprehensive composition and to which this composition adds to the fire with "breakaway literacies". In fact, I prefer the simple definition of the opening sentence of the essay. That is, “...the word ‘literacy,’ meaning the ability to read and write, has gradually extended its grasp in the digital age until it has come to mean the ability to understand information, however presented” (Lanham, 1995, p. 198^). The single term "literacy" is sufficient to encompass the growth in its meaning.

There is also something about the more tactile and intimate connected nature of personal digital devices that invokes the concept of "old school reading" with whatever media is employed. First the device used for receiving audio or video (e.g., iPhone, Kindle) can fit in your hand or laptop like a paperback book or magazine which narrows the focus. The device is not many yards away as with our use of stereo audio, TV or film viewing systems. This phenomena was noted by TV critic Poniewozik, "As you lean in, focusing physically and mentally on, say, a episode of The Wire, watching becomes something more like reading" (2009, p. 58^). Further, the media is connected to a device that reeks of reply and interactivity as much as holding a pencil in your hand does when studying a book. That is, the device may be a phone which implicitly encourages, if not explicity embedded in the content itself, a call to someone as reaction. The device might be a computer with keyboard and mouse which can suggest dozens of forms of reply and place for more reflective thought. Then there is increasingly some degree of text itself that is next to the other media (e.g., audio, video or animation), sometimes with user text comment box or a link to a comment spot.

The RAND Reading Study Group's report (2002^) defined reading comprehension as "the process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with written language" (Coiro, 2003, p.11^). The Digital Literacy Palette suggests that such extraction and construction activity will need to occur with not just written language, but all of the elements of this 21st century palette. Given this perspective, reading for understanding now encompasses the full range of media: text, images, sound, video, 2D and 3D and sensor systems.The demands on the capacity of a literate person to read the compositions of the Digital Palette is going through a transformation as rapidly expanding as the capacity to create. Keeping the outer problem processing model in view while simultaneously become competent in new areas of the digital literacy will also be complex. The test of this digital application of Popper's problem focused theory will depend on how well it lines up with the major more stable elements of the evolving digital and social scene.

Compositional Complexity

Even the complexities of composing have become complex. One complexity is that each of these media are becoming richer and more complex in the ways that each manages information. Further, 21st century composition must include the rich set of skills that comes with the understanding (reading) of each of the media on the digital palette. Also, the potential number of ways to mix the paint, to mix the variations of nine different media in any composition is a very large number, let alone contemplated in linkage with other companion compositions. As with the Toronto Elementary School's work with rewriting Goldilocks, the digital forms are then mixed with non-digital media and method, "...21st century literacies that engage multiculuralism, multilingualism,and multimodalism in complex interplay" (Lotherington & Chow, 2006, p. 242^). Growing awareness of this complexity requires new knowledge far beyond that of page turning, mandating a need for knowledge of how to compose, display and manage evolving forms of information in digital systems.

As an example of the multiplicity of just one medium, consider some the variations for the use of text. The concept of paragraph and essay may be the most widely held view of text, but there are multiple forms of text display that go beyond it. Text may be in folded columns and locked cells of a spreadsheet. Text may be collapsed and expanded in digital outlines, compressed into instant messenger and twittered abbreviations, and buried in databases which require searching skills to reveal anything at all. Managing the manipulation and display of that text and then comprehending or making sense of the "reading" requires additional knowledge just to extract basic understanding. Digital applications have also developed numerous extensions to even the idea of reading the essay format. That is, the classic tool for reading text on the Web is the Web browser, with ongoing competitive development between commonly used browsers such as Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer. Web browsers now contain dozens of new ways to increase fluency with the digital literacy of text and new browser variations appear with some regularity. Text reading in the digital age has a significantly expanded agenda (Houghton, 2009^). Text has become a more readily understood model for the growing complexity of forms of expression that are emerging in all the media of the palette.

Oral Resurgence

The web also appears to be recapitulating and accenting an earlier and significant version of literacy, oral literacy (Bingham, 1997^; Ong, 1982^). Computers, net phones and smart phones with built in photo and video cameras now contain and mix numerous forms of audio, image and video. Though data is not readily available on the balance between Web transmissions using text and the amount using audio and video, the new media forms take up an immense portion of the digital traffic whipping around the world. Rhetoric may need to return to the curriculum with a renewed emphasis as a restored art.

Thinking Transformation

The complex mix of new literacies and digital evolution have raised anew discussion about the history of thinking transformation and future potential transformation in the way humans think in some paradigm shifting way (Jaynes, 1976^; Kurzweil, 2001^ & 2005^; Ong, 1982^). Understanding as the reason for reading is a concept that scales through an almost infinite range, from the recognition of the most basic perceptions of observation (e.g., this is my hand; this is the word "hand") to definition (a hand can be four fingers and an opposing thumb). This data in turn extends into ever larger connecting webs of knowledge and wisdom whose developments make life so uncertain and yet so intriguing. But two predictions about where new understanding might lead educational practice seem clear. The pace of change will not slacken. The age of the Digital Literacy Palette is still in its infancy.

Hypertext Hyperactivity

Critics of the Web as a communication media argue both that its multitude of highly linked compositions encourage flitting instead of deeper, slower and more reflective reading (Bauerlein, 2008^; Birkerts, 1994^; Carr, 2008^; Foreman, 2005^; Postman, 1995^) and that its siren call to flit has reduced the amount and quality of reading by U.S. citizens (NEA, 2004^ & 2007^). In contrast to these dire conclusions, there are other possible interpretations. To base quality of thought or depth of reflection on the number of words consumed in a single composition is plausible but false. The Web enables the reader to better parse information, to more quickly separate the wit from the chaff. Web search has increasingly fine tuned the targeting from finding the book title to finding the key paragraph. Once the wit is separated, the more proficient readers know that more quality does not always follow by reading more of the same.

Comscore's Digital Year in Review (2008^) suggests a more significant cultural effort is widespread. "Nearly 137 billion searches were conducted at the five U.S. core search engines in 2008, representing an increase of 21 percent versus the previous year. Search query growth was driven largely by an increase in searches per searcher, which rose 16 percent from the previous year, while number of unique searchers grew 6 percent" (Comscore, 2008, p.8^). Such search and selection activity means that somebody is reading significantly more than just last year, and reading in content areas, possibly reading fewer works of literature which leads to countable book sales. Further, the questioning implied by such searches indicates that a large and growing number of citizens have taken to heart a central aspect of effective reading instruction, questioning what is read, and have become questioning citizens. What is more significant is to be able to more efficiently create depth and creativity out of wit gleaned and integrated from multiple sources and perspectives and to efficiently be able to share those thoughts in varied online publishing formats. One example is the current diffusion of a news story that first stirs in the pan of Twitter and social Web sites, then bakes with interpretation and opinion in blogs, then delivered to billions by major television, newspaper and radio systems if of highest interest (Conneally, 2009^). It appears from the most recent research that the digital natives have used a complexity of sources and a complexity of design to achieve a "multiplexity" of thought. More specifically in the context of school practice research "reviewed by Alvermann (Chapter 2), Black and Steinkuehler (Chapter 18), Bruce (Chapter 19), and Lewis and del Valle (Chapter 20) suggest that adolescent literacy is complex, deep, engaged, and advanced when viewed from outside school" (Christenbury, Bomer & Smagorinksy (eds.), 2009^).

Until more definitive research comes along, one possible conclusion for the conflicting data is that there is a decline in old forms of literacy while the new forms lack adequate measurement tools. For example, the long form literary composition, such as a novel, is barely available on the Web in part because the online reading of text has lacked the contrast and portability of paper, or should one say currently lacks . Further, the new Web form of literacy still lacks sufficient assessment tools for gauging online literacy progress. More importantly, the strategic uses of online communication that would lead to deeper thought are still emergent. Some of those emergent ideas for deeper literacy are discussed throughout this essay.

School Connectedness

That current and future literacy requirements show a need for increased and higher level intellectual activity should not be seen as a cause for despair among schools whose achievement scores with text are still in question. Instead, it is a further indication of the growing complexity of classroom teaching needs. It is a call for extensive professional development for digital literacy integration.

There have been some indications that the simple presence of the computer in homes and classrooms was nil or negative but became positive when "...used as a communicational and educational device" (Woessmann & Fuchs, 2004, p.2 ^). This problem of traction seems reminescent of other significant innovation-productivity lags including the 40 year delay in major productivity from the factory use of electric motors (David, 1990^). With the entry of computers into business practice in the 1970-1980's, researchers saw a productivity paradox, more computers for information workers but the absence of increased profit. Later researchers realized their problems with measurement and the revelation that "equipment was the smallest part of the overall cost... The biggest costs were in changing the organization" (Brynjolfsson & Hitt, 1998, p.54^) so that the organization did make effective use of the new digital tools.

Finding productive forms of integration is an ongoing process in education. Rhodes & Robnolt note the "...crucial need for teachers in the 21st century is to merge adolescent's outside-the-classroom use of technology with the literacy practices of the school" (2009^). Youth are not waiting for school validation of 21st century literacy though several researchers have noted the value of such mergers (Chandler-Olcott & Mahar, 2003^; O'Brien, 2001^; Wilhelm et al., 1998^), Youth leadership in new media has led educational researchers to coin the phrase "out of school literacies" to represent elementary and adolescent media practices (Bruce, 2009^; Hull & Shultz, 2002^), media compositions which in turn are showing positive impact on classic reading and writing (Hobbs, 2007^). Luke and Woods (2009^) coded the observations of more than 600 lessons taught to grades 5 and 8 focusing on a validated definition of authentic achievement. "The strongest predictors of authentic achievement in the production of quality student artifacts were heightened intellectual demand and connectedness to the world" (Luke & Wood, 2009^). The CROP problem processing and Digital Palette literacy models proposed above are one more example of how digital literacy contributes directly to those characteristics of intellectual demand and connectedness to the world.

School curriculum must come from an understanding of what is going on in the world and come from an effort to set goals for lesson plans that will prepare students for the world the way it is becoming, not for the world that was. This is why the strike-through line is in the term writing in the title of this essay. The extensive and expanding nature of multimedia developments on the Web are evidence that the Web is completing its strike-though of the privileged nature of the term "writing". What is written composed, must be read understood. This is not the end of books or paper but the beginning of a hunt for a more unified synthesis of the paper world, the digital world and the physical world. It is time for education to come to terms with this emergence, to comprehend what has transpired in the world of work and in the world of childhood. "As educators, we are in urgent need of a newly conceived language and literacy curriculum, in which we start where children are, in a media-filled world that is increasingly diverse and interconnected" (Dyson, 2005, p.vii^).

It is also time to debate the timing, strategy and resources for the curriculum transition to the growing partnership of a wide range of composition and communication skills. This effort is growing, for example, McGee's brief analysis (2007^) of Pennsylvania and New Jersey standards in language arts curriculum. There is a growing recognition that for educational systems to just teach writing and reading text letters and numbers would be to teach a fraction of what 21st century literacy requires.

Recognition of the need for new goals is part of the drive behind the strategic effort in many countries, and organizations (IRA/NCTE, 2001^). At the national level for public schools, the ISTE National Education Technology Standards (NETS) for K-12 have been widely admired and adopted. In my own state of North Carolina, the State Board of Education developed its set of the 21st century goals (2006^) with directions to develop plans in all content areas for addressing the new challenges. This development grew from an understanding that new skills and new literacy were also central to the development of new economic activity. Within North Carolina, the Language Arts and Instructional Tecnology divisions of the Department of Public Instruction have led in this effort with a set of documents, Best Practices for K-12 Literacy (2008a^), A Strategic Plan for Reading Literacy (2007a^) and the North Carolina Educational Technology Plan (2007b^), a Word document file that downloads from this link. The state educational technology plan noted (p.5) that digital literacy is a key area of academic achievement. The plan provided numerous studies and examples of its value. The Strategic Plan for Reading Literacy treats in detail the meta-skills needed for effective digital literacy. Its definition for digital literacy is given on page three, "the use of computers, audio, video and other media". The foreward to the document notes that educators "are trying to refine and structure an educational system for a future that many people cannot visualize".


Future Strategies

“The future is here; it’s just not widely distributed yet.” William Gibson

For digital literacy to effectively develop, strategies are needed to address at least three major problems: the digital divide, the curriculum standards for the media of the Digital Palette and future digital literacy leadership.

Resolving the Digital Divide

bar graph of survey showing the nature of the digital divide with some 25% of U.S. households not having or using computersWhat has been true for text literacy applies to new literacy. The capacity of a public school student to create and understand the full range of what can go on a Web page is entirely dependent on their having constant access to modeling of the uses of digital literacy as well as independent experience in exploring those models. For the leading edge of the breakway literacies, the child's introduction came from knowledgeable parents, supportive community members and family friends. For too many, if it doesn't happen at school, it doesn't happen.

However, public K-12 education has not been financed to have personal computers used as routinely as paper by every student in every classroom. With rare exception, a classroom teacher does not have a computer at each desk for each child in the room. One Internet connected computer per classroom without whole class projection is most common. Consequently, too many K-12 students must pick up the bulk of their knowledge on their own, which often means at home. There are no state competencies yet written that require computer experience beyond text composition and professional development that will follow such requirements will take much time. As shown in the bar graph, 20% of adult home leadership has never searched for info on the Net, never sent or received emails from someone, never looked up a web site on the Net. Further, 30% have never used a computer to create documents (Musil, 2008^). That is, many families do not have the experience or knowledge needed to carry out this education at home. That is, for a significant portion of our youth, the breakaway literacies are not happening at home and under present conditions, this is going to take awhile.

This in turn means that those privileged by birth with parents of greater wealth and greater experience with information technology are more fully and more quickly becoming literate in 21st century communication. The large number of teenagers and pre-teenagers, let alone adults, active on the Web at sites like Flickr (images), Youtube (video) and iTunes (podcast audio) is an indication that many are making progress in being able to understand and exploit its features for their own purposes. This gap between the haves and have-nots is sometimes referred to as the digital divide (National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 2000^). It is this divide that provides a critical first strategic problem to solve for the future of literacy.

Elements of a solution are visible. Some in the computer industry have only very recently given their full attention to solving the financial nature of this problem, seeking to close the gap through the design and manufacture of very low cost computers, netbooks (search for images, news, general) designs not yet available for purchase in relevant cost and numbers for public education. Those who can make it across the digital divide and absorb the full range of the Digital Palette, like the most literate at any point in history, will become the cadre of people addressing a next strategic step for education. Just as text literacy built a new economy, so will multiliteracies. This next step will involve building and exercising the entrepreneurial skills that will invent the digitally literate economy of our future, a strategy that will provide the fastest track to new jobs in the newest fields being invented.

The 21st century challenge is to work the literacy problem further. One specific strategy for closing the gap in the K-12 digital divide is to promote one-to-one computing with a new breed of laptops called netbooks (Thompson, 2009^), a movement kicked off by MIT's $100 laptop project which became the OLPC XO (One Laptop Per Child computer). There are those like Mary Lou Jepsen, CEO of PixelQi, who see a next generation cheap netbook laptop with very low-power displays becoming available by 2010 (Stern, 2008^; Turner, 2009^). Early adopters are starting pilot projects with these downsized laptops in schools in the U.S. and around the world (Vaughan-Nichols, 2008^). In the meantime, a more popular and more affordable approach is to model digital literacy with whole-classroom instruction using a computer-projection system. Either approach is a significant advance for public education and especially so for those still caught on the poor side of the digital divide.


Growing Curriculum Standards

As the capacity to read and write the Web grows rapidly, the curriculum standards that would empower learners to use the full range of the digital palette's capacity are nil. "The most formidable pothole is the gap between the digital literacies practices youth engage in outside of school and the ways literacy is framed in official standards and assessments" (O'Brien & Scharber, 2008, p. 67). This then is the second strategic problem for educators to solve in order for all to gain access to 21st century teaching and learning. With standards and testing that have ignored the impact of photography and graphics for the entire 20th century, education is ill prepared to addressed the additional media of the digital literacy palette in the 21st. State curriculum standards start with largely a blank slate about how to address any media of communication other than text. The sub-problems here are two-fold: defining comprehensive digital literacy curriculum standards and planning the entry point into school practices.

Standards for knowledge of what to teach for proficiency in each medium of the Digital Palette may not be difficult to assemble, but it will take time and it is time that such effort was underway. Viewing the wide ranging media work of students (for example in social media systems such as smartphone communication, Flickr, Facebook and MySpace) as an enemy that detracts from traditional schooling will have to end. The potential for furthering even classic student literacy is too great to ignore. "In the case of reading proficiency, defined almost exclusively as competency with print, students are working with the convergence of media outside school at the same time they exist within school environments that exclude most media other than print. Their proficiency, more broadly defined, could be markedly improved if schools participated more in the media convergence and used it to help students learn in school" (O'Brien, Stewart, & Beach, 2009^). The larger task will be assembling a beachhead within public schools of educators and students willing to tackle the novelty and innovation of a new era in communication and literacy.

An opportunity of digital literacy and its multimedia elements is to be able achieve with all our subject areas what the best computer and video games have been able to accomplish. To deeply engage a learner as an individual and with collaborative groups through challenging activities that are highly interactive over an extended period of time (Gee, 2003^).

One candidate population for this effort could be school gifted and talented programs. This smaller audience would help limit the initial economic costs, yet contribute much to understanding costs and innovative curriculum building. This particular audience might have a more immediate interest and ability to deal with taming new areas of curriculum. Educational planners would need to work with teacher education programs to build skills for a time in which a much wider rollout of such digital literacy would be possible across the larger population. The timing of such a rollout could be matched with dropping technology costs and sufficiently educated teachers.

The next step in planning might be special state funding for schools that assembed a fully digitally literate set of teachers emerging from various college programs and educational centers. This suggests the need for digital literacy centers in state systems and in higher education that can provide leadership to this effort. Such emerging centers can be found at the Center for Digital Literacy Center for Digital Literacy (Syracuse University), the Multiliteracy Learning Initiative in the UK and The Multi Literacy Project, a nation-wide Canadian study.

Enabling Future Leadership and the Digital Fort Knox (Higher Education)

The development of higher education digital literacy standards represent a third strategic problem for the future of the digital literacy palette. In contrast with K-12 schools, higher education generally does not have a digital divide, but rather, like a default on a loan, it has a curriculum default that remains to be overcome. What K-12 schools cannot do for years to come with digital literacy, most higher education institutions have had the technology to do years ago. From the perspective of K-12 education, a university campus in the U.S.A. would be seen as a digital Fort Knox, incredibly rich with high speed networks, wide ranging software licenses, numerous Information Technology staff, and ubiquitous access to general computers and specialized equipment. In a time of global economic crisis, higher education has a golden opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate curriculum, scholarly publication and inquiry.

The curriculum application of this technology across college programs is highly balkanized with no state or national standards and little detail as to the vision for its general application, with wide variation in knowledge and curriculum requirements for it between individual faculty and departments. This represents "a common void in professional development for faculty" (Jones-Kavalier & Flannigan, 2006^). A small minority of faculty, often involved in distance education activity, are often at the forefront of the new literacy. Some survey research is needed to determine how broadly all faculty composition skills spread across the digital palette. A similar survey of Digital Palette skills might also be targeted at the administrative leadership of these institutions. Until serious curriculum standards emerge in higher education, the newest leadership that constantly emerges into the workforce will remain under-prepared to lead the deeper, more reflective and studied application of digital literacy that a 21st century nation should expect. It is the absence of such application that critics of digital literacy should decry.

Of the thousands of pages of scholarly communication that the references of this article represent, it is hard to recall any but the most minimal use of an image, let alone color, with the vast majority just text. As the vast majority of those investigating the new literacy are authors whose study has led them to be proponents of multimedia communication, this mono-culture of text forms a bit of irony that remains to be addressed. In fact the scholarly press is run by scholars fluent with many aspects of the Web that are deeply embedded in university systems with superlative IT departments, cheap data storage and excesses of Internet bandwidth. This is one more example of how quickly the breakaway in these new literacies has occurred. Issues of leadership, knowledge and finance must be addressed. Toffler's 1970^ book titled Future Shock could be applied to the field of scholarship a decade into the 21st century. To move beyond the age of media-mute scholarship, scholars must think and compose outside of the print-only box.

Higher education's role in inquiry that leads to research that leads to economic development is unquestioned in world culture yet the outbreak of question sharing systems and activity on the Web from 2005 onward in which tens of millions participate was disassociated with any higher education institution and has remained that way. Ending this breakaway by partnership between educational systems and Web question sharing systems would have enormous educational and economic benefit during a time of economic crisis. The more rapidly changing a culture, the more important the question becomes as sparkplug for a problem processing model (CROP), and the more important effective understanding and composing must become at any age level (for the Digital Palette model).

Any business is a response to a central question, no matter how simple the question might be. A multi-billion dollar industry is the response to "Where can I find pizza?". The formation of new economic activity, of new businesses, depends on finding persistent questions within the milieu of cultural questioning and building a social structure (business or non-profit) that can persistently respond. Institutions of higher education are also increasingly charged with assisting and leading regional development.

It would be simple to connect the daily effort of students' school work in answering questions with many of the real world authentic questions that the Web is gathering and storing in highly accessible forms. Authenticity in academic work plays a significant role in the motivation of the learner. The question-hub role of the Web makes the connection between digital literacy and economic activity more overt each day. The Web has made it simple to post and sift questions that can in turn be addressed on a local, regional and global scale. Teaching students to not only respond to questions but to sift for patterns in the questions that could enable entrepreneurial activity would only be a short step further in educational activity. An important element of higher education's role is to prepare the most educated of those entering the work force for inquiry at the highest level of questioning with the capacity to respond with the widest range of composition and communication capacity.

Inquiry is a simple thread of intellectual activity that connects long discussed of elements of effective text reading (those acts of questioning) with Web question hubs and in turn connects all forms of Web communication with the economy. Education has every reason to claim a major role in economic leadership through application of its intellectual agenda of inquiry. A light bulb at the leadership level still needs to go off in regard to this simple question database idea as a means for connecting research, self-generating curriculum activities, service activities and sometimes economic interests as well. The good news is such effort drives a need for more higher education. Effective literacy is a need for which there is broad business consensus. As noted by the 21st Century Workforce Commission of the National Alliance of Business (2000^), “The current and future health of America’s 21st century economy depends directly on how broadly and deeply Americans reach a new level of literacy—‘21st Century Literacy.’ ”


This latest design of world culture, the Web, offers what a new era of literacy has always offered, an increase in the productivity and creativity of employees and workplaces, the formation of new ways to organize and collaborate, and an enrichment in self and civil understanding. The international nature of the Web and digital literacy provides opportunity for a growth of understanding about global culture and new leverage toward the goal of universal social justice.

Popper would also find it most useful that the Web also undergirds a new economy for a culture of rapid change and problem creation. This environment places an increasingly greater accent on the digital literacy palette 3discovery and shaping of the question than on the construction of an answer, yet includes questioning as an intimate part of a process of collaborative steps that lead toward solution. With slight rephrasing of the CROP model as using the power of digital systems for problem sharing, problem shaping and problem solving, the formula (SP)3 could emerge as a key element of a more succinct and complete model. Writing and reading and hence thinking are transformed by the rich and complex nature of the Web. As previously discussed, the combination of this formula with the rich milieu of the digital palette has created a model which provides a basis for further extensions into educational curriculum and real world practice. "When organizations need to make rapid decisions about their choices of value creation models and methods, facing the combined challenges of complexity multiplied by uncertainty multiplied by urgency, there's nothing more practical than a robust conceptual framework" (Pór, 2000^). The challenge is to find new framework for an intellectual operating system (IOS) capable of tackling the exponential nature of 21st century culture and for the development of the emerging breakaway literacies. This new palette concept serves as one example on which to build for further research and development.

Questions remain to guide future effort in breaking away from past practices and advancing Popper's vision of the importance of problem solving. If the technology to close the digital divide became universally affordable in just two or three years, how well positioned can K-12 education be made to take advantage of it? What next steps on the Digital Palette should classroom instruction be taking? If possible for the rest of us, what policy, assessment and professional development adjustments for the Digital Palette need to be readied to move teachers and professors more quickly into this new world of discovery teaching and learning? What can K-12 learn from the absence of digital literacy standards in higher education and their squandered lead in information technology? Irrespective of timeline, what are our next educational options, plans and solutions for migrating all future generations of citizens to this next generation of literacy?



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Additional literacy references not included directly in the writing above.


Original 1.0 version March 10, 2008; v2.1081 updated on January 23, 2011

[ Page author: Robert S. Houghton ]

text-linkto Reflection chapter text-Presentations link to image info link to text and frames info links to text & frame info link to image info link to video info link to sound info link to animation info link to 3D info link to electronics and sensor info link to reader input data link to page on role of images in composition and reading stuff