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Literacy, in a general sense, is the ability to comprehend, compose, communicate and evaluate a text. In the case of New Media Studies, literacy is the ability to decode, understand, think critically about, produce and talk about new media. Literacy is a competency or a skill that can be learned. While traditionally literacy is related to written text and language- reading and writing- today, we talk about different forms of literacy, i.e. computer literacy, numerical literacy or numeracy, health literacy, mass media literacy, etc. In all of these cases, literacy requires a mastery of interpreting and articulating meaning in the basic components (the grammar) of the subject. In some cases, fluency in one form of literacy depends first on having fluency in another. For example, most people will need functional reading and writing literacy skills before they can become literate in subjects like health or media since print text is the mode most commonly associated with critical thinking.


Traditionally Edit

The traditional definition of literacy is the ability to use language– reading, writing, listening, and speaking. In modern contexts, the word means reading and writing on a level adequate for written communication and generally a level that enables one to successfully function at certain levels of any modern society, thus literacy plays a role in providing access to power.

The standards for what level constitutes "literacy" vary among societies. Other skills such as computer skills or basic numeracy may also be included, as there are many people who cannot read letters but can read numbers, and even learn to use a computer (in a limited way) while remaining unable to read text. These and the increasing inclusion of sound, still and moving images and graphical elements in digitally based communication (see: digitization) lead some to call for an even broader concept of literacy. (see: / Literacy in the Information Age: Final Report of the International Adult Literacy Survey, OECD 2000. PDF). In Scotland for example, literacy has been defined as: "The ability to read and write and use numeracy, to handle information, to express ideas and opinions, to make decisions and solve problems, as family members, workers, citizens and lifelong learners." This definition embraces the Social Practice approach to literacies education and its impact on the "four areas of life" - personal life, family life, work life, community life and engages the "five core skills" - communication, numeracy, problem solving, working with others and ICT (/ Information and Communications Technology). Recently the National Council of Teachers of Englishand the International Reading Associationhave added "visually representing" to the list of communicative competences that are considered to constitute literacy.


Media Literacy Edit

To quote David Considine (from his article that appeared in Telemedium):

“In an age when most Americans get most of their information from television not textbooks, pictures not print, we need a wider definition of what it means to be literate…
Media literacy, then, is an expanded information and communication skill that is responsive to the changing nature of information in our society. It addresses the skills students need to be taught in school, the competencies citizens must have as we consume information in our homes and living rooms, and the abilities workers must have as we move toward the 21st century and the challenges of a global economy.
In North America, while a phrase or word may change here or there, most media literacy organizations and leaders accept this definition of media literacy:
The ability to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate information in a variety of format including print and nonprint.
Like traditional literacy it includes the ability to both read (comprehend) and write (create, design, produce). Further, it moves from merely recognizing and comprehending information to the higher order critical thinking skills implicit in questioning, analyzing and evaluating that information.”


Literacy and New Media Edit

The National Council of Teachers of English also explains media literacy as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media messages. New media literacy encompasses this definition and, more secifically, requires an understanding and command of the languages of computers, technology, digital media, and traditional media. Through this knowledge and skill, the new media literate person can work with and contribute to the discourse of new media.


Also SeeEdit

Gunther Kress

Theo Van Leeuwen

Lev Manovich


External LinksEdit

"An Introduction to Media Literacy: the what, why and how to's", By David Considine, published in the Fall 1995 issue of Telemedium, The Journal of Media Literacy, Volume 41, Number 2

The National Telemedia Council

National Council of Teachers of English

International Reading Association

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