I was watching my students yesterday as they worked on finishing up their websites. This had me reflecting on the complexity of literacy.
Our world abounds with symbol systems. Alphabetic literacy, symbolic literacy, music, graphics, mathematical representations of information such as graphs, photographs and videos. The expansion of print literacy in the 1500′s and 1600′s came at the expense of the great murals and religious scenes which had been a mainstay of storytelling in the middle ages. Murals and paintings faded as books took over with print stretching from margin to margin. Many people were left out of the message as they could not read.
In our time, we have seen a return to messages being carried in multiple symbol systems. Designed graphics, videos, desktop publishing, links to other sites and other forms of information all contained in a single space. The conception of space, espcially electronic space, is vital to our understanding of textual construction and design. Designing a message for other people to comprehend is about much more then writing, especially when dealing with electronic texts. Almost anything can go in the space, that is why it is better not to think of it as a page. A space can be filled with almost anything, but it must be carefully designed in order to be properly comprehended and for maximum impact. Writing skills are certainly a vital part of it, but written words are only one component of a quality electronic text.
A lot of components to juggle, all equally important, all competing for time. Students need to become critical consumers of electronic texts, learning design skills along with those of "traditional" print.