5.1.2. Diversity and multimodality

We noted above that literacy practices are diverse  – digital literacy practices have brought an even greater dimension of diversity to the way we read and write. Where we once had pen and paper, or perhaps a typewriter, we now have a whole range of devices to choose from – phones, tablets, laptops etcetera, and beyond that, very many different interfaces (touchpads, keyboards, mice, voice recognition, digital pens) and many different apps that themselves affect how we read or write when using them.  So writing may take many different forms, from ‘traditional’ motor control of a pen, to typing, to using a touchscreen, to voice dictation. As practitioners, if we are to thrive, we will have to find ways of incorporating all these different practices into our curricula and teaching contexts –   and also recognizing the diversity of our learners’ own preferences in relation to them.

Yet another feature of the diversity of digital literacy practices is the way in which digital literacies have opened up the possibility of ‘writing’ becoming more than just a matter of arranging words and language: we can now easily design meaning using other modes too, such as images, and sounds, video and colour. Cope and Kalantzis (2000) call this multimodal design. Now even basic texts use images as a way of communicating important meanings (i.e. they’re not just decorating the text), and the meanings we and others routinely create using non-linguistic modes in social media, in advertising and in other communications often do the greater share of the semiotic – meaning-carrying – work. It is therefore vital that as practitioners work with all aspects of digital literacies with our learners – the images as well as the words. We have to be teachers of communication, not just language or literacy (Kress: 2012).

That also implies that we have to facilitate our learners’ abilities to communicate in a world of diversity –  and that means supporting them to understand difference in language and literacy. As Bill Cope points out (Cope and Kalantzis: 2019) when we speak, the difference lies at the heart of all communication – in some sense, in all communication, we are explaining ourselves to others. No-one speaks exactly the same language. So sociolinguistic diversity should be of interest to us and our learners too – in a multilingual, multicultural world, how do we talk and write to each other? And especially, how do we encounter and negotiate diversity digitally?