Uncovering Literacies

Investigators: Kylie Peppler, Mark Warschauer

Funding: University of California Office of the President Fellowship

Educators and researchers in the field of literacy are expanding on traditional notions of literacy to include decoding, evaluating, and producing electronic media. Yet many youth enrolled in special education courses are seen as lacking the skills and competencies for creative production in new media because they may not possess the ability to read and write in a traditional sense. However, early pilot research revealed that such marginalized and preliterate youth are avid consumers and producers of media arts texts. This study took a closer look at this phenomenon to document, describe, and analyze the media arts practices of youth with disabilities within the context of schools participating in the one-to-one laptop initiative, contrasting their abilities with the common (mis)perception of these youth as preliterate or even illiterate within today's educational system. We utilized a mixed-methods design that drew upon three approaches: (1) participant observations, (2) archival data collection, and (3) comparative in-depth case studies. Aspects of new literacy studies, social theories of literacy, and situated learning guided the methodology and interpretation in this study. Media arts practices and the ways in which youth with disabilities make sense of new media are currently not well understood but have the potential to teach us about learning and literacy in the age of multimedia.