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Modern Horizons Journal’s 6th Annual Conference:

“Nihilism… Utopianism”

Co-sponsored by BCIT’s Liberal Studies Department

Symposium: Understanding Literacy in a Technological Age

British Columbia Institute of Technology Liberal Studies and Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning hosted a one-day symposium October 29, 2010, to investigate the claims that we are in a literacy crisis caused by the age of digital technology.

Historian of literacy Harvey J. Graff has identified historical reasons for the “myth of literacy,” which Graff and John Duffy (2007) defined as “the belief, articulated in educational, civic, religious, and other settings, contemporary and historical, that the acquisition of literacy is a necessary precursor to and invariably results in economic development, democratic practice, cognitive enhancement, and upward social mobility.”

Speakers, panelists, and ensuing discussion examined our expectations regarding the uses of literacy and the questions that arise from the ability to function within a “knowledge society:”

  • What does the “myth of literacy” look like?
  • Can we dismiss concerns about our culture, which is dominated by seemingly constant technological innovation and the obsolescence of older technologies? Are these concerns playing into the “myth of literacy”?
  • Does conventional technological training provide what is needed to participate in a democratic society?
  • Do we assume that the core of any literacy curriculum is still found in the tensions between literacy and technology, between education and training, and between ethics and social and cultural issues?

We often hear that the solutions to a literacy crisis can be found in a single, monolithic approach to the teaching of reading and writing, particularly at the post-secondary level where new approaches to literacy are introduced. Given the particular contexts and demands of polytechnic and undergraduate education everywhere, it is topical to have a public discussion of how pedagogy might address the strained relationship between technology and literacy.

Plenary speakers

Harvey J. Graff

Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies and Professor of English and History
Department of English
Ohio State University

  • “Many Literacies: Reading Signs of the Times. In Pursuit of the Literacy Myth”

David Wallace (Co-Organizer)

Department of English
Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning, Toronto

  • “Democracy, Paideia, and Literacy: Can the relationship between literacy and democracy be maintained?”


Panel 1: Cultural Dimensions of Literacy
Panel 2: Ethical Dimensions of Literacy
Panel 3: Reading, Writing, & Technology
Panel 4: Literacy and Pedagogy