The driving idea behind the disciplinary literacy framework is the premise that knowledge and thinking must go hand in hand. For students to competently develop literacy in a particular discipline, they must grow on these two dimensions (knowledge and thinking) simultaneously. In today’s increasingly utilized eLearning environments disciplinary literacy is fundamental.
To put it simply disciplinary literacy, despite the fact that it sounds like a consequence, is the recognition that literacy is utilized and understood differently within individual disciplines or areas of study. For example, the involvement and utilization of literacy in the areas of math, science, IT and the arts all have very different and specific frameworks respectively unique from each other in both presentation and understanding and conceptualization.
The idea of disciplinary literacy is not new. What is new is the vigor with which attempts to realize this model are being met as eLearning increasingly becomes a favored means of education. In light of poor literacy results of American students in recent years, education providers are more strenuously seeking realistic and workable ways to implement genuine cohesion and consistency across all subjects in an effort to both make learning uniform and also to utilize modern techniques. The goal of disciplinary literacy is to achieve seamlessness across subjects and learning techniques and to an extent, to create eLearning standards.
To accommodate variations of disciplinary knowledge (ways of disseminating and evaluating knowledge), disciplinary literacy involves approaching literacy on two levels and these are knowledge and thinking. In other words the type of knowledge a student requires in a variety of disciplines will be different depending on the course content and what information is required to succeed in the particular field. The student also requires the ability to think in a broader more holistic sense in order to process the knowledge and apply it appropriately within a discipline and across disciplines.
Graduate level eLearning
The goal of disciplinary literacy is to teach both these (knowledge and learning) skills concurrently and appropriately within course content.
Many educational dinosaurs would ask why a new approach to learning is necessary. Proponents of old systems of learning suggest we have successfully taught generations of students to function academically and utilize tools for greater knowledge within a range of fields. The response to this cynicism of disciplinary literacy is multi-faceted. Within a rapidly changing world the ability to learn or acquire and analyze knowledge has become more important than memorizing a raft of information which students are able to regurgitate but not necessarily build upon. The second factor to consider is the trend toward specialization which requires graduate level students and many professionals to be able to move beyond basic literacy and into highly specialized levels of literacy. This leads to the question of whether technology, the changing world, the evolving intellect and academia are moving hand in hand.
Disciplinary literacy addresses these problems and provides a framework for its solution. It also has the added advantage of addressing new technologies and the unique styles in which literature is presented to a modern world via the internet and portable communications. By accepting the preponderance of modern information dissemination mediums, disciplinary literacy remains a cutting edge methodology for success in literacy. In this way teachers are able to meet students where they live – that is, to teach them in a modern language they understand.
New styles of teaching imperative to eLearning
The traditional method of teaching by ‘telling’ students from subject to subject is obsolete in today’s learning environment - or it should be. The idea that different departments work in isolation from each other inevitably sets students up for some failures in some areas. The idea that students can be taught to learn, be given the tools to further knowledge and to grow from experience as well as rote learning is becoming the widely accepted model for future success and it is an imperative skill set is students are to succeed in eLearning environments.
To achieve this more holistic interpretation of good teaching, departments are accepting the idea that they do not work in isolation of methodology and language from all other departments and that a ‘learning to learn’ strategy should be reinforced across the curriculum. That students must be taught more rigorously to access, interpret and challenge their teachers and the information offered. For many teachers this is a scary prospect which allows and encourages students to question and challenge accepted fact and methodology. It requires interaction and dialogue and redefines disciplinary roles.
Teaching styles in eLearning
To garner success teachers must therefore adopt new practices of teaching students the differences between the disciplines and also how to interpret different representational forms. In other words they must teach students to understand how knowledge is produced and not just how to access and repeat existing knowledge. This is more true today, with internet, than it ever has been before.