The concept of ‘mobile literacy’

My notes on Barden, O. (2019). Building the mobile hub: mobile literacies and the construction of a complex academic text. Literacy, 53(1), 22-29.

In spite of the many things which smart phones can do, they have not been welcomed warmly within the classroom with many claiming they are “distracting, promote superficial learning, erode students’ ability to concentrate and teacher’s control over the classroom and entrench socio-economic divisions” (22). This is significant because the most recent figures suggest 90% of 16-34 year olds in the UK own a smartphone, with half reporting they check it within 5 minutes of waking up. They are the primary mode of engagement with digital life which makes the literacy or otherwise which users have crucially significant. But this has not been defined heretofore and this is what Barden sets out to do.

What attempts there have been have tended to focus on mobility for reasons that are probably obvious. But the meaning of mobile literacy has largely been taken for granted. Barden warns that the term ‘literacy’ is often used as a synonym for skill, as in computer literacy. Literacy in the broader sense is a capacity to manipulate symbols in order to communicate, something for which mobility offers “possibilities for different kinds of literacies, shaped by communication forms which are richer, more diverse and more flexible than before and supports multimodality, linguistic innovation, remix, playfulness, participation and connection in the in the production and consumption of texts” (23). He thus defines mobile literacies as “the use and interpretation of written or symbolic representation in texts and practices mediated by mobile digital technologies” (23).

The interview with a student he takes a case study stresses the haptic aspect of producing a text using a mobile phone, stressing the enjoyment and response which can be found through the necessity of continually manipulating a screen. I remember the discovery of this when I first got an iPad and my absolute delight in using mind mapping software, it felt like the structure of my ideas were flowing into the device in a way I hadn’t experienced properly. In this sense, touch is crucial to how we manipulate symbols through mobile computing. It constraints in some ways, providing a smaller and less powerful interface than a keyboard and mouse, but opens up new modes of engagement which are important to recognise.

This is combined with a capacity to work anywhere and at any time which increases the immediacy of the creative activity. The student describes the active working this facilitates, undertaken in the immediate moment of the lecture theatre rather than being displaced until a later date when the student would sit down at a computer. Learning an take place through text, voice, image and text. It involves rapidly moving between apps in an agile fashion, working outside of the institutional provision of computer labs and taught sessions.


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