Language and Learning in the Digital Age

J. P. Gee & E. R. Hayes. New York, NY: Routledge, 2011. Pp. ix + 159.
Reviewed by Servet i‡elik and Hasan SaÄŸlamel

Karadeniz Technical University
Trabzon, Turkey

In Language and Learning in the Digital Age, Gee and Hayes draw attention to the evolving nature of communication, from spoken language to the written word to the emerging role of digital technologies in the dissemination of ideas. They argue that digital media, as a delivery system for communication, can be seen as a means to power up (p. 1) oral and written discourse. In an age where learners are largely treated as consumers of information, the authors argue that digital media present all individuals with opportunities to have a say in the production of knowledge. This makes the material broad in its appeal, addressing educators in all fields, particularly those whose focus is on language education or the social sciences. The book consists of fourteen chapters, which are presented through explanations and examples. The first chapter familiarizes readers with the notions of hope and fear (p. 4) concerning the use of digital media. The second and third chapters introduce the definitions of language (e.g. oral communication and literacy) and elaborate on the strengths and weaknesses of spoken and written discourse. Chapter 4 explores the social aspects of language and interaction, focusing on bonding and distancing languages in particular. In the fifth chapter, the authors elaborate on the role of digital media in framing social relations. The authors then underline the ways that digital media can be used as a means to substitute for experts and institutions, which they refer to as being in crisis, in chapter 6.

The seventh chapter introduces school-owned literacy and includes school as part of the crisis in question, arguing that the knowledge offered in the context of conventional schooling fails to develop essential skills in problem-solving and advancement. In chapter 8, the authors call for revolutionary changes in education. To this end, the need for out-of-school learning systems is highlighted, and passionate affinity spaces are offered as a viable option. The ninth chapter provides solid evidence of such spaces, expanding on the application of video games in teaching and learning.

Next, in chapter 10, appropriately titled Cat, Passion and Expertise, the authors illustrate their hands-on experience involving a cat, noting how discussion forums, with contributions from various individuals, became instrumental in their problem solving. Chapter 11 encourages readers to question the top-down imposition of knowledge and consider how amateurs could play a decisive role in knowledge construction, while in chapter 12 deals with multimodality and illustrates how words could mean more when combined with images and experiences. The thirteenth chapter is devoted mainly to social formations, citing oral, literal and digital formations respectively. In the final chapter, Multitasking, Diversity and Commonality, the authors provide a discussion of the possible advantages and disadvantages of digital media.

The vivid nature of the examples, the clarity of the definitions, and the authors determination to leave nothing up in the air result in a work geared towards practice, rather than theory. By viewing each topic from a range of disciplines, including history, linguistics and politics, they make the material attractive and enriching to a wide audience. Moreover, the authors encourage their readers to think about both sides of each issue, presenting the opportunities as well as the drawbacks of digital media, though the former are much more focused.

Despite these positive attributes, the book is not without its shortcomings. The reader at times wonders about the chapter divisions, as the shift from one to another is not smooth. To mitigate this issue, it might have been useful to include information about how each chapter was developed in order to make the progression more visible to the audience. The extensive use of I language in chapter two also leaves it unclear who is doing the talking, and the integration of games while in chapter 9 may be of limited appeal to many readers. Yet overall, the book provides reader-friendly and helpful insights into the changing spirit of communication and deserves a place on the bookshelves of educators from every discipline.