Today’s kids see the screen as an environment to be explored, inhab­ ited, shared, and shaped. They’re blogging. They’re building their My Space Pages. They’re constructing elaborate fan sites for their favorite artists or TV shows. They’re playing immensely complicated games, like Civilization IV-one of the most popular computer games in the world last autumn-in which players re­create the entire course of human economic and technological history. . . . The skills that they are developing are not trivial. They’re learning to analyze complex systems with many interacting variables, to master new interfaces, to find and validate information in vast data bases, to build and maintain exten­ sive social networks cross both virtual and real­world environments, to adapt existing technologies to new uses. . . . (Time Magazine, March 27, 2006 p. 42)

Through the ages peoples have appropriated symbol systems as meta­ phorical vehicles with generative syntax, and these symbol systems have afforded new possibilities for engagement with self, others, and this world. Our various means of representation serve to open us to new possibilities, including achieving new insights and ways of transacting with others, ourselves, and ideas and problems. Descrip­

Robert J. Tierney university Of british cOLuMbia

tions of indigenous artists, preschools in Italy and the United States, and the emerging generation of digital users portray similar phe­ nomena when they are given the opportunity to use different media or symbol systems to explore their world or problem solve. They use cutting and pasting, drawing, talking, playing, audio tracks, video interfaces, and other media to achieve different perspectives on their world, explore identities, solve problems, make plans, and communicate with others. With advances in technology, the same is apparent with electronic media. Projects are apt to involve a mix of transactions including talk, faxes, word processing, or blogs; video as different media are accessed separately and together for purposes of composing communications and pursuing problem solving, and as a means of exploring ideas, taking perspective, and deepening or acquiring new understandings. Such circumstances share many things, especially the power of the symbol systems to engage students in deep and complex explorations of issues as well as constructive dis­ cussion and debate. Paradoxically, schools may struggle with tran­ sitioning these new literacies into school settings in ways consistent with their potential, including the possible shifts in power dynamics that might occur.