Literacy Status: It’s Complicated
I’m writing this stuff down in an attempt to hash it out in my own head. Feel free to help me find the right path (if there is one) or even decide if this is worth thinking about.
Tool Exposure vs Literacy
What we have going on today in many cases is the illusion of teaching literacy. In reality we’re just exposing students to tools1. I see quotes similar to this one all the time-
The literacy tools of our day, today, include the web, netbooks, cell phones, cameras and recorders, etc. We are responsible for teaching students how to be literate. – source
So essentially, we have to teach kids how to use all these things because that’s what it takes to make it in the world. In the past it was just reading, writing and some math so the only general tools you had to be able to use were a pen/pencil, paper and a book. Now the idea is, we have to teach students (and learn ourselves) how to use all this stuff, to learn which buttons to push on lots of different objects.
Where these comments get messy for me is delineating what really requires different kinds of thought (bigger conceptual framework) and what is just today’s tool which needs only the mastery of the how (which button needs pressing). It seems picky, but I think that matters quite a bit.
There’s a huge difference between being able to read and being able to analyze literature. What’s our real standard for literacy today? I’d say it’s a good deal higher than just being able to translate letters into words, I’m hoping so anyway. If we take that approach, where are we with this concept of so-called modern literacies2?
Are we at the point when simply being able to make a video qualify you as being literate or does it take something more? Do students have to understand the vocabulary inherent in film, the rationale behind camera angles and lighting? I look at things like Animoto and see it as producing video but not contributing to any sort of literacy. I see it as the video equivalent of Madlibs (only without as many teaching opportunities).
What I see claimed as increasing literacy is often just exposure to tools and those two things are very different.
In general, I see communication in its varied forms becoming more important, more ubiquitous, more specialized and, as a result, more sophisticated. So you need to look at communication tools and resultant mediums more closely. For instance-
When does the character limit of Twitter and its semi-synchronous delivery benefit me? When might the speed and limited response hurt my message or the ones I receive? Do I treat information I receive from Twitter differently than I might from other sources? When is that information likely to most relevant and useful3?
I don’t see people addressing these concepts (maybe I’m not looking in the right places). For instance, Twitter is being treated like the newest shiny toy and people are pitching it as a panacea, a magical cure for all your PD, PLN, communication needs. The opposite view, that Twitter is the devil and useless, isn’t any better. Clearly Twitter is filling a niche communication role. It just seems like we need to analyze what needs it’s meeting and how it’s meeting those needs. We need to do this with conceptually different mediums of communication and we need to have the decision of which communication medium we use be an explicit choice based on the strengths of the medium and the needs of the message.
Getting into all this isn’t easy or neat. It’ll be difficult to decide when a particular medium is really different, when it deserves an in depth assessment. How can teachers guide students if they are unaware of the specific technology/medium and its nuances? Do we focus on just the most popular mediums and if so, what responsibility do teachers have to know the intricacies of the mediums?
That’s just looking at the need for more thought on communication and mainly electronic communication at that. I’ve seen all sorts of literacies mentioned- from environmental to architectural. Where do we draw the line? Is it worth worrying about?
To me it seems we need a greater focus on what might be termed communication literacy. That’s a mighty big umbrella, I know. But it seems to encompass a lot of needs that I don’t see being met. It’d require students and teachers to decide which method of communication would be best for their message and then design their message so that it takes advantage of the particular channel or channels. The idea that you’d present certain kinds of information using a slide deck and present other information in document form is one that’d be nice to get across early on.
I’d prefer the focus on communication as opposed to “digital literacy” or “21st century literacy” because those types of labels tend to lose credibility relatively quickly. Think about the term “eLearning.” It’s also easy with the tech centered terms to see them as discrediting or ignoring more traditional techniques and the very applicable history/learning etc. that goes with them.
If information is no longer scarce and it’s easier to find (and getting easier), then beyond our traditional need to figure out validity and bias we have to teach students how to best present this information. That’d have the double benefit of making them far more aware of how media is being used to manipulate them and make the more aware of bias when evaluating their own sources.
I’m not sure how this would all work but it seems like something that should be integrated at a base level and in a cross curricular manner. I do believe there’s a lot of good possible in reexamining how we look at communication in our k12 and higher ed institutions.
I’ll stop now. Knowing I’ve only muddied the water and probably been totally erratic in my use of media, medium and mediums. I’m going to resist my very strong urge to store this with my other 70+ drafts and just let it go. Right or wrong, I’m trying to treat this site as more of a place for thinking and less just a repository of things that I hope would be useful to others. So it’s about me being selfish and messier. I should re-title this “Unsubscribe Now!”
1 Keep all exposure puns to yourself.
2 I realize that analyzing film and images has been long established but the necessity of those literacies for the general populace has become greater because of the proliferation of multimedia both in terms of consumption and creation.