March 28, 2011

Einstein, YouTube, and New Media Literacies in the Connected Age

Category: Digital Citizenship
small kids playing on computer games and headphones

When I started using digital media in my classroom, I began my search for mentors by inspecting Will Richardson’s social bookmarking networks on Diigo, then followed on Twitter some of the people Will paid attention, which led to Web 2.0 learning expert Steve Hargadon. When Hargadon invited me to participate in an online Elluminate session with 100 educators and librarians, it was an opportunity to learn about a subject I’m deeply interested in — the literacy of critical consumption of online information (or, as Hemingway put it more plainly, “Crap Detection“). So I told Steve I’d be happy to talk about that subject, with the understanding that I wanted to learn from as well as lecture to the community. Together, the people who assembled from around the world for that session ended up aggregating a set of links to websites that prove you can’t believe everything you find online. That list became the basis of a wiki resource for information about crap detection or critical consumption. During the session, one of the people who took the lead in the voice conference, Angela Maiers, seemed to know a lot about another one of my interests — broadening the definition of literacy.4753726863_b0901fe179_z

In a recent interview with Angela via videoskype, the nonlinear learning expedition continued. Before I could ask a first question, I couldn’t help wondering about the way Maiers’ office had been arranged, so I poked around her website and saved some tabs for later. The whiteboard visible behind her turned out to be made of something called “IdeaPaint,” a product Maiers discovered and blogged about. Another blog post introduced a magnetic paint primer she used on a different wall. “What possibilities for learning and creativity do your walls have in store for you?” Maiers blogged. Ultimately, Maiers saw deeper lessons in her office makeover:

I now understand why people love “makeover shows.” It’s not just about getting new ideas and great tips for your own redesign projects. That’s good stuff, but the appeal goes far deeper. The process of “makeover” speaks to the desire and deeper hunger for transfiguration and transformation.

We tune in and pay attention to what people are doing with a can of paint or a piece of wire because it motivates us. We smile when we see the surface decorations, but we are inspired when we see and hear what these small changes have done for the person.

Our spaces, creative or otherwise, influence how we work, how we think, and how we see what we most long for. Or, as mythologist Joseph Campbell so eloquently stated, our spaces are sacred places where we can find ourselves.

Maiers helps schools and educators understand and implement new media literacy programs and practices, but it isn’t hard to see why she describes her role as a “lead learner.”

“The Literacy Club” for 21st Century Learners

In our video interview, Maiers described the actual content on the whiteboard behind her that had attracted my attention as a broader view of literacy — “what it means to be in the literacy club.”

She wants students to “see reading as a life long endeavor that grows in competence and confidence the more it is practiced across increasingly more difficult and diverse text.”

“In an era of new literacies,” she explains, “we are in a simultaneous state of learning to read and reading to learn. Think about it — who’s in the: Blog Literacy Club? Twitter Literacy Club? Financial Literacy Club? Media Literacy Club? Ning Literacy Club? Aren’t we all emergent readers when we encounter new texts and mediums that push the boundaries of genre, form, format, and modes, on and offline?”

Moving to a discussion of how attitudes and habits apply to digital literacies, she uses Twitter as a tool that can be a “representation of what the Web seeks to be,” namely a source of personal, customized, community-filtered data — but only to the person who knows how to use it and approaches it with the right mindset.

Social media in education, according to Maiers, is “a mindset challenge, not a skill set challenge.”

Similarly, she talks about literacy and learning in the Connected Age as a “way of being” not “a way of knowing.”


Banner image credit: Cristobal Cobo Romani

Secondary image credit: ctkmcmillan