Howard Rheingold has written an article for City Brights on 21st century literacies. His opening paragraph asks essential questions for the future (and present) of education:
Will our grandchildren century grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else? Or will they grow up knowing that the online world is a bewildering puzzle to which they have few clues, a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?
And here in a nutshell is the definition for 21st century literacies in plain English. What concerns me, and many others, is that the shift from traditional literacy to these 21st century literacies is not occurring in schools on any significant scale. An understanding of the critical need for a focus on these literacies isn’t happening from the top down, nor from the bottom up. And it’s not going to happen unless we, educators, step out of our teaching role and immerse ourselves in the 21st world as learners.
As far as I know, on the whole Australian schools still view online involvement for students as ‘a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?’ This is part of the reason for inaccessibility and filtering; for the rules prohibiting the use of online games and mobile phones at school. We talk about integrating technologies into the curriculum, but we still view these technologies as the enemy.
Perhaps many of us are uncomfortable about using new technology. We figure our students are naturals, that they’ll figure out the technology thing by themselves, better without us. Howard Rheingold questions the term ‘digital natives’ applied to our students:
Just because your teens Facebook, IM, and Youtube, don’t assume they know the rhetoric of blogging, collective knowledge gathering techniques of taggers and social bookmarkers, collaborative norms of wiki work, how to tune and feed a Twitter network, the art of multimedia argumentation – and, by far most importantly, online crap detection.
Rheingold makes it very clear how urgent it is for our students to be educated in 21st century literacies:
If you think that forgetting to teach your kids the facts of life is dangerous, wait until you witness the collision of a global superempowered infrastructure with a population of illiterate users.
There’s no mincing of words. According to Rheingold, our students will be illiterate if we don’t redefine our concept of literacy. What literacies are we teaching our students at present? Are these in line with the world in which they will live and work? We may not like digital media as much as our students, but isn’t our job as educators preparing them for their future? Their future is digital, global and networked. Digital literacy is not so much about the mechanics of digital tools; it is much more than that:
The most important critical uncertainty today is how many of us learn to use digital media and networks effectively, reasonably, credibly, collaboratively, civilly, humanely.
One of the commenters identifies the importance of teaching critical reading skills. Howard adds that ‘some, perhaps many, view critical thinking as a frivolous distraction from “the basics”… Others say that there is nothing new about this requirement’. For teacher librarians, teaching critical reading and critical thinking has been part of their role for some time. As a teacher librarian,I find this problematic – not the fact that we are delegated this teaching role, since we are ‘information specialists’, and our role must evolve in line with developments in the world of information – but that this teaching is seen as somehow separate from ‘the real curriculum’, that we come in for one lesson or two at most, and teach ‘information skills’ as discrete skills. We all know that this doesn’t work, that the integration of critical, digital literacies must be integrated fully in everyday teaching, and that curricular material must be selected with this teaching aim in mind. Our choice of medium must support the teaching of these literacies. If we use blogs, wikis or nings, it is not because we are ticking off our use of Web 2.0 technologies for the sake of being recognised as Web 2.0 savvy, it’s because we recognise that a networked learning environment is the best way to prepare our students for their future. If we teach our senior students to critically evaluate newspaper articles and advertisements, shouldn’t we finally take the leap to teaching them the skills they need to navigate the deluge of online information? They’re not reading editorials as much as they’re watching YouTube videos. Will they continue to get their news from newspapers? Or will they prefer real-time, real-people news reports on Twitter?
What are your thoughts? Let’s have a discussion.