Digital media is no longer an option – it’s a necessity

John Connell’s post ‘Literacy, Postliteracy, Modes of Expression….and a real Guitar Hero!’ raises the very important topic of digital literacies.  John Connell said that

the process of democratization of expression that is inherent in the development of the Web means that we now have available to us low-cost tools that allow us to express ourselves creatively in media that were previously unavailable to most because the barriers to entry were too high.

 Jenny Luca commented:

I recognise that my students respond to visual media today far more than they do print based.

In response to discussion about what constituted literacy, Hilery commented

A literate person can mediate his or her world by deliberately and flexibly orchestrating meaning from one linguistic knowledge base and apply or connect it to another knowledge base. The definition of literacy is dynamic, evolving, and reflects the continual changes in our society: not least the very real political challenges to the status…

(I love this definition, and wish that I could link to Hilery so I could read more of what she has to say).
Two very interesting things to ponder: what is literacy? and do we need to redefine it? (ok, two and a half);
and is digital literacy just an added dimension, or is it something more vital?
Jess from the United Kingdom put me onto a recent article by James Paul Gee and Michael H. Levine on Innovation Strategies for Learning in a Global Age.  The authors identify a newly emerging digital participation gap, and talk about competencies needed to succeed in a global age which can be developed through the ‘untapped power of interactive media’. The report also states that, apart from the reading gap between richer and poorer students, there is, more recently, another gap – between students who have mastered digital media and those who haven’t. Interesting to see these two problematic areas identified side by side, because both are needed to function competently in the 21st century. I’m sticking my neck out here but in Australia, at least, digital literacies are still way behind more traditional literacies; they’re seen in many cases as an extra dimension, and often as irrelevant in government schools which are not funded for functionality in an online world. In equipped schools, however, teachers’ training for technology remains limited, and they are often reluctant for trained teachers or teacher librarians to provide support. (There are several reasons for this, but I won’t go into them in this post). Or they’re unaware of the need for this support, eg. technology-based activities are unsupported and unscaffolded. The situation baffles me still. The article expresses this very eloquently:

Mastery of digital media for the production of knowledge constitutes a new family of “digital literacies,” since such media, like print before them, are tools for the production of meaning. For a student to fully leverage all the possibilities for learning and knowledge production to be found on the Internet, he or she must learn how to access, assess, and modify the plethora of information available. These skills don’t just develop on their own. They require mentoring and teaching, especially for children who come from families unable to provide this at home. So the digital gap is not just a matter of who has access to technology. More important, it is about who has access to well-designed learning systems and mentorship built around new digital technologies.

There’s so much that’s spot-on in this article. It cites digital media as naturally eliciting problem-solving behaviour and attitudes, and as enabling the solving of real-world problems. Fact is, as acknowledged in the article, we all know that young people’s digital involvement outside of school has been impressive:

In fact, children are already using digital environments and tools to join learning communities and become experts. Many use the Internet, communication media, digital tools, and membership in often virtual, sometimes real, communities of practice to develop technical expertise in different areas. These include video games, digital storytelling, fan fiction, music, graphic art, political commentary, robotics, anime, and nearly every other endeavor the human mind can think of. Their informal process of learning, collaboration, and transforming passion into knowledge is desperately needed in schools today.

Finally, there is the suggestion for a way forward: an indepth examination of the benefits of digital media; tech-savvy teachers training others; literacy assessments measuring problem-solving skills. Is there any research about the benefits of digital media – apart from well written articles? Because if there is, then we need to drag it out of the filing cabinet and bring it to the attention of educators and education specialists.

6 thoughts on “Digital media is no longer an option – it’s a necessity”

  1. Tania,

    I you have not already seen it, you might like to read and respond to the comment by Joe Nutt about our mutual contributions to this discussion on my blog. I will respond to Joe myself when I have time to gather my thoughts on what I feel is a certain circularity in his argument, as well as a key point that I believe he completey misses (or is unable to see).

  2. Tania,
    Not being the least flippant about this, honestly (John knows how seriously I think about the quality of education children receive) but have a close look at the opening sentence of James Paul Gee’s you quote. Can “Mastery of …media” really constitute a “family”? If I was marking this from a teenager I would have commented, “Is this really what you were trying to say because it doesn’t really make sense?” “Family” is simply the wrong word because what he is trying to say is something more like “set of skills” or “body of knowledge” a concept that isn’t at all conveyed by using “family” metaphorically. The funny thing, I couldn’t agree more with the other points he makes in that paragraph!

  3. Joe,

    You’re right; ‘family’ is not the best word in this context. I suppose the author was referring to different types of literacy as belonging together under the umbrella of a broader definition of literacy. Metaphorically, ‘family’ serves to underline the connection between all the literacies.

    Further to your comment about digital literacies and film study, I can’t comment with any expertise, not having studied film as part of a post-graduate degree, but I think that students should learn to ‘read’ film, just as they learn to read fiction, poetry or graphic novels. Each of these genres has their own set of challenges. With any visually based genre, the skill of interpretation or ‘reading’ lies at least partially within the inferences, in the contextual clues within juxtaposition of scenes or frames. Of course, understanding inferences is also important when reading text. Interpretation of tone is equally as important. Students are often unable to identify irony, verbal or visual. These critical literacies can be developed with exposure to a variety of genres.

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