Saturday, August 4, 2012

Make the Road by Walking: Six Weeks Closer to the New Unknown

I give my students, pre- and in-service teachers, a lot of credit. After about five weeks of intensive reading (i.e., new literacies, participatory culture, youth and digital life, etc. ), venturing into the wilds of the Web to play with a wide range of tools (e.g., Google Docs, Google Reader, Animoto, Flickr, podcasting, blogging, TitanPad, TodaysMeet, Adobe Connect, Skype, Twitter), they've gone off in teams of two and three to create a product that will feed our class Commons (hat tip to Howard Rheingold and Lawrence Lessig for that concept), and address a question or idea that matters to them related to teaching, learning, and/or "English." Their overarching mission is to see what happens when they try to use principles of new learning as the context for their teaching.

The idea that educators work with a trio of knowledges-- pedagogic, content, and technological-- within a social & cultural context comes from the TPACK model. According to the TPACK Website
Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) attempts to identify the nature of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted and situated nature of teacher knowledge. At the heart of the TPACK framework, is the complex interplay of three primary forms of knowledge: Content (CK), Pedagogy (PK), and Technology (TK). 
All I do is insist that my students swap an Industrial Age context for a context comprised of new definitions of literacy, new mindsets about communication, knowledge, economies, and participation in society, and new technologies.

There are lots of lists of the elements that make up the new contexts for learning. To keep it simple, we use five. Drawn from the work of Howard Rheingold and others, they are: Connection, Collaboration, Creation, Crap Detection, and Commons-Sense. These five terms capture the spirit of the complex and varied ideas about the new literacies needed for our evolving social contexts.

What students need to know how to do, ways they need to be able to think and work-- all of these things are radically different in a world described above than the Industrial world in which so many of us grew up.

Being Connected means being conscious of living in a world larger than one's immediate life and seeking connections to that larger world, usually by means of technologies, i.e., the World Wide Web. Collaboration speaks to new ways of working made possible by the dissolution of rigid social lines. Creation is the act of making new knowledge for the benefit of the larger community.

Crap Detection: the skills to 'read' messages being conveyed about people, places, ways of being.  Postman's (1969) "Bullshit and the Art of Crap Detection", for example, and Rheingold's 2009 "Crap Detection 101" encompasses media and information literacies, as well as skills described as essential for a participatory culture (Jenkins et. al., 2008), and even broad ideas of critical literacy (Luke).

Commons-Sense refers to the belief that, in this new society, information must be freely accessible in order for people to continue to build knowledge that can benefit everyone-- i.e., the Commons. Ideas that information can be "owned," i.e., via copyright, are counterproductive to knowledge creation, and Creative Commons Licensing is a new way to protect rights of content creators while making information accessible to others.

I imagine that this is not what many of my students expected from this course. It would be so much simpler to write a list of Web-based tools on the board, ask them to dream up cool ways to use the tools in the classroom, and then to require that these be written up as lesson plans. But that's not what's needed for the transformation of education. It's barely even change. It is the substitution of new technologies for old, in order to do the same old thing, only more efficiently-- "old wine in new bottles" (Lankshear and Knobel. 2006. p. 55).

I keep telling my students that this is really hard. That we don't know what the answers are. That, together, we will create them.

Some students are keen to try their hands at seamless integration of tools into lessons. Others are trying to see how/if traditional concepts of humanities could be brought to a new place within the new context. Still others are trying to see if sustained silent reading could transformed. I can't wait to see what they've created.

Jenkins, H., Purushotoma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., & Robison, A. (2008, March). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: media education for the 21st century. Retrieved from
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006). New literacies: Everyday practices & classroom learning (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

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