Understanding Difference: What Happens When We Recognize That Different People Become (Digitally) Literate In Different Ways


Photo by Melanie Holtsman.

8.5.11 | A recognition of the pressing need for “digitial literacy” challenges the ways we teach and learn, but the technology and social media behind it can create barriers to access and understanding, as well as scare off cash-strapped school districts. Welcome to this week’s Playback, where everything is more complicated than it seems.

Promoting Digital Fluency: Writing at DMLcentral, Liz Losh discusses the problems with the term “digital literacy”—both in terms of how it can become “attached to rigid curricular requirements, standardized testing, and models of education that stigmatize some students as remedial when it comes to their basic programming skills or their abilities to use software productively,” and how it can “generate conflicts among educators because many different disciplines may claim sole responsibility for providing any needed instruction,” a point she has addressed in earlier writings.

Losh does so as a preview to an interview with Micha Cárdenas, a transgender performance and new media artist who is encouraging more thinking about inclusivity and understanding of how technology is shaped by familiar power structures. Cárdenas is joining an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in media arts and practice at USC, after having been the associate director for art and technology in the Culture, Art, and Technology Program at Sixth College at U.C. San Diego.

Learning Through Gaming: Speaking of literacy, Aran Levasseu tackles the literacy of gaming in his post at PBS’s MediaShift.

“Games are fun, but their real value lies in leveraging play and exploration as a mode of learning the literacy of problem-solving, which lowers the emotional stakes of failing,” writes Levasseu, the academic technology coordinator at San Francisco University High School. He continues:

In Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, he reminds us that our educational system has stigmatized mistakes. As a result, kids are frightened of being wrong. Yet if we are not prepared to be wrong than we won’t be able to come up with anything creative or solve complex problems. Videogames, on the other hand, embed trial and error into the foundation of gameplay.

Kids aren’t naturally great at gaming the first time. They develop mastery through disciplined practice—a path marked by dead-ends, wrong turns and blunders. Yet gamers aren’t angst-ridden about making wrong decisions because games encourage a growth mindset. Mistakes are how one figures out what doesn’t work and provides the impetus to zero in on what might.

That’s a key point we’ve previously promoted here through writings and talks by Jane McGonigal and others. While it applies to all students, it may have additional meaning for students who struggle with a less-forgiving pedagogy—as is the case, argues Alison Carr-Chellman of Penn State’s College of Education, with some elementary school boys (view her TEDX Talk below).

It also applies to girls, who are still less likely to assert themselves in classroom unless they have absolute confidence in their responses. And to low-income youth, who may not have the same opportunities to use digital media to explore, experiment and create their own content and narratives. (Read Sarah’s previous post on digital learning in low-income communities, which references S. Craig Watkins’ work and his recent observations of high school youth in a summer game design program.)

Plus: While it’s easy to agree, at least in theory, that games have educational value, Tina Barseghian talks with experts about the fuzzy line between entertainment and education and how parents of young children can encourage a healthy media diet.

Technology Use/Ownership Among Young Adults: While young adults use social networking sites at roughly similar rates regardless of educational attainment, there are some gaps around gadget ownership between college students and non-students, according to a new report from Pew Internet and American Life Project. The greatest discrepancy is found among ownership of laptop computers and iPod or mp3 players.

Hello, My Name Is: Real names in digital spaces are all the rage, as more comment sections require real name registration and the newest large-scale social media network, Google Plus, is (so far) enforcing a real-names policy (visit Infotrope.net for Kirrily “Skud” Robert’s breakdown of the names policy and the consequences).

But as danah boyd points out, there are many reasons for why people would prefer to use psudonymns. Maybe they’ve been known online by another name for years, or they’ve experienced harassment on- or off-line, or they want to discuss controversial issues and doing so would affect their job or family.

“The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power,” writes boyd. “‘Real names’ policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people. These ideas and issues aren’t new (and I’ve even talked about this before), but what is new is that marginalized people are banding together and speaking out loudly. And thank goodness.”

Using Facebook’s supposed “real names” culture, boyd gives the issue some historical and global context—ultimately demonstrating that determining whose name is “real” reveals quite a bit about societal norms and privilege.

For more, search the hashtag @nymwars.

Engaging Teachers in Media Literacy: We often write about digital media access and engagement as it concerns kids. But after attending the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) 2011 conference in Philadelphia, Samuel Reed wonders what it will take to engage teachers—local teachers in particular.

“I was impressed with the presence of educators from China, and other parts of the world who were among the over 350 attendees. However, as someone who participated in the local committee for the conference, I was disappointed with the low turnout of local educators,” Reed writes at The Notebook.

From fighting perceptions that media literacy is a luxury, or only relevant to college professors and researchers, to figuring out how to reach teachers stressed by testing pressures and dwindling district budgets, the post and the thoughtful comments that follow show that there’s a long road ahead to ensuring that media literacy gains traction in K-12 curricula.

Reed also links to a number of interesting panels—including several that did feature local representation. In the session “Because Digital Writing Matters,” Robert Rivera-Amezola and Meenoo Rami of the Philadelphia Writing Project, and Christina Cantrill, of National Writing Project (NWP), examined what it means to be literate in a multi-mediated society, using the NWP’s Digital Is website as a catalyst (read earlier posts about Digital Is).

The conversation continues every Monday from 7-8 p.m. on Twitter—use the hashtag #engchat. You can learn more at Rami’s site, engchat.org, and view a list of participants.

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