Reading, Writing and New Media Literacies

Filed in: Media Literacy

Filed by Christine Cupaiuolo


Photo by Dan Callahan.

11.15.11 | Writing at DMLcentral, John Jones argues that teaching students how to write a traditional five-paragraph essay no longer serves a real-world purpose—it’s not a valued skill outside of writing classes. An emphasis should instead be placed on 21st-century literacies, such as writing and publishing information in public spaces:

Publishing is a word that for many evokes images of enormous printing presses or the approval of gatekeepers like editors and publishing houses. But in the network society, the publishing process is less guarded, for one can simply post items to the web where others can see them, and comment on or enter into conversations about them. Yet this simplicity masks a complexity: just because it is easy to share our writing on digital networks, that does not mean that the skills necessary to write successfully in different online environments are themselves easily mastered. Just as being able to format a word-processed document using the MLA format was an unspoken, but essential skill in many writing classes, formatting a blog post or mastering the restraints of Twitter or Facebook are skills students should have some understanding of if they wish to see their writing have an impact in the world.

Jones, an assistant professor of professional writing and editing at West Virginia University, puts forth three ideas for “how teachers can think about the overlapping literacies of writing and publishing.” Also see his previous post on how to prepare students for new digital writing environments—even those that may not yet exist.

Jones’ argument about publishing reminded me of this post at Mind/Shift covering six reasons why kids should know how to blog. Contributor Jenny Luca, a Melbourne educator, notes that while plenty of her school’s students use Facebook, “there is a higher order skill set required to maintain consistent posts on a blog.” And that’s why reason number two is “communicating with digital tools”:

We’ve taught our students how to set up categories, add widgets, use the HTML editor to embed code, and how to tell the difference between a legitimate comment and a spammer. As our world moves ever closer towards the Internet as the main vehicle for communication, we feel that we are helping our students understand the language they will need to navigate this new territory.

But with great publishing power comes great consumer responsibility, and Mashable’s Josh Catone doesn’t think media literacy is keeping up with the speed of information. The ability to differentiate between fact and fiction when skimming tweets is a necessary, but often untaught, skill. And it’s not just kids who show a lack of mastery—Catone offers several examples of well-known adults demonstrating they’re not the most discerning media consumers. Apparently even some members of Congress could use a refresher on how to critically assess information.

So how do we define today’s necessary literacies?

“Literacy has always been defined by the technology,” said Nichole Pinkard, founder of Chicago’s Digital Youth Network in a PBS special on 21st century learning that aired in February. “Before the printing press, your ability to orally recite something meant [you were] literate.”

In today’s media-saturated world, the concept of literacy is again changing. According to Pinkard, kids in school today may not be considered literate in the future if they don’t fundamentally understand new forms of media — things like blogs, Twitter and streaming video. To be truly literate, though, you also need to be able to think critically about media, discern fact from fiction, news from opinion, trusted from untrustworthy. These issues have always been thorny, but the explosion of self-publishing has only made media literacy more vital to the preservation of our democratic society.

Plus: In a switch from focusing on students as users of social media, Holly Hobbs of the Fairfax Times talks with educators who are using technology to connect with students and colleagues.

“When I started teaching you shut the door and collaborated with yourself,” said Hayfield Secondary School teacher Ken Halla, who started blogging in 2008. “I thought we could do more, not just across the county, but across the state, across the world.”

Deidre Forgione, a photography teacher at the same school, started a blog earlier this year to post students’ work—and gave it a great name, Art Like Whoa. “It gives the kids a sense of pride to be able to say ‘Oh my teacher picked my work to put on the Internet,’” she said.

And some early education before they post to their own digital wall.

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