When “New” Gets Old: Redefining Approaches to Digital Literacy and Citizenship
6.15.11 | Ever consider that much of what we call “new media” these days has been around for decades? PowerPoint is more than 20 years old. Video editing, blogging, wikis—they’re often talked about as the Next Great Thing, but at this point, these tools and platforms are just, well, the thing.
Antero Garcia, a high school English teacher in South Central Los Angeles and a 2010-2011 U.S. Department of Education teaching ambassador fellow, believes that labeling these digital tools as “new” is not simply a semantic gaffe. In his latest post at DMLcentral, he persuasively articulates how the term “new” acts to marginalize what should be mainstream:
Without redefining the terms we are using to describe these tools and student work, digital technologies can actually be perceived as a cult-like sub-genre of the stuff teachers use; it can be looked on with bemusement by a critical mass of teachers as a pedagogical circus sideshow.
“New” makes low-fi filmmaking in my class, analysis of YouTube videos, and even social networking seem like extra stuff that teachers on the fringe are playing with. It makes the work playful in a way that moves it beyond policy adoption and allows it to be a supplement to how students can learn.
Garcia admits he is not much into labels, but he thinks a linguistic shift needs to happen—and happen soon. To spur the change, he suggests replacing “new media” with “participatory media”:
Personally, I like the term “participatory media.” It gives a description of the way technology is augmenting learning–increased participation and buy-in through a myriad of strategies. It de-emphasizes the digital nature of the work, highlighting that it can be applied in any classroom (not just the crazy English teacher down the hall or the media coach the school is subsidizing). It is also a term that is being used by numerous researchers already, making widespread adoption an easier proposition.
Participatory media has gained recent prominence through the work of Stanford University professor Howard Rheingold, whose 2008 article “Using Participatory Media and Public Voice to Encourage Civic Engagement” (pdf) presents the challenging question: “Might teachers enlist these young people’s enthusiasm for using digital media in the service of civic engagement?” Rheingold’s companion Socialtext wiki on “Participatory Media Literacy” is a great introduction to all the possibilities embodied in the term.
Other educators, such as Erica Halverson of University, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, promote the idea of “participatory media spaces,” which she defines as non-hierarchical learning environments that encourage collaboration through diverse tools and spaces. To see where this concept is headed, check out her TEDx talk from last month in which she discusses the need, even in a test-crazy educational environment, to foster creativity and innovation through participatory activities in the classroom.
Simran Sethi, who teaches at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communication and wrote last week on “Teaching Tweeting” for MetropolisMag.com, also sees “participatory” as a powerful, politically-infused term:
I use the term “participatory,” rather than “social” because that is truly what it is. Storytellers without access to the hallowed ground of media’s Fourth Estate now have collaborative spaces in which to share information. Important stories that serve the public interest—but are often eclipsed by flashier pieces—now have unprecedented opportunities for visibility. The news is no longer mediated by Wolf Blitzers or Greta Van Susterens. It is available straight from sources who live and breathe stories as they unfold—as nearby as Joplin, as far off as Tahrir Square. An abstract piece on plastics pollution in the ocean comes to life via a personal blog, a local revolution becomes global through a handful of texted characters.
Garcia’s new call for the use of participatory media is meant to encompass all of these possible applications. But the “participatory” connection between digital tools and digital citizenship is a particularly hot topic right now.
And take a look at the Media Awareness Network’s MyWorld project, a web-based digital literacy tutorial for high school students. While not specifically geared toward a particular social or political engagement, it uses gaming situations to get students thinking about and developing skills toward becoming responsible, ethical agents in their digital worlds.
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