Monday, August 11, 2014

Stay Chrome Not Gilded

I am excited and honored to collaborate with Mundelein High School District 120 this year as they begin to implement 1:1 computing with their students. While much is often made about the power of 1:1 from the standpoint of instructional technology, I would argue that it is more about the amplification of opportunities for responsive literacy instruction. This post is the beginning of that collaboration and dialogue with District 120 teachers as they begin to integrate 1:1 technology into their instruction.

The major premise of my talk on the 2nd day of Mundelein’s Tech Summit is that it is not about the technology but rather the literacy practices of their students, what is demanded in their disciplines, and the literacies needed to be critical and participatory citizens.  So, then how can we leverage the tools that will be at the disposal of students and teachers for this practice?

I propose five elements that make digital literacies amplify literate practice for adolescents.  Throughout the year we will then consider implications for teaching and learning. 

      1.  Students will need to be able to read every text type one can imagine.
      2.  Students will need to synthesis multiple texts quickly and proficiently.
      3.  Students will need to engage in critical literacy to vet online texts.
      4.  Students will be able to engage in collaborative meaning making
      5.  Students will have the opportunity to compose content for a wide audience.

1.     Reading multiple text types online
While just about the entire body of human knowledge is available online, it also comes in a variety of representations. While traditionally students have read predominantly written texts with audio-visual texts often treated as ancillaries, online reading often involves reading written word along with flash-animation, videos, pictures, etc.  It is critical that students be able to closely and critically read multiple text types.  To support the reading of text types, researchers like Len Unsworth and Frank Serafini have argued that we need to teach kids a meta-language about audio-visual texts. That is, the language used to comprehend audio-visual texts is different than the comprehension of traditional texts.  Attention to elements of sound, color, shape, etc all are critical to extrapolating the message of different text types.  And because so many text types of available online we also need to acknowledge that reading online always involves multiple text comprehension.

2.     Multiple text synthesis online
We often treat the reading of text in the classroom more singularly. Working through a single text and then perhaps reading others from a text set or reading a new text the next day.  Online however, reading multiple texts becomes simultaneous. Consider the number of texts embedded on a single webpage as well as the host of links that lead the reader to other texts.  While I would agree that all reading is intertextual, school based reading has been treated more singularly.  Research has consistently demonstrated though that people struggle to synthesize multiple texts.  Therefore we need to engage kids in specific strategies for reading and comprehending multiple texts.  There are a few multiple text synthesis strategies explained in a strategies book I co-authored with Roberta Berglund and Jerry Johns: ContentArea Learning: Bridges to Disciplinary Literacy.  

My three favorites include Synthesis Journals, Multiple Text GIST, and I-Charts.  While working to read to synthesize multiple texts, students also need to be judicious about the texts they select.

3.     Critical Literacy
Traditionally, teachers have been the gatekeepers of information through they textbooks and supplemental handouts.  A 1:1 environment removes that gate and opens up and endless amount of text.  While the Internet is replete with texts, many are unauthored, unvetted, and unreliable.  It is critical for students and teachers to not approach reading as merely an act of consumption but one of critical analysis.  Critical online source evaluation (McVerry, 2012) is necessary in the selection process of texts that will ultimately need to be synthesized.  Additionally, critical media literacy (Morrell, 2013) is needed to read not just the word but the world. A critical reader online could be said to be more engaged as a citizen.  Criticality is not simply transmitted from teacher to student.  It is learned through social participation and collaborative sense making.

4.     Collaborative meaning making
1:1 environments create opportunities for powerful collaborations across time and space.  While a plethora of tech tools can engender collaboration, they are meaningless if only used because they are collaborative tools.  Tasks designed to be collaborative are more important that the tool.  A blog with no audience is a word-processed essay.  A wiki with no collaboration is a poster with digital glitter and glue (from my friend Gena Khodos). Start with your learning objectives and task design that require collaborative meaning making. Then select the tool to deepen that collaboration.

5.     Writing for publication
These collaborative engagements also have the power to be shared with the widest audience possible.  Online Content Creation (O’Byrne, 2013) means that students have the ability to create and share a variety of productions such as digital storytelling, blogging, video creation, tweeting, etc.  Publication moves from an audience of 1 (the teacher) to potentially a global audience. If we are to truly value what young people have to say, then we need to provide opportunities to share their voices, cultivate their ideas, and grapple with local and global problems. 

As I conceptualize digital literacy practices, I see students embodying them by:

Reading multiple forms of text
Writing in a variety of mediums
Speaking to the widest audience possible
Listening to global perspectives

As we begin another school year I hope these considerations are ones that inform instruction and assessment.  At the end of the day no amount of technology will do the teaching and learning for us. I often like to share this quote:

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."

I wish I had written it but it was Edward R. Murrow who wrote it in 1958 about the television. It is a reminder that we can either place our emphasis on the technology or we can focus on the using the technology to forward our pedagogical goals.  

There are several researchers that have influenced my thinking about digital literacies including, Julie Coiro, Kimberly Lawless, Ian O’Byrne, Greg McVerry, Kristy Pytash, Ernest Morrell, Amy Hutchinson, William Kist, Phil WilderNathan Phillips, Blaine Smith, Bridget DaltonRyan Rish, Sean Conners, Rachel Karchmer-Klein, Rick BeachAnna Smith among many others.  I encourage you to click on their names and follow their work. 

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