Redefining Digital Literacy for Our Learners—and Ourselves

Taking day-long hikes into an exquisite national park like Desolation Wilderness, west of Lake Tahoe, provides a wonderful metaphor for learning: just when we think we’ve reached a destination we have established for ourselves—a summit, a pristine lake, or a meadow—we realize there are even more to pursue. Which is exactly how several of us are feeling in #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course (MOOC) that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013.

Nearing the end of a two-week exploration of digital literacy that was initiated by Doug Belshaw’s introductory session on the theme, our entire #etmooc learning experience is both extending all around us rhizomatically and circling back in upon itself.

etmoocWhen we think about some of the #etmooc themes—the idea that learners in this sort of (connectivist) MOOC set our own goals within the broad framework established, and that there is no pressure around keeping up or falling behind since we each approach the course with a desire and ability to set our own learning goals and learning pace—we gain a visceral appreciation for and understanding of what a well-run MOOC can offer. And we have to ask ourselves a simple question: how do those concepts play into the challenge of defining and nurturing digital literacy? When, for example, we find ourselves starting with what appears to be a basic course text—Belshaw’s What is ‘digital literacy’?—and then, through our own learning hikes, locating other texts that can be equally engaging, attractive, and important in helping us shape ideas of what digital literacy means to us, we come to the realization that we’re using digital literacy skills we may not have previously considered. This, of course, can’t help but shape our own attempts to define and nurture digital literacy.

Two of those digital learning texts came my way this week through digital connections. The first, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (2009), caught my attention when a colleague (Cleveland Public Library learning strategist Buffy Hamilton) mentioned it in her Goodreads account. The second, the New Media Consortium’s online publication A Global Imperative: The Report of the 21st Century Summit (2005), came my way directly from the first in that it was mentioned in Confronting the Challenges.

Jenkins--Confronting_Challenges--Participatory_CultureHenry Jenkins and his co-writers, in Confronting the Challenges, engage us in a book-length exploration regarding “core social skills and cultural competencies” for anyone interested in being “full, active, creative, and ethical participants in this emerging participatory culture.” The book (available free online as well as in a printed edition) is well worth reading for its concise descriptions of those skills; for the examples provided at the end of each section; and for the summary of those elements on pages 105-106: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation. More importantly, the writers conclude the book with a reminder of why digital literacy is important: to “ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, [creative,] and economic life…”

The same concern drives the New Media Consortium report. The first few pages remind us that 21st-century literacy is “multimodal,…includes creative fluency as well as interpretive facility,…means learning a new grammar with its own rules of construction,…lends itself to interactive communication,…implies the ability to use media to evoke emotional responses,…[and] has the potential to transform the way we learn.” A call to action on page 19 of the report provides one possible road map that, through its proposals, helps us focus on the digital literacy skills we might want to foster.

A striking element of Confronting the Challenges and A Global Imperative is that both works focus on the need to promote digital literacy among our youngest learners. There’s no reason to limit our attention to that audience, however; it’s clear that older learners have as strong a need for digital literacy—however we define it—as those younger learners have. If we expand our thinking a bit and apply the same needs for digital literacy to learners of all ages, we stand a good chance of fostering the sort of digital citizenship that is going to be a topic of discussion during the final weeks of #etmooc. Which brings us back to the #etmooc challenge of defining, understanding, and, by extension, fostering digital literacy: if we want to understand the theme, we need to take a hike. And expect to keep going long beyond the destination we originally intended to reach.

N.B.: This is the thirteenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.

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4 Responses to Redefining Digital Literacy for Our Learners—and Ourselves

  1. debseed says:

    I was interested to see you use hiking as a metaphor for learning, I have had similar thoughts

    https://debseed.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/learning-to-walk/

  2. So glad you wrote; can’t help but believe that your article at least subliminally affected the final version I wrote since yours, about “learning to walk in physical and digital worlds,” was among the #etmooc postings I read and enjoyed last night. I had been working on the piece about the Jenkins book and the New Media Consortium report in rough-draft form yesterday, but the hiking imagery didn’t flow from my pen until I began polishing the piece earlier today. Glad #etmooc is bringing us together and that the learning rhizomes appear to still be spreading; hope you have many more great and rewarding learning hikes as a result of what we’re all doing in the course.

    • debseed says:

      Yes, I think that since we are in the adaptive process of learning to live in the environment of this new digital world the hiking analogy is a perfect fit. One which cries out for some visuals I think? So, I’m going to try to map my hiking learning path against my digital learning path in a digital story. Not quite sure how yet!

  3. Looking forward to seeing that digital story; hope you’ll post a link to it here in case anyone who is following the exchange wants another example of what a well-designed MOOC, e.g., #etmooc, can inspire.

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