Reaction Paper #3: New Literacies

This week’s readings were the first chapter of A New Literacies Sampler (2007), edited by Lankshear and Knobel (whole thing is available as a pdf), and a program report from The Campaign for Grade-Level reading called “Pioneering Literacy.”

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading begins their report on “Pioneering Literacy” with a focus on the importance of the environment and parent-child interactions in teaching reading. I like that they make the distinction between the presence of devices and how the technology is used, though I am often skeptical of reported hours of screen time and what is really meant by “60% of white and hispanic preschoolers … have played video games on a console.” There are a lot of value judgements going on in reporting their statistics, and readers will interpret the numbers as good or bad depending on their own personal bias.

Where I think the Campaign goes astray is that by using an old model of “bookspace” and literacy, they limit both the success of kids and limit the use of an iPad. The first point about “bookspace” points to their desire to find authoritative products or programs that will deliver literacy skills in a textual order that is recognizable to their schema for teaching literacy. The key line from Lankshear and Knobel is that “to bring a model of value that ‘belongs’ to a different kind of space is inappropriate and creates an impediment to actualizing the new space.” In other words, it doesn’t make sense to look to iPad apps and websites to reflect traditional approaches to literacy, and by doing so, it limits what that technology might actually be able to teach. For example, an app that does not explicitly teach reading comprehension as traditionally understood may do very well with new literacies, such as recognizing and adapting interaction based on the context, of which reading and understanding is a part. Further, if we look at the Discourse for being a student in school, language is certainly a part of that coordination, but focusing on that alone may not result in the Campaign’s goal for grade-level reading because there are other factors preventing children from marginalized groups from stretching to a secondary Discourse.

This report reminds me of the early reports on climate change that were trying to convince people that it was a real thing while scientists had already established consensus among themselves long ago. The Campaign may serve a valuable role in helping raise awareness by encouraging intentional use of media by families and educators, but I think they need to reconsider their own understanding of New Media and the “cyberspatial-postindustrial” world to help programs update their mindset, rather than just helping them “technologize.”

Reaction Paper #2: How People Learn & New Media

Readings for this week include the first chapter of How People Learn, by Bransford et al. 1999, and Living and Learning with New Media, by Ito et al. 2008.

(I’m just including my last paragraph, which I think was the most interesting.)

A lot of schools and teachers are threatened by this generation of seemingly empowered, engaged, technology-savvy youth with their “resilient set of questions about adult authority.” (Ito et al. 2008) Further, “our values and norms in education, literacy, and public participation are being challenged by a shifting landscape of media and communications in which youth are central actors. Although complaints about ‘kids these days’ have a familiar ring to them, the contemporary version is somewhat unusual in how strongly it equates generational identity with technology identity, an equation that is reinforced by telecommunications and digital media corporations that hope to capitalize on this close identification.” (Ito et al. 2008) I want to address this very last part: the corporations. All these interfaces, platforms, and services are run by corporations, whose goal is to make money. This capitalistic ethos is built into the web, our children’s playground, and the companies make money when you to come back. They provide dopamine hits by alerts of connections to friends, by the functions of affirmations (“Pokes” or “Likes”), and by presenting solvable problems (such as in games), which is far from true about dilemmas in the teenage world. They provide quantifiable measures of popularity or desirability, which might at first seem like a reflection of content, but it’s not a far leap to being a measure of worth: the most followers, friends, shares, or comments. All this engenders FOMO (fear of missing out) and drama, such as “unfollow me and I’ll unfollow you.” This, naturally, affects actual identity formation and the conception of what it means to be successful in life. I’m not a technological determinist, clinical psychologist, nor anti-capitalist, but as the interfaces becoming increasingly seemless and as a greater percentage of our learning and life is extended on these platforms, I get a little skittish. Like many generations before me, my guiding hope is in education.

Opinions in this last paragraph were influenced by It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens, by danah boyd, and by a critique written of the book by Michael Simon, reprinted with permission on ISTE’s Indenpendent School Educator Network’s blog.

Think twice about the research sound bite and keep those perspectacles on, people!

Business Insider

There are a bunch of news stories flying around right now about how “digital technology and tv can inhibit children socially”, but if you actually read the study it’s not that clear, and NO ONE reports and important disclaimer by the authors themselves. As per usual, the news is more sensational than the research…
Here are links to recent news articles:
Basically the study looked at about 50 6th graders from a Southern California public school before and after an outdoor nature camp and compared their ability to read emotional facial cues to kids who stayed at home going to regular school.
Kids who went to camp showed statistically significant improvement in the test of emotional facial cues.

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Book share: The Culture of the New Capitalism, by Richard Sennett

Sennett’s writing alternately confirmed and conflicted with my reality. He describes experiences I have had or paths I am living, such as the idealized self of the “new-page order,” adding to my understanding of my narrative. On the other hand, he describes worlds that I only know through Mad Men or The Social Network, the latter of which epitomizes the modern world as somewhere anyone can make their own success through innovative ideas and the internet.

My identity as a hopeful person is a reaction to the daily, haunting fear that the world is on the verge of biological and social collapse and no doubt influenced by a perceived impotency to make a difference. In this way, I connected with Sennett’s description of buying possibilities: computers that are much more powerful than we’ll use, SUVs, etc. It made me think instantly of all the sports equipment my husband and I only realize we have when we move. I guess we keep it in hopes that we’ll once again be regular campers and rock climbers or play backyard bocci games. That said, I maintain hopefulness by believing that good old American tenet that we are generally making progress and that I contribute to that by working for better education for kids. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, paraphrasing Theodore Parker, “The arc of the Moral Universe Is long, but It bends toward Justice.”

I have a hard time with nostalgia. Sennett’s admission of it on page 2 got my dander up for the rest of the book. Nostalgia has its place in honoring the past and connecting our personal narrative, but memories are capricious and myopic. While the Weberian pyramid of social capatalism may have provided stability, only a small slice of the population had access to it and the other benefits of the day. There have been other times in history that different people have been forced to migrate or develop new skills, and forget their pasts. He himself describes the picture of it with the men from the Great Depression. I understand that he says that they at least had the hope of education for their kids. I don’t know whether the fresh-page way has truly opened doors, but I have to hope that we are on a general trajectory of equity and access for the disenfranchised. I do worry that the focus on potential and personal worth will, as he talks about, make it in fact harder for people without all the resources and privileges to succeed, but I would rather deal with the opportunities and challenges of the present. I feel that Sennett focuses on what was good about the past and what is challenging about the future, with only small notes about the opportunities of the fresh page.

Sennett’s focus on the spector of uselessness generated some interesting questions both in my beliefs and experiences. I grew up in a family that unequivocally adhered to the Puritanical virtue of work, and I realized in reading this how much I subconsciously accuse others, mostly older generations that a struggling in the workplace with an unwillingness or incapacity to learn new skills. This was particularly true of teachers who were resistant to using technology in their classrooms. Was it the specter of uselessness that haunted them? If they tried something new and failed, would it confirm for them that their life’s work, and thus they, were useless? I tend to have the mantra that things are the way they’ve always been, but this fresh-page characterisation of new capitalism makes me wonder. Maybe if I listen to Sennett and choose to value experience, I’ll believe him that this is troubled times, but if I choose potential, then I’ll do what younger generations have always done and stick with my own assessment.