19 July 2009

21st Century Literacies

Connect here to Howard Rheingold's lecture at Reboot Britain on 21st Century Literacies. The talk is packed full of ideas but at its heart Rheingold proposes five key literacies for using collaborative technologies/social media (rather than skills, he sees literacies as skills plus social awareness in using them). The five are: attention, participation, cooperation, critical consumption (which he describes with Hemingway's words 'crap detection') and network awareness (Rheingold seems to have missed the recent de-bunking of 'six degrees of separation' but that's a small point).

Rheingold is sceptical about the idea of young people as 'digital natives' who slip naturally into using networked technologies effectively, although he thinks they still learn a huge amount through peer to peer experience. At the same time he questions how effectively the literacies can be taught in conventional education. He aims to increase his own digital media students' literacies and, in this talk, describes some of the techniques he uses in order to do so. Relevant to my post on backchannels are the techniques he uses to build students' understanding of how they deploy attention (he sees attention as fundamental to all the other skills). His exercises range from almost meditative stillness for short periods of time (indeed he uses the term 'mindfulness'), to allowing use of computers in his class, but with limitations e.g. only five students (of a class of forty) may have their laptops open at one time (in his words 'that really woke them up a lot').

En passant he shows a demonstration project of learning tools that he has been working on, with tabbed access to different streams of networked information (wiki, blogs, chatroom) and notes how the tool needs to be revised as Twitter has (at least among Stanford students) moved in to replace chat rooms.

His final point was the importance of 'Keep[ing] your eye not just on the technologies, but on the literacies [needed to use use them].' Fair point. Although understanding those literacies seems almost by definition to lag behind the technologies themselves. That makes things particularly tough for educators who have to account for the tools they use and the impact of using them in ways that business people and individual members of the public usually don't.

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