I’d like to explain the type of culture we live in by sharing a story with you about a girl named Jesse, a typical 15-year-old, that navigates between school, after-school, and connecting with friends and family.
AT HOME: You can often find Jesse hanging out with her friends. We all know what hanging out is ...whether its in our living room or online. Its the type of social connection that is not directed by learning that is mandated but instead informal learning that is interest-driven -- something that Jesse and her friends are passionate about. Here we see Jesse using her laptop and the editing application iMovie to create a video to share with a fanvid online community. She and a friend pick a song performed on American Idol and TV scenes from several Gossip Girl episodes. Jesse’s friend is searching a media database, looking for a specific scene, while Jesse is working on a rough cut, trying clips in different orders to match the beat of the music. They are both using the NML skill, Networking—the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information -- and participating in a Culture where ease of technology now provides relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement. These informal activities that Jesse and her friend are performing give her the ability to act in the world in meaningful ways and make a difference in her community.
Even OUT AND ABOUT, Jesse is never without her phone, and on the way to school the next day she remembers to text her friend about a contest she learned about online to mash up Moby-Dick and the popular TV series Lost. Her message says “contest online 2 make lost/mobydick vid wanna try it?” No longer should we separate our relationship between online and offline but instead we’re seeing a ubiquitous access to others that creates tele-cocooning relationships where often teens use the NML skill, collective intelligence as they pool their knowledge together towards a common goal, and see their contributions matter as they connect to each other socially and through their passions.
Often the new media literacies, a set of social skills and cultural competencies, are first gained informally -- such as in after-school programs, where in a semi-structured informal learning environment -- not tied to standards but finding creative and engaging ways to meet learning objectives, Jesse and the other participants join groups where they can geek out on their passions. We know Jesse is interested in creating videos and with that comes an obligation to better understand how to protect her work and know when it is appropriate to use others in meaningfully new ways. The Afterschool Program Coordinator helps her learn about Creative Commons’ alternatives to copyright licenses. They use what they’ve learned to write and perform skits illustrating how the licenses work. Jesse is nominated to videotape the skits, and later she uploads them to the afterschool program’s blog. People have started to comment on their blog which is open to the public and Jesse is excited about connecting to the adult world on something she’s passionate about.
The NMLs are visible in Jesse’s story and hers and many others were part of a new paper done by a sister research project run by Mimi Ito. This paper describes a really interesting ecology …and takes youth terms to talk about different modes of learning and discovery: ♣Hanging around – Engagement with new technologies that are driven by social friendship groups. Hanging out physically in someone’s living room or online through twitter or social networks. We know what hanging around looks like. ♣Messing About – Grab a computer and try something. They’re not using instructions – they’re experimenting with their own surroundings and testing their hypothesis, digging deeper into a subject that interests them. ♣Geeking Out – You find your real passion. This is your interest-driven network, the thing that matters to you and you dig in hard. Often hanging out and messing around encourage geeking out on something you’re really passionate about (Ito et al., 2009). We can clearly see in Jesse’s story that she is geeking out on her passions. But how can we, as parents and teachers, encourage her to use them to influence and foster her learning and understanding of the new media literacies across the subject areas she studies during an average day in school.
In his book, Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan says that a medium is “any extension of ourselves,” suggesting that a hammer extends our arm. Tools we have today, such as the ability to sample music, capture video, and edit media encourages students to use that which they are comfortable with to socially construct meanings of the world. Incorporating the New Media Literacies across curricula allows us to find ways for people to connect around common interests and encourages the expertise of both youth and adults in the learning process, where contributing to knowledge building is the reward for their inputs. But also this Mass literacy creates a rise of new multimodal texts. Considering literacy in this new era of multimodality, semiotician Gunther Kress describes how new modes (video, audio, tactile) are entering the “writing space” (Bolter, 1991), and argues for a “need to gather meaning from all the modes which are co-present in the text” (Kress, 2003, p.35).
Using digital media has huge opportunities and it is up to us as educators not to leave some students behind but to encourage them as media-driven explorers which play an important role in fostering creativity in the classroom. Yet, to a point -- we&apos;ve built a high-way system, and said hey! our whole world is now going to be based on this new highway system - but we&apos;re not going to teach anyone to drive. Being a part of participatory culture not only requires having access to a networked computer (or a comparable mobile device), but also involves gaining a familiarity with habits of mind and skills that are necessarily for participating in the new digital culture. These gained experiences are the new equivalent of a hidden curriculum. The learning ecology teens participate in today is similar to the hidden curriculum educational theorists in the 1960s who said that children whose parents took them to museums, had dinner conversations on politics and civic engagement, had encyclopedias in their home and listened to opera records would perform differently in school than those who didn’t have those opportunities. Students who grow up in households today with access to Wikipedia, Facebook, and YouTube have different experiences in the classroom than those who don’t. Our research refers to this divide as the Participation Gap and that means educators in afterschool programs, libraries, and classrooms have to help solve the gap by giving access to the new media literacies and encouraging learning in a participatory culture.
But it is not only youth that need to know how to think and act in a networked society. A holistic approach to overcoming the participation gap is to not only look at the youth who don’t have access but also to the adults who might have access but not the know-how as to what to do. To an extent, this too is a participation gap, where through dialogue, the “teacher-student” and “students-teachers” (Freire, p. 80) teach each other. They co-mingle their experiences, co-configure their knowledge and skills, and co-construct the curriculum (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009).
We wired the classroom-so now what? A question you might consider is, “How do we avoid having the expansion of technical infrastructure outstrips the educational vision needed to use these tools towards meaningful pedagogy?”
We are in a paradigm shift in the classroom where educators need to work in the gap between life and school. Across multiple art forms, youth are immersed in the remix culture. This provides teachers an opportunity to offer learning objectives in their classrooms in a new way, while at the same time offering students opportunities to read and write their cultural practices that are central to their own everyday experience. Incorporating participatory practices into the classroom, such as remixing, allows for a blurring of boundaries between informal and formal learning and harnesses the power of digital technologies for students to reflect on the participatory culture that they live in. This new form of literacy helps teachers understand that our students are reading and writing in new ways. Reading and writing was once relegated to reading books and writing papers (lessons commonly found in English and language arts classrooms). However, a possible hypothesis is that the educational system has not caught up with the shifting landscape of participatory culture where there are new ways to read, write, and compute numbers.
This shift changes the focus of literacy from individual expression to community involvement where creativity and active participation are the hallmark. And it makes it increasingly important to understand and be competent in the skills of citizenship, art, and expression of social connectivity. These are the skills identified in our white paper as the New Media Literacies and ones we need to foster as we think about education.
So let’s return to Jesse’s story and try to find connections that address the participation gap for both teacher and student.
Our suggestion to schools, is to be conservative in content but radical in approach. We took this to heart as we worked the past three years to find best practices of integrating the new media literacies across curricula. In looking to develop a strategy guide for English / Language Arts classrooms, we studied Herman Melville and Moby Dick. Development of our Teachers Strategy Guide, Reading in a Participatory Culture has given us opportunities to think about the constant cycle of appropriation--Melville engaged in remixing / appropriation of the 19th century justaposed to today’s contemporary practices and how many artists have appropriated the novel for other purposes. Here we see, Jesse’s teacher draw comparisons between Herman Melville’s quilt-like writing style in Moby-Dick and current appropriation practices. Today’s activity centers on the history of annotating and ornamenting texts, and Jesse and her classmates collaborate on suggestions of words, images, audio clips, and movie scenes to post on the interactive whiteboard to create a multimedia remake of Melville’s text. Though the teachers’ learning objective still centers on key skills taught in an English / Lanaguage Arts classroom like annotation and ornamentation, her integration of the NML Skill: Appropriation—the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content, helps to shift the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement.
And encourages Jesse to make connections of Melville as an appropriator to her own creative works. Here, the teacher has provided connections and time in the classroom for Jesse to show her first fanvid in class and explain how her creative process is similar to the way Melville used appropriation in his novel. She explains that fanvidders remix TV scenes, music, and other media in the creations they share online. This is a challenge we face as we move this material into schools. Our students know things that we don’t. There will be times as we integrate new participatory strucutres in the classroom where teachers could encounter moments of &quot;crisis of authority&quot; in which the expertise of pupils exceeds that of the teacher. And that similarly when asked to participate in the adult public sphere, students might have to face &quot;their responsibilities as communicators&quot; when their questions or comments &quot;don&apos;t sound so good.&quot; But providing space in the classroom for students to bring in their passions encourages a better understanding of the NML Skill: Negotiation—the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms. It also creates a culture where there is support for creating and sharing one’s creations; and an emerging type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. (whether the novice is a student or the teacher, themselves)
This here is the WoW pod at MIT Museum created by artists Cati Vaucelle & Shada/Jahn. It was created to comment on what gaming is like today …Here you see a confined cocoon like space …You sit in a chair, that also acts as a toilet. You have a Hot Plate to cook your food, and your avatar tells you when your food is ready. You continuously play as long as you want. It’s a joke of the immersive time in a game – the amount of time you’re involved and driven by interest compared to the amount of time that a school can manage and something we need to think about as we bring Participatory Culture into the classroom.
Think back to the participation gap -- as you see this...
and this. We’ve all heard the saying &quot;a picture is worth a thousand words.” If that is the case, then a video is worth ten thousand words&quot; in the classroom. In piloting our resources, we often see access to Wikipedia, Facebook, and YouTube blocked in schools and libraries. Filtering software often stymies the very form of education that is essential for participatory learning. I’ve heard many comments in the field, one of my favorite is “I’ll use wikipedia in the classroom when they go in and fix it.” What we should try avoiding is schools is &quot;acting out of fear rather than out of knowledge.&quot; This statement shows that there is a lack of knowledge as to “they” in this case as being the teacher herself, or the teacher and her students working together to contribute their knowledge to wikipedia.
In one of our recent pilot studies, one of the most valuable segments came from Global Kids’ Media Masters program where we observed the Prospect Heights Campus Wikipedia Project develop over a span of five weeks, and in the last hour of development -- Wikipedia was blocked in the classroom. It was through my wireless device that this project was able to continue and students were nervous and excited as they hit the “return” button on the keyboard and wrote into meaning their stamp on the world. The Wikipedia page about the Prospect Heights Campus was a place for students to document information about the campus, its schools, history, and whatever else the students decided was important to include in an entry - and a place for them to do so publicly and neutrally. There are many examples of a structured learning environment of wikis or wiki pages being created; however, Global Kids chose to use Wikipedia and not develop a pbwiki or something similar for just their group of students to view. Trying to replicate Wikipedia through pbwiki, or some other wiki software, certainly has its benefits. It is what might be termed a “walled garden” approach, allowing students to tinker with wiki software and yet not be exposed to the potentially disruptive larger internet. However, choosing a walled garden approach also has many costs. Students who already use the internet know very well what is actually “out there,” and the walled garden runs the risk of losing their interest - because, after all, a walled garden isn’t the “real world.” Even if students are unfamiliar with the internet, using a walled garden approach precludes the possibility of emergent learning.
Jesse’s story ...the students in the Media Masters program -- these are stories we all need to take seriously. This is the story as lived by a large number of kids we know in our classroom. Who do things outside of school we don’t know about. They’re involved with adults in ways that aren’t rigid in structure like the relationship of teachers and students or parents and children. That Allows them to grow into an apprenticeship community and enter into participatory culture. NML has a variety of resources available for you to better understand the new media literacies and also offer monthly webinars where we drill down on each of the skills and highlight educators who are early adopters in taking up these practices in the classroom. and I encourage you to join our community at ProjectNML.Ning.com.
Erin B. Reilly
New Media Literacies
USC Annenberg School for Communication