In reading New Literacies by Lankshear and Knobel, I kept gravitating towards the concept of literacy’s evolution and how it impacts my role as an educator. The “new” literacy of today’s world allows for infinite ways to communicate a single idea. Whether I choose to teach via social media, a podcast, or a hypertext-laden Google document, each way has its own purpose and value. The internal question this poses for me is, “In today’s complicated system of communication, how do I produce relevant learning experiences, while developing the highest learning potential in students?”
Let us start with the goal in mind. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), helping prepare students for a changed world means that English Language Arts teachers must increasingly focus on “problem solving, collaboration, and analysis”, as well as on skills with word processing, hypertext, LCDs, Web cams, digital streaming podcasts, smartboards, and social networking software, all of which are “central to individual and community success” (NCTE 2007:1). For me, this means, it is essential to treat “new” literacies as tools and use them wisely. I must also model community-building skills for students in order to create buy in. The University of Mary Washington’s open source for digital storytelling, known as DS106 has beautifully demonstrated how to create such rich learning experiences.
Learning is more effective when it is fun. Students also want to feel a sense of accomplishment. From the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) perspective, the ideal of literacy is a key goal, if not the key goal, of formal education: to know how to apply one’s learning effectively across the range of everyday contexts and situations, and to have the requisite qualities of “going on” as a learner throughout life (Lankshear and Knobel, 17). Giving students the opportunity to immediately use what they have learned creates a sense of skill mastery. I believe “new” literacy truly allows for the desired instant gratification and hopefully inspires continued learning.
Teaching is a delicate balance between bestowing information and drawing forth the best in students. “On one side of the line, educators must ensure that learners ‘have the opportunity to develop skills for access to new forms of work through learning the new language of work’. On the other side of the line, the fact remains that ‘as teachers, our role is not simply to be technocrats’. The role of educators is not to produce ‘docile, compliant workers’, either. Rather, students need to develop the skills ‘to speak up, to negotiate and to be able to engage critically with the conditions of their working lives’” (Kalantzis and Cope 1997: 5). As an educator, I find it difficult to design learning materials that not only teach necessary skills, but also challenge students to stretch their abilities. Often, the goal is to produce the work in order to get paid, not about creating the best possible experience.
Let me summarize my takeaway lessons from Lankshear and Knobel. To develop the highest learning potential in students, I believe I must aggressively identify and learn “new” literacies, while developing life-long learners and critical thinking individuals. The result is that it also makes me a student of my own teaching.