Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A New Definition of Literacy in an Age of Abundance #change11

In response to Week 10 of ChangeMOOC, Paul Prinsloo writes about the proper response to our age of information abundance, focusing on what I think is an excellent definition of literacy:

During George Siemens’ recent visit to the University of South Africa, he defined literacy as (I hope I remember and quote him correctly…) “The ability to engage with and participate in the dominant discourses of the current age”. If you cannot participate in and engage with the dominant and normative discourses of the current age you are illiterate.

I would like to take the definition further by proposing that literacy in the 21st century should be defined as follows: “A person is literate when s/he can take part in, critique, deconstruct, interrupt and shape the dominant discourses and narratives in his or her local and in global contexts”.

This gets to a core problem with the integration of technology into the classroom. Are we merely content to teach students how to navigate the internet and Web 2.0 programs, or should we be teaching them to think critically about the limitations and hidden agendas? Well, obviously I've answered my own question.

I think Jaron Lanier's book You Are Not a Gadget would make an excellent introduction to some of these issues. Lanier, who coined the term "Virtual Reality" and is a very much a Silicon Valley insider, views the Web 2.o Era as something of a Dark Age. He is critical of the economic model we've submitted to and the lack of creativity that has come along with streamlined software, insipid mash-ups, and bland, impersonal social media interactions. He believes the volunteer model (whereby I donate my time and energy to create online content so that companies can mine my data) represents a huge lost opportunity for small businesses.

He uses Wikipedia as a model for all that is wrong with the internet (but not in a way you might expect). Instead of taking the typical cranky English teacher approach and bashing Wikipedia for its lack of credibility, he instead sees it as a kind of symbol for the wasted potential of the internet. Here we have millions of volunteers working around the clock to create....another encyclopedia. Potentially useful, but uninspired. The internet is nothing but a bloated repository for facts (and pseudo-facts). According to Lanier, the dream of a new, creative cultural horizon has faded.

This is where we come back to one of Paul Prinsloo's central questions:

What difference does this abundance make in the big questions humanity faces?

We can swim in information, or we can drown. It doesn't matter. We need a life boat.

No comments:

Post a Comment