Text and slides from today’s presentation. Unfortunately for my slide design which featured a growing mindmap, I presented on a LCD screen which made it difficult for delegates to see properly. So the embed from Slideshare here may not be much clearer – maybe download it and then read the text below in tandem to see the finer detail.
The world is awash in digital content – we connect to it via the internet, our desktops, our laptops, our tablets and our mobile phones. Traditional media (newspapers, television, radio, books and magazines) has had to quickly adapt to the new world using a combination of reaction and adaptation. This ubiquitous digital content has changed what it means to be literate forever. So what is worth noticing in this “digital sea”? What should the average educator know about digital literacy? What should they be aware of in a world where all information, true, false, theoretical and fictional, is only a search away?
This presentation will be an exploration of the current digital landscape – connecting the dots between how traditional media is adapting and how user generated content and social media bring their own set of new literacy requirements for educators and students alike to grapple with. By taking a close and critical view at this array of digital content, you will see that literacy needs to expand beyond print and traditional authorship and educators need to well informed in order to become digital literate themselves if they are to equip their students to cope in the world as it currently exists.
What I said:
The title of this presentation is Digital Content Meets Digital Literacy. It’s a bit of an inherited title as originally Rod Martin of Era Publications talked with me about doing a joint presentation with this title where he would offer insight and expertise from the perspective of someone producing digital content for the education market and I would contrast that with the reality of the school environment where filters, technical aspects and budgets put some real constraints on how that digital content is then acquired and utilised. Well, that was an ambitious topic and certainly one worth exploring and both Rod and I decided that if we were to do it, we would want to do it properly and neither one of us had the time to put our heads together to make that particular presentation happen.
So I took the opportunity to take the same presentation title and offer a different style of presentation which is more of a circular journey that raises as many questions as answers. I don’t claim to be defining digital literacy here today but I do want to offer this quote as a great starting point for examining the role of digital content in a connected world.
I think if we keep that quote in mind as I work my way through this particular journey, you will see why educators have to be not just aware of the digital world as it exists today but to be literate in that world ourselves if we are to be effective in giving our students skills to navigate and manipulate the digital content that we are awash in today. Actually, while we’re soaking in poignant quotes, try this one on for size.
So David Warlick’s premise is that mere reading and writing as we know it isn’t enough to qualify as being literate. For most of us, our own education equipped us well for a world where text in paper form was the dominant format. It’s still there, especially in education, which is why so many of us are still well equipped to hold the positions we do. But the birth of the internet, and its popular offshoot, the World Wide Web, has definitely changed the availability of information from being once being scarce and only produced by suitably qualified people – authors, journalists, scientists, politicians, policy writers, curriculum consultants and curated by equally qualified gatekeepers – librarians, news editors, media magnates and politicians.
Information, inspiration, creation and other forms that make up literature are now longer a scarce resource – the web has been the great democratiser, making it possible for anyone and everyone to publish whatever they want to share. And that’s both a good and a bad thing!
So to use a metaphor from the introductory song, we are floating in the digital sea. Now using that metaphor, we definitely don’t want to be drowning and it would be even better if we were able to sail across these waters and have some say about how to navigate, control and even contribute to the content.
So, throughout these presentation I’m going to be building this mindmap. It is styled to represent the non linear nature of digital content and how the skills we are going to need have to be flexible and able to change directions quickly and sometimes to go in several at once.
So, how did this digitization of content start? It’s by no means a process that’s even complete today and the web certainly didn’t start with traditional media but with scientists and computer enthusiasts who used this new connected technology to share and create. But for education’s sake, we’ll start with what the newspapers and print media started to do, because in schools we’ve always used their resources as way of keeping up to date. Even today, we still get a class that orders a week’s worth of Advertisers when they look at current events or newspapers in education. So what changed when the media companies decided to move online. Well, initially, they produced digital versions of what they printed on paper.
Well, actually, only part of what they produced because they still held the opinion that people bought newspapers and magazines for the whole product – the classifieds, the births and deaths, the editorials, the sports columns and yes, even the advertising – so we mostly get the headlines, the important stuff. Magazines featured cut down versions of their paper product because they were still protecting their golden goose.
So, what else did digital content look like when we started bringing it into schools? The publishing companies who produce the books and encyclopedias and reference materials for our schools are still working it out as we speak.
I think one of the first shifts we saw was when Microsoft decided that they could digitise the encyclopedia and so Encarta was born.
Here was an encyclopedia that didn’t merely rely on words and a few pics and diagrams here and there but included video clips, grainy and very short at first, audio, and a search system that threw away the traditional index and held 25 – 50 volumes of information on one shiny CD-ROM.
Remember Living Books? Paper based books re-invented with read along voices, cute animated scenes all held on the same CD-ROM format. Still, the publishing companies still didn’t need to start sweating yet. This was the late nineties and most schools had a slow web connection, and these first digital books were more a novelty than a great leap forward in digital content.
That’s happening now with eBooks however. Now, your favourite book can be a quick download and read on small portable devices like the Kindle and even the iPad now. Still, I’m sure that many publishing companies are quite nervous about this change of events. Certainly Australian bookstores are now starting to feel the pinch, even though it is still mainly tree based books that are being sold via the internet.
What the publishers are nervously eyeing off is what has already unfolded in dramatic fashion over in the music and entertainment industries.
Over time, we have had the LP, the short lived cartridge, the cassette and the CD as formats for carrying our favoured songs. But a new web based format known as mp3 and a brash internet company named Napster turned comfortable retail sales of music on its head with its peer to peer filesharing that had the music companies fearing for their future.
Napster was eventually shutdown by the industry, but you can see its legacy in today’s model for legal music distribution in iTunes where the consumer can buy songs one at a time. Has anyone noticed how CD prices have tumbled as a result? Now, at this point, you may be thinking, what has this all got to do with digital literacy? Well, bear with me, at the moment I’m just laying out the digital landscape that we and our students are part of, and I hope to show some of the connections as we go along and how being literate in this scenario requires more than what traditional literacy entails.
One thing that the web has enabled is the what is commonly known as user-generated content, which could be broadly seen as anything that can be uploaded and viewed on the web without requiring a gatekeeper or expert vetting its value prior to its publication. This content is all digital and is accessible to anyone with a web connection, although what can be put on the web has become increasingly complex and sophisticated in form as time has gone on. The era of Web 2.0 that began around the early 2000’s is part of this process that took the opportunity of publishing to the web out of the sole hands of geeks and web designers and into the realm of literally anyone at all.
We now have big video hosting sites – YouTube is the king of it all and if you want to look at the best and the worst the web has to offer in one place, well, this is it. Here, you can find some of the most profound, most creative ideas posted by people who previously didn’t have an avenue for their ideas – like this video.
Yet, you can pick almost any video at random, scroll down to the comments and see the worst of human literacy at work, responders with little grasp of their native language in written form and so many that are devoid of human compassion and full of vitriol, contempt and hatred for fellow human beings. But maybe this is just a mirror showing a side of human nature that traditional literacy could pretend didn’t exist – that human expression like this could never make past an editor’s eagle eye, would never make it into an opinion piece or a story – because our rules for literacy would allow us, the ones with the traditional literacy skills, to disregard or even forget about the existence of those marginalised by society and their right to communicate. The web enables that – and it does bring another angle to why we need capable, competent, literate students so that discourse in all digital forums doesn’t automatically descend to its lowest forms in both content and form.
YouTube is a great example of how the form of video as a form of communication is evolving and forms part of what we call social media.
Social media sites give the individual huge powers to communicate, to collect, to trade, to exchange with other individuals.
This Hugh MacLeod cartoon sums up the fast pace of social media change pretty well.
Blogs are a commonplace form across the web, and can be found covering a wide spectrum of topics from food to science to cats to various forms of depravity.
Twitter is another form of social media that is another model that enables the individual to broadcast to an audience of many, and no qualifications or traditionally proven expertise is needed for others to join in and become a follower.
Add other social media options like reblogging
think sites like tumblr or posterous
or the one that rules the planet at the moment, Facebook.
Here’s an interesting phenomenon at play in social media. YouTube was initially kept very busy taking down fan uploads of their favourite artists songs and video clips because the music industry was very stringent about applying copyright protection. That has changed to now when you look at one of these clips, a handy little Download from iTunes link appears near the clip as the companies have realised that watching the clip could lead to a legal music purchase. So, the habits of internet users is influencing a reshaping of the music industry’s approach, even though they are a long way from embracing the new paradigm.
And what we see these sites enabling to a greater degree than ever before is that despite copyright laws and concepts like intellectual property, users all around the world are taking their culture’s literature and icons and works of art and remixing them in a form of self expression that is easily shared with one click of the upload button.
First, you may remember this Cadbury advert from a few years back.
Then some clever person thought that maybe a different soundtrack could be added to the gorilla to create something new.
Let’s try a more contemporary remix – again both what you see and what you hear are both original creations from two different sources, but it takes this third person with no other motivation than the joy of coming up with a new idea or angle on a theme or a meme as they are sometimes referred to on the web.
This last one is my favourite.
This one takes things a little further – while the others match the song to the existing footage of the drumming gorilla, this is more of a cut up and mash up, where the footage has been sped up and spliced up to fit the tempo of this particular track.
And we see this sort of thing all over the web, where pieces of popular culture are re-purposed and re-mixed into personalised versions.
We cannot ignore the impact of digitally placed games either.
We have console based gaming, portable gaming, web based gaming, and now mobile phone gaming. The breadth of this area that many of us older educators find to be quite foreign and perplexing is so vast that it is hard to capture all of the literacy here in one place. So, I’m going to just share one example that is all the rage at our house – the world of Pokemon and the many digital forms it inhabits. Now it’s not really important to understand what Pokemon is or how it all fits together in its many incarnations but when dealing with many of our students it is important to realise that Pokemon is typical of many game based franchises today.
With Pokemon, there are the games for various consoles or portable devices, there are official websites, there are DVDs of the TV series and animated movies, there are the trading cards (which have been the source of controversy in many a school playground), the soft toy collection and of course, the manuals and Pokedex that form the core of the purpose behind the Pokemon universe. I have an example of one of these manuals here, I’ve borrowed it from my son and I’ll pass it around. Check it out and just ponder what types of literacy are needed to comprehend and make sense of this hue mass of detail and information.
This is just the stuff from the official company, Nintendo. What has happened beyond the control of the company is the stuff that is really interesting, where the fans and consumers of Pokemon have started to create their own digital content.
There is the Bulbapedia, sort of like Wikipedia but solely devoted to Pokemon. Like Wikipedia, it can be edited by anyone.
There is a number of Pokemon fan fiction sites where budding authors put up their work for the community to critique and add to.
There are video walkthroughs. I’ll just let this one run through in the background and just expand a little here. When my son is playing one of his Pokemon games, (he’s only 7) he’ll quite often find a tricky section that he doesn’t have the patience to work through. Firstly, he’ll consult the Pokemon Strategy Guide if he has one, then he’ll ask me if he can go onto YouTube to look for a walkthrough. These are basically videos put up by other Pokemon users showing how to solve a particular section. They sometimes highlight the cheats, sometimes my son will listen to their audio commentary to understand why a particular strategy is being used or he just looks at the screen and watches their gameplay and applies that to his own situation.
So, whether it is Pokemon, or World of Warcraft, or Runescape or Mario or Crash Bandicoot or Guitar Hero, the gaming environment is one that students, indeed not just kids, will seek out as a place for immersive engagement.
We have now seen that many in the education sector are trying to capture, with varying degrees of success, that same engagement by producing material that could be loosely termed, edutainment. Mathletics is a recent example – often though, the gaming elements are quite superficial, and the buy in from the student is not the same as with the established game franchises.
So, I’ve laid a number of pieces for the digital content puzzle, and I’ve probably taken too long a time to get to this point, but it’s time to MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL, and look for the digital literacy considerations.
How do we make sure that we have digitally literate citizens?
We know that in the right hands, social media tools can make a difference to bringing about change for the better, as was seen earlier this year with the social uprising in Egypt.
So, Encarta is no longer with us and instead we have Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that anyone could edit and is more comprehensive that any non-digital edition could ever hope to be. What literacy skills does one need to be able to evaluate the worth of any article from this resource?
Does it redefine what an expert is?
What will you do with those encyclopedia sets sitting in your school library?
Games bring a whole new angle to “choose your own adventure”. How can we leverage their power, the passion that drives people to create fan fiction, to create video walkthroughs, and bring that into our classrooms? Games also allow for collaboration, with games that link multiple users together. Truly, chose your own becomes CHOOSE OUR OWN.
News sites now allow commenting on their articles in a feature taken directly from the blogging arena.
What we are seeing here is a reluctance of savvy literate readers to take mainstream news reporting as the absolute truth, and news corporations are having to make that adjustments.
I talked earlier about the particular literacy demands of using a microblogging service like Twitter, where you must deliver your cohesive message in 140 characters or less. In the hands of educators, entrepreneurs and hobbyists, Twitter is an immensely powerful tool, building community and enabling viral news to spread as needed. On the flipside, we have the celebrity mis-use of Twitter,
the Charlie Sheen effect, where a powerful medium becomes the outsized blowhorn for the egotistical inanities of people who enjoy an excessive share of the limelight anyway. How do we teach our students to recognise this bluster for what it is?
How do we help students to navigate a digital sea where anyone who wants to can have a say?
Are we looking at what author Andrew Keen calls, The Cult Of The Amateur, where he postulates that the internet is actually making us dumber?
How do we cope with the fact that digital content resides in our pockets now, available whenever we have a whim to connect? I never read the magazines at the doctor’s any more, because I have the whole WWW at my fingertips. I have my music collection, a batch of digital books and games as well. This is the tool we want the kids to turn off and put away. And certain content translates better onto the small screen than other types – does our choice of device mean that certain types of content will prevail?
And most of this digital content is free to access. Well, there are many ways that companies can extract some payment from us – be it through buying an app for our phone, or agreeing to subject ourselves to insidious advertising just so we can use their service. But digital means easy to replicate and copy and that means costs for production are driven down. An eBook costs less to distribute than a paper based one,
amateur photography sites like Flickr are drying up the chances for remuneration for professional photographers.
The web and its infinite well of digital content means that talent has a new way of gaining attention and being noticed. YouTube has launched more than one music star, blogging has helped more than one person into paid authorship and I have numerous examples of educators who’ve moved into more personalised career opportunities (sadly, I’m not one of them!) because of their digital literacy skills that has meant they stand up and above the crowd. How can these skills be utilised by our students to help shape and determine their own future?
So, in summary, a few key points to wind this whirlwind roundabout journey across the digital sea. Will Richardson, who was probably paraphrasing someone else stated the obvious when he quoted, “The web changes everything.”
It’s also pretty obvious that the majority of information in the world today is digital, and the majority of that lives in the cloud, sitting on someone’s server somewhere in the world, connected 24/7/365. I found a great graphic that illustrates this while preparing this presentation on Scott McLeod’s blog where he highlighted a talk by Rob McCrae, ICT Director for the Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, New Zealand to his school parent community as he rolled out a 1:1 laptop program.
As well as talking about the change from “just in case” learning to “just in time” learning, he showed this infographic that shows how 95% of the world’s information is now digital, compared to 1986 where 99% of information was written down. And keeping this in perspective is the fact that information is growing exponentially as well so the 95% is not the same amount as it would have been back in 1986. And 1986 was the year before I started teaching, so I remember it well.
So, that brings us right back to my original starting quote from Bud Hunt, “You cannot be manipulated by a form of media which you can yourself manipulate.”
I’ll leave that with you and for you to work out what that means for you as an individual, what that might mean for your colleagues and your school community, and what it means for an education system as a whole. Now some of you might think that this means spending all of your free time getting plugged in – well, I am saying that we do need a greater overall awareness and experience with this array of digital content – but I’ll leave you with a cartoon from the wonderful Hugh MacLeod that perhaps sums up a balanced way forward.