Literacy, Digital Literacy or Media Literacy?

Guest blog by Joseph Romano

Emerging ideas and trends in the space of new literacies are indeed fluid and, through discussion, seem to always be in a state of constant flux. As teachers and learners engage with online content and media, strategies and pedagogies bounce between conventional and contemporary approaches. This ongoing conversation and discovery is representative of the media landscape itself - always shifting - suggesting that our strategies and approaches should be charged with being able to adapt and grow. A tall order indeed, so how do we build capacity that makes room for convention, innovation and redefinition in literacy?

I am thinking about these ideas related to literacy after having recently presented at Canada’s largest language arts conference in Toronto, Ontario. The conference itself was a 2-day, high-energy affair dedicated to all things related to literacy and language arts. As it was my first time attending/presenting (I typically attend/present at educational technology-themed conferences), I wasn’t sure what to expect as my view of “literacy” within the 21st century is through a digital lens. It was clear to me at the onset that literacy in this space was rooted in core fundamentals - as it should be - yet, there was a rhythm in the air that hummed between said fundamentals and innovative approaches. Literacy, in this space, seemed to be at a critical tipping point where teachers (in small, yet impactful ways) embraced the possibilities laced with integrating reading and writing with technology and new media. A transformation was occurring that seemed to consider the impact our current media landscape and digital cultures may have on the shifting role and definition of literacy in 2014.

The highlight of my time spent at the conference, aside from learning from other presenters/teachers, was sharing the work students and I engage in within our ICT Media Lab. Through my presentations, I decided to focus approximately 75 per cent of my allotted time on sharing key theories and ideas I believe are imperative for teachers to be aware of when carving out understandings of literacy in the digital age. With this, my primary goal was to illicit in delegates a curiosity charged in the pursuit of technology-focused professional learning, opening minds to the notion that teachers should strive to reflect on and re-define their role(s) on a continual basis. How is this related to literacy? I believe that if we - as learning experience designers - are to craft engaging learning experiences for students, we must have a relevant understanding of the greater educational technology landscape - we need to deconstruct it, analyze it, re-construct it and do this again and again, all of the time. In short, the medium itself is constantly changing, and so should we.

This approach was foreign to some (in its direct sense), but is a process we are a part of through regular reading, discussion and thinking on new things. To support this new thinking, I relied on a simple structure in my presentations: 1. The cultural landscapes students are a part of (the context); 2. The roles of the teacher and learner should be focused on a core set of principles (the community) connected to a cultural landscape; and 3. Practical resources from my work with students to showcase this action (the content). With this, I relied on two key theorists to provide a cultural lens by which teachers could see how their students may be engaging with media. I relied on Henry Jenkins’ “Convergence Culture” and Lawrence Lessig’s “Remix” theories (I suggest you navigate the provided links for more details). These theorists provide a lens where, in combination with one another, it is suggested that our students are participants in constructing media within their own spaces, meeting their own/collective needs. Our students, from a “bottom-up” approach, are creating and re-creating and sharing media artifacts through digital technology tools that allow them to have stake, ownership and voice in the cultural landscape that is the 21st century. In essence, our students are developing new methods of communication, collaboration, creation and critical thinking that are infused with the affordances offered by technology itself. It is through this development then that our students are crafting a new literacy, a digitally-charged and media-infused fluid mode of expression.

As delegates and I tackled these ideas, we focused on beginning to understand possible structures or frameworks that support teacher learning. We looked at notions related to integrating technology not only into instruction, but also into the development of new pedagogical approaches to literacy itself. In a way, we were validating the process of understanding how integrating media with literacy has the potential to leverage learning to new and profound levels. Indeed, this is an ongoing discussion and journey, something that should carry forward through our schools, classrooms and spaces such as this.