The Future of Digital Literacy and Media Education

In the past month, two important reports have been released in the US which detail the current state of digital media literacy in both the K-12 environment and tertiary education. These reports are extremely valuable in thinking about curriculum design and about wider social, cultural and political concerns relating to digital media and technology. A quick overview …

Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century

Recently, the Digital Media and Learning section of the US MacArthur Foundation made the following announcement:

The MacArthur Foundation launched its five-year, $50 million digital media and learning initiative in 2006 to help determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize, and participate in civic life. Answers are critical to developing educational and other social institutions that can meet the needs of this and future generations. The initiative is both marshaling what is already known about the field and seeding innovation for continued growth.

An an integral part of this push toward fostering and enhancing young people’s understanding and participation in digital technology and related spheres, the MacArthur Foundation colloborated with Henry Jenkins who wrote their white-paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century [PDF version].

Rather than giving the technologies centre-stage, Jenkins argues that it is extremely important to educate young people and facilitate their full potential in engaging with what he terms participatory cultures (an idea familiar to readers of this blog or to those familiar with Jenkins’ Textual Poachers or more recent Convergence Culture). A snippet from the report:

That is why we focus in this paper on the concept of participatory cultures rather than on interactive technologies. Interactivity is a property of the technology, while participation is a property of culture. Participatory culture is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways. A focus on expanding access to new technologies carries us only so far if we do not also foster the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to deploy those tools toward our own ends.

We are using participation as a term that cuts across educational practices, creative processes, community life, and democratic citizenship. Our goals should be to encourage youth to develop the skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be full participants in contemporary culture. Many young people are already part of this process through:

Affiliations — memberships, formal and informal, in online communities centered around various forms of media, such as Friendster, Facebook, message boards, metagaming, game clans, or MySpace).

Expressions — producing new creative forms, such as digital sampling, skinning and modding, fan videomaking, fan fiction writing, zines, mash-ups).

Collaborative Problem-solving — working together in teams, formal and informal, to complete tasks and develop new knowledge (such as through Wikipedia, alternative reality gaming, spoiling).

Circulations — Shaping the flow of media (such as podcasting, blogging)

The MacArthur Foundation has launched an ambitious effort to document these activities and the roles they play in young people’s lives. We do not want to preempt or duplicate that effort here. For the moment, it is sufficient to argue that each of these activities contains opportunities for learning, creative expression, civic engagement, political empowerment, and economic advancement.

Through these various forms of participatory culture, young people are acquiring skills that will serve them well in the future. Participatory culture is reworking the rules by which school, cultural expression, civic life, and work operate. A growing body of work has focused on the value of participatory culture and its long-term impact on children’s understanding of themselves and the world around them.

The full report contains a great deal more context, detail and has the potential to act as a coherent and robust blueprint for incorporating digital media literacies into K-12 environments and the has clear implications for the tertiary sector as well. Jenkins also recently blogged “Eight Traits of the New Media Landscape” which was originally written for the white-paper but cut for length reasons. If you find the report of interest, I’d recommend checking out that post as well since it provides important context (and a useful shorthand for explaining the state of digital media literacy in the US and elsewhere).

The Horizon Report

The Horizon Report is produced by the NMC (New Media Consortium) and EduCause, two of the peak US technology and education organisations focused on higher education. The report examines the current state of technology use in the US tertiary system and signposts a number of technologies to watch and their estimated rate of implementation on a broad scale. The full report is released under a Creative Commons license [PDF version] and comes complete with a project wiki. I’d heartily recommend diving into the full report, but to give you a taste of what’s inside, here’s a sample from the executive summary:

Social Computing. The application of computer technology to facilitate interaction and collaboration, a practice known as social computing, is happening all around us. Replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual collaboration tools, working on a daily basis with colleagues a thousand miles away, or attending a conference held entirely online is no longer unusual. An interesting aspect of social computing is the development of shared taxonomies – folksonomies – that emerge organically from like-minded groups.

Personal Broadcasting. With roots in text-based media (personal websites and blogs), personal broadcasting of audio and video material is a natural outgrowth of a popular trend made possible by increasingly more capable portable tools. From podcasting to video blogging (vlogging), personal broadcasting is already impacting campuses and museum audiences significantly.

The Phones in Their Pockets. A little further out on the horizon, but rapidly approaching, the delivery of educational content and services to cell phones is just around the corner. Among the keys that will unlock the true potential of this technology are improved network speeds, Flash Lite, and video: as new features that take advantage of the capabilities of these appear in phones, barriers to delivery of educational content will vanish.

Educational Gaming. A recent surge in interest in educational gaming has led to increased research into gaming and engagement theory, the effect of using games in practice, and the structure of cooperation in gameplay. The serious implications of gaming are still unfolding, but we are not far away from seeing what games can really teach us.

Augmented Reality and Enhanced Visualization. Currently in use in disciplines such as medicine, engineering, and archaeology, these technologies for bringing large data sets to life have the potential to literally change the way we see the world by creating three-dimensional representations of abstract data.

Context-Aware Environments and Devices. Advancements in context-aware computing are giving rise to devices and rooms that respond to voice, motion, or other subtle signals. In the ultimate application of these technologies, the computing part simply disappears, leaving an environment transparently responsive to its human occupants.

Together, I think these two reports go a long way in illuminating the issues, challenges and vast potential related to technology, media and education in the coming years. Both of these reports are focused on the US, but the issues raised are equally relevant to the Australian context. Perhaps the uptake of certain technologies is further away, but in my opinion the issues raised should be addressed now across all levels of education, both K-12 and tertiary, to ensure that digital literacy is at the core of the Australian student experience.

[Cross-posted from Ponderance.]

2 thoughts on “The Future of Digital Literacy and Media Education

  1. Pingback: eLearning Skinny » Blog Archive » Less about eYada and more about participatory cultures

  2. Pingback: Course Notes - The Best Courses Online » Blog Archive » Digital World in Review

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *