“We find when writing moves online, the connections between ideas and people are much more apparent than they are in the context of a printed book.”
This quote comes from Bob Stein, the founder and co-director of the MacArthur funded institute called The Future of the Book.
“what we’ve discovered is that when you move the function of reading and writing online, the social aspect comes forward.”
We like to pretend in schools that reading and writing are social actions, but we only want to go so far. We need individual grades after all. But when someone creates a document and shares that with others, some of whom collaborate on turning the content into a video while others remix that and make an animation or a photo essay; it begs all sorts of questions about ownership, creativity and the neat multiple step writing process that we use in classrooms.
As digital textbooks become more common, combining various pieces of multimedia into a single text and allowing us to access information on a variety of devices, we will be forced to think continually about our definition of literacy.
I’ve been wondering this lately: has our concept of literacy simply been arrived at by default? Up to this point in time the texts we have been technologically capable of producing has meant that most of them have been paper based, read by individuals and based on transferring information via written text.
What happens when the default changes? What happens when texts are freed from many of their historical constraints?
Of course, we are living through this change right now. We are surrounded by electronic texts of all types. Sales of ebooks are on the rise. Smart phones bring us information wherever we are and sales of tablets over the past year have been enormous. More and more of the texts that we consume are electronically based, meaning that we have the constant possibility of them containing multimedia, being easily shared with others, globally accessible and constantly updated.
One concern about this change is that literacy for the first time in history is also being partially defined by corporations. This isn’t a conspiracy theory of some sort. It is simply true that as large corporations introduce new features into their products, they get incorporated into our concept of being literate. A simple example is that of iTunes and podcasting. When podcasting was first introduced, it was in a “below the radar” type of way. Finding content was often difficult and as RSS had only been introduced shortly before hand, finding software allowing you to subscribe to a feed required some searching. All of this changed when Apple built podcasting features into iTunes. Podcasting went mainstream. Accessible by millions, the entire genre took off, changed, went corporate and became much more polished.
As computing platforms diverge and seek to distinguish themselves from others, what happens to our ideas of literacy and our literacy skills when Apple offers one type of platform, Google another, Linux a third and Microsoft something completely different? Will we need a “Shakespeare by Google” class while another offers a “Shakespeare by Linux?” Will these two texts contain fundamentally different information? What happens when corporations sponsor the hardware in a school or district? Will students be illiterate when they transfer?
This is why open models are important. As we make purchases at the school or division level, as we think about 1:1 or BYOL programs, models of information access, availability and display are important factors to consider. What model of literacy are you considering for your students?