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Rethinking Our Definitions of Literacy

by Nichole Pinkard


Nichole Pinkard

Nichole Pinkard is the founder of Digital Youth Network and co-creator of Remix World, a social learning platform that connects youth’s learning opportunities in school, home and beyond. Read more »

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When today’s sixth graders graduate from college in 2020 and enter the workforce, what will it mean to be literate? What media will they use to communicate with colleagues, families and friends? While none of us knows the exact answer to this question, we do know that the reduced cost and size of technology, the increased availability of Internet connectivity, and the shrinking of the world through globalization will continue to increase the importance of raising children who can critically consume and produce media
beyond text.

I believe that by 2020, a student will routinely be judged not only by her ability to write a five-paragraph essay but her ability to represent her ideas via a five-minute podcast, five-minute movie and to progress in an educational game.

In essence, literate in 2020 will mean being multi-literate: the ability to critically consume and produce media such as print, video, sound and screen. Of course this idea is not new. Many technologists, educators and policy makers support it. However, the blueprint for getting there is still on the drafting table. If we are to prepare our sixth graders of today for the world they will face tomorrow, we must rethink our definitions of literacy and the ways in which we help our children reach that goal.

How can we do this? At Digital Youth Network (DYN), with funding from the MacArthur Foundation and Gates Foundation, we challenge kids to rethink the messages in the media they consume, own the messages in the media they create, and discover the power of expressing their knowledge and perspective across media. But what many people don’t realize is that to create a digital media product, students must use traditional literacy skills such as writing, reading and editing text. For example, a group of five students spent the summer creating a film with real actors that focused on the question of “Why do students, attending diverse schools, sit with their own race in classrooms?” The final 25-page script went through 20 rounds of edits that were fueled by students reading the script and debating each line to come to consensus.

How can this become the norm? We take an organic approach to developing multi-literate youth by developing programming that spans the spaces where kids spend their day: school, after-school and home. This involves:

  • Partnering with schools that have made a commitment to preparing kids for the future.
  • Providing kids with access to new media artists, who through both their teaching and public presentation of their own work motivate and support youth in developing their new media literacies.
  • Providing media arts classes at school to develop base literacies across all students and offering interest-driven after-school programming that allows students to collaborate with peers and showcase their creations.
  • Opportunities for youth to showcase their work in real, online and virtual spaces.
  • 24/7 access to mentors and peers through a closed media-base social learning network.

How does this all sound to you?

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Comments

Gabrielle writes...

Interesting post, Nichole. How popular are programs like DYN? Do you have plans on extending it beyond Chicago?

Nichole? writes...

While I don't have data to truly answer the question regarding the popularity of programs, I do think when youth are provided such learning opportunities they readily embrace them. I believe the embrace is due to the fact that many of the programs are hands on, allow students to engage in topics of their choice and provide an audience of peers as the judge of one's work which often leads to students iterating on their work.

DYN is planning to support other is adapting/remixing our work through the sharing of resources in the form of curriculum, tools, and professional development workshops. We are in the process of codifying our strategy for supporting replication. We are also in the process of completing a book with our research collaborators, Brigid Barron, Kim Gomez, and Caitlin Martin, that present on a three year study of the impact of DYN on a group of students from 6th to 8th grade.


Finally, we have been fortunate to collaborate with the Chicago Public Library in the creation of YOUmedia (www.youmediachicago.org) with the support of the MacArthur Foundation. MacArthur, in partnership with IMLS is going to announce an RFP to expand YOUmedia to over cities. DYN will participate in supporting organizations in opening their own YOUmedia locations.

Lori writes...

Ms. Pinkard,

I'm greatly inspired by your work. I'm currently a Communication major at Walden University. I hope to write educational curriculum using new media. I think the communication approach to education will give me a fresh perspective on learning in the 21st century. Your work with Digital Youth Network and Remix World reinforces my confidence in the path I've chose. If I may ask, what is educational your educational background and what tips would you give people moving into this specific field?

Nichole? writes...

Thanks for the question and I am excited to see going down this path as we need more educators focusing on developing blended curriculum.

My background. I have a interdisciplinary background. My undergrad is a BS in Computer Science from Stanford. I have a MS in Computer Science from Northwestern and a PhD in Learning Sciences from Northwestern.

I believe everyone has a favorite communication tool. For some it is the written document, for others it is visual artifact, for me it has always been computer programs. I have always sense taking a programming class in the 8th grade tried to figure out how technology can be an assist in solving a problem.

However, it was my graduate program at Northwestern where I learned to understand the power of educational theory and cognitive science to inform the design of software as a learning tool. This interdisciplinary training is one for which I am very thankful.

I think we need more interdisciplinary teams collaborating as each approach brings a different perspective that sheds a different light on the problem. Often through understanding each other's perspective we see the problem differently and have a new set of tools with which to attack it.

Lindsay writes...

I am a secondary school business studies teacher in Toronto. I see many educators embracing new web tools to enhance learning and projects in every subject: from setting up facebook profiles for the characters in Romeo and Juliet, to creating podcasts and blogs for everything other subject in place of reports or presentations. I even refuse students who question aloud - I'm encouraging use of electronic communication as it helps students with being able to pinpoint a specific problem and encourage written communication.

It is a very exciting time for both teachers and students alike!

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