Recently, I participated in some Web seminars and hosted a workshop on the topic of Virtual Worlds within education. From these experiences I have been thinking about the fascinating divisions that seem to occur around digital technologies. These thoughts have challenged some of my overall ideas about Web 2.0 technologies in the classroom. Of particular interest for me are those divisions that occur between practical application and theoretical analysis, and the sub-divisions that occur in each of those main categories.
Let me explain. Yes, I am aware of the subtle and not so subtle complexities found within these divisions. Writing a short piece about the concepts below does not do them justice, but I feel this could be a nice initial point for others to jump from and expand into their own practical, theoretical, and pedagogical practices.
First, is the practical application of Web 2.0 in teaching and learning. I want to look at the term ‘digital literacy.’ There are two ways I have seen to consider this term:
1 = Digital Literacy as a category that Gilster (1997) described as “emphasiz[ing] the importance of examining the source and weighing the information against other resources, all part of the critical approach to Net content that we use when engaged in the process of knowledge assembly” (p. 239). Or along the lines of what Jones-Kavalier and Flannigan (2006) proposed as “represent[ing] a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment, with ‘digital’ meaning information represented in numeric form and primarily for use by a computer” (p. 9).
2 = Digital Literacy as a form of being able to properly read the digital world presented to an individual, or group of individuals, and to relate to visual and media literacy theory. What is the narrative of this image? What is this narrative telling us about us as individuals? What about the larger cultural and societal influences on that narrative? These questions for me came out of Barbatsis’ (2005) presentation of narrative theory and the need for applying traditional narrative logic to a pictorial (visual) logic. One does not replace the other; they actually build upon each other.
So there is a division in looking at skills for writing and reading digital media. Neither is a right or wrong, they are just different. That said I will note that most of the literature about digital literacy focuses heavily on the above listed #1 skill sets.
The question becomes: Are you teaching the writing or reading skills (or both)?
Second, is the theoretical discourse about the digital world. What I’m thinking about here is the good and bad of hypermedia. The good is that we are evolving into a world that includes more access to: news and opinion, social and professional networking, and, in terms of Web 2.0 tools, the ability create our own New Media content. An example is hyperlinking as a means of creating a “collective intelligence”:
Hyperlinking is the foundation of the web. As users add new content, and new sites, it is bound in to the structure of the web by other users discovering the content and linking to it. Much as synapses form in the brain, with associations becoming stronger through repetition or intensity, the web of connections grows organically as an output of the collective activity of all web users. (O’Reilly)
This is in contrast to the post-modern concern of the hypermediated environment where the digital leads to a linear and binary world, in which narratives are constructed in a cold and disembodied metanarrative. As Baudrillard (1983) argued, “Digitality is with us. It is that which haunts all the messages, all the signs of our societies. The most concrete form you see it in is that of the test, of the question/answer, of the stimulus/response” (p. 115.).
Current New Media theory has now turned to the concept of ‘hypermediacy’ (‘remediation’), which states that New Media builds on previous media, and there is “the desire for immediacy lead[ing] digital media to borrow avidly from each other as well as from their analog predecessors such as film, television, and photography” (Bolter & Grusin, p. 9). Now the narratives are not cold and disengaged from the human experience, but are dynamic and flowing out of human traditions.
Okay, yes, this is all simplified, but it does get at the more general concerns educators have about the use of Web 2.0 digital technologies in the classroom. What happens when you allow the students to become involved in a platform that is set up specifically for user control over the content? Can we avoid the coldness of pure content delivery, but still engage in a high level of scholarship? In a presentation I attended online by Aaron Delwiche (Trinty University), I was especially struck by the following last two “Tips for teaching with virtual worlds”:
5. Walk a fine line between freedom and control.
6. Anticipate blurred boundaries.
This connects nicely with the pedagogical components of creating a learning community and the +/-‘s of giving up control of one’s instructional content to a certain degree. I think this is where the Chickering and Gamson (1987) “Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” becomes a guiding point.
Good practice in undergraduate education:
1. encourages contact between students and faculty,
2. develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
3. encourages active learning,
4. gives prompt feedback,
5. emphasizes time on task,
6. communicates high expectations, and
7. respects diverse talents and ways of learning (p. 1).
Consider how the above fits constructively into Web 2.0 applications, such as blogs, wikis, and virtual worlds. One can have control while still giving over some responsibilities to the students.
So, are the post-modernists or the hypermediacy theorists correct? For the time being I’ll leave that debate out there for others. But ,at the very least, I think this bit of technology is growing and becoming part of our everyday lives. With any technology we introduce into the classroom there is a chance for problems as well as benefits.
Here are some resources that I feel may be of interest:
*The Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group (TLT Group) offers online resources and also a Friday Live Web seminar series that is free to attend: http://www.tltgroup.org/
*EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative also offer online resources and Web seminars: http://www.educause.edu/eli
*Adobe eLearning Solutions is a nice resource for eLearning examples, resources, and Web seminars (even if the focus is limited to Adobe’s products): http://www.adobe.com/resources/elearning/
Barbatsis, G. (2005). Narrative Theory. In K. Smith, S. Moriarty, G. Barbatsis, & K. Kenney (Eds.), Handbook of visual communication: Theory, methods, and media (pp. 329-349). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Baudrillard, J. (1983). Simulations. New York: Semiotext(e).
Bolter, J.D., & Grusin, R. (2000). Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Chickering, A.W., & Gamson, Z.F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.
Delwiche, A. (2008, February 19). Powerful but not a panacea – virtuaworlds as tools for situated learning. Presentation to ELI Web Seminar. Slide 46.
Gilster, P. (1997). Digital literacy. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Jones-Kavalier, B.R., & Flannigan, S. L. (2006). Connecting the digital dots: Literacy of the 21st century. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 29(2), 8 – 10.
O’Reilly, T. (2005, September 30). What is web 2.0: Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Retrieved February 22, 2008, from http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html