Since the rubber meets the road with instruction, I continued with a focus on teachers and social media. A number of the readings were interesting and provocative, such as Vicki Davis’s blog post which concludes with
"If you're going to ignore social media in the classroom, then throw out the ISTE Standards for Students and stop pretending that you're 21st century. Stop pretending that you're helping low-income children overcome the digital divide if you aren't going to teach them how to communicate online. Social media is here. It's just another resource and doesn't have to be a distraction from learning objectives. Social media is another tool that you can use to make your classroom more engaging, relevant and culturally diverse."
As an educator whose career has been spent exclusively in the service of poor, black and brown, urban youth, the “If you’re going to ignore…then stop pretending…” formulation is quite satisfying and I want to give it a shoutout. However, the main text for this week I’ll discuss…
Howard Rheingold’s “Attention, and Other 21st Century Social Media Literacies”
Rheingold’s thesis is that skills alone are insufficient for successfully navigating social media. Social media literacy is needed beyond skill knowledge. He then identifies five interwoven literacies: Attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness & critical consumption.
A SUMMARY OF RHEINGOLD’S SOCIAL MEDIA LITERACIES:
- Attention is “the fundamental building block for how individuals think…create tools…teach each other how to use them…how groups socialize, and…transform civilization.” Rheingold then delineates different kinds of attention human beings deploy in particular circumstances and their applicability to digital and social media.
- Participation online “gives one a different sense of being in the world….[Y]ou become an active citizen rather than simply a passive consumer of what is sold to you…taught to you…what you’re government wants you to believe.” The powerful devices we all now carry in our pockets give us the ability to affect societal change in easier and faster ways than ever before.
- Collaboration takes place “[u]sing the technologies and techniques of attention and participation…allow[ing] people to work together collaboratively in ways that were too difficult or expensive to attempt before the advent of social media.” This is a particularly good articulation of how these literacies comprise an interwoven continuum as opposed to 5 discrete elements. Rheingold continues, illustrating social media collaboration through various examples of crowdsourcing ranging from searching for missing persons at sea to citizen responses to natural disasters to charity fundraising.
- Network Awareness is a bit more esoteric. Noting that the 19th century saw the industrialized society and the 20th century, the information society, Rheingold suggests the 21st century is seeing the rise of the networked society. “In the past there were physical limitations on which people and how many people we could include in our network…. Now, technological networks…have vastly expanded the number and the variety of people we can contact.” Here he also suggests that deep network awareness also requires participants to understand how networks can influence “how much freedom, wealth, and participation you will have in the rest of this century”, drawing attention to the current debates on net neutrality.
- Critical Consumption is, as Rheingold reminds us, what Hemingway called “crap detection”. In essence, it is now up to the reader to vet whether or not a media source is trustworthy. As he notes, “[t]he authority of the text that goes back at least a thousand years has been overturned.” Prior to the digital era we could rely on a whole series of steps and checkpoints traditional publishing provided for fact-checking and accuracy of information. But now, the democratic nature of digital media means any yahoo with a device can publish. Thus, all responsible citizens also have to possess the skills of a critic if they wish to be informed. Critical consumption, then, brings us full circle, back to attention as we need to use our crap detection to determine exactly what is and isn’t worthy of our time, energy, and focus.
Rheingold slides the following point into critical consumption but is worth highlighting separately. He notes that social media is a flow, not a queue. Email is a queue. With email, messages arrive one at a time into our mailbox in chronological order where we deal with each message in some way — answer, ignore, delete, schedule, file. Whereas, social media is a constant and overwhelming flow of information that we can never ever entirely apprehend. Therefore, we have to choose what we will pay attention to, when, and how. This is a helpful way to conceptualize the cacophony of social media and suggests a way to engage it. It gives permission to let go of all the messages that get by us no matter how we struggle to keep up. (For those of us who feel compelled to respond to everything that comes through our feed(s), this is no small reprieve!) In addition, this distinction between managing items in a queue versus an endless flow of information accentuates the idea that social media participation requires conceptual, literacy-based understanding and not just skill knowledge.
Defining as “Literacy” Raises the Stakes
Shifting the conversation from one of skills acquisition to literacy raises the stakes for educators. Prior to starting this master’s program, my thinking about the role of digital media in education could be described as more subconscious, intuitive. However, in the last 20 weeks, my thoughts have become more clearly conscious. One articulation of that emergent thinking, as I noted in last week’s post, is that the internet and mobile technology are no longer curiosities or places where we dally in cyberspace. They are as crucial to our daily functioning as the telephone, radio, television, and the automobile became in the last century. The digital realm is, arguably, even more profound than those previous technologies in that it constitutes spaces for the conduct of nearly all kinds of human transactions — commercial, professional, artistic, personal — while at the same time breaking the limits of time and space. Clearly, social media are now extensions of our actual social lives as well. So in this sense, my thinking has evolved in that I believe parents and schools have a obligation to teach children what constitutes safe and responsible behaviors online just as much as they do what’s appropriate in the “real” world.
Changes in My Thinking
Rheingold’s article has helped crystalize my thinking. Given the power and place of digital media in our lives, we need to teach their navigation as conceptual literacies and not merely skills. This makes sense, too, given the vast and ever-changing complexities that make up the digital realm. People will only be able to navigate as digital residents when they are fluent in the hows and whys of digital world and can transfer skills to new digital contexts as they are likely to emerge.
Further reading: Washington's new digital citizenship legislation sets nationwide precedent How Memes Harken Back to Pre-Internet Times -- It's a bit tangential, though it highlights the complexity and literacy required to understand something as "simple" as a meme.
In his conclusion, Rheingold notes that social media and their accompanying literacies will “shape the cognitive, social, and cultural environments of the 21st century” just as the printing press, books and their literacies shaped the Enlightenment. If this turns out to be the case, and it looks very likely that it will be, then we as educators have responsibilities here. We can’t bury our heads in the sand ignoring and pretending, as Vicki Davis passionately called out.
We like to say the world is changing. But more often than not, by the time we make such a statement the world has already changed. And so it goes with social media. As a profession, education is behind the curve. There is quite a bit of catch-up we have to do when it comes to ICT instruction in general and social media in particular. Rheingold’s formulation of the 5 social media literacies implies the stakes are higher than we thought. It is incumbent upon us to learn these literacies at least well enough to teach them to our students. After all, we are the ones charged with projecting them into the future — a future none of us can see — armed with the tools and understandings they (and our democracy) will need to survive through this century.