We are living in an increasingly digital world requiring a increasingly complex matrix of digital literacy. Our media-saturated, online, mobile world has developed quickly – as must the ways people access and navigate it. Developments are rapid, iterations are constant, and traditional mediums have faced (and will face) tremendous change.
Music is a standup example: vinyl evolved to tape evolved to CD evolved to Minidisc (for a few months) evolved to 320kbps lossless FLAC. Literature, too, has set off on a similar journey and just like with music, there will be pros and cons for each iteration of the medium; people hold a multiplicity of viewpoints based on personal connection, context, and nostalgia, not just the technical specifications. There will be feelings of loss as new forms arise. There will be mourning. There will be bafflement and scorn from generations raised on the previous iteration. Developments might not be well understood or utilised, except, perhaps, by a few. And the kids, of course. Always the kids.
In many cases, students are receiving a great education… in the kinds of literacies required for the world of the teacher, rather than for this new and rapidly developing world – the here and the now. And while there are teachers out there contending with digital media and related digital literacy practises steeped in the real lives of students, I think it’s fair to say it’s not quite so widespread yet.
Why is this? Perhaps because we mostly teach how we were taught. Perhaps it’s too complex. Perhaps because the digital world moves so fast. Perhaps because it’s not assessed. Perhaps because digital media and associated reading practises are considered not the “gritty” stuff, ripe to be studied, explored, and better comprehended. Who knows.
Consider though, the complex kinds of digital literacy and reading practises people employ today in a context where the written word is but one piece of the puzzle:
– Navigating hyperlinks, click-bait, social and participative commenting, non-linear pathways
– Text-language, fleeting messages, micro-blogging
– Visual elements: images, infographics etc. comprising a growing amount of site real-estate
– The utilities around reading (snipping, copying, pasting, CTRL+F, simplifying)
– Reader choice, patience, and profiling, and how this shapes content
– Author intention when anyone can be an author. Some want to tell a ripping good story, some want to entertain, some want to vent, some are subtly political, most try to sell you things
– Interactive reading, augmented with music, haptic feedback, activities and other content
This is interesting stuff, to be explored in combination with our traditional reading education. It is ripe to be studied: to learn how to read better online, to appreciate and explore the narrative of a great digital game, to analyse a tweet, to see through the glare of everywhere-advertising. To be literate in this world – i.e., comprehend communication, see through it’s veneer, understand it’s purpose… and ultimately to be awake and aware in a world that wants you to not think too much, means you need the comprehension skills and tools in order to do so.
Students need to have the opportunity to “closely read” a wide variety of texts, for a wide range of purposes. They need to enjoy some, disagree with some, and tear apart some. This “wide variety” needs to be a vastly wide variety of mediums and messages. From traditional printed text, to digital literature, to digital games, to movies, to SnapChats, to Instagrams, to Skypes, to YouTube tutorials, to images, to advertisements, to forums, to wikis, to letters, to emails, to emojis, to body language. And this is only just scratching the surface.
Any battleground where meaning is crafted and communicated needs to be studied and explored and ripped into at school. We can’t have a legion of sheep being led into the big wide without any armour. Students need the know-how to understand the media, messages, and mediums that will be thrust upon them, and to appreciate the stories that speak to them.
Engaging with digital literature, some of the time, as a part of a reading programme and broader media education / digital literacy strategy, is a meaningful way for teachers to get going on this journey.