Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Sunday, October 28, 2007

New Media Literacy And Education: What To Teach? Public Voice - Part 2

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New media literacy is the key missing component from our schools curricula. If you are to provide to your kids the mental tools and the manual skills required by today society you must help your sons master early in their teenage years how to express and communicate in person as well as through analog and digital media.

Photo credit: Tritooth mashed up by Robin Good

The teachers your government pays for are often the least media literate people you can find around, while leaving this key education component to the self-learning opportunities that the online world offers without any preparation, is akin to trying to learn singing from soccer stadium fans.

But the heart of the matter is not just the training of young mind in the skilled use of new media technologies, but rather the development of their critical thinking skills, their research and analysis methods, as well as their own individual and very personal voice: their public voice.

It is in fact through the ability to analyze, to question and to understand that one can start to express more personal views and opinions, the very heart of our gradually fading democracy. New media literacies are nothing else but a set of cultural competencies and social skills that can help today's teenager become active participants and contributors to safeguard the health of our future societies and development of greater forms of healthy cooperation and more civilized living among individuals.

"Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy training from individual expression onto community involvement: the new literacies are almost all social skills which have to do with collaboration and networking. "

In the second part of this vision (see part 1 here) of how education would need to be transformed to provide valuable tools and insight to our future citizens, Howard Rheingold prizes you with a delightful introduction to the design of a new media literacy curriculum while analyzing the key factors at play in this sweeping social revolution you and I are all part of.

He writes:

"I don't propose Internet media as the solution to young people's disengagement from political life, or claim to know whether or not youth really are disengaged, but do want to look at participative media as a possibly powerful tool to be deployed toward helping them engage in their own voices about the issues they care about."

Intro by Robin Good

Photo credit: DN Group


Vision of the Future - Part 2

by Howard Rheingold

I started thinking about "public voice" as a way to link media skills and civic engagement when I started teaching journalism majors about the ways digital media is changing the practices and institutions of journalism.

Photo credit: Nicolai Sorokin

One of the texts I assigned them was Phil Agre's ten year old advice, now slightly dated in its terminology, about developing a public voice by writing for webzines.

At about the same time we were discussing Agre, I read Danah Boyd's speech to the AAAS that referred to this decade's moral panic about MySpace.

Boyd wrote about the way kids in these online social network environments were creating publics online in an era where physical public spaces were denied to them.

And then the news intervened with the story of high school students in Los Angeles organizing walkouts and demonstrations around proposed national immigration legislation.

A significant percentage of American youth are involved in creating as well as consuming digital media. According to a 2005 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "The number of teenagers using the internet has grown 24% in the past four years and 87% of those between the ages of 12 and 17 are online."

Photo credit: Pavel Losevsky

Whatever else might be said of teenage bloggers, dorm-room video producers, gamers, or those who maintain pages on social networks, it cannot be said that they are passive media consumers.

They seek, adopt, appropriate, and invent ways to participate in cultural production. Another recent Pew study claims that more than 50% of today's teenagers have created as well as consumed digital media.

Constructivist theories of education that exhort teachers to guide active learning through hands-on experimentation are not new ideas, and neither is the notion that digital media can be used to encourage this kind of learning.

Photo credit :Andres Rodriguez

What is new is a population of "digital natives" who have learned how to learn new kinds of software before they started high school, who carry mobile phones, media players, game devices and laptop computers and know how to use them, and for whom the internet is not a transformative new technology but a feature of their lives that has always been there, like water and electricity.

This population is both self-guided and in need of guidance: although a willingness to learn new media by point-and-click exploration might come naturally to today's student cohort, there's nothing innate about knowing how to apply their skills to the processes of democracy.

I don't propose Internet media as the solution to young people's disengagement from political life, or claim to know whether or not youth really are disengaged, but do want to look at participative media as a possibly powerful tool to be deployed toward helping them engage in their own voices about the issues they care about.

Making connections between the literacies students pick up simply by being young in the 21st century and those best learned through reading and discussing texts is an appropriate role for teachers today.

My fundamental assumption for beginning such a practicum, based on my own encounters with students in social cyberspaces and the advice of more experienced educators, is that "voice," the unique style of personal expression that distinguishes one's communications from those of others, can be called upon to help connect young people's energetic involvement in identity-formation with their potential engagement with society as citizens.

Moving from a private to a public voice can help students turn their self-expression into a form of public participation.

Photo credit: Andres Rodriguez

Public voice is learnable, a matter of consciously engaging with an active public rather than broadcasting to a passive audience.

The public voice of individuals, aggregated and in dialogue with the voices of other individuals, is the fundamental particle of "public opinion."

When public opinion has the power and freedom to influence policy and grows from the open, rational, critical debate among peers posited by Jurgen Habermas and others, it can be an essential instrument of democratic self-governance.

The American democracy is rather messier and less rational than the Habermasian ideal, but it does involve what Phil Agre identifies as a set of communication skills uniquely associated for participating in influence networks around issues.

Photo credit: Jürgen Habermas

Communication acts, whether or not they are always calmly deliberative and rational, are the fundamental elements of political and civic life.

By showing students how to use Web-based tools and channels to inform publics, advocate positions, contest claims, and organize action around issues that they truly care about, participatory media education can draw them into positive early experiences with citizenship that could influence their civic behavior throughout their lives.

Media production differs from other kinds of production because media (unlike other products such as steel or food or clothing) have the power to persuade, inspire, educate, and direct human thought, belief, and activity.

Photo credit: Marc Dietrich

Communities, movements, markets, societies, and civilizations are the products of the human talent for accomplishing complex tasks together -...incited by and coordinated through communication media.

The technical power of many-to-many communication networks is important because it multiplies pre-existing human social networking capabilities that enable collective action.

The technical networks that carry bits from node to node and the media woven from those bits enable the humans at those nodes to learn, argue, deliberate, transact, and organize on scales and at paces that were never before possible.

In Confronting The Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (PDF), Jenkins et al see an entirely new kind of culture emerging from the use of participatory media, characterizing the shift as one that should not be reduced to the enabling technology, but "rather represents a shift in the way our culture operates."

Photo credit: Media Education for the 21st Century - Mac Arthur Foundation

The emerging "participatory culture" described by Jenkins et al is characterized as innovative, convergent, everyday, appropriative, networked, global, generational and unequal:

"This context places new emphasis on the need for schools and after school programs to devote attention to fostering what we are calling the new media literacies -- a set of cultural competencies and social skills which young people need as they confront the new media landscape.

Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy training from individual expression onto community involvement: the new literacies are almost all social skills which have to do with collaboration and networking.

These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills which should have been part of the school curriculum all along."

An aside, again from my own experience with the public education system. My daughter looked so crestfallen when she returned from her first day of public school that I asked her what could be so terribly wrong.

"They make you sit in desks all day, and the desks are all in a row, then they ring really loud bells."

Photo credit: Communityplaythings

This picture struck me as a perfect example of exactly what participatory media literacy education should NOT be about. Desks in a row are all very Gutenberg-industrial.

For the past several years, I've experimented with teaching students a blogging rhetoric that leads them to exercise public voice.

For example, the first post is to be aimed at a clearly imagined public - people known and unknown to the author who might reply, learn something, debate the blogger's assertions - who could, potentially, join the blogger in some kind of collective action.

First, I asked students to provide links that would educate, inform, persuade, or motivate that public, and to write a post that gives enough context to the link to enable readers to decide whether or not to click it.

Then I asked them to experiment with connective writing by offering two links and their contexts, as well as an overarching description of what connects the links.

Analytic and critical posts follow, taking issue with, contesting, debating posts made by others on their blogs.

Finally, student bloggers were asked to make posts that advocate a position and provide links to support their assertions.

Concurrent with my direct use of participative pedagogy at the college level, I've embarked on a literature review and have begun compiling and adapted the work of educators who have been using blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other participative media.

I invited some colleagues to help. We've compiled resources and exercises on a wiki at -- and welcome any of you who want to participate.

I bow to those educators whose efforts I've compiled, and offer this as a resource. I hope the wiki and the chapter that I've written for the MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning will help broaden and expand the community that has been forming around participative pedagogy.

print culture shaped the environment in which the Reformation exploded and the Enlightenment blossomed, participatory media might similarly shape the cognitive and social environments in which twenty first century life will take place.

Photo credit: (c) Mac Arthur Foundation

As Henry Jenkins and his colleagues emphasized, education that acknowledges the full impact of networked publics and digital media must recognize a whole new way of looking at learning and teaching, not just another set of skills that must be added to the curriculum.

I'm not sure how to get there, how to evaluate efforts and measure impacts, or whether schooling as we know it is even the place to start building the necessary institutions.

Assuming a world in which the welfare of young people and the health of democracy are the true goals of education, I believe modern societies around the world need to assess and evaluate what works and what doesn't in terms of engaging students in learning, to look empirically and in a more nuanced way at what civic engagement means today, to better understand what young people are really doing with digital media, and to find ways to help them use their literacies as citizenship skills as well as avenues to entertainment.

End of Part 2

Part 1: New Media Literacy In Education: Learning Media Use While Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Howard Rheingold was the keynote speaker for's final seminar for 2007, when this presentation was held.

Additional Resources

Howard Rheingold's keynote presentation - This presentation focusses on virtual communities and the need for new literacies to effectively engage with the new media. 2 October 2007

Question and answer session with Howard Rheingold - This audio file features the question and answer session which followed the keynote presentation. 2 October 2007

About the author


Howard Rheingold is a critic and writer.

His specialties are on the cultural, social and political implications of modern communication media such as the Internet, mobile telephony and virtual communities (a term he is credited with inventing). In 2002, Rheingold published Smart Mobs, exploring the potential for technology to augment collective intelligence. Shortly thereafter, in conjunction with the Institute for the Future, Rheingold launched an effort to develop a broad-based literacy of cooperation.

Howard Rheingold -
Reference: Education.Au [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Sunday, October 28 2007, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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