New Media Literacy: Relevance and Challenges

The concept of Technology Literacy became immediately relevant for me last year as I was filling out the 2008-09 ADE Educational Technology Survey required for our district to receive funding under the Title II-D/EETT program. I had to answer the following questions:

Q40: How many 8th grade students in your school/district would be classified as technologically literate according to the following definition:

"Technology literacy is the ability to responsibly use appropriate technology to communicate, solve problems, create products and access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information to improve learning in all subjects, to use information to improve learning in all subject areas and to acquire lifelong knowledge and skills for the 21st century."

Q41: Please indicate the method you used to determine the number of 8th grade students who were technologically literate.

Q42: Please describe how you are ensuring your students are technology literate by 8th grade.

After consultation with our Curriculum Director we were able to come up with satisfactory responses to meet the needs of the compliance paperwork at that moment. But these questions still lingered in my mind over the ensuing months, demanding more depth of treatment than just a survey response. It was not until a colleague in my Twitter PLN sent an open invitation for discussion comments for an upcoming blog tour that I took up the matter anew.

To fully answer those survey questions requires a curriculum, pedagogy and assessment approach to teach those skills and measure the results. I decided to review the research on the subject starting with Paul Gilster's groundbreaking book on "Digital Literacy" 1997 (see A Primer on Digital Literacy). Gilster took the traditional concept of literacy and adapted it for the digital age. In the book he discusses new aspects of literacy such as reading via computer instead of a paper book, dealing with hyperlinks, e-mail, search engines, and most importantly utilizing critical thinking skills to assess the veracity and validity of the material found in an online medium. With the advent of easily accessible and abundant information on the internet, the need to discern fact from fiction became most pronounced. Keep in mind that this was written during the Web 1.0 era when the information flow was primarily uni-directional from the author to the reader. Enter Web 2.0.

In the twelve years since Gilster's book was written there have been many advances in technology, information flow on the internet is multi-directional, a new concept/movement emerged known as "21st Century Skills", and even Bloom's Taxonomy received a facelift for the modern age becoming a Digital Taxonomy. Educators and educational institutions alike grappled with how to integrate technology into the curriculum, how to engage "Digital Natives", and fundamentally how to best leverage the new technologies to increase student achievement. There have been numerous studies in the 21st Century to understand the impact of emerging technologies on teaching and learning, such as the Horizon Report. As of 2009, we have moved well beyond Digital Literacy and Technology Literacy to arrive at a place where Media Literacy and 21st Century Skills are combined into a new Media Literacy for the 21st Century. Due to the multi-directional nature of the information flow in Web 2.0 Social Media applications, we have had to begin Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture in media education for the 21st Century, develop a 21st Century Pedagogy, a Framework for Curriculum and Assessment, as well as Teaching and Learning Rubrics.

The "New Media Literacy" requires Digital Information Fluency from our students and instructional strategies for critical thinking from our teachers. We also need standards, and a way to put them all together into a meaningful whole that can be taught in the classroom. Here is one example incorporating ISTE-standards which link to relevant Web 2.0 tools, tutorials and lesson plan ideas.

As we've transitioned from merely defining Technology Literacy to formulating a strategy for implementing New Media Literacy and 21st Century critical thinking skills in the classrooms of today, there is much to consider and a lot of work to be done. So, going back to the original compliance question "How many 8th grade students in your school/district would be classified as technologically literate?"... the answer is not that simple.

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Tags: 21st, Century, Digital, Literacy, Media, New, Skills

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