New Media Literacies

by Patrick Kammermeyer on September 20, 2010

From MIT TechTV,

We find ourselves immersed in a new and evolving media culture. The technologies driving the new media are growing and changing at an ever-increasing rate. But perhaps more importantly, the new media is creating a cultural evolution that increasingly emphasizes community involvement.

Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, calls this new culture a participatory culture. Jenkins has published a white paper that explores new frameworks and models for the new media literacy of this culture called “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.”

Some of the writing about 21st-century literacies seems to suggest that digital and audio-visual media will displace reading and writing. Jenkins and his group disagree. They point out that just as the emergence of written language changed oral traditions, and in turn the emergence of printed text changed our relationship to written text, the emergence of new digital modes of expression reorients our relationship to printed texts.

Literacy in the modern participatory culture encompasses a broader set of skills for a broader range of expression in a broader community. These new skills include:

Play - the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving

Performance - the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery

Simulation - the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes

Appropriation - the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content

Multitasking - the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details

Distributed Cognition - the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities

Collective Intelligence - the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal

Judgment - the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources

Transmedia Navigation - the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities

Networking - the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information

Negotiation - the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms

Visualization - the ability to interpret and create data representations for the purposes of expressing ideas, finding patterns, and identifying trends

– from Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, by Henry Jenkins, with Ravi Purushotma, Katherine Clinton, Margaret Weigel, and Alice J. Robison

One of the challenges for educators is simply becoming “literate” ourselves. This can be especially challenging when it seems that students often know more about these new media environments than most educators. There is little doubt that a certain level of technical proficiency is necessary for the modern educator. As we evolve into both consumers and producers of new media, it is important to understand the tools. But, there are core policy and pedagogical issues that must be addressed as well.

Jenkins has identified 3 core issues:

  1. The Participation Gap – the unequal access to the opportunities, experiences skills, and knowledge that will prepare youth for full participation in the world of tomorrow.
  2. The Transparency Problem – The challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world.
  3. The Ethics Challenge – The breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants.

– from Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, by Henry Jenkins

Not surprisingly, these new media literacies will have implications for our approach to teaching, learning and assessment. These literacies will continue to evolve as the forms of a participatory culture (e.g., formal and informal online communities, digital sampling and modding, videomaking and mashups, gaming and collaborative problem-solving environments, etc) broaden the scope and blur some traditional lines. The new media literacies span across all disciplines, shaping the success of our students as they continue the process of life-long learning.

“A growing body of scholarship suggests potential benefits of these forms of participatory culture, including opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude toward intellectual property, the diversification of cultural expression, the development of skills valued in the modern workplace, and a more empowered conception of citizenship.”

– from Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, by Henry Jenkins

It’s clear that the new media is already upon us. Jenkins and his group at the New Media Literacies project make a compelling argument for the integration of these new literacies into our teaching practice. I invite you to review their website and materials and enter into this discussion.

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