Below is my response to the following blog post I read today on the site http://smartblogs.com. The term “Literacy” seems to be misused a lot these days. Often, when we hear the term, the speaker means reading…reading books that is. Not texts in all broad and far reaching definitions of the term but reading….reading books. Paper books. Words printed on paper. With that in mind, one of my colleagues brought my attention came to a post today.
There’s something about the tone of this post that doesn’t sit well with me and, the more I think about it, it is because it continues a fallacious ideology that educators proficient in technology are not proficient in good pedagogy, teaching and learning, or “literacy” instruction. It also constricts the term “Literacy” and boxes it into the premise that literacy = the written word alone, separate from anything else and found only within the pages of a paper text. It also, by means of its title, appears to indicate that “literacy” learning must take place prior to, and in isolation of, any technological or digital tool that could support some, or even a few students that find it necessary. When I read or hear claims such as this I always question. “Why can’t good literacy or math instruction, and therefore learning, take place with digital tools in a seamless and symbiotic fashion?” Why must one come before the other? Can that even happen in today’s technological climate?
The term “technology” is often used as a blanket misnomer and can mislead focus away from the plethora of tools that fall under the umbrella: laptops, desktops, iPads, iPods, tablets (of many flavours), Livescribe pens, interactive whiteboards, document cameras, webcams, microphones, etc. When I see people labelling all of these devices as “technology” I cringe. They all have a valuable prupose – not instead of anything – but in conjunction with them.
I don’t think that anyone would disagree with you in regards to technology in that it needs to add purpose and value to any child’s learning experience. Technology should not come first. People should not be buying SmartBoards, iPads, and laptops without a clear vision for how they are going to be used in any teaching and learning environment. The best and seamless integration occurs when the conversation starts at a curriculum expectation and associated learning goals (where the students need to get get). After success criteria has been generated (how they are going to get there) that speak to the learning goals then activities and tasks can enter the discussion. Let’s not scapegoat technology here. Nothing replaces good teaching. It is only a tool – no different than any other that has rested in any educator’s toolbox. As educators, we should always start at the purpose, value, and goal of any learning – then the task and activities can be generated. Perhaps these utilize technology. Perhaps they don’t. Or, perhaps it is a blend of traditionalist teaching approaches and those that utilize and leverage digital tools. No two students are the same. They won’t be engaged the same. They won’t achieve the same. For some it can be necessary and for a few essential. Technology can serve as a catalyst for that child that refuses to read a paper book. Perhaps some animation and interactivity will enhance the engagement factor and joy of reading for that particular child. With hyperlinking and integrated interactivity, one reading experience can quickly and easily jump to another. Then, with the swipe of a finger, a student could reflect upon what they have read, express their understanding of story structure and share that reflection and experience with their peers, their teachers, and their parents. Learning then becomes a collaborative, shared, and communal experience – transparent and accessible to all. Literacy itself – Numeracy itself – does not come before technology. They can not be referred to separately like students learn one before they learn the other. This is their world! It is our job as educators to prepare our students for the future they are entering and to give up old ways. Some of the old ways are still effective and some never were. I particularly love and agree with this comment,
The question is not whether computers and multimedia should be allowed in classrooms, but how they are to be used. Society is more connected and more global in scope than ever before. There is more information available than at any previous time in history.
21st century scholars and educators will embrace the language of multimedia as a means of creating and disseminating knowledge that is co-equal with text. The complex ideas of our times demands that we do so.
It is essential that we expand our concept of literacy to include visual, audio, interactive and combined media, and that we continually ask ourselves what it means to be truly literate and, by extension, educated in the 21st century. This concept suggests that there is an expanded view of literacy that goes beyond words. To tell a story now means grasping a new kind of language, which includes understanding how graphics, color, lines, music and words can collaboratively convey meaning. (http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~cmmr/Technology.html )
Technology with no value or purpose will not support achievement or engage any child. A screen cannot engage any child just by the existence of being. BUT various pieces of technology (iPads, Livescribes, Interactive Whiteboards, laptops, microphones for podcasting, etc) in the arsenal of an effective teacher can, and will, make the world of difference to the learning experience of our children and students.
The term “Literacy” has changed. And if you are thinking of literacy as the written word alone, separate from anything else and found only within the pages of a paper text, then you truly are offering a disservice to those students entrusted within our care as educators.
Image Credit: I found this image on an interesting blog post about digital literacies. Check it out: http://steve-wheeler.blogspot.ca/2010/11/what-digital-literacies.html