Tag Archives: information literacy

What do New Literacies Look Like?

Thought I’d share a piece I wrote over the last couple of days for a new edition of our Composition 1 (ENC 1101) textbook at USF. It’s generally just the things that came into my head, so I’m especially interested in hearing what people think I got wrong, or painted in a subtly misleading shade, and such.

UPDATE: A newer, revised version of this piece is available at the free online textbook Writing Commons.

Krista76, "Old New Media Readings"

Krista76, “Old New Media Readings,” available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/slimcoincidence/406910873/

The Traditional Model of Literacy

We usually think of a particular skill when we hear the word literacy: knowing how to read. If a teacher’s students can barely read, she’ll complain to her principal, “They’re barely literate!” If a politician says, “Kids today are illiterate!” he means that they can’t read–or perhaps more subtly, that they can’t read very well. That is, they don’t understand the complexities and nuances that practiced readers see in a big splattering of words on a page or screen.

That politician’s claim reminds us of another aspect of literacy that’s usually tied to the reading angle: the ability to write. When he riles up the crowd by calling kids illiterate, he probably means, “Kids today don’t understand complex reading, and they can’t produce complex writing, either.” So implied in the skill of literacy is also the ability to write. This makes sense; if I can’t make sense of a piece of writing’s purpose, organization, figures of speech, and rhetorical moves, I probably can’t create a piece of writing that uses those aspects of writing in sophisticated ways.

And as you can hear from my examples of the teacher and the politician, literacy is often a word that shows up when people want to describe something that people don’t have. I’m unlikely to be praised for my literacy when I accurately summarize a tough essay in class, and I’m unlikely to read a particularly nice magazine article and respond to the author by saying, “Oh, you were so particularly literate in that piece!” Literacy is usually used more as a base-line for competence, something that we ought to have but that stands out most noticeably when it’s not there, like the space where a demolished building used to be, or when we see a person not wearing any pants.

New Models of Literacy

Why go into so much detail about the traditional model of literacy–the skill of knowing how to effectively read and write? Because when literacy is applied to new contexts–as it is all the time–it often retains the baggage of its traditional usage, as something to describe a lack that we wish were filled, and as something that involves both effective reading and effective writing (though sometimes reading and writing are expanded to different forms of understanding and acting).

For example, a quick Google search for literacy shows me these varied ways that people use the word:

  • Financial literacy: the ability to understand complex financial information, and the ability to act wisely on that financial know-how
  • Information literacy: the ability to find the right information for a given task, and the ability to use that information in the best way (for an essay, work assignment, protest rally, or whatever)
  • Media literacy: the ability to read or view the various tricks used by the media to subtly emphasize one point of view, and the ability to compose our own media messages that use media trickery effectively for a given rhetorical situation

In all three of those examples of literacies, I imagine that the term developed as people began to realize how illiterate their friends and colleagues seemed to be in those areas. (Perhaps most terminology begins this way: as a way for individuals to draw attention to their own strengths in comparison to a rabble of “those other people.”) In that framework, financial literacy works as a helpful term because so many people seem to lack basic skills related to budgeting, managing credit cards, and paying off debt; to people who have financial literacy, those who lack it seem to be missing a set of skills that is so fundamental that to not have them is akin to a reading person’s feelings toward someone who cannot read. Along the same tack, information literacy works as a term because so many people seem to lack the basic skills necessary to finding the information they need, especially in our increasingly information-centered world. And media literacy is a helpful term because so many people are duped, plain and simple, by the political and social messages embedded in the news, movies, and music we consume.

So what happens when we apply these same ideas to new media reading and writing contexts?

New Media Literacies

New media is an awkward term; on its surface, it seems to imply media (news, music, TV, movies) that simply has come out recently–it’s new. From that perspective, new media would be content that was distributed in the last few days or weeks, as opposed to all that hype about Justin Bieber, which was so last year.

But new media encompasses far more than that. In the introduction to an issue of the scholarly journal American Journal of Business, Jo Ann Atkin describes a complex mess of activities that could be termed “new media”:

What do we exactly mean when we say “new media?” Most definitions of new media (and there are plenty) usually focus on three characteristics. That is, new media is a form of interactive communication that is both digital in format and distribution. This definition would encompass such technologies as: gaming, web sites, chat rooms, e-mail, virtual reality, streaming video or audio, blogs, real simple syndication (RSS), short message service (SMS), Twitter, wikis, online communities (e.g., Facbook, LinkedIn), and YouTube to name a few. The definition also implies that the computer or information technology plays a critical role in both message content/design and dissemination.

Atkin’s list of new media technologies is a treasure trove for different angles through which we can understand new media literacy. As with other kinds of literacy, I’m reminded of all the people I know who aren’t literate in these areas (and I bet you know a few too). For example, from the reading angle, I can think of plenty of people who:

  • Are confused when faced with a video game, not knowing where to look for visual cues about what to do next
  • Don’t notice the visual cues on a computer desktop that instantly draw the attention of a more literate person
  • Miss the signs that an email is a phishing scam
  • Don’t realize that blogs are inherently spaces for dialogue in the comments section
  • Never stop to consider that web designers have purposefully chosen colors, layout, fonts, images, and multimedia elements to make viewers think and feel in specific ways

And from the writing angle, there are plenty of folks who:

  • Try to use Facebook in ways that feel weird to those who are literate in its use
  • Produce movies for YouTube that come across as boring, badly paced, ugly, or annoying
  • Write emails without knowing the expectations of their audience (who, for instance, might prefer to be addressed in complete sentences)
  • Think their Twitter followers really want to know every boring detail of their lives
  • Create graphics without carefully choosing effective fonts, colors, and layout options that will be most effective for their audience
  • Participate in wikis without respecting and following the formatting and structure decisions made by those who went before them

All of these people could be described as needing one or more of the skills wrapped up in the phrase new media literacy. These skills often have both a technical and a rhetorical angle. That is, those with exceptional new media literacy are masters at 1) understanding and using technologies (e.g. getting around on social media sites, using photo editing software, producing videos) and 2) understanding the rhetorical needs of reading and composing in a specific time and space, for a specific audience who will judge a composition to be effective (e.g. designing a website that visitors think is attractive, saying something to Facebook friends that is likely to be “liked,” not looking like an ass when plodding around online in general).

If you’re asking, “So what?” the answer should be obvious: illiterate people need training and practice in literacy to become effective in contexts where those literacies matter. And just as traditional text literacy can be taught, so can these other literacies, both through immersion in contexts where those literacies are used effectively (like a U.S. citizen moving to Japan to learn the language, or a seventy-five-year-old woman who spends hours online every day to learn the conventions used by effective websites) and through instruction from experts.

The good news is that many traditional-age college students already have a solid grip on many new media skills–and they may not even realize how skillful they are! But there’s a subtle problem, as well: like a child who goes around telling his family that he knows how to read when he really only knows his alphabet, it’s possible to over-estimate the sophistication of one’s new media literacy skills. That is, I might say, “Um, I’ve been online every day since I was eight. Of course I know what makes an effective website or video or audio essay.” But when given a chance to show off some of my skills, I might suddenly be found lacking. All that skill I have at navigating new media spaces may not have translated into a complex understanding of the literacies at play there, keeping me from effectively being unable to describe what makes an effective new media text and even more unable to make one myself.

That’s why writing new media texts–or in this case, composing is probably the better term–is so important: it gives us practice in using our new media literacies in powerful ways while showing us the places where our skills are most lacking sophistication. So go out and compose like crazy in any format you can find or invent–but all the while, ask yourself what you already know and what you still need to learn.

Works Cited

Atkin, Jo Ann. “Lost in Translation: New Media | Old School Lesson.” American Journal of Business 24.2 (2009): n.pag. Web. 25 Apr. 2011.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Dissertation Thoughts! In a Slideshow!

I find that when I try to explain to my friends and committee members what I’m thinking about for my dissertation, I wish I could draw pictures of what I’m thinking about. To that end, I whipped up a quick and dirty slideshow.

Please comment! I’m writing the prospectus this summer and I’d love help on shaping my direction!

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

CCCC 2010 Thoughts

I figure it’s time that I post a few basic thoughts on some of my experiences at the 2010 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Louisville. But like everyone else, I’m wide-eyed at the amount of things waiting for me back home, so I’ll try to be brief.

Best Panels

  • In A19, Bump Halbritter and Jenn Fishman stepped back and let two students (J.R. Hammond and Casey Miles) share their multimedia work with us. It was a perfect example of how we might continue to remix the traditional academic paper format–lots of A/V goodness. Also interesting was their insistence that filming, editing, mixing, is all “writing.” But why not follow John Logie (K24) and call it all “composing,” including the alphabetic-based stuff we do on paper?
  • In C1, Bronwyn Williams became my new hero. He interviewed lots of students about their online activities, expressions of self, expressions of pop culture love, and shared some intriguing results, especially on students’ attitudes toward pop culture artifacts as authorless, and how appropriation blurs the boundaries between reading and writing. And shoot, his book is called Shimmering Literacies, and that’s just as cool as it gets.
  • D18 was my most pleasant surprise: I went to hear my buddy Dan Richards collaborate with Josh Mehler on “the active potential of metaphor” in the classroom, expecting to be a good supporter of a friend but not overwhelmingly interested in the material, but I left with a rich contemplation of the complex metaphors we use to help us make sense of things like writing and argument. And even better, they came across like two TV hosts, passing the proverbial mic back and forth with humor and just the right touch of silliness.
  • It was refreshing to end the first day hearing Rebecca Lucy Busker talk casually and persuasively in E08 about her experiences as a fan fiction composer, and how all the things we teach in comp are enacted in fic circles. Sweet.
  • My favorite overall panel was F12. Randall McClure, summarized: “There are tons of studies about the overwhelming amounts of information our students process every day, so let’s see what it can teach us.” Rebecca Moore Howard: “I used to say that patchwriting happened because readers didn’t understand the source material. But now I’ve got data that says it’s more complicated, and probably related to students’ lack of time.” Jim Purdy (who wins my Best Slideshow Award): “Let’s actually talk to student researchers about how they research. Here’s the beginning of my results.” Janice Walker: “Look at this video of what a student actually does when faced with a research task! Telling, huh?”
  • In the generally awesome I7 panel, I was most intrigued by Tim Laquintano’s points about the pressures felt by composers of online poker-playing manuals–this complex rhetorical situation of wanting to help other players (and thus make money when they buy your book), but not wanting to help them so much that they stomp your elite status as a player, and not wanting to alienate your buddies who also want to keep their reigns secure. Tricky!
  • I already mentioned K24 above, with John Logie and Martine Courant Rife. This was where I saw the Best Multimedia Presentation (Logie clearly breathes music through his pores and eyes, and it shows in his exuberance) and where I had the Best Discussion. Shall we replace the word author with composer? How about as long as there isn’t a reason not to?
  • Finally, I was glad I stuck around for P14 to hear some awesome applications of the inspiring work of The Citation Project. I was especially pleased to meet Crystal Benedicks, who spoke partly on her university’s attempt to complexify a “draconian” intellectual honest policy, and who told me about the book-length poem The Beauty of the Husband, which I will try my best not to read when I ought to be reading other things, but which I will certainly read in all the in-between times.

Best Experiences

  • Finding out that the roommate I randomly found on the WPA list was awesome, nice, and cool. Good Saved by the Bell conversations.
  • Wandering all around downtown Louisville on my own on Tuesday, and successfully navigating a few different bus routes.
  • Having Cindy Selfe sit down with my group at O’Shea’s pub.
  • Randomly chatting at the airport with Kathleen Yancey and Geoffrey Sirc about all kinds of stuff, for like half an hour. I love meeting nice people who know what the heck they’re talking about.
  • Feeling part of a Twitter conversation. Even though some lamented that the #cccc10 hashtag wasn’t very active, it was the most real-timey I’ve ever been on Twitter, and that was exciting.
  • Getting the idea for a Fandom SIG. Excited to see if that will play out for next year!

Best Food

  • The Mayan Cafe
  • Kashmir (Indian food)
  • Za’s (pizza)

Other Blog Posts on CCCC 10

I’m glad to post more, of course, but this is all that have naturally flowed my way so far.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

DJ Spooky on Remix Literacy

After some nudges from a professor, I’ve finally picked up two of DJ Spooky’s books: Rhythm Science and his edited collection Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture. Both are fun, beautiful books with accompanying CDs that I haven’t listened to yet.

Rhythm Science is especially interesting to look at: it’s published almost like a book of avant-garde poetry, with words and images sprinkled around the pages, framing the “main text” in a visual collage. (It’s all in two obnoxious colors of green and brown that start becoming unobnoxious once mashed together with each other.) Even better, the whole book has a circular hole through the middle, cutting back to where the CD rests in the back on a flimsy sticky pad that has already come undone–perhaps adding glue and scratches to the CD, leading to new, unintended sonic directions. Fun!

It smells funny, too.

Here’s a quote:

Saying that people are literate means that they have read widely enough to reference texts, to put them in a conceptual framework. They are capable of creating an overview. This kind of literacy exists in the musical arena, too. The more you have heard, the easier it is to find links and to recognize quotations. To specialize in either music or literature you need months, years of reading or listening to music. But the difference is that people have a more emotional approach toward music. If you don’t like a book, you put it aside after the first few pages. As for the philosophical or theoretical component in my music, I do know that average kids from the street are probably not aware of the connections between Derrida’s deconstructions and turntablism’s mixes, but it’s there if they ever come looking, and my own writings are a place to start.

That settles it: I’ll one day have to name an article / write a song / make a t-shirt with the phrase “It’s there if they ever come looking.”

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

What Did He Just Say?

Via @cshirky‘s Twitter feed, I recently learned about the BBC’s Digital Revolution Short Film Competition. Here’s how they describe it:

For the first time ever, uncut video for a BBC documentary series, is online NOW for YOU to download and re-edit. Cut it, clip it, mash it, animate it, make fun of it if you like. It’s free to use.

Awesome stuff–especially because remix contests that I’ve seen often ask contestants to remix music or video that is largely valued for its artistry (or its “poetics”). (Total Recut’s video remix challenge is an exciting exception.) That’s supercool, and I love those remixes to pieces. But I’m especially interested in the challenges involved with remixing something that didn’t have a primarily artistic purpose to begin with–in this case, documentary footage of smart people talking about digital culture. Yes, the shots are “artistic” in that they were carefully composed, well produced, etc.–but they weren’t designed with the same kind of purpose and aesthetics as a Radiohead song or a Weezer video, which I think makes the remix process different too.

Here’s the video that Shirky tweeted (in which he shows up for a couple seconds!):

This kind of playful misrepresenting reminds me of a favorite practice of some friends of mine in 8th and 9th grade: we would take an old karaoke machine (two tape decks and two mic inputs), hand a mic to a friend, and hit record. Then we’d interview the friend (including, at one point, @RachelleLacroix), trying to get him/her to say as many awkward, sexually perverse (8th grade, remember?), and rude things as possible.  Then I would sit down by myself with the tape, listening carefully for anything I could twist to make it sound like the interviewee was saying something s/he wasn’t. Typical fare was the interviewee saying something like, “My dog, my mom, my dad, all my friends,” which I would reedit as the answer to something like, “Who do you [sleep with] every day?” (8th grade! Remember that!)

What I’d really like to do is go back and ask 8th-grade Kyle what he was listening for in that moment of reediting, scouring the raw recording for something that would seem funny. Without using these words, I must have been attuned to my audience (knowing what they would find funny, and thus score me cool points), running quickly through many possible narratives in my head (wondering which answers would most profit from the funniest questions), all the while striving for a humorous organization and pace (so it would feel right in terms of both individual jokes and larger context, as a “bit”). How would Cassetteboy, who made the video above, answer those questions differently, I wonder?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Yancey on Information Literacy

I just got back from the 6th Annual Georgia Conference on Information Literacy in tree-lined, square-happy Savannah. Proof that this is a lovely place for a conference: a brief Tweet that I was there (which updates my Facebook status as well) received 7 dreamy-eyed, jealous comments on Facebook in 4 hours, which for me is pretty high traffic. (My favorite: “I love Savannah! My stepfather’s twin brother is a Benedictine monk, and there’s a military school there where all the monks taught.”)

(If you’re saying “Your conference was on what kind of literacy?” you could check out this handy page from the Association of College and Research Libraries. Their short definition: “Information Literacy is the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information.”)

I’ll write later about my presentation on remix literacies; here, I’d like to respond briefly to Kathleen Blake Yancey‘s boundary-pushing keynote address (handout). (By the way, I wish I had Yancey’s delivery: a clear, crisp voice, with punchy sentences and never any hesitation. Maybe she’ll give me delivery pointers when she visits USF this spring. Probably fewer parentheses would help.)

Much of her talk contrasted two models of access to information:

  1. The Victoria and Albert Museum model, which, though awesome in its own way for its own time, is inherently restrictive: readers take the time to go to its “cathedral of knowledge” on its terms.
  2. Our entirely new world of information online, which requires new maps and new education and new searching strategies, and which is inherently open, unstructured by time, and accessible.

To this conference crowd of mostly library faculty (with plenty of rhet/comp folks sprinkled in for good luck), perhaps Yancey’s most provocative point was her insistence on teaching content along with information literacy skills. It doesn’t make sense to teach someone how to search a database as though the topic of the search were meaningless, much as it doesn’t make sense to teach someone how to organize a paragraph as though the purpose, audience, and context of the paragraph were meaningless. She pointed out that without content, students don’t see the whole “map” of the information they seek, and therefore don’t learn the big picture–they only learn how to get from point A to point B.

But for me, of all the things I could go into here, I’m especially interested in her 3 categories of sources that might make up an information ecology: there are academic sources (from journals, scholarly books, etc.), mainstream sources (from Time, Malcolm Gladwell, USA Today, etc.), but also alternative sources–anything from The National Enquirer to a blog about science–i.e., anything that doesn’t fit comfortably in the first two categories.

Research these days is necessarily going to encounter all of these types of sources; we can’t simply say to students, “You can only use sources that are academic, from .edu websites, with no advertisements, with reputable authors.” Sometimes the info on mainstream and alternative sources is provocative, worthwhile, and (gasp!) even correct, reputable, important, etc. The trick is that–get this–the reader actually has to read the sources s/he finds and make judgments about them–it’s not a simple one-size-fits-all process!  And that is where students often miss the boat.

I think I’ve been waiting for someone (reputable…*grin*) to say this for a while. After all, when I research online, I blend these kinds of sources all the time; like Chris Anderson, I go to Wikipedia a lot, and don’t feel bad about doing so. I’ve struggled to teach students ways of research that more closely mirror the “real-world” stuff I do all the time, but it’s been hard. Yancey’s paradigm will help, methinks.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized