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If Youth Digital Literacy is only about the Status Quo, it's no use to us for long

A few months ago, I read the Youth and Digital Skills Symposium: Preparing young Canadians to make social, economic and cultural contributions  Framing Document and, well, really, it's all about how adults see the world now. So little of it seems to be how youth will be able to shape their world the day after tomorrow. 

The authors acknowledge that emerging techologies "challenge educational institutions to keep pace and to develop curriculum..." but of course it also challenges the very existence of those insitutions and they don't seem willing to acknowledge that!

There is lots of talk about  

"the advanced creative and technical abilities that are needed to fuel innovation" but we can't predict how innovation will occur in a future digital society so this emphasis on "innovation" becomes too much a reflection of the status quo to be useful.  

As they go on to discuss why we need a ligitally literate youth population there are continuing references to "economy" as if that is a equal, or even dominant component of society instead of considering economy as merely part of how a society organizes itself. There are continuing assumptions that digital literacy is based on an assumption that information and knowledge will reflect the current status quo. 

Among the section entitled "where do we stand" there is a telling passage that discusses youth consider technology jobs to be dull, anti-social and generally unattractive, Further, this document stresses that overcoming these perceptions is important and that "educators and industry have a particularly important role to play helping youth understand how technology works, why it matters, and the opportunities that are emerging". It becomes apparent that this document is, so far, really only about getting youth to pursue technology training and technology careers and that the reasons to do so are all about status-quo economic questions (maintaining the current national economic model, for example) and about some concepts of goal competitiveness. It presume that the current shape of society (technologically, economically, socially, or otherwise) is an ideal that must be maintained. I'm just not convinced that this is true. 

There is a discussion of "hard" competencies (IT, database, and other directly related skills) and soft competencies ("adaptability, interpersonal communication, problem-solving, and relationship-building"). It strikes me as I read this that "soft" are actually most likely to be of long-term value but that "hard" are only short-term. Other "hard" skills will replace them as the construction and use of digital technology changes over time. If I was advising a millennial youth, I would strongly advise them to obtain the soft competencies for long-term viability and train for hard skills when and as they are useful. Of course, I am not a career advisor. Perhaps this is why. To be fair, they do offer a few sentences to the broad "21st century skills" of "learning, innovation, literacy, and life" but, as you can imagine, they don't offer much about how to acquire those beyond suggesting that they can be fostered through arts education. 

One thing bugged me during most of my reading of this and related documents but I couldn't put my finger on it at first: they continually conflate "society" and "economy". They're not both the same thing! They don't explain, or even acknowledge that their discussion is it all about the "Economy" and, in fact, with that term they only mean the current version of Canadian mainstream economy. There is no even hinting of that possibility that millennials could create a different economy. 

The document also refers to some "best practices" in the shape of the MacArthur foundation's Digital Media and Learning initiative  , and the allied Connected Learning Research Network  (allied to the Connected Learning Alliance ) and this is where it really gets interesting. These initiatives have a  larger, broader, less status-quo perspective. To some extent (and reading between the lines) they are Willing to see learning as possibly completely different in the 21st century.

Among these initiatives there are very interesting studies and observations about the power of peer communities online, for example: http://clrn.dmlhub.net/content/the-powerful-combination-of-interests-and-peer-culture. The discussion is about how these communities are "affirming passions, motivating learning, and driving participation in activities, production, and opportunities." I wonder how much further that motivated learning moves into the sphere of knowledge and information-transfer. Does it begin to replace authority of documented knowledge with the authority of the knowledge within a peer community. I suspect it does. 


Here's a revealing paragraph:

 "The diversity of cases that we’ve delved into have given us a new opportunity to interrogate what the barriers and challenges are to getting youth interests connected to adult-facing opportunities. We’ve seen that the winding pathways through which interests are cultivated, abandoned, altered, and revisited create challenges for researchers who are working to document that outcome of interest-driven learning and educators who seek to support it. Further, the specific nature of the interest, and the culture and identity associated with it have a strongly determinist effect on whether that interest can be productively connected to schools, careers, and civic engagement. For example, gamers and boy band fans may be learning a tremendous amount through their interest-driven engagements, but both the youth participants and the parents and teachers in their lives may be resistant to seeing these activities as academically relevant. The cases also demonstrate how the devil is in the details of how particular communities and programs are organized, and creating a high-functioning connected learning environment requires constant tending and adaptation." (http://clrn.dmlhub.net/content/a-new-year-and-a-new-book). 

 Note that (at least one of) the measures of success are whether the learning that results from these online communitiese leads to "academic" or "schools, careers, and civic engagement". This is less status-quo, it seems to me, than the Youth Digital Literacy symposium but it still is about driving the youth learning back to institutional-based structures, instead of using this new understanding of online peer-communities to drive the institutions towards peer-communities. Further, I would say that if the institutions themselves can't be driven towards these communities, then the community functions that these institutions are there to look after have to be driven towards the online communities without the institutions. It brings me again to the problem that institutions of many types (but especially education institutions) are in danger when they try to deflect or subvert online communities to maintain the Institution's own community functions. 

One of the organizing agencies is "MediaSmarts", a media education agency, who have a sensible model for digital Literacy. Beyond the fact of basic "access" there are three concepts of increasing literacy: "Use" of a variety of digital media software applications and hardware devices, , then then critical "Understanding" of digital media content and applications, and finally the knowledge and capacity for "Creation" with digital technology. It's encouraging that, among the many factors they list as part of the concept of "creataion", they include "pooling knowledge" and "distributed cognition" which both lead me to be hopeful that they understand, at least  to some degree that what we understand to be knowledge  in a document-centric intellectual world may no longer be the way that future generations store and transmit their knowledge and understanding.

 It is encouraging at least to see that the CLRN discussions and blog posts are all about community-centred and peer-enhanced learning.

From this passage: 

These members’ discourses and positioning invite questions and reflections on learner identities, the importance of “ownership” over their learning, and the traditional discourses of schooling and education to which such discourses may be a response. The connected learning environments of the Wrestling Boards and Hogwarts at Ravelry facilitate learning within an interest and also empower learners to claim their learning as their own. Connected learning creates an atmosphere where self-directed learning can flourish. (http://clrn.dmlhub.net/content/self-directed-learning-in-online-connected-learning-environments)

We can see lots of insight into the power of learning (both self-motivated and community-engabled) in an online environment. With all these examples, I'm really curious to know what the researchers found about learning that crosses boundaries from the specific fields of enquiry (wrestling and knitting, in the research pursued at CLRN) to general, learning for life, where online-learners apply the techniques they have acquired for learning in these specific subject-based communities to a broader sense about the knowledge repositories for what you need to get through life. That is, the stuff that institutions of learning and information have traditionally had a monopoly on within western documentary-based societies. 

This looks closer to the kind of study about youth and connected knowledge that I'm looking for: http://clrn.dmlhub.net/projects/the-class -- although it's not clear whether there's too much emphasis on "children and safety on the internet" and less focus on children and knowledge on the internet. 




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