Monday, November 28, 2005

Reflection on "Growing Up Digital"

This writing is a reflection on The Culture of Ineraction, the 4th chapter of the book Growing Up Digital, by Don Tapscott.

Mr. Tapscott writes about N-Gen communities of cyber families and friends, gender differences showing increased use by girls, N-Gen language usage and short-hand for contextual nuances of emotion [termed Smileys; e.g., :) ]. and the critical nature of netiquette. This is all very interesting and enlightening. However, the aspect of the article most interesting to me is the compilation of The 10 Themes of N-Gen Culture. These are as follows:

1. Fierce Independence
2. Emotional and Intellectual Openness
3. Inclusion
4. Free Expression and Strong Views
5. Innovation
6. Preoccupation with Maturity
7. Investigation
8. Immediacy
9. Sensitivity to Corporate Interest
10. Authentication and Trust

What I find fascinating is the incredible reversal from the experience of the previous generation (Generation X) to the current N-Gen generation. Generation X has been the culmination of a trend in which "adolescence" has stretched farther and farther in terms of age; i.e., adoloescence has stretched into the 20 and 30 year range as demands to enter adulthood have seemingly withdrawn.

Now, however, there seems to be an impetus that is reversing this trend. Prior to the 20th century, teenagers were expected to do an adult's job on the farm, in the family business, etc. Working in an adult's job seemed to lead to adult behavior, interaction, and responsibilities. The internet has provided a new landscape in which teenagers are not working in the adult world, but they are communicating in the adult world. A world in which these teenagers are often, in fact, more comfortable than the older generation. This interaction seems to be having the effect of kids "growing up" more quickly.

Whether this is positive, negative, or a mixed bag is debatable. It does seem that gaining the skills and attitudes listed in the "10 themes" is a great deal more positive than other examples of kids "growing up" quickly -- namely commiting violent crimes, using drugs, and having sex at younger and younger ages. What is of further interest is that this potentially positive phenomena may make the older generation uncomfortable for different reasons; i.e., not because of how horrible the world is becoming due to the younger generation, but discomfort at being less competent than the younger generation in this new internet world.

A Teacher Impact Story

I have had many wonderful teachers, and I would love to say that the greatest impact on my life has been from a positive experience with a teacher. Unfortunately, I do not feel this is true.

When I was a graduate student in a large (unnamed) university drama department, I became concerned about the relationship between many of the students and some of the faculty. I felt that the morale of the students in the department was steadily eroding. The department turnover among the faculty was also alarming. The brightest and most enthusiastic members of the faculty seemed to leave [be driven off] after only a year or two.

I was teaching classes as a graduate student; a lead in the department's current production; working an outside, part-time job; and editing the programs for all the department productions. I had stayed out of department politics because I just don't like that sort of thing and I assumed I could fly underneath it all.

Well, I finally went to a professor and told him I was concerned about the mood of those in the graduate program. I felt I was simply attempting to provide a communication bridge. Just a week earlier I had gone to the head of the department to report an incident in which a faculty member had actually slapped a graduate student during a rehearsal. That person was fired... and I liked him! Anyway, after I spoke to this (other) professor the next thing I know is I am called into the department chair's office and accused of spreading rumors and causing discontent. The day after the play I was performing came back from its contest appearance I was fired. I was called again into the chair's office and presented with a list of 10 incredibly ludicrous accusations against me which were cited as the basis for my termination - it was already a done deal.

I am not sure that I am explaining this fully or as well as I perhaps should. If you have any question or want clarification please ask for it.

A couple of months later a teacher who had already secured another position at a different school approached me and apologized for not defending me, even though he knew he should have. He simply was too concerned with getting out with a positive recommendation to risk it. This experience was definitely educational for me. It did however leave some scars and created a setback that I have not yet overcome. Hopefully, I will get to a place in which I do feel that I have not been handicapped by this experience.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Reflecting on Elizabeth Daley's "Expanding the Concept of Literacy"

This reflection is in response to Elizabeth Daley's article published in the 2003 March/April edition of EDUCAUSEreview, p. 33-40.

Ms. Daley begins by giving the commonly held meaning of literacy, which she defines as "the ability to read and write, to understand information and to express ideas both concretely and abstractly. The unstated assumption is that 'to read and write' means to read and write text." Her thesis is that this definition does a severe disservice to media literacy and computer literacy. She also notes that when asking about the nature of language, the "underlying assumption, so accepted that it is never stated, is that language means words." I have to say that I have fallen unwittingly into these common meanings. I now have a chance to gather my wits and examine my definitions.

While (overall) I do not disagree with her thought-provoking and intelligent treatment of this subject, I have to say that I am reluctant to throw my old concept of literacy onto the compost pile. I would still say that literature, literally (word for word), means words that are, or can be, in text form; i.e., books, poems, plays, or sources of written informaton. However, I also think that literacy can mean more than a wide-ranging knowledge of traditional literature, including computer literacy. The ability to fully use computers, after all, depends primarily upon being able to understand and utilize written words.

I realize that children are often incredibly adept at navigating computers through the use of pictures or symbols; however, I would not say they are fully computer literate. This does point out that the visual language of computers is largely keyed to symbols. Language, as opposed to literature, is difficult to separate. Computers are, perhaps, blurring these lines more than ever before.

The written "words" that must be navigated in computer literacy are not always a traditional language. The programming of computers involves a language of its own. This brings me to a disagreement with Ms. Daley's assertion regarding the definition of language. Language is not pervasively assumed to mean only words. Language has already been expanded to essentially mean a form or style of communication. There is sign language, body language, the language of love, etc. Different forms of art are styles of communication, and thus, may be broadly termed "languages." Therefore, the interplay and communication of multiple medias described by
Ms. Daley already falls within the definition of language. Indeed, she, herself, seems to acknowledge this by using the term the "language of art" (p. 35). This term has been around long before film and computers.

This quibbling over definitions does not negate the important points proposed by Ms. Daley. It simply seems that Ms. Daley has sought to create an "against the establishment" scenario to emphasize her position.

Ms. Daley's four main points are as follows:
  1. The multimedia language of the screen has become the current vernacular.
  2. The multimedia language of the screen is capable of constructing complex meanings independent of text.
  3. The multimedia language of the screen enables modes of thought, ways of communicating and conducting research, and methods of publication and teaching that essentially differ from those of text.
  4. Lastly, those who are truly literate in the 21st Century will be those who learn to both read and write the multimedia language of the screen.

I essentially agree with these broad assertions; however, being truly literate in the 21st century does not mean being only able to read and write in this multimedia format. In my mind, a literate person would incorporate this modern language of the screen while also having an awareness and understanding of traditional literature.

Quote Note

Thankfully I didn't misquote; although I did shorten it by one word. Here is the full quote (plus the name and corrected date) I mentioned in my previous entry.

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."

Charles H. Duell, U.S. Patent Office Director, 1899.

Once again, I wish the best for you.


Monday, November 14, 2005

In Considering Integrating Technology in the Classroom

In considering the integration of technology into classrooms, I love the comments given by Governor Angus King of Maine. His quote is as follows, "In many ways, this is a ridiculous debate. Of course every child in America is going to have a digital device at his or her desk [in school]. Of course. We'll all get together at the nursing home and laugh about that quaint debate we had... about laptops (April 26, 2005)."

For those who believe otherwise about this inevitability, I provide this quote from the head of the U.S. Patent Office circa 1900, "Everything that can be invented, has been." I am quoting from memory so don't burn me in effigy if I have misquoted slightly... I will double check my written source shortly.

Though I appreciate his comments and agree with his foresight, this does not mean that I feel comfortable or adequate in this technological future. I am a cowboy who doesn't feel all that great about those cars racing by on the new highway. I already feel overwhelmed by being a new teacher with a beautiful new baby girl (8 months - thanks for asking) with extracurricular theatre and speech/debate and in graduate school and my wife's in nursing school and I commute 2 hours a day and... my Mom taught Honor's English and will kill me if she sees this horrible sentence out there for all the world to read.

Anyway, Good wishes for everyone out there