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Posts Tagged ‘New Media Literacy’

Participatory Learning Culture & the CMS

June 19th, 2008 jonmott Comments

Henry Jenkins was the closing keynote at the NMC Conference last week. Jenkins provided his latest thoughts and observations about today’s “participatory culture.” While individuals have greater capacity than ever before to appropriate, repurpose, remix and publish “new” content, Jenkins argues that this phenomenon is not as new as sometimes think. In fact, he argues, Herman Melville “remixed” themes from the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton and whaling culture to create Moby Dick. Today’s participatory culture, though, differs from what prevailed in Milton’s day in several important ways. Today’s culture is characterized by:

  • Relatively low barriers for engagement
  • Strong support for sharing creations with others
  • Informal mentorships
  • Participants believe their contributions matter
  • Participants care about others’ opinions of them and their work

In the world of social networking and self-publishing, traditional definitions of “teacher” and “learner” and the relationships between them are passé. Jenkins is fronting an important and promising effort to address the “new media literacy” competencies that are required to flourish in today’s participatory culture. But what I found most striking as I listened to his talk was the gap between the technologies that are most readily available on most college campuses today and the technologies that under gird the participatory culture of the “real world.”

I have argued in a previous post that course management systems are generally ill-designed to facilitate a transformation of teaching and learning practices. Jenkins’ keynote served to further crystallize this view in my mind. To illustrate just how far the average CMS is away from providing the infrastructure for a participatory learning culture, think about how students, teachers and learning activities are defined in most CMSs. First students only exist inside courses. They have no presence (i.e. roles or relationships) outside of a course. There is no learning space that bridges or transcends the course. At most institutions, when a semester is over, the student might well have never existed in the system. He or she cannot login and see past course work, reconnect with classmates, etc. One promising change in this equation is the emergence of e-portfolio tools (especially when integrated with CMSs) which allow students to collect artifacts of their learning as they go along, maintaining a record of their learning across courses. On balance, however, the technology still doesn’t do much to foster an environment in which learners are active, creative participants in the learning process. (Think about what about when students graduate. What happens then?)

The role of teachers is much the same. They don’t exist outside of a course. And courses are generally the be-all and end-all of “learning act ivies” inside CMSs. There’s no space for learning that transcends and aggregates learning from individual courses. There’s little if any space for programmatic learning, support of general education, metacognition, informal learning, lifelong learning, etc.

In the future I see, course management systems will not (or at least should not) exist. They should be replaced with learning management systems or, better yet, with learning network environments in which students can create and manage their own personal learning environments, unlimited by course schedules, course rosters, etc. Academic technologists (and software developers) should quit looking for new and more efficient ways of automating the past. Instead, we should be facilitating more open, flexible and dynamic learning environments.

Digital Story-Telling

June 13th, 2008 jonmott Comments

I had the unique opportunity to attend a “digital story telling” workshop w/ Bill Frakes at the New Media Consortium 2008 Summer Conference. Frakes is a world-renowned photographer. He’s been a staff photog for Sports Illustrated for 13 years, so it’s safe to say he knows his way around a camera. (SI.com recently posted a “Bill Frakes’ Favorite Shots” gallery. Pretty amazing images.)

Among other things, he talked us though the process of setting up to shoot the Kentucky Derby. This remarkable undertaking was a blending of artistry & technical skill. Using 40 digital SLR cameras with remote controls & timers, the setup involved a variety of technologies. But Frakes actually had very little to offer by way of technical rules or recommendations for budding photographers / story-tellers. While high-tech cameras and computers are the tools of digital story-telling, he reminded us that the tools themselves don’t tell stories. Frakes encouraged us to think of the camera as an extension of our eyes and a way to “draw with light” the images that are meaningful to us so we can tell stories that matter. While he has the fortune of taking photos that are viewed by millions of people, as a digital story-teller he’s satisfied if any given image he takes is meaningful to one person. That’s not a bad sentiment for a photographer / story-teller. It reminds me that education is about “the one.”

By the way, Apple also did a demo of the new version of Aperture. Almost makes me wish I owned a Mac. They even handed out free copies of the software to conference attendees. I wonder where I can install and use it . . .