so what? - implications of emerging literacies for classrooms

the kind folks at the tc library organized a book talk focused on our recently published volume, and i was excited that two of the book's contributors - kelly wissman and michele knobel - were able to join me this afternoon. i wasn't quite sure what to expect or how to prepare: how exactly does one "do" a book talk; and what does it look like for an edited volume such as ours? as it turns out, such an event is much like some of my most favorite conference presentations and seminars: generative, participatory, and stimulating. i'm left wondering about what it might mean to take up some of the issues we raised in this volume in the context of web 2.0 technologies and the pervasiveness media distribution and user-generated content.

the afternoon went something like this:
i talked about how the book, as a project, evolved from coffee shop conversation between me and marc, to an opportunity to continue collaborating with friends and colleagues after graduate school, which involved securing a book contract with an accessible publisher and with the enthusiastic support of our series editors, and then inviting and following up with twelve respondents (two for each of six empirically-driven chapters), and finally (insert about a zillion editorial and formatting steps here) was sent off to fantasy-publication-land and came back as a bounded text. but it was all worth it, because the conversation about media and education was sorely lacking in texture. that is, as the chapters in the book reflect, media is more than television, radio, news, and magazine; technology goes beyond computers; and learning is not only what we can measure.
as we write in the intro,
"In this book, we have brought together a collection of studies that not only engage media explicitly but show the range and variation of what media is, how media technologies and media texts can be engaged in teaching/learning spaces, and the challenges raised amidst the possibilities that new media and the emerging multimodal landscape hold for education." (p. 7)
"As the chapters in this volume will show, learning occurs across contexts and through engagement with varied texts, resources, and roles. Beyond merely addressing learning as it is defined through statewide standards or other performance measures, these chapters raise questions about what is learned, for what purposes, and through what means. The authors consider the new relationships, identities, texts, and discourses that emerge as teaching/learning sites themselves. They recognize that “[t]he burden is on us, adults, to carve out ‘spaces,’ to inspire a sense of the ‘not yet,’ to reinvent schools and communities that are engaging for young people” (Fine, 1997, pp.214—215), and that are reflective of who young people are." (p. 7-8)
kelly then read from her chapter, in which she has written about photography as a social practice, extending the social practice metaphor from new literacy studies. drawing on her work with adolescent girls within the context of a photography and literacy elective course she taught in an urban high school, she writes,
"Unlike dominant models of photography instruction that conceive of photography as a set of discrete, technical skills to be mastered, I consider photography as a medium of seeing that is shaped by the social context, by identity, and by experience. Envisioning photography as a social practice recognizes that the images produced are not simply a transparent recording of reality; rather, the images encapsulate a particular framing of that reality that is highly intentional and unique to the individual photographer. Envisioning photography as a social practice also entails considering the social context in which images are produced and received and considering the shaping influence of those contexts on the images and interpretations of those images. To envision photography as a social practice also means to envision photographers as social beings with historical legacies, emergent identities, and social commitments, all of which can inform the production of the images." (p. 14)
these readings and musing gave way to a discussion about the nature of learning, the role of pedagogy, and the possibilities and constraints of embarking on the kind of work that is written about within the pages of our book in public school classrooms today. the data reported in the book was collected pre-web 2.0 era, which can be largely signified by a split in the ready access to mobile technologies - e.g., pre-handheld connectivity and post. i have lamented in the past that even the so-called "net gen" is reluctant to let go of deeply entrenched ideas about schooling - roles, relationships, teaching, learning; college-age youth who walk the walk of digital natives, but whose talking and walking when they enter classrooms reveals a split personality. how long can this walk-n-talk divide continue? that is, at what point will we stop having conversations about whether or not to wire classrooms? (and, as michele and/or colin notes, why wire when you can airport?)

still, the "so what?" remains. marjorie siegel, also in attendance, pushed us to consider why and how the wonderful kinds of learning, media engagement, reflexivity, and creativity in which the youth in the edited volume were engaged has implications for teachers. much like the recent movement toward a more public anthropology initiated by the council on anthropology and education, the impact on/for classrooms is a question/challenge that more of us (esp. literacies researchers) should embrace (and not shy away from, as i am prone to do...!). to that end, here are a couple of thoughts on the question of "so what?":
- the out-of-school literate lives of youth are rich, textured, and spaces full of new insights about learning
- the availability of multiple modes (of expression, communication, inquiry) affords new narratives and new ways of being
- the presence of new modalities for communication can shift the dynamics of power in teaching and learning relationships toward the elusive "with" pedagogical stance - e.g., teaching and learning with youth, with media...
- if we understand education to be situated in everyday interactions (see Varenne, 2007), then we can understand the creative practices of youth to be hallmarks of rigorous and thoughtful planning, preparation, assessment and achievement by youth as they engage in their education everyday. such spaces are rare within the
- (some) creative spaces turn schooling on its head by transforming the physical geography (the stuff that's around, location, how structures are situated in relation to each other) as well as the spatial dynamics (how objects are used, roles established) (see some creative workspaces)

the list is getting long and the hour is getting late and i suspect that this is just the beginning of a series of musings. so, on a hopeful note, i'll end this with a link to someone else's thoughts on seeeeeriously cool workplaces.

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