Sunday, 20 February 2011

Week Four in Multiliteracies: The Sociopolitical Lens

Free Children of The Revolution Punk Girl With Fun Mohawk Creative Commons
Image on Flickr by D Sharon Pruitt

I am still very late with my Multiliteracies homework. And, yes, I am aware that the session is now officially over. However, one of the many good sides of online courses is that they remain online forever.

Week 4 looks at Multiliteracies through a sociopolitical lens. Everything we do has sociopolitical consequences, I suppose, especially if we distribute our content over the internet for millions to see.

Are millions going to see what we have distributed? Or is no one going to see what we have distributed? What is the real impact of what we are doing?

The fear that amateurs are going to destroy our beautiful planet's culture and education by writing in bad English (or Spanish, or German, or whatever) and by trying to pass their mediocre work as art is, in my opinion, unfounded. Nobody is going to read your content if your content is bad. On the other hand, the chances of you winning the Nobel Prize for literature for your blog are... Well, what do you think?

Chances are, you'll end up talking to the people who share your professional interests, your hobbies and your passions.

Enter www. For, those people could be living on the other end of the globe and the chances of you meeting them would have been next to nothing 20 years ago. Now you can cooperate with them and learn with them. You can even create together.

What is the impact of this on education? These are the questions asked in the Multiliteracies wiki:

  • What key literacies should we be teaching students in a digital world?, but also
  • To what extent is it the responsibility of educators to teach/coach these literacies?
  • Are there any drawbacks or dangers in teaching/coaching these literacies?

I am not sure I know the answers to these questions, so I will just think out loud here. I have always seen teaching as a two-way process. I learn something new every day from my students. The other day, for example, I found out that Rene Magritte's The Son of Man was a self-portrait. One of my students surfed to Wikipedia on his mobile phone and found that out. I had never asked him to do it (we were simply discussing the painting), but the way he found that information was completely natural.

Watching him do it made me think of something and that made me say out loud what I was thinking of:

Is it still necessary for us to fill our heads with lots and lots of data, when we have all the information we might need at our fingertips?

And what should we be teaching instead?

I am not one of those pessimists who think teachers are an endangered species and will become extinct once students learn how to create their own PLNs and PLEs. Because, to learn how to get the most out of their PLNs and PLEs, they need us, their teachers to teach them how to sift through information, how to pull the content they need and how to connect to the right people. In the other words, we need to teach them how to be multiliterate. I don't think digital natives are born with these skills, nor do they develop these skills through connecting with their friends on social networks.

However, if the teaching species is to survive, we need to evolve. I love new technology, but I know a lot of my colleagues do not share my enthusiasm. This is all right, you don't have to spend four hours on the internet every day to be multiliterate. The wonderful thing about PLNs is that people will support you even if you are not there all the time.

Teachers are adaptable and love learning. There are a lot of teachers online and our profession has really benefited from new technologies. Why, then, do we see no change in the way schools and universities are organised?

This is where the concept of edupunk comes in.

This is what the Mulitliteracies wiki says about edupunk:

And now for something complEATly different. The concept of edupunk suggests that there are issues regarding new technologies not being addressed by institutional learning, and it also suggests an 'in your face' approach to resolving some of these issues by stepping around the established authority and just doing it. This week we'll consider what some of these ill-addressed issues are, and we'll ask: when is it justified to simply take off on one's own tangent on the assumption that this is best for one's students? What are the up- and downsides to such an approach? In what way is this a multiliteracies issue? Participants should enjoy addressing the question: Do you feel that you, or anyone for that matter, is, are, or should be an edupunk?

I will try to answer the questions here.

When is it justified to simply take off on one's own tangent on the assumption that this is best for one's students?

Well, see, I am not a rebel. I use prescribed books and follow my school's curriculum. There is nothing bad in that. If I decide to do something more for my students and with my students, I am sure nobody is going to object. As for the second part of the question ( "on the assumption that this is best for one's students"), I don't take that for granted, either. It is their learning process, not mine. My role as the teacher is to offer, but I can't learn instead of them. I learnt this in my early internet days. Back then, I tried to get the students blogging and I was a little too enthusiastic about it. They saw blogging as additional workload and just ignored me.

Nowadays I just present my wikis to them and wait. Some of them decide to join me, a lot of them never do. I teach adults, which means that my students are not digital natives and some of them are actually technophobes. It was worse three years ago, but now people are catching up. I think the fact that I am not pushing this into their faces helps.

In what way is this a multiliteracies issue?

I don't think wanting to change the educational system is solely a multiliteracies issue. As I have said somewhere in this post, technology is just a tool. However, being blind to technology and refusing to admit it is there is not a good idea if you are an educator.

Educational institutions and educational policies have always been behind what happened "in the real world". They have also always been behind what ordinary teachers did in their very ordinary classrooms. I know, my mother was a teacher too. One thing I learnt from her is that, in order to be a good teacher, you need to break a couple of rules. I don't believe that institutions will change overnight but, by the time they do, the teachers will be more than ready.

This post has taken a ridiculously long time to write. I tried to work out my answers for the questions posed in the Multiliteracies wiki. I guess I don't have the answers. One of the reasons for this could be the fact that I never thought about the bigger picture when I got addicted to online learning. I still can't bring myself to think about the bigger picture. The global ELT community is like a village now. Everybody knows everybody else and you keep bumping into the same people over and over again. What we are doing here is just a ripple in the ocean, but it is a start.

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Sneza said...

Well, my friend, I find this worth reading! I was intrigued by the title of your post. Knowing you so well, I was wondering.... To cut the long story short, great job!

Natasa said...

Thank you, my friend. Multiliteracies is a great course. I am planning on taking it again next year.

Vance Stevens said...

I am glad someone is taking seriously the notion that these courses never, or should never, end. This is the whole point, isn't it. And no suprise that we have vestiges of old courses in there. The Selber book was the one I started off with in 2004. But it's wonderful you have found items of relevance there. And edupunk I believe, punk in general, seems to be a notion to shake the foundations just enough that people at least question their values a little bit. Which is what you have done here :-) Glad to have you with us!

Natasa said...

Vance, this is such an old post that it is good to see it is still relevant. I worked very hard on these Multiliteracies posts two years ago (much harder than this year, I have to admit). I did it because I was trying to make sense of things and clarify them to myself. This method worked for me.


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