Monthly Archives: September 2011

Networked Learning and New Media Literacies

The question of whether teaching methods, and curriculum in general need to be modified to prepare students for the 21st century workplace is an easy one. Yes. We live in an age where there is more information available for students about any given subject than ever before. Yet, we continue to teach them the same information that has been taught for more than a century using essentially the same teaching methods.
I have been following the work of Donald Leu of the New Literacies Research Team at UConn for quite some time now, and I have come to recognize that reading and writing via new media devices requires different skills than were formerly necessary when all of our reading and writing was done on paper (Leu, 2009). Yet, most schools neglect to teach any of the new skills that students will be required to have when they enter the workforce. Today, most employers won’t look at a paper resume. Resume’s and cover letters in electronic format can be scanned for key words and discarded automatically if they lack those words before an employer ever sees it, saving much time over the older method of reading each paper resume that is received. If we don’t teach our young people how to properly write a digital resume, it will be impossible for them to get a job in the future. Further, much of a worker’s time today is spent using computers, and communication technologies to read and write online. Research is conducted via Internet searches rather than going to a library and looking things up in books. It is faster, and more efficient than the old way of finding information. Moreover, the cost of storing large paper files, the slow retrieval process, and the tremendous amount of space required for storage, along with ecological concerns are driving the workplace toward paperless solutions for their storage. Therefore, there is immediate value in teaching Media Literacy to students.
Having said that I recognize that there are two schools of thought about the value of a public or private education. One is definitely vocational. Schools are expected to prepare students to become the new job force. The second school of thought is that education is valuable itself regardless of whether it has a vocational component. Hence, some that subscribe to the second theory of education may argue that traditional education is valuable without adding New Media Literacies. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are enough to ensure that our students are getting a valuable education. To those people I would argue that even if it isn’t the education industry’s job to prepare students vocationally, there is still great value in introducing Media Literacy from an educational standpoint.
One of the hardest tasks that a teacher has is to keep each of his or her students engaged during lessons. Michael Wesch makes it clear that students are disenfranchised in the education system because it isn’t relevant to them (Wesch, 2008). However, when one introduces networked learning into a classroom system, students are invited to make the curriculum relevant. They become active members in their own learning, rather than passive listeners in a lecture-driven environment. In order to accomplish this kind of interactive setting where student engagement is enhanced it is imperative to prepare students to utilize computers and mobile communication devices by introducing New Media Literacies into the traditional literacy curriculum.
I believe that implementing PLEs and Web 2.0 tools can effectively change a learner’s attitude and motivation. By setting up their PLE, a student is effectively in charge of the content materials he or she is learning. Allowing some autonomy in the educational framework will empower the student to make the research relevant, thereby ensuring motivation. The teacher, of course, must be there to help steer the ship, but there is still enough freedom to engage the student’s natural interests and abilities.
Another thing that occurred to me is that networked learning allows each student in the classroom to work from his or her strengths nearly all of the time. Visual learners may include more video content in the PLE, where experiential learners have the freedom to create. Kinetic learners can adjust their position in the classroom, and move objects around on their computer screen to create workspaces that work for them.
It seems that the key components for 21st century schools would be access to computers and mobile communication devices for every student. Rather than telling students to put their Smartphones away, 21st century teachers should find ways to get students to utilize them as research and communications tools in place of using them as entertaining distractions. Learning should be research-based, not lectured out of a textbook. When a textbook is used, it should be an interactive eBook that includes video, and hyperlinks to sites where students can begin to gather their own information. Students should be able to incorporate their own notes directly in the textbooks, and even drag and drop in outside materials that make the learning relevant.
Assessment is an important part of education. When possible assessments should be made from research projects and written reports rather than standardized tests. When testing must be done, tests should be reflective of the student’s work. Lexile programs today can measure a student’s reading ability, and tailor the student’s history lessons in a way that they teach the content on a reading level that is appropriately challenging for the student. Similarly, programs should be used to create tests that reflect the student’s particular learning content, and test him or her appropriately for their field of study.
Having students learn in a social, networked environment allows each student to provide expertise to a collective project. When students have something to teach, it helps motivate them to learn more about their interests, thereby impacting their knowledge level, and willingness to participate in a project. It is clear to me that networked learning is a key to improving education both in the K-12 and college environments on different levels. Students need to increase their Media Literacy knowledge to become contributors to the database of information from which we can all learn.
Works Cited
Leu, D. (2009). The New Literacies Research Team at UConn. Retrieved August 18, 2010, from University of Connecticut:
Wesch, M. (Writer), & Wesch, M. (Director). (2008). A Portal to Media Literacy [Motion Picture].

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Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


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