Design - A Critical Literacy

I wrote a draft of this piece a few months ago and just found it laying around in my Evernote.  Thought I would share. :)
Design - A Critical Literacy


Information abounds and we are surrounded by it.  What's more, it seems that everyone has an opinion and a corresponding metaphor for the amount and density of the information that is consistently and perpetually available to us.  Some would say we are actually engulfed in information.  Others that we are swimming, or better yet, drowning in information.  Still others would record that we are in fact addicted to our connection with our information - via the newspapers, magazines, journals, web sites, blogs, and various social networking websites that we read and consume.  (There's another metaphor - as if information could be served alongside a side salad.)  The fact that many of us carry mini-computers on our person at all times helps to solidify our point: information is everywhere and ever-present.  And it's not going away and most certainly not going to decrease anytime soon.


What does the role of the teacher/educator look like when information abounds as a result of our access to technologies?


At this juncture I could pick up any number of complaints or cheers to the amount of information available to us and our relationships with it.  Assuming that, in general, I view this abundance of knowledge to be positive, I believe that there is a piece missing from the conversation about new literacies.  Design.


Literacy, as it is understood by many, means the ability to read and write.  When you look back to it's original meaning (based on the noun "literate") you will find that it's not just about being able to read and write - it means to be educated, learned.  To be educated and learned in 2010 educators must be fluent and comfortable with their duties as creators, organizers, and designers.

Although not the first to make this distinction, Mayer (2009) discusses the differences in the processes (that are greatly influenced by our values and beliefs) of learning and teaching of knowledge or information: remembering (retention) and understanding (near/far transfer).  Ultimately our goal for students is to build a foundation of remembering and retention of information while encouraging and supporting their abilities to understand, transfer, and apply that knowledge to new and different problems and situations.  Some have claimed (in much the same way that was done for radio, movies, and television) that Web 2.0, cloud computing, virtual worlds, and gaming will in and of themselves change the way we educate.  I have no doubt that they will indeed change the game, but we must be sure we know what game we are playing.  Instead of allowing the technology to drive instruction we must take back the reigns of pedagogy and methodology and figure out how the technology can work to our advantage.  Teachers must begin to think of themselves as designers.


By taking a step back and looking into the past it is easy to think of teachers as designers.  Teachers have for some time designed their classrooms, their syllabi, activities, and assessments.  I am encouraging an extension of this metaphor to empower educators to use technology to help design learning environments and cultures that are accessible, rich in content, meaning, and passion, and infused with technology.


In a graduate course that I am helping to redesign, the participants are future and current K-12 teachers as well as future training and development professionals.  At its core, this course is aimed at helping these participants to begin to see themselves as designers of learning spaces via the use of new technologies.  These could include traditional web design, Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis, and social networking, virtual worlds, and cloud computing.  I want to make sure the students to leave the course feeling not only knowledgeable but empowered to create and design learning experiences that meet the needs of the future.


Nothing that I have shared above is dramatically different from the ongoing conversation within the research community about how to study and identify best practices for integrating new literacies into educational settings.  What I hope I have done, however, is to shift the conversation in the direction of using the technology to meet our needs rather than creating learning activities that are technology-driven.  There is a great deal of information out there, and I believe that excellent teachers are and will be creators and designers of incredible structures for helping students access, understand and evaluate all of it.


Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

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