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Literacy as a Social Practice

Chapter 1 Reflection

New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Social Learning

by Colin Lankshear & Michele Knobel

Lankshear & Knobel’s insights into the social nature of literacy are illuminating for me in multiple facets of my professional and academic worlds. As a learning experience designer and an arts educator, I am gaining a clarified understanding of how creating pathways to share and celebrate identity, culture and experiences are essential to learning and development. Storytelling is an act of preservation that is deeply rooted in traditions and cultures around the world, and the social nature of storytelling creates the dynamic environment and pathways in which learners can develop new literacies and document ideas. In the museum gallery, stories bring art objects to life and inspire individuals to make personal connections to not only the artwork but also to the people around them that share their own stories. In the collective knowledge of a large group of educators lies a vast amount of experience and information that can be shared with new members. Lankshear & Knobel summarize James Paul Gee to say that “From a sociocultural perspective, literacy is a matter of social practices. Literacies are bound up with social, institutional and cultural relationships, and can be understood only when they are situated within their social, cultural and historical contexts”. This very much relates to heritage conservation, a theme I am exploring through my experiences and participation with digital storytelling and DS106.

Another parallel I found in chapter one of New Literacies relates to Howard Rheingold’s twenty-first-century literacies based on social media. These five literacies are identified as: attention, participation, cooperation/collaboration, critical consumption, and network awareness. Earlier this year, the National Core Arts Standards were released in an effort to align learning in visual and performing arts with the Common Core Standards. A major focus of the new arts standards is the development of ‘artistic literacy’. The philosophical foundations and life-long goals of the standards envision the arts in five disciplines: as communication, creative personal realization, in support of culture, history and connectors, a means to well being and community engagement. This focus on literacy and collective, networked approach toward learning is supported through the participation of the arts as well.

Mindfulness in our attention is a concept that strikes a chord with me. After participating in multiple philosophy courses in my undergraduate experience, I began to question why we do not have philosophical critical thinking courses earlier in our educational pathways. Being mindful, and practicing critical consumption of media, is a necessary skill that transcends subject matter and various areas of life. Lankshear & Knobel again refer to Rheingold and say that “the literacy of ‘critical consumption’ is predicated on the fact that knowing how to pose questions to a search engine for seeking information must be buttressed with knowing how to evaluate the quality of the results”. If we are to create open, social networks of knowledge and experience through storytelling, we must also be able to navigate this vast amount of information critically. My view of digital storytelling is formative, but I am excited about the possibilities of open, collaborative learning and the part that storytelling can play.

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