Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Tim McGee

link to the screencast

Tim McGee: The title of my presentation would lead you to believe that educators are not yet prepared for multi-literacy, and that it might be a big enough job that you can't just do it in one swipe.

I myself am an intellectual bureaucrat right now; I direct a couple of graduate programs, so I'm not actually working as a teacher. But I spent about 20 years of my life defining myself as a "techno-retirition", so I've specifically engaged in trying to use technologies to try and improve the communication skills of what were usually first year college students.

What I want to do is look at a group of educators who have, up until, now been charged with the communication skills of students. The group I'm going to look at is English secondary education teachers. I'm doing that for a couple of reasons, including this is the group that is last responsible for them before they go into college or go into the workplace, and also because English secondary education teachers, their curriculum represents the response of the university to what is the perceived need for communication skills in colleges or in the workplace.

This is the abstract that I've produced to present here. Here's another version of it, slightly larger. What I want to do is just focus on a couple of parts of it, including the definition of literacy that I hope will be relatively non-controversial; that this is what literacy used to be.

The next thing is the idea that with advent of digital computers, they create multi-literacy demands. Now this one could potentially be a little more controversial, because it might look like I somehow believe in technological determinism and it turns out that I don't.

What I want to do is talk about the way technologies demand illiteracies; they don't determine them. Many people, when they talk about technology, they think, "OK, it's not just the computers, it was also the book." And some people I think don't go back far enough and realize it was also the alphabet.

The alphabet is a technology, and it's a technology that is radically different from the idiographic characters of Chinese language. Each has costs, each has benefits, each has affordances, which is one of the words that Gunther Crest uses; he's a member of the New London Group. What happens is the cost benefits and affordances of each of these technologies has implications in terms of the illiteracies that they demand.

My parents, who were excellent readers, writers, they had excellent penmanship, they were educated through college, would be illiterate in today's world because of the fact they have no understanding whatsoever about computer technologies. And part of my claim is that the digitally literate students of today, who are digitally literate in mono-model communication are going to become illiterate in the next generation if they do not become literate in multimedia illiteracies.

Later in my abstract it says, "Teachers at every level find themselves ill-prepared to teach even the decoding of multimedia and multi-model text, much less their encoding or production." And I carefully chose two words there that were intended to not raise the hackles of English faculty, who when I talk about consumption and production get all out of shape. So decoding and encoding are a couple of other terms for those. But the situation exists where people who are charged with teaching people to be literate, reading and writing, are not as well prepared to have them read and write multimedia/multi-model text as they had been for print literacy.

So, the way I'm going to go about it is to take into consideration state standards, teacher education programs and current theories of multi-literacy and multi-model discourse. This presentation suggests short and long term action plans.

Wait a minute? Where's the problem? Where's the gap? If we were using what's called the ISD model, the Instructional Systems Design Model, it says, first you find an identifiable or a measurable gap. What's the performance gap?

Well it turns out that approach isn't going to work here. Because in order to have that gap we would have to say, "Here is how the students are performing on some test, and their performance on their test is not good enough. Therefore we need to remediate the teachers and give the teachers multi-model instruction to help these students perform." But the students aren't being tested on that.

So we do not have at our disposal one of the usual methods for determining, "We have a problem, and we have to fix it." So in effect what we have here is a problem with the problem. One of the questions is, is it really a problem, or am I just another snake oil salesman who has come along with a patented solution to a problem of my invention, because I have something I want to sell you?

One of the issues has to do with standards. My question is, "Do standards really matter?" This is a graphic that came from "Improving the Quality of Literacy Education in New Jersey's Middle Grades: Report of the New Jersey Task Force on Middle Grade Literacy Education"; there's the URL where I got it from. The claim here is that state standards do matter and they matter in a couple of ways. They don't matter just in terms of "We're going to hold the students to these standards", but standards determine what is the curriculum that the college students who are going to learn to teach, then gets informed by.

So in effect, standards if you look at the second one, "Clear expectation for students and schools; motivation to work hard", the next one over "Professional development improved teaching; higher levels of learning". So the notion that what your state standards are, what they say and do, impact the teacher education curriculum, impacts what happens in the classroom, and then eventually you get the performance in the classroom that is or is not meeting those standards.

One of the questions is why did I choose New Jersey rather than Pennsylvania. We're here in Pennsylvania, I work in Pennsylvania, I happen to live in New Jersey. I chose New Jersey for the reason, even though I'm a proud native Pennsylvanian; I've spent some time comparing the language arts for Pennsylvania versus New Jersey. New Jersey is much more ready for the 21st Century than Pennsylvania if you take the state standards as a representation of what we're asking people to do in the classroom.

So there's Pennsylvania, there's New Jersey. One of the differences is Pennsylvania standards cover reading, writing, speaking and listening. The New Jersey standards: reading, writing, speaking, listening and viewing.

The inclusion of viewing in the language arts standards is in my estimation, huge. If all they did was just add the word, that's not much. But if you look at what the standards say, there will be standards in there. So viewing now doesn't just belong in the art curriculum; it's in the language arts curriculum.

Here is the cover for the academic standards for reading, writing, speaking and listening, and I would be hard pressed to describe an image that more clearly recommended that this is from a state Department of Education.

Here is the cover for the New Jersey Standards. Now, to me that's different, and then the question is, what does it signify? What it signifies, and the fact that images are open to much broader interpretation, is just one of the knotty problems that arise when we talk about what it is that the language arts teachers are doing in their classrooms. But if you go, as I have gone in detail, you will find that just as there is a difference in the covers, there's a difference in the standards. Through every grade you're going to have much more specific mention that the language arts teachers should be engaging New Jersey students in multimedia and multi-model literacy.

One of the recent standards matters is, if you look in the highlighted red portion, "Those who teach and administrate or teacher maintaining programs need to familiarize themselves with the standards for language arts literacy in this framework, which provides examples of excellent teaching and learning. Faculty should be sure that their pre-service programs promote both content and methodology that are consonant with the new standards."

Now that's all well and good; New Jersey may be doing better than Pennsylvania. There's another thing going on which has to do with standardized testing. New Jersey just sort of revised its standards. Why did it revise its standards? Why was the language arts core curriculum standards changed? The driving force was required testing in language arts each year in grades three through eight by 2005-2006. Are those standardized tests asking them to engage in the production of multimedia documents? Absolutely not!

So it's like, we have one step forward we have two steps back. Even though the standards were thinking toward the future, the imposition of "No Child Left Behind" upon it means that what is actually happening in the classroom is again preparing people to take the tests that aren't testing multimedia literacy. So it's not like everything in New Jersey is just wonderful.

This is an image of the web page from the College of New Jersey. So just like I chose New Jersey rather than Pennsylvania -- because I think Pennsylvania would actually be allowing me to get in a real strong-man argument, New Jersey is ahead of Pennsylvania I chose the College of New Jersey because it is a particularly highly regarded public college in New Jersey.

I know from having taught there for a while and the fact that my wife works as a middle school teacher in New Jersey, the graduates of the College of New Jersey are especially valued; these people are considered the gold standard in the state of New Jersey. So you graduate from English Secondary Education College of New Jersey and go on the job market and you get jobs like that.

This is the text of what it says the English Secondary Education students will take, in addition to their English requirement. Their English requirement, like many, is a literature requirement. You have lots and lots of literature courses. Yes, there's one course in structured history of the English language, etc., but here are their requirements for English Secondary Education. Nowhere in there is anything that specifically says multimedia/multi-model discourse. There is one course in there that's called "EED400: Teaching Writing". That's a course I taught while I was at the College of New Jersey. That was the one opportunity where you could get into the curriculum something that was other than writing words only and only in rows, and even there, there was only a tiny space for it.

There's this question of, what is multimedia literacy? What is media literacy? I took this one from a conference that's up at Yukon every year; it's coming up soon and is called the "Media Literacy Conference". There are a lot of definitions around, and one of the things I find is, just as traditional literacy often privileged reading over writing, the definitions of visual literacy and media literacy often privilege that over that. So the first one, which is a really nice one from PBS and is a wonderful collection for teachers of things to use in their classroom, it's really to teach your kids how to read images.

The one in the middle I like a lot better because it says, "The ability to transform thought and information into images, including thinking and communication. Visual communication takes place when people are able to construct meaning from the visual image." So that is much better, because it's not just reading, it's reading and writing. Interestingly that comes from the National Standards Essay up there, it's for South Africa. So South Africa I think is ahead of us when it comes to "let's have this literacy be a two way street."

The one from the New Media Literacy actually is nice because it says, "To not only become more careful and critical consumers of media messages, but to also become creative producers of media to more effectively communicate their thinking, ideas and priority.


At 1:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a definition I like more than all the rest:
"Media literacy is concerned with helping students develop an informed and critical understanding of
the nature of mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of these techniques. More
specifically, it is education that aims to increase the students' understanding and enjoyment of how
the-media work, how they produce meaning, how they are organized, and how they construct reality.
Media literacy also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products. "
( Media Literacy Resource Guide, Ministry of Education Ontario, 1997)
Frank Baker, media educator

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Tim McGee said...

I agree with Frank that the Ministry of Education Ontario definition of media literacy is especially good.


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