Learning for the Future: Emerging Technologies and Social Participation

Learning for the Future: Emerging Technologies and Social Participation

Guy Merchant (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-120-9.ch001
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Abstract

Over the last five years there has been a large scale shift in popular engagement with new media. Virtual worlds and massive multiplayer online games attract increasing numbers, whilst social networking sites have become commonplace. The changing nature of online engagement privileges interaction over information. Web 2.0 applications promote new kinds of interactivity, giving prominence and prestige to new literacies (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006). To date, discussion of the opportunities, and indeed the risks presented by Web 2.0 has been largely confined to social and recreational worlds. The purpose of this chapter is to open up discussion about the relevance of Web 2.0 to educational practice. A central concern in what follows will be to show how the new ways of communicating and collaborating that constitute digital literacy might combine with new insights into learning in ways that transform how we conceive of education (Gee, 2004).
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Technology And Literacy

Children and young people are growing up in a rapidly changing social world - a social world that is marked by the spread of new digital technologies. The impact of these technologies on the toy and game industry, on mass entertainment and communication, and on the ways in which many of us live and work has been little short of transformative. In schools, despite a substantial investment in computer hardware and software, there is still unevenness of provision and access, and considerable professional uncertainty about how to integrate new technologies into the curriculum and how to develop appropriate pedagogies. Nowhere is this uncertainty more keenly felt than in the area of literacy. Literacy educators, it has been suggested, need to assess the significance of new communication technologies and the ways of producing, distributing and responding to messages that typify them (Lankshear and Knobel, 2003). This involves looking at new genres, emerging conventions of communication and the changes in language associated with them. In doing this, literacy educators will inevitably have to negotiate the tension between notions of correctness and the realities of linguistic change, as well as a whole host of other issues that emerge with the growth of peer-to-peer communication and digitally-mediated social networks. It is against a backdrop of rapid social change and professional uncertainty that the work on digital literacy and new communications technology described in this chapter is placed. The work focuses primarily on digital writing, but partly because of the multimodal nature of this communication, there is an inevitable overlap with the wider area of new media studies.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multimodality: This term is used to describe the different modes of human communication (visual, verbal, gestural etc). In many web-based texts, meaning is communicated through a subtle interplay between different expressive modes.

Interactive written discourse: This is a term used to describe computer-mediated communication (CMC) that is based on two or more people ‘taking turns’. These conversational exchanges range from email replies, to forum exchanges and synchronous chat.

Folksonomy: Related to the term ‘taxonomy’, this describes the way in which participants in a Web 2.0 space have assigned tags or labels to content. These tags identify the prevalent themes, topics or areas of interest for individuals in that particular environment. Aggregating these tags creates a folksonomy. Visitors to the site can then search ‘by tag’ and see all the objects labelled by that specific tag.

Digital Literacy: This term has been defined in different ways. I use it to describe written or symbolic representation that is mediated by new technology ( Merchant, 2007 ). Whilst recognizing that many online texts are multimodal, digital literacy places the focus on the semiotic of written communication.

Learning Platform: A catch-all term for online learning environments designed for the education market. These are usually closed or controlled intranet systems. Alternative designations are Learning Management Systems or Virtual Learning Environments. Some Learning Platforms also include student-tracking and assessment data – sometimes these integrated systems are called Managed Learning Environments.

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