Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jenkins and the onus to participate

I happened to leaf through a recent Maclean's magazine this week, shortly after listening to Jenkins' talk. It contained letters to the editor in response to a Feb. 20 article called "Stop lecturing students", which discussed the future of the lecture-based model of education. While one letter writer stated the view that universities should move away from lectures toward other, more engaging teaching models, another writer argued that universities should not pander to the whims of Gen Y, which "wants to do the least amount of work possible for the highest payout".

It was interesting to come across these opposing views in light of having just listened to Jenkins' discussion of the digital immigrant / digital native construct, particularly his point that when adults accept the role of the non-literate "immigrant", they forfeit responsibility for helping young people navigate today's complex media environment. Jenkins points out the areas that adults might be able to provide guidance in, such as addressing the participation gap and "hidden curriculum", developing ethics for the online environment, and developing a critical language around use of new communication tools.

Before listening to Jenkins' talk, I hadn't thought much about there being an onus on adults to help children find their way safely with technology, but I take Jenkins' point about the value of involvement, as opposed to the restrictive surveillance that is a common adult response to their children's immersion in online environments. The way to really protect children from the pitfalls of online environments is for their parents and teachers to understand those environments - which can only come from their own involvement, not from building walls.

Clay Shirky likens the current media revolution to that of the early era of the printing press, in which "old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn’t know what to think." If we are in the midst of such a revolution, that would help to explain the discomfort that some "digital immigrants" feel about the shifting media landscape. The new platforms still feel untrustworthy, and things won't settle for some time yet. But, as Jenkins points out, it's exactly our lack of understanding of how new media behave that makes it imperative for adults to step forward and provide guidance to younger people who don't remember a pre-Internet world.

Rheingold offers a particularly good call-to-arms statement on the need to develop new media literacy, immigrant or not: "The more people who know how to use participatory media to learn, inform, persuade, investigate, reveal, advocate and organize, the more likely the future infosphere will allow, enable and encourage liberty and participation."

MacDonald, S. (2012). Attention please [Letter]. Maclean's, March 5, 2012.
Rheingold, H. (N.d.). Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies [Blog post]. Retrieved from:
Shirky, C. (2009). Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable [Blog post]. Retrieved from:

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