Tuesday, December 12, 2006

New Media Literacies

In a fascinating new report from the MacArthur Foundation's "Building the Field of Digital Media Learning" titled Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, the authors describes how the Internet enables a new "participatory culture" that requires the knowledge of certain skills.

The authors define participatory culture as "a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one's creation, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices. [It] is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another..."

The report outlines several forms of participatory culture, including affiliations (memberships in online communities, like Facebook and MySpace), expressions (production of new forms, like mash-ups and modding), collaborative problem-solving (creation of "new knowledge" through Wikipedia and alternative reality gaming, like Second Life), and circulations (podcasting and blogging).

While "one-half of all teens have created media content" and "one-third of of teens who use the Internet have shared content they produced," the authors believe there is "the need for... pedagogical intervention..." One of their concerns, for example, is "the transparency problem": "The challenges young people face in learning to see clearly the ways that media shape perceptions of the world."

In response, educators are encouraged to teach a number of skills to the young, including play, performance, simulation ("the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes"), appropriation ("the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content"), multitasking, distributed cognitition ("the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities"), collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation ("the ability to travel across diverse communities").

I wonder, though, if "participatory culture" is a really new concept. While the Internet certainly provides the means for more widely disseminating information, I wonder if it really provides lower barriers to civic engagement. In fact, the Internet allows us to find people more like ourselves and shields us from dissenting points of view. When I specifically choose what feeds/blogs/Web sites I want to read and what online social communities to join, all specifically tailored to my own interests, I am less challenged by dissenting views and less likely to engage the other in the public square, whether that square is online or outside.

Many of the "new" skills educators are encouraged to teach are, in my humble opinion, developed through a solid liberal arts education. They are also the same or similar to those explicated in various information literacy competency standards. For example, the report's definition of networking ("the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information") is basically the American Library Association's definition of information literacy.

Overall, these are minor criticisms, and I am not done reading the report. I look forward to finishing it.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Google's and Microsoft's book search services

Setting aside the concern of information monopolies, Google Book Search and Microsoft's Live Search Books have been really helpful for me. For example, last night a student needed help with the microfiche machine: she was trying to read John Rankin's Letters on American Slavery, a title included in the well known Library of American Civilization microfiche series. The problem is, the work is over 100 pages long and we charge ten cents per photocopied page. Who wants to read a lengthy book like that at a microfiche machine? I knew the book was written well over a century ago (1833) and probably owned by a research library, so I searched Google Book Search to see if it had been digitized and is available online. Sure enough, it is. (I'm not linking to it because I haven't figured out Google Book Search's permalink structure yet.) Needless to say, the student was overjoyed.

I also used Google Book Search recently for a personal project. I was reading James Beard's book American Cookery. The book contains a bibliography of old American cookbooks he had consulted. I found many of them online. Old cookbooks are fascinating, sexist reading. They include the following:

Beecher, Catharine. Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book. New York 1846. 293 pp. The 1850 edition is online.

Chase, A. W. Dr. Chase's Recipes. Ann Arbor 1866. 384 pp.
The 1860 edition is online.

Cornelius, Mrs. Mary. The Young Housekeeper's Friend. Boston 1846. 190 pp.
The 1868 edition is online.

Harland, Marion. Common Sense in the Household. New York 1881. 546 pp.
The 1874 edition is online.

Peterson, Hannah Mary Bouvier. The National Cook Book. By a Lady of Philadelphia, a Practical Housewife. Philadelphia 1856. 301 pp.
The 1866 edition is online.

Webster, Mrs. A. L. The Improved Housewife. Hartford, Connecticut 1852. 236 pp.
The 1851 edition is online.