From analog girl to “digimom”

My mother thinks I should hang a calendar in the kitchen so my son can learn his days of the weeks and months of the year.

He is two years old.

“Well, maybe not now, but in the next few years you should consider it,” she said.

I told her that in the next few years, I fully expect my son to be able to turn on a computer and launch an Internet browser, much in the same way he can now turn on the TV and even navigate TiVo. At that point, what’s to stop him from accessing the web-based calendar my husband and I currently use to organize work, church, and household events?

“Well, it’s still an analog world,” she said.

No. It isn’t, I say.

I am about to be graduated from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville with a master’s degree in instructional technology. Had the above conversation occurred at another time and place, it likely would have ended differently, with me earnestly shopping for the perfect calendar per Mom’s suggestion.

The 2008 Land of Liberty calendar by Thomas Kincaid looks nice, with the added benefit of exposing my first-born to a bygone era when subtle Christian imagery and blatant patriotism intermingled to form resplendent, light-filled tableaux.

Yechhhh.

If I were going to buy a wall calendar to support my child’s intellectual and cognitive development, I would choose one with more transparent instructional value. How about a calendar that not only reinforces concepts like time management and days of the week but also promotes responsible citizenship, the democratic process, and important mathematical problem-solving strategies, like counting down? A civics lesson on every page!

It is an election year, after all.

The point is, my child is not developmentally ready for a calendar, and in the next few years when he is, paper-based calendars will be even more irrelevant than they are today. I haven’t owned a calendar or date book in close to ten years since the acquisition of my first handheld PDA, and I don’t expect my son will ever have use for one.

Although, I suppose that even by 2010 when he starts Kindergarten, I can count on him seeing and using plenty of analog calendars — at school.

I joke about being “an analog girl in a digital world,” in part because I love the Guy Clark song, but I am serious when it comes to the “unfolding ‘literacy dialectic'” described by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel in New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Classroom Learning, 2nd edition.

I read New Literacies this spring as part of a semester-long seminar on redefining literacy. The book is largely framed by a “tension” caused by the rapid onset of digital and mobile technologies in daily life and the complex demands this places on teachers and students to merge “old” and “new” literacies — the “dialectic.”

At stake are two divergent worldviews about the role of 21st century information and communication technologies (ICTs) in contemporary culture. Lankshear and Knobel label these worldviews as “mindsets.”

The “newcomer,” or “outsider,” mindset values digital technology for the way it supports old business models and conventional, print-based literacy practices. The “insider” mindset sees opportunity in technology to radically innovate and abandon the business-as-usual approach. The bulk of New Literacies examines insider practices, giving readers a glimpse into the worlds of fanfiction, anime, memes, blogs, podcasts, and mobile computing.

Educators, school leaders, and instructional technologists are struggling to respond to all this change as it relates to the effective integration of technology into classroom learning. More often than not, they “simply end up reproducing familiar conventional literacies through their uses of new technologies” (p. 30).

New Literacies concludes with a challenge to teachers, administrators, and policymakers. Lankshear and Knobel do not advocate unflagging allegiance to wholesale technology adoption that does not honor “insider” sensibilities, nor do they believe schools should be left behind as the exclusive domain of print-based, conventional literacies (p. 259).

Rather, the authors encouraged their readers to just “take a look and see,” to try out the new technologies and experience the new literacies and social practices for ourselves. In doing so, we will begin to understand the implications for teaching and learning. These insights will guide the integration of 21st century ICTs into instruction in a manner that compromises neither the integrity of the cultural practices nor our educational aims (pp. 246-247).

This is my biggest take-away from New Literacies: I don’t have to be a practicing classroom teacher to feel the tension of the mindsets. (Note above conversation between dear, ol’ Mom and me.) The shifts are playing out all around me as I perform in roles as student, parent, and citizen, and I have an obligation to respond.

It’s why I still can’t stop thinking about the Rolling Stone March 20 cover story on Barack Obama’s campaign strategy. It’s a strategy in which the field operations consist of voters organizing themselves with web-based technologies, particularly social networking tools: “In the process, the Obama campaign has shattered the top-down, command-and-control, broadcast-TV model that has dominated American politics since the early 1960s.”

It’s why I helped my babysitter set up a Gmail account and MySpace page so she could stay in contact with her many geographically dispersed cousins. The babysitter, by the way, is a 44-year-old grandmother of three.

It’s why I keep needling my local school board representative to take steps toward re-visioning our school system’s outdated appropriate use and web publishing policies.

It’s why I am determined to master the text-message function on my cell phone. One of these days.

And it’s why I won’t be buying any Hallmark calendars for the rest of my natural life.

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