A Vicious & Exhilarating Cycle…

I’m in one of my favorite places, an independently owned coffee shop.  Brenda and I stopped and stayed at the Davidson Village Inn, in lovely Davidson, North Carolina.  It’s my kind of college town, and my kind of coffee shop.  Yesterday, we’d just enjoyed an old fashioned country church picnic in my home town.  For those of you, for whom this old tradition is foreign, please indulge.  

Every family brings their best home cooking, lays it out on plywood tables along with gallons of sweet iced tea.  You walk around the tables, both sides, and fill your plate.  then you find a nice shady place under a tree to sit, gorge, and reminisce about past church picnics.  There were five different kinds of deviled eggs, and I sampled all of them.  In addition — two varieties of meat loaf, a potato casserole, green bean casserole, pig in a blanket, two kinds of chocholate cake, and to balance things, a small plate of banana pudding.  Needless to say, we didn’t feel like driving all the way home to Raleigh.

So here, on Monday morning, sitting in the local coffee shop, sipping on the community’s free WiFi, is a blog entry I’ve been working on for several days.  I make no promises that it’s quality will reflect that many hours of work!

Dan, an educator associated with one of the New York BOCES, wrote  an important comment on one of my recent 2¢ Worth blog postings, One Obvious Miss.  He expressed some logical concerns about recent discussions on new literacies, what I called learning literacies.  The vision of these new literacies that he seemed to be coming from were similar to that of many educators, one that is bound to the effective use of emerging technologies.  The truth is that this is exactly the notion that I’m trying to get away from.  Here’s what Dan says, and I am inserting my comments, unindented.

I worry a bit about the notion of new learning literacy. It seems that whenever I turn around, there is a new tool developed that everyone is trying to “figure out” and apply to learning tasks. Each tool seems to morph and change in an eyeblink.

Technology is constantly morphing.  But the skills that I am thinking of are far more fundamental and tied not to any specific longstanding or fleeting application of technology, but to the changing nature of information that has resulted from this technology revolution.  In a published print information landscape, the fundamental skills were the ability to read the text in front of you, process numbers and concepts logically, and write a coherent paragraph — the three Rs. 

Now that information is increasingly networked, digital, and overwhelming, the three Rs have expanded. 

  • It’s not just can you read? — but can you expose the text’s context? 
  • It’s not just can you do arithmetic? — but can you employ information? 
  • And merely being able to write on paper is not nearly enough.  Can you express ideas compellingly using not only text, but images, sound, animation, and video? 

These skills result in the ability to use the information around you to accomplish goals, regardless of the technology.  It’s about the information!


Learning skills involve the ability to access information and answers, process them in a value-adding fashion, and express what you know and have learned to others — within any contemporary information landscape (and today that information is networked, digital, and overwhelming).

Dan continued,

Applying a blog… a wiki.. or a tool being mashed together as we exchange this writing? – is knowing how to do this “literacy” if the tools will disappear?

Knowing how to do it — is not literacy!

Knowing how to learn to do it — is literacy!

I saw the K-12 Online Conference RFP and the term “perpetual beta” jumped out at me. I had seen it a few days before too.

I have used at least 4 podcast/audio creation sites this past year. All were labeled as “beta” and all went away. I loved two of them.

I like the tool sites I see like bubbl and picnik.

I understand the group processes and tagging, the power of the Web2.0.

But “learning literacies” for the future may be a slippery fish to latch onto if our ideas and tools are in “perpetual beta.”

I feel your pain, as do most of us (over 50).  It’s the nature of today’s information environment that it is not merely a place to consume, but also a landscape so rich and accessible that any of us can also become producers and even architects of the environment, inventing, building, and improving in a vicious and exhilarating cycle.

Sometimes I am excited and sometimes I think we are creating chaos out of order!

Get use to it.  It’s all the more reason why we need to factor it all down to fundamental skills — can you use today’s information environment to help yourself learn what you need to know, to do what you need to do?

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.