Technology for 21st Century Learning: Part 2 (But is it a Literacy Machine?)

New York Times app on iPad at launch at San Francisco Apple Store 141 by Steve Rhodes

I’ve been enjoying some time off last week, mostly just knocking around in my office, filing some old cables away (found two parallel printer cables and an Appletalk adaptor), changing the template on my blog (trying out a three column look), and experimenting with BuddyPress as a replacement for the soon to expire Classblogmeister Ning.

In the process, I’ve been playing around with my old Acer Aspire One (ZG5) netbook — and feel almost sacrilegious in saying this, but I’m finding it to be refreshingly delightful to use, especially for some functions that I have been (admittedly) pushing my iPad to fill.  Many have complained that although the iPad would be an excellent consumption device (much better than a textbook), you cannot use it for information production. Others have challenged this suggestion, saying that, “My grandchildren love drawing in my iPad.” I’ve seen some interesting drawing tools for the device with some amazing results.  There are many clever and well executed educational games and applications, and with an external keyboard, the iPad makes a descent writing tool.  I am, after all, sitting on a sofa and writing (thumbing) this blog post on my iPad.

But the question we have to ask is, “What is the iPad really great at — best at?”  My answer, from my experience with the device, is that it is a “great” device to watch.

Of course, if that was all we were going to do with it, we’d have been satisfied with the Kindle. I think that the iPad, as a platform, is amazing, and we certainly haven’t seen the end of its capabilities.  I’ve written before that what truly interests me about the device is that “we” will be the ones who discover and invent its place in helping us accomplish our goals.  But from an educational point of view, I think that we have to continue to ask, “What is the best technology for the learning experiences we want to craft?”

What’s weak about the iPad, from my point of view, is the OS. It is a wonderful consumer electronic product.  It looks good in Best Buy.  But I see little indication that formal education was one of the aims in its design.  They didn’t build a literacy tool.

So what is a literacy tool. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, considering how information has changed (as a result of technology) and what that means in terms of essential literacy skills (Redefining Literacy 2.0).  I usually describe contemporary literacy by expanding the three “Rs” in a way that accounts for the networked, digital, and abundant (overwhelming) nature of today’s information landscape.

When information is Networked, Reading expands into Exposing what is True (finding, decoding, evaluating, building meaning, etc.)
When information is Digital, Arithmetic expands into Employing the Information, working the numbers that define all information to add value.
When information is abundant (overwhelming), then Writing expands into Expressing Ideas Compellingly. Producing a message that competes for the attention of the audience.

A literacy machine not only enables us to find and read information. But it also facilitates a deeper examination of the information, uncovering the evidence of it’s value, utilizing elements of what Alan November has called “web grammar.” A literacy  machine assures that the learner develops the habit of “asking questions about the answers that he finds.”

A literacy machine is also designed to help us work the information, to process not only the massive amounts of digital data that we have access to and need, to make important decisions, but also to be able to process the ones and zeros that now defines almost all information — text, images, sound, video, and animation.  A literacy machine empowers, by helping us to realize that content is a raw material, ready to be remixed, shaped, and assembled into the answers of questions, solutions of problems, and the means to accomplish our goals.

Today, communicating requires far more than the ability to write.  To compete for the attention of your audience, you must be able to produce a message that effectively conveys your ideas and compellingly draw attention.  A literacy machine enables us to communicate, not merely with words, but with pictures, sound, and motion.  It enables us to get the attention of those who can help us accomplish our goals.

As I’ve said already, I think that the iPad is an amazing device.  It is an information slab with seemingly mystical abilities.  And it is exactly the sort of instructional tool that I would like to see all children carrying into their classrooms.  But what I would like to see and what is truly the best personal learning device for helping our children to become information artisans, may be two entirely different things.

I would expand yesterday’s final question by asking:

What ICT is going to help my children learn by helping them to become literate, resourceful, and habitual learners — engaged in a learning lifestyle?


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Edited on an iMac using MarsEdit

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.