During his FETC presentation, Exploring New Literacies for Networked, Self-Directed Learners and Makers, Will Richardson—international expert on the intersection of social online learning networks and education and owner of Connective Learning LLC—explored the shifts in education that have resulted from the advent of the Internet and a practical framework for helping our students become literate, self-directed masters of learning and making in this new, interconnected world.
Today, Richardson says that our access to ubiquitous information and computing is disrupting the world around us—moving us from an institutionally organized world to a self-organized world. No longer do we need travel agents to book our vacations, a publisher to write a book, or a journalist to report the news. According to Richardson, this shift also is affecting the way we view education.
“In a world of abundance, your kids are going home and learning about the things they want to learn about. And there are pressures and challenges right now from those kids coming into schools, sitting in a classroom, waiting to be told what to learn, when to learn, and how to learn it,” said Richardson. “They are becoming less and less engaged. And they especially feel abused when they can come home and learn what they want to learn about.”
“[Abundance is] absolutely changing the way we define education,” he said. “It’s becoming more about what can you do with what you know, rather than what you know.”
As a strong example of work that seeks to address this shift in education, Richardson celebrated the National Council of Teachers of English’s work to define 21st-century literacies to reflect the impact of abundance and technology.
According to the NCTE website, “Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st-century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Active, successful participants in this 21st-century global society must be able to:
- Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology
- Build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought
- Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
- Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
- Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
- Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments
Among several examples initiatives that seek to nurture the above, Richardson highlighted the Maker Education Initiative, which creates opportunities for young people to develop confidence, creativity, and spark an interest in science, technology, engineering, math, the arts, and learning as a whole through “making.” “You learn a lot by making stuff. [The Maker Education Initiative] is a really important initiative that’s being trumpeted by MIT,” he said. “Technology really amplifies our ability to make.”
Richardson said that confusion regarding this transition is an understandable reaction for educators. “What do you do in a world that’s drastically different, fundamentally different from the world that most of us went to school in? And what do we do to really make sense of it in a way that helps [our students] to be prepared for this different place that they’re going to be living in,” he said. “I think this is the most disruptive moment maybe ever in the history of organized education. But here’s the flip side: I don’t think there’s ever been a more amazing time to learn.”