New media literacy, fluency and assessment in education
From Essay to Multimedia Collage
Literacy means being able to consume and produce the media forms of the day. The default media form has shifted from the essay to the multimedia collage.
New media: How we show what we know in the digital age.
This site presents a conceptual framework and tangible strategies for employing new media literacy as a tool for developing and assessing complex learning through performance assessment.
Traditional text-only forms of writing (essays, short response, reports, case studies) do not require students to use the new literacies of the digital age, nor do they organically require the higher cognitive functions that complex, multi-media digital artifacts demand of students.
This site looks at the emergence of new media literacy and fluency, and challenges educators to move beyond one dimensional text-only performances in order to assess student learning. Through performances like web log portfolios, slide presentations, digital stories and visually differentiated text, students can demonstrate learning in ways that require them to analyze, synthesize, evaluate and *apply* what they know about a particular content domain.
Today's pedagogical toolbox contains many new media tools that are inexpensive, easy-to-use and widely available.
The new media forms addressed in this site are "low end" in that they employ common hardware, as well as easy to use and free or inexpensive software. As such they represent the media forms that students should be able to read critically and write proficiently today. But tomorrow is a different story. Media forms evolve rapidly, and we are still waiting for educational structures to develop that can recognize and support them within the context of teaching and learning.
Table of Contents
Part I. Conceptual and practical overview. Part I includes a brief overview of new media literacy in education, and then describes typical "low budget" new media products that students could and should be able to produce, and that teachers should be able to meaningfully evaluate.
Part II. Emergence of new media literacies. Are you interested in how digitally-related skills, literacies and fluencies emerged? Follow the trail:
Part III. New media development and learning. Do you want to consider how new media development contributes to learning? Consider Bloom and Gardner:
Part IV. New media literacy forms. Are you interested in the specific kinds of "reading and writing" needed to be literate in the digital age? These are some of the major ones that can currently be produced inexpensively with common hardware and software:
Part I. Conceptual and practical overview
Summary of the new media situation in education
Being literate in a real world sense means being able to both "read and write" narrative in the media forms of the day, whatever they may be. Just being able to read them is not enough.
Literacy = consuming and producing the media forms of the day, whatever they may be.
For centuries this has meant being able to consume and produce words, through reading and writing, as well as listening and speaking. But because of inexpensive, easy-to-use, widely distributed new media tools, it now means being able to read and write a number of new media forms. Most of these forms fall under the heading of "the multimedia collage" because they integrate sound, music, still and moving images and other kinds of media, as well as text, into a single narrative.
Beyond literacy is fluency. Fluency is the ability to practice literacy at the advanced levels required for sophisticated communication within social and workplace environments. The grammar and skills needed to read and create new media define the new edge of literacy needed to develop new media fluency.
New media create new literacies, as well as new illiteracies.
Blended literacies promote new media fluency. As new literacies emerge, traditional literacies like reading and writing text remain important. However, they are no longer the only literacies, nor even the default literacies for school work. Instead, the importance of traditional literacies is redefined as being part of an overall approach to communication that involves a number of media. The focus of well-rounded literacy expands from single literacies to include integrating traditional and emerging literacies. The focus of assessment shifts to assessing the parts in light of the whole, as well as the whole. New media fluency becomes sophisticated communication through the merging and integration of several media into new media collage form.
New media literacy is also a revolution in form. Much of the information students consume in the InfoSphere is in story form. Yet what they are asked to produce in school is frequently in report or essay form. It is the particular challenge of the new media generation to combine the reflection and critical thinking of the essay, with the impact and emotional engagement of the story form.
Teachers: be the guide on the side, not the technician magician.
Assessment implications. Teachers can maintain their standards about content acquisition, while expanding traditional assessment approaches to include addressing process and content creation. They do not need to be technology experts. Instead, they need to bring to the assessment process their understanding of big picture issues, like context and quality, as well as their sense of applied knowledge and wisdom.
As part of their own intellectual retooling, they need to begin experimenting with a wide range of new media in order to determine which new media tool and format best serves the educational interests of themselves and their students. A short movie can demonstrate a process, a short personal documentary can capture a mission statement, a web log can create an organic, integrated portfolio, and so on. The digital storytelling assessment site considers some of the nuts and bolts of assessment, as well as "media grammar," which can help non-technical teachers assess new media.
Thus, we are transitioning from a text-based essay culture to a multimedia collage culture. Essay writing is still important, but so is being able to communicate in a number of media collage forms, including narrated reports, digital stories, blended blogs, movies and PowerPoint presentations.
Art has become the Next R, storytelling has become a practical skill, and new media fluency is needed for sophisticated communication in a digital environment.
As a result of the shift, art has become the next R, storytelling has become a practical skill and new media fluency is becoming a predictor of workplace success. Problems arise because often times teachers have not been trained to create non-text based media, and feel uncomfortable assessing it. Yet the world of work is looking for these skills that students are developing largely without our help.
What is school is for?
Part II. Emergence of new media literacies
Every day media create every day literacy and fluency needs
Students need to be able to write new media, and teachers need to be able to assess it.
Until recently, every day media forms were text-based. No longer. Today they embrace the rapidly evolving domain of multimedia, often referred to as "new media." Within this domain, literacies and skill sets are born quickly because new media go from read-only to write-possible quickly (a phenomenon discussed in the next section). A plethora of simple, powerful, free or inexpensive digital tools (e.g., iMovie on the Mac and MovieMaker on the PC) make it possible for new media to evolve from a language spoken by the techno-elite to a language that can be spoken by anyone.
The new media situation. The rapid evolution of inexpensive, widely distributed new media tools has produced the following situation:
Once again, our learning institutions are not keeping up with the education our students are getting outside of school.
From read-only to write-possible in record time
The lag time between new media evolving from read-only to write-possible is shrinking dramatically.
Historically, new media first appear to the vast majority of us in read-only form because it is controlled by a relatively few technicians, developers and distributors who can understand and afford them. The rest of us only evolve into writers once the media become easy to use, inexpensive and widely available.
However, the lag time between reading and writing media is shrinking dramatically.
A history of read-write lag
Consider the lag time that has passed between reading and writing the following:
From hearing to reading to writing text. Text was first spoken to the illiterate masses, who, after centuries of listening, learned to read. But it was still centuries before the average citizen was expected to be able to write.
Compare this with TV. For the first half century of TV's existence, it had been read only – half the basic literacy equation – because it took a team of engineers and substantial financial backing to produce and distribute TV material. However, today anyone can create a quality "TV station" using nothing more than an inexpensive video camera and a broadband connection. Thus, fifty short years after TV became household fare, we can write it as well as read it.
The Read-Write Web. Web material has taken an even shorter period of time to go from read to write. This aspect of the web is typically considered in terms of the following "web eras":
Read-write web within everyone's grasp. Today, with just a little training, the least technical among us can create a basic blog – essentially an interactive website – in minutes. With a little experience, we can turn our blogs into media-rich information sources thanks to YouTube, SlideShare and other services that make it easy for the non-technician to store and show movies, presentations and other media. Like TV, the web is as ubiquitous as printed text and brings with it literacy pressures with very practical implications in terms of being educated and functional in the world of work.
Shrinking read-to-write lag time caused by technological empowerment
New media goes from powerful to empowering when we can write it, as well as read it.
The shrinking lag time between being able to read and write new media is due largely to the rapid evolution of the following aspects of technology:
From word to media processing - and the implications for assessment
Word processing was a gentle foray into digital tools for conventional educators because they could use their traditional training to assess work that students produced.
New media goes from powerful to empowering when it goes from read-only to write-possible.
But the comfort zone disappears when using new media.
Most teachers attended teacher education programs without a new media focus. They are confounded by new literacies, and the time demanded in developing them. As a result, teachers are understandably reluctant to require students to develop new media projects that they don't understand and can't effectively evaluate.
Yet their students are charging ahead in a new media world, speaking their own language and trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance caused by the difference between the worlds within and outside of school. Clearly it is the public's responsibility to:
Be the guide on the side, rather than the technician magician.
They do not need to be new media fluent to do this, just literate. They simply need to be the guide on the side, not the technician magician.
From essay to multimedia collage
If the essay is no longer the default extended presentation format, what other options exist? The primary option is the multimedia collage.
The multimedia collage becomes the new default format. Writing becomes one medium among many. The weblog becomes the portfolio notebook.
Web page - the mother of all media collages. Consider the web page, that ubiquitous communication form that greets us each morning and travels with us throughout the day. The goal of creating web pages is to knit together text, graphics, music, animation and other media into a fluid non-sequential media collage. As with other media, most of us began just reading the web, but are now expected to be able to write it - or have someone do it for us. There is a general intolerance of web pages with inferior aesthetics and navigability that is reminiscent of our intolerance of essays that are disjointed and grammatically unsound.
A few short years ago, building a web page was an ordeal. Today the average web surfer can create a weblog in minutes without training.
Weblog as portfolio and pointer. All my students create weblogs, which they use to post their work as well as post links to their work that is accessible elsewhere, usually through services like the following:
But there are other common collages that are now a part of our lives, like digital stories and PowerPoint presentations, that are not only a subset of the multimedia collage, but are accommodated by the web. That is, no matter what kind of collage we create, we are probably going to use the web as our distribution and performance medium. Specific kinds of "multimedia collages" are discussed in Part IV.
Fate of writing? More important than ever
Writing: often the invisible new media foundation.
Writing is more important than ever. Those worried about the fate of written literacy in an era of new media in the classroom will be happy to know that writing is more important than ever for the following reasons:
No matter how sophisticated our technology becomes, the future of digital storytelling, movie making and other kinds of new media production will involve writing and conventional forms of literacy.
Assess the writing students create to develop their media collages.
We keep writing alive in the digital age by assessing whatever writing students use to create their media collage. This can include scripts, treatments, research, planning documents - anything that was created to help develop the project.
As educators, it is our job to show parents and the public that new media development is an effective way to for students to pursue traditional literacy, as well as digital and media literacies. The understanding is that students are not giving up traditional literacies, they are simply refocusing and add to them.
Part III. New media development and learning
Bloom and new media
Teachers who help students create new media witness first hand the skill, insight, tenacity and growth students exhibit as they go through what is called in the media world, "the media production process." The value of the process is often immediate and overwhelming. The learning they undergo is broad, deep and obvious.
But if you haven't witnessed students in the throes of media development, then you might still have questions about its value. This section provides some perspective on what new media development brings to the learning process.
The Five-Phase Media Development Process. The media development process consists of the following five basic phases:
It is an exacting process, requiring students to work at the big picture and detailed levels, often simultaneously.
Correlating Bloom and the media development process.
Bloom's taxonomy and the media development process correlate naturally.
During the media development process, students work at literally every level of Bloom's taxonomy, in three capacities: planner, content developer and technician. What follows is the media development process described in terms of Bloom's taxonomy:
Add cooperation to Bloom's taxonomy? Should we also embed another stage within an update of Bloom's Taxonomy, called Cooperation or Participation? It makes sense to do so. Bloom's work is a bit old school in a few ways, one of which is that it assumes students learn and create assessable artifacts primarily on their own. In an era of social media, this is certainly no longer the case.
A word about multiple intelligences
Multiple intelligences are important in education because they are important in life. New media production appeals to many intelligences.
Although the significance of “multiple intelligences” (Gardner, 1983) is often reserved for discussions of student learning styles within education environments, the reality is that we live in a “multiple intelligences” world outside school as well. The real world communicates using the intelligences that Gardner identifies. If this were not the case then they would not be so highly prized in education.
New media production is a veritable cornucopia of intelligences, particularly if blended with the DAOW of literacy. Like traditional literacy, new media writing is widely applicable across the curriculum. Unlike traditional literacy, it taps skills and talents that might otherwise lie dormant within many students.
Most of Gardner’s intelligences, from the linguistic and the musical to the kinesthetic and intrapersonal, are important in new media if we understand how to teach new media production effectively. It is our job as educators to deliberately include as many intelligences as possible in digital storytelling assignments. We need to do this not just to provide students an opportunity to engage the intelligences, but also to allow them to see how they are at work in the world of media.
Emerging skills, literacies and fluencies
Books created illiteracy. New media updates illiteracy to include new narrative formats.
The following is a short and by no means complete list of the literacies, fluencies, skills and perspectives that that have emerged within the context of a culture that can easily and inexpensively go beyond essays and create new media. The actual new media forms that students should know how to use are addressed in the next section.
If we accept that literacies emerge from communications forms that permeate life rather unnoticeably, then the multimedia environment of our tEcosystem indicates that being a fully literate person demands multimedia and new media literacy skills. Specific new media forms are addressed next.
Part IV. New media literacy forms
New Media literacies and fluencies for every day use
Most students will not go on to write essays in the workplace. But many of them will be required to be literate using a number of other forms of media expression. Some will require fluency in order to advance and assume leadership positions.
Let's look at a few forms of expression that constitute the paragraphs, essays, reports and stories of our day. To do this, I will describe the work required of my graduate ed tech students to produce.
Visually differentiated text and the 7 Bs
Beyond the essay - or perhaps along side it - are text documents but in new formats. One is the visually differentiated text (VDT) format. It uses the 7Bs of VDT to make text easier to read, search, and navigate:
You'll notice that I use the 7 Bs throughout this website.
VDT is very much the text approach used by many web writers, and should be seen as a direct response to information overload. When readers encounter a wall of text on the web, it seems unscalable. VDT gives them visual toe holds and hand grips. The visual comparison below of traditional essay and visually differentiated text helps show this:
Less can be more. Standard criticism of this approach is that the use of prominent formatting is an attempt to hide a lack of content. While this can certainly happen, I find the opposite to be true. A bullet surrounded by white space is a way of exposing the writer to scrutiny. Bullets demand focus and precision in order to withstand that kind of exposure. The result is that VDT challenges writers to sift, prioritize and hone language skills. Also, let's not forget that the uneconomical essay is just as bad in its own way.
The fact is that VDT is prevalent text form. Web writing is very much in this of this kind. Our students need to be able to write like this and do so clearly and without sacrificing depth or articulation.
Adding images. Adding images to text has the potential of reinforcing the narrative. Traditionally we think of reports and scientific presentations as needing images, rather than narrative that might be produced by students for Language Arts or history. But Images come in many forms, including charts, graphs, diagrams, photos, drawings, scanned images, to name a few. It can be helpful to require students to produce an image that depicts an idea in an essay. I am not an accomplished artist by any means, but produced the DAOW diagram shown here to help illustrate the DAOW of literacy.
Media collage assignment: use one image and one page of text to tell a story.
In my digital storytelling classes, often the first assignment is to tell a story with three paragraphs and one picture. The key is to align the two media, and make them work as an integrated whole, rather than treat the image as an add-on to the text.
Application. My students submit reviews of material (articles, books, web sites) in the VDT format format. It is also the kind of writing they are encouraged to employ on their e-portfolio blogs sites. Here are a few examples from Fall, 2007:
Voice narrated report or documentary
In the DAOW of literacy, O stands for oral literacy, or "oracy."
Speaking has emerged as an important component of a number of media collages, including the voice narrated documentary, which typically consists of the following:
The result is reminiscent of a low budget Ken Burn's documentary. Preparation typically includes:
Easy, inexpensive and effective. The narrated report or documentary is an example of a narrative-driven media form that is inexpensive and easy to produce. After all, it is a simple matter these days to talk into your laptop to record your voice. Adding images as well as titles to a piece using software like MovieMaker or iMovie (both free and easy to use) is a simple affair. For this reason, voice narrated media is a common, effective way to communicate that is rapidly rising in importance.
Use video? Whether or not to use video is determined by equipment and time - video usually requires more room in the editing schedule. It is also determined by educational and literacy development objectives. Limiting video can increase the focus on written and spoken narrative, and decrease the focus on acting and movement. Up to you.
Narrated report examples. Students created a statement of their education philosophy in this format. Here are some examples:
Video memos: short videos that typically use screen capture software to narrate a website or document that is on the screen.
I call these "memos" because they are done quickly without much preparation. Yet, as we all know, memos can be a very effective communication form in certain circumstances.
Typically these take the form of quick how-to videos made with screen capture software, like Snap Z on the Mac or Camtasia on the PC to explain processes, which records voice narration as it captures cursor movements on a screen. However, they can also be quickly shot video with a minimum of editing.
Some applications for video memos include:
For example, I recently created a quick help file about how to store and publish documents via Google Docs for students. I posted it on YouTube, then emailed the class to tell them where to find it. Students can turn in similar assignments, in which they explain work they have by referring to on screen while offering voice support.
Use video recording as well. Screen capture software is great for those things on your screen. But you can also use a video camera to briefly document a process or situation that is happening in your world. For example, suppose you wanted to demonstrate an understanding of the logistics of cooperative learning. You could video record a few minutes of showing how your classroom is set up, narrating as you shoot, explaining how the arrangement encourages cooperative learning. Be aware of permission issues with regards to showing students.
The media development process is always present, however informal or abbreviated.
Preparation. The media development process is always present in some form. In this case, it is very informal and abbreviated, which is all a video memo demands.
Research takes the form of learning whatever it is that needs to be explained or demonstrated. Planning usually happens in terms of making a rough outline, and/or rehearsing the demo a few times to get a sense of how it ought to be presented. It is low in production values, typically using no titles, music or editing, yet is very high in terms of utility.
Post video memos to TeacherTube for the entire class to use.
The video memo can be a very helpful tool for teachers who find themselves explaining the same processes repeatedly. It offers a much clearer communication format than lists of instructions in text and can be centrally posted so the entire class can see it. It is also a quick way for students to demonstrate they understand something, and for teachers to discern how well they have learned it.
Live presentation and storytelling with media accompaniment
This usually takes the form of the ubiquitous "PowerPoint presentation."
The performed PowerPoint presentation is a rich media collage that adds a new element: you.
While it can be submitted as a file, it usually accompanies a live presentation that delivers a lesson, a project presentation or other informational session.
PowerPoint presentations come with a lot of baggage, largely because they are overused and often poorly done, that is, lacking in 4th R and media grammar fundamentals. But when done correctly they are actually a very rich form of media collage that includes the most dynamic element of any media presentation: you. In addition, it includes literally every kind of media associated with the multimedia collage that can be presented on a screen. Important aspects of the PowerPoint presentation include:
Other presentation forms
Performance with digital story background. Dana Atchely, one of the primary founders of the digital storytelling movement, used to perform and tell stories while a digital backdrop ran in the background. Rather than informational slides, he used actual scene changes he created with his computer. One of his most celebrated pieces, Next Exit, can be seen online. It is easy to imagine school work in this form in many content areas.
Green screen storytelling. Students create and tell a story in front of a green wall or sheet, and then add images and video behind them, a la the Matrix and the local weather announcer. This process is inexpensive and simple to do these days. The results are always at least interesting and often amazing. To see an example of this, watch Hannah's performance of Fox Becomes a Better Person, created by a 4th grader as part of a cultural literacy course.
Second Life. Classes are already meeting in Second Life, the virtual reality available via www.secondlife.com. It offers a very new take on performance, because inhabitants are represented by avatars that walk, talk, interact, build virtual objects, form communities, create schools, attend classes, and so on.
Presentation without live performance or voice narration. PowerPoint and other presentation media can be used without live presentation. Future of Technology by Scott McLeod is an example. It uses music but no live presentation or voice narration. Web 2.0 - the Machine is Using Us is a good example of presentation using a number of media, including overhead camera, web cam, and screen capture to create a presentation. It also uses music but does not use live presentation or voice narration.
Digital stories and movies
Digital reports, documentaries and stories are technically similar. They use images, voice-over narration, music, video where appropriate, and the other common elements of the multimedia collage.
The difference between them lies mainly in their internal structures. The student education philosophy media projects featured earlier fall mostly into the report category because they are straightforward, linear presentations of the information they contain. Documentaries begin to assume internal structures and elements that story listeners are used to, such as the story core, tension-resolution, and transformation. Stories often use them very explicitly. This is covered in depth on the story development website.
The following are examples of digital stories created by students in my graduate teacher ed program:
All of these stories were produced with "off the shelf" free software and common equipment. The focus was on story, not media production, yet they are work well as both.
What about movies?
Certainly today's students are creating movies. YouTube is full of them. We distinguish movies from digital stories primarily in terms of the presence of acting and dominance of people, vs. media, on the screen.
The blended blog portfolio
At the beginning of this site I described the blogs that each of my graduate students maintained during the course of their study. The weblog functions as a portfolio and notebook, which either contains or points to work they have created. Work is stored and presented using a number of web services, such as YouTube, SlideShare.net and Google Docs. More information is available in the description of students at the earlier in this sit.
Examples can be found at:
YouTube features a number of media forms, all of which have potential for education. One of the most straightforward is the video essay. One I particularly like is Gullible is not in the dictionary by a high school student with the screen name AngryLittleGirl. She wrote the essay, and then gave an oral presentation of it in front of a web cam, presumably reading from the screen. It is a thoughtful, articulate look at "being gullible" and its implications in a world of information overload.
Beyond Words Tools
Here is basic software information to get you started. Bear in mind that I cater to the low end; if you have the budget and the time needed to raise your expectations and production values, there is plenty of mid-range to expensive software out there to do so. But I make the assumption that this is not the case.
An example using the above tools
Recently students in a class of mine conducted energy conservation research on themselves. They chose some small facet of their energy consumption life, and compared it with alternative strategies to accomplish similar goals. Typical projects included: comparing riding the bus vs. driving a car to work, comparing using incandescent and fluorescent bulbs... even comparing baking potatoes in the microwave vs a convection oven. The results are always illuminating.
The final posting for the project included a portfolio blog posting of 2-3 paragraphs in VDT format summarizing what they did and what they learned. Within this are links to the following:
Example, described pictorially
Here is the same example described above, but depicted in a diagram:
What else could you do?
A great deal, including podcasting, vodcasting, video essays (described above), and more. But the elements above constitute a good, solid "beyond words" portfolio entry.
Here are some glimpses:
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