Further Defining Digital Literacies: Bias, Privilege, Modalities and Learning

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE culture

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

The theme of this strand — Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions — seems to be resonating everywhere in education circles and that’s as it should be. Given that much of the US teacher population is white and middle class, but that much of the student population in 0ur classrooms is diverse and getting more diverse as the population shifts, we educators need to do more to think about bias, and identity, and cultural crossroads for communication practices with our students.

Look at these questions posed in this part of the definition:

  • Do learners have opportunities to raise questions about bias and privilege when consuming, curating, and creating texts?
  • Do learners have strategies for interrupting discourse that marginalizes people based on race, culture, sexuality, language, gender, and ability?
  • Do learners have opportunities to identify and discuss how to detect and report fake news/deliberately misleading and false information or information that promotes hate speech and violence?
  • Do learners create texts across modalities for a variety of audiences and consider how diverse groups would respond?
  • Do learners have opportunities to collaborate with people/learners from communities that hold different views/ideas/values/beliefs, life experiences, racial, ethnic, and cultural identities, and economic security to address social issues that impact all of our lives?

These are important queries, and difficult at times to make happen. It really requires educators to work with others, to gather the right resources, to know what questions need to be asked (of themselves, of their students, of their communities), to push back on norms.

We grapple and work with variations of these questions quite a bit in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. All of our projects and initiatives are viewed through the lens of culture, access, equity and social justice, and one of our leadership committees is dedicated to these very topics, helping facilitators think through workshops and seminars and teaching practice.

I find it interesting that the Media Literacy/Fake News element was put into here — at first, it felt rather forced, as if the topic was an orphan looking for a home. But then, as I pondered it, I began to see the rationale, of how fake news and text distortion plays a role in how we view “others” and how it can break down the bridge between cultures and language and diverse thought.

Further, I was thinking about the concepts of connecting multiple modalities and multiple ways of writing to cultural representations and literacies — to help learners be aware of how culture impacts our ways and access of literacies, and how that might play out in digital spaces. This concept intrigues me, and I don’t think I know enough about this to comment much further. For example, the reference to “sign systems” is not clear to me right now.

But the language of the definition has planted a seed of inquiry in my mind:

How do digital platforms both limit cultural expressions through technological design and how do users find workarounds to use platforms for cultural and linguistic, and modality, interactions anyway?

Finally, I was thinking of the point about “disrupting” practices, and connected that to the work being by Marginal Syllabus last year and now this year with its LEARN project, bringing in texts and authors on topics very much connected to this strand for conversations in the margins of those texts with the Hypothesis tool.

This month, the focus is on a piece about using the novel of Miles Morales, the black Spiderman, to talk about race and education, and varying the kinds of stories and texts that we bring into our classroom. (Come join in)

Peace (thinking),

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