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Students enter school multi-literate, they probably always have.  A colleague of mine was discussing her son and the fact that at 7 years old her son was able to search for youtube videos to help him solve problems in games.  Very young children are creating multimodal interactive texts such as those on Ben10 and are able to share these with their friends via email.  Highschool students may be creating sophisticated places for sharing such as ‘pages’ that are designed to rally their friends around an idea whether it is ‘sleeping in’ or ‘fighting for equality’.  They are conceptual thinkers and designers that use technical fluency to manipulate their social worlds.

Wyatt-Smith and Kimber distinguish the elements of this type of multimodal literacy as being either:

  • Using existing knowledge texts or materials
  • Create and share new knowledge texts or materials

However if we look at the example of kids creating Ben10 games or facebook pages there is a higher level socially constructed element that requires a different skill set, that links these two elements.  It is about building environments and activities for participation and interaction.  It requires new literacies that ‘almost all involved social skills developed through collaboration and networking.’ (Jenkins, 06)  This is the part that we are still developing understandings around.  Student participation and socially negotiated design for, sharing, remixing and responding to.  This element lifts multi-modality text into a new realm of communication that is about the interchange, interaction and engagement that students create.

Designing highly complex systems as Jonassen talks about ‘when students build knowledge bases with databases, expert systems, or semantic networking tools, they must analyse the subject domains, develop mental models to represent them, and represent what they understand in terms of those models.  It’s hard work.’

The students of today will be using highly sophisticated interaction design skills in their work.  We can see the start of this type of revolution in designs like those at this interaction design school, api mashups, interactive TV like the ABC’s Bluebird and even these beautiful data visualisations.

The hard work won’t be in the complexity of learning HTML or other coding languages.  The hard work will be using higher order thinking skills as pattern recognition, seeing connections and relationships and visualisation.  They will also need to understand the interplay between computers and people.  How to build online relationships and how to engage others in online activity.

I believe this participatory element is essential to an effective education system for three reasons:

  • Working in ways that provide the a maximum number of role models who are in the ‘zone of proximal development’ means that students have a better chance of increasing their own skills by finding appropriate models for their own level of development.
  • Providing students tools to augment their own cognition through the use of tools enables them to solve more complex problems.
  • Providing students with an opportunity to collaborate across locations and times to solve problems allows for a better chance of solving problems.
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