Thoughts on “New Literacy” and Motivation

16 09 2009

I stumbled across an article from “Wired” this morning talking about the influence of social media on student literacy skills. (Yes, Wired tends to hype every new gadget as a revolution that will shortly transform the whole of human civilization, but if you’re a technophile and read it primarily as infotainment, it’s often pretty interesting.)

I’ve created a digest version below using the Diigo highlighter and “send to blog” tool just below.  My thoughts on how this might related to CCK09 are at the end of the post.

  • From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusions are stirring.
  • The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it.
  • But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
  • The fact that students today almost always write for an audience gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it’s over something as quotidian as what movie to go see.
  • The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn’t serve any purpose other than to get them a grade.
  • As for those texting short-forms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn’t find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.
  • We think of writing as either good or bad. What today’s young people know is that knowing who you’re writing for and why you’re writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

So, one of the topics I hope we will be able to explore in CCK09 is “what motivates people to put stuff “out there” and try to embody in a shareable medium connections that they have made?

I might suggest, based partially on Lunsford’s findings, that humans have an innate motivation to participate in shared knowlege and that it is this motivation that makes writing for “real” audiences more rewarding for students than writing for an individual “teacher.”  There is something inherently rewarding to us about being “in conversation.”  (Notice how social isolation is used worldwide as a punishment, or how good teachers in traditional classrooms know they can use “wait time” to get students talking.  Knowing that someone is listening virtually compels us to speak.)  Another way of looking at this is, as social creatures, we are driven to seek environments rich with connective potential. (It may be that some of this works at an instinctual or subconcious level driven by evolution.  We don’t have exceptional strength, speed, or sensory acuity as a species, so we’ve had to survive and prosper by working together.  Another possibility is that our tendency to organize ourselves into communities, organizations, and institutions is an extension of a smaller, simpler “pattern” we come to recognize as “family.” Memo to self: think more about family-as-first-social-network later when we talk about progression of involvement in social networks.)

Going a step further, when we perceive an opportunity to modify our environments (or even create new ones) so as to increase our opportunities for connection, we usually do so.  We invent wheels and airplanes, build roads and schools (and pubs!), string cable to our homes and encircle our planet with satellites.  And, we do these things in anticipation of the formation of new or strengthened connections.  In other words, in the present, we project patterns from the past into the future and then act accordingly.  (I know I signed up for CCK mainly because I had read a lot of the material from last year, was intrigued, and thought I could go deeper by getting involved in actual conversations with the people that generated that material.)

So, maybe the kids in this study are simply making choices about when, where and how they write because they are projecting patterns learned in the past (e.g. when I write for the teacher, I get one “page view.” When I write for the Web, I am often drawn into community and conversation about things that actually matter to me, and that those communities and conversations help me expand on and refine my own understanding.  The fact that the majority of participants in cck09 aren’t getting credit is itself good evidence that grades are not an essential motivator for engaging in “academic” work.)

So, is connective learning naturally self-reinforcing? Is the building of community a means to an end (learning), an end in and of itself, or both?  Put another way, would you keep writing your blog of you knew nobody was reading it?



10 responses

17 09 2009
Thoughts on new learning – elearnspace

[…] I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s due to the sense of personal space or identity. Thoughts on new learning: “…humans have an innate motivation to participate in shared knowlege and that it is […]

17 09 2009
George Siemens

Hi Eric – interesting questions. The reasons why people participate online is likely somewhat related to the feedback communities/peers provide. I know my participation online is often related to responses/comments other provide.

I wonder, however, if sharing (or in this case, posting stuff online) is sometimes not just a symptom of “it’s what people do to make sense”. We create something to understand at a deeper level. People used to keep diaries (and still do, I’m sure) without expecting anyone to ever read them. Maybe, for some people at least, blogging and creating resources online flows from a similar urge…

6 10 2009

I agree with this. My friend recently started a private blog for which she only has access to to work out what is going on in her mind. I think blogging is very much a way to put the pieces together and often times to find other like-minded people. We all deep down want to feel connected and a part of a community and that we are not “normal”. Blogging allows this.

11 11 2009
Deborah Elzie

George, I think that many of us do use blogging to “make sense of” or reflect on what we are learning/experiencing. Others seem to find some blogging too time consuming and choose to use microblogging like Twitter. Of course, others do both. I think that with students we do want their writing experiences to be authentic and draw them into real conversations beyond the classroom door. With K-12 education, this is more difficult, but in higher education the door is wide open.

19 09 2009
Media Literacy: Making Sense Of New Technologies And Media by George Siemens – Sep 19 09 « Argument

[…] Thoughts on new learning: “… Humans have an innate motivation to participate in shared knowlege and that it is this motivation that makes writing for “real” audiences more rewarding for students than writing for an individual “teacher”… is connective learning naturally self-reinforcing? […]

20 09 2009
annalaura brown

very interesting post. The debate about this will continue to go on I am sure. Another thing that I have seen talked about, is the question as to if texting is making kids spelling worse.

20 09 2009

Hi Eric

it depends on the purpose behind writing the blog, though it could also be perceived as a course ‘requirement’.
If by reflecting and sharing where you’re at with the ‘course’ at week 1, then the blog can be seen as the reflective journals we as teacher educators used to invite teachers to write and share weekly during their courses. The distance has expanded and so have the networks of course. So the scope and depth are broader and deeper (potentially).
This is self-reinforcing, while contributing to the public good of keeping the community conversations going, and adding to its’ repository of distributed knowledge.
Also, since I am not keen to keep a blog personally, reading the blogs of my course mates facilitates my learning, and what I do instead is leave replies behind when my thinking has been provoked.
Like I am doing now.

What I am really interested in right now is how this connectivism connects with critical literacy, for no one seems to be talking about social justice and destablising heteronormativity through the potential of connectivism so far.


26 09 2009
Eric Calvert

Hi Gurmit,

Content and theory aside for a moment, one of the things that attracted me to this course was a desire to show support through participation for efforts to explore sustainable ways to provide access to learning. I think the fact that it’s free, it’s “self enrolling,” and that we can situate learning and discussion in whatever forum we choose (vs. being locked into a system/space owned by the institution) is kind of impressive from a social justice perspective simply in terms of democratizing access.

I do think, though (getting back to connectivism as a theory again) that connectivism implicitly values diversity. It acknowledges that if we only seek out people like ourselves and ideas similar to our own, we limit our own capacities for learning and thinking. (I talk about this a little in my post on 9/25.)

24 09 2009
Media Literacy: Making Sense Of New Technologies And Media by George Siemens – Sep 19 09 « golden

[…] Thoughts on up to date learning: “… Humans have an innate motivation to participate in shared knowlege and that it is this motivation that makes calligraphy for “real” audiences more rewarding in the course of students than writing owing an individual “teacher”… is connective learning honestly self-reinforcing? […]

29 09 2009

Hi Eric

I agree that it democratizes access, if one has internet access to get online.

I agree that grades are not the main motive, and as you wrote, “am often drawn into community and conversation about things that actually matter to me, and that those communities and conversations help me expand on and refine my own understanding. ”
Do you think we might need to examine the mechanisms and effects closely to understand the nature of this kind of networked learning?

Also, I wonder what connectivism means for schools and institutes, with prescribed spaces for learning, the associated assessment regimes for measuring and profiling humans, and the organization of mass education in the 21st century.


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