Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Burniske's Literacy in the Digital Age

I picked up R. W. Burniske's book Literacy in the Digital Age just because it sounded interesting. Lucky for me, I was not disappointed. Burniske's book is all about redefining literacy in a way that meets 21st century students' needs. He takes lame, underdeveloped terms like "computer literacy" and "functional literacy" and revises them so that they become more complex and useful. Burniske explains:

just as we must learn to read and write the alphabet to develop functional literacy, so too must we learn how to ‘read’ visual images, discursive practices, personal ethics, community actions, cultural events, global developments, and humanity in general. (2)

The focus is no longer on a set of operational skills, but instead, a set of reading practices that enable students to navigate their complex worlds, worlds that require much more than an ability to read text or word per minute proficiency. Burniske advocates a set of eight literacies: media literacy, civil literacy, discourse literacy, personal literacy, community literacy, visual literacy, evaluative literacy, and pedagogical literacy. These eight literacies are interactive. They build off of one another. Furthermore, these literacies provide an ethical framework, encouraging positive interaction, teaching students how to deal with "fire," and showing students how they "compose their selves" online.

Burniske's book is also complete with exercises to help promote these literacies and case studies to show how they work in action. Best of all, his exercises are be useful across age ranges. Though the book seems to focus mostly on middle to high school aged students, I can see many of his exercises being easily applicable to an adult literacy program or FYW course.

One of the most useful exercises can be found in a section called "Fostering Personal Literacy." Burniske outlines this exercise as such: "Students must discover or invent a thoughtful, open-ended 'why' question that challenges them, because analysis begins with the question 'Why"' (64). He challenges students to ask "why" questions, which are then answered and responded to again with an additional 'why' question, continuing on through a set of 10 answers and why questions. At the end, he has the students reflect on the process. He says, "With time, they come to realize that What questions lead them to the cul-de-sac of static answers rather than the open road of dynamic, arguable ones" (66). What students learn is how to perform real analysis, and when turned inwards, it can help them discover how they want to define themselves and why.

Since technology is a part of my course, I'm thinking about how I can make sure my students leave my course being literate in 8/9 of Burniske's literacies (I guess they could skip the pedagogical for the time being).

1 comment:

Lee Skallerup Bessette, PhD said...

You should totally pick up Cathy Davidson's new book "Now You See It." I'll be reviewing it on my blog soon enough (probably on Friday).

Good stuff. It really isn't just about reading anymore, at least not the way we have traditionally defined it in recent history.