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The New Literacy and the CMS
October 13, 2009 - 9:36pm

The biggest problem I have with Blackboard (and other vertical CMS platforms) is that the knowledge, materials and conversation generated by the class is walled off from the rest of the world.

Blackboard has blogs and wikis, but they are only accessible for students enrolled in the course. What we want, I think, is our students to practice joining and contributing to the larger conversation. A class is a great place to develop expertise in a topic or subject. This expertise grows and is nurtured if it is developed as part of a larger conversation within a community of people around the topic.

The idea that the new literacy involves writing for a Web audience is supported by a Stanford study by Professor Andrea Lunsford. (Thanks again Stephen Downes for the pointer).

The 5 year Stanford study found that only 62 percent of student writing was done for course work. Lunsford's main conclusions were that: a) students are writing more than any time in the past, b) this writing is often about communication, and c) students are writing with the audience in mind.

Said one students in the Stanford study group:

"Academic writing seemed to be divorced from a public audience. I was used to communicating not only privately, with emails, but publicly, with websites, blogs and social networks....... I was used to writing transactionally – not just for private reflection, but writing to actually get something done in the world."

One of Lunsford's conclusions is that higher education needs to adapt to the new literacy by having students, "post their essays online, accommodating their preference for an audience and online discussion."

This research adds to a growing body of scholarship that supports the idea that new media and social learning are opportunities for learning rather than obstacles. Has anyone read Don Tapscott's new book Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation Is Changing Your World? I've been waiting for the audibook version - but I've heard Tapscott interviewed a number of times and he is persuasive that we are living with the "smartest" generation.

What can we do to insure that our course management systems support and nurture the new literacy? How do we encourage our students to gain experience and develop expertise in engaging with the wider world on the subjects that we study and create knowledge around? Will the CMS be able to evolve to adapt to our new understanding of what literacy entails? Is anyone at Blackboard thinking about these issues?


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