Wired Nails It On The New Literacy

image001Clive Thompson over at Wired has a great short essay on the modern revival of the written word in the age of social media. He cites work done at Stanford that shows that todays students are writing more than their parents – in fact 38% of their writing is has nothing to do with school. Better yet – they are writing for an audience – or at least an audience wider than a single Professor.

Here are a couple of key quotes (emphasis added):

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.

It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment.

The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) 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.

I also like the reference to “haiku like concision.”
First Hand Experience

Writing to engage an unknown audience is a skill that, until very recently, only a few of us have had to master. My blogging experience has convinced me that this is a good habit of mind to develop. When I have to explain my thinking in an on-line context I’m forced to organize my thoughts into a logical sequence and put some metaphorical polish on them. Its a mental workout.

When I started this blog over 2 years ago I realized that I hadn’t written for an audience in decades. Other than a couple of brief forays into campus journalism I’d almost always written for someone I knew on a topic that was an assignment or an internal work project.

When we are sharing a drink at the EdNet reception tonight I’ll be able to speak with a bit more authority and ease than I could pre-blogging.

Implications for Publishers

A critical part of engaging and motivating today’s learners is incorporating the new literacy tools into teaching and instruction. Just because writing is an assignment doesn’t mean the only person who counts is the teacher.

Imagine an assignment where the grade involves engaging others with your writing – provoking a thoughtful response to your ideas. Wouldn’t this be far more interesting than regurgitating the facts? Wouldn’t it be more authentic? Wouldn’t the engagement provide a wider view for the instructor to gauge the work of the student?

Here are a few questions to stir the pot as you look at your own materials.

  • What are you doing in your products to encourage writing that is visible beyond the classroom?
  • Are you engaged in social media yourself – learning first hand the new craft of writing?
  • Have you created an on-line space where students can share their ideas?
  • Do you reference tools and resources that allow students to blog, wiki, tweet, and plurk?
  • What are you doing to help teachers make this transition?