Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What's 'Memes' Got to Do With It?

(got to do with it?)

So I'm taking this grad class on The New Literacies. As you might assume, part of the definition has to do with how technology has changed how we think about "literacy". The second part of the definition has to do with how knowledge is socially constructed. A main characteristic of Web 2.0 includes users contributing to a community or "affinity space" (Gee, 2004). Today's students are deeply engaged in these communities. Those of us born before Apple was considered more than simply something to keep the doctor away, probably think that all this time spent in front of a screen will bring the downfall of our society....or at least drain off some serious IQ points of students in our schools. Others would argue that the type of knowledge required to be a part of the online community, whether through gaming, facebooking, blogging, fan-fiction, adbusting or any number of other "spaces" is more complex and rich environment for knowledge development, production, and for developing new literacies. It's the unique combination of social participation and validation paired with informal, interest driven learning that keeps those of us taking part, plugged in.

My most recent reading of Lankshear and Knoble's New Literacies: Everyday Practices & Classroom Learning focused on "memes". The idea of memetics (think pop culture meets genetics) has been around for a while. Richard Dawkins, a geneticist, (not to be confused with Richard Dawson) coined the term in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. He proposed that cultural development and change, similar to genetic evolution, is based on the "replication of ideas, knowledge and other cultural information through imitation and transfer. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2009)"

While memes have been around, they, themselves are now memetic (does that make them metamemes?) thanks to the Internet. C'mon, you know what I'm talking about. Chuck Norris 'facts', StarWars Kid, and who can forget Charlie, Bit My Finger? I think it's time to ask yourself, what's my internet meme knowledge quotient? Are you a meme voyeur? Only looking at the links sent in email and posted on facebook? Or are you an active community participant? The one who calls the meme before it happens? Perhaps even creating your own next internet sensation? The next time you get RickRolled, consider what characteristics qualify the latest online fad into an authentic part of our cultural universe. Yes, there's a rubric, folks. Apparently, Lankshear and Knobel have spent a good bit of time thinking about this and their yardstick consists of the following:

Fidelity - Does the meme stay more or less "intact" through copying - think 'telephone', as in your message should be understandable after it makes it through the circle of 2nd graders.
Fecundity - How quickly is the meme spread?
Longevity - How long does the meme stay alive? (Umm ...did you know that the Nigerian letter scam generates more losses per victim per year than identity theft (di Jasto & Stein, 2002, as referenced in Lankshear & Knobel, 2009)?)

Beyond these benchmarks, memes have been grouped by referential system, social relationships, ideological system, and social affinities. Additionally, the authors found that the memes which scored highest on their rubric had characteristics in common such as humor (of the quirky and/or satiric varieties) , rich intertextuality (who doesn't love a great cross reference?), and anomalous juxtaposition (my favorite - strange bedfellows) and I know that at this point, you are wondering how this class made it into my program of studies...

Ultimately, all learning and experience gets filtered through my teacher lens and I am left wondering how to capitalize on being "in" on the memetic joke of the day can be parlayed into an educational moment for my students. What can be learned based on how this community interacts? How can students contribute to this community (or are they already)? How can they produce commentary on society in clever and interesting ways? How might they counter negative memes through humor and "antimeming"?

The point of the book is that kids are living a whole life of literacy that School chooses to ban from its premises entirely. Should we be surprised that kids in school seem checked out when their preferred forms of communication don't count as knowledge? This is not to say that we should spend all day in classrooms looking at LOLCats or reading random blog postings. It is to say that teachers would be well served to learn more about their students and this includes what their students do in their free time. Opportunities for building bridges between popular culture and school culture exist. The savvy educator knows that using any and all opportunities to draw students in can be valuable if she knows how to make connections between the written curriculum and the 'real' virtual world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

21st Century Classroom?

So I read an article online today - found in my twitterstream about asking what it take to be a 21st century learner. There was a video created by Archbishop Ryan High School in Pennsylvania that was well done - but as an educator striving to provide best uses of technology for my students, I was underwhelmed. In sharing the video with my middle school students, they liked it because in many of their classes, they are using a number of the tools mentioned, some of which I would classify as Web 2.0 and others, not so much. They are using the tools, because they are assigned...when I asked how many of them were using Google Docs, online calendars, online math text books, Glogster, online discussion tools, wikis or blogs, without teacher prompting, the answer was "not really..." We will have 21st Century Classrooms when we have one to one technology AND when students are using these tools to organize, learn and socialize as a matter of course. I was surprised that when I started asking questions, none of my students said we should include facebook or gaming as a part of school. They see the divide between home and school perhaps even more that their teachers and parents do. As schools become further and further removed from the lived experiences of the children they serve, when do they cease to be relevant in our society? My fear is that for some of our students it may have already occurred.

Monday, April 18, 2011

See Saw Classroom

I don't know about all teachers, but I feel like I am constantly searching for the right equilibrium in my own little classroom. I was reminded of how delicate the balance can be today as I showed my students the calendar to illustrate how many weeks they had left to complete their projects before final presentations. The look of horror on some students' faces leads me to believe that perhaps I neglected to match my level of support to the point at which my current students are learning to manage their own time to complete complex, long term work. Of course, I am assuming that the scary scared looks were due to the limited amount of time available rather that the dread of spending six more weeks in my class ;).

I've tried making the entire class keep a variety of calendars, to do lists, and project organizers. Lots of moans and groans and time spent tracking down the organizer, long after the work it was supposed to organize was turned in. Ultimately, it seems that each student has his or her preferred way of doing things and my role, then, should be to help those without a way....or without a way that actually works. Online tools offer great promise but due to their lack of physicality, can get forgotten if only used for a single class out of the seven on their list. I'm always tinkering with new options and the level at which they are "enforced" rather than permitted as choices.

Until we get beyond this artificial world of class periods, school days, quarters, semesters and grades, I suppose all of us can benefit from some type of organizational scheme that works. I'm curious if others of you out there have found some cool e-gadgets or software to organize your students or children?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

So Much for THAT Idea

Yeah, looking at my last post - from 2 years ago....awesome.

Even while confronted by multiple examples and opportunities of why writing and in particular, blogging is important, I seem to have trouble getting it done. I am not a creature of habit - unless I can count bad ones. I need a schedule so I have something to deviate from...

Well, all that aside, I've come across yet more literature and another opportunity to help incentivise my writing informally on a more formal basis. In my coursework, I have been reading about how writing not only helps us to process our learning, ourselves and the world around us, it actually helps us to retell and reinvent our own stories - to ourselves, and if shared with others, them too. Such a powerful idea. Not sure if writing more is just flirting with disaster. What if I invent myself into someone worse? Have you read about Thursday Next? Very meta.

The real interesting implication of the power of writing and of language in general is the way in which we interact with our students. How are we helping children and adolescents to navigate their world, form their own identities and could writing help with that task? More importantly, as teachers, how will we choose to respond, support and encourage our students as writers? How does technology come into play when our students have access to tools that are banned in schools? Who is there to model positive uses of online tools? In my own mind, I'm a secret undercover change agent for helping to remake the educational institution into something relevant, something capable of actually producing thinking, productive world citizens ready to create changes of their own. Yeah, you can see how well THAT's going.

Laidlaw, L. (1998). Finding "real" lives: Writing and identity Language Arts, 75(2), 126-131.
Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2006). New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning (2nd ed.) Open University Press.