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.

1 comment:

  1. Kim, thanks for your excellent post. The memes section struck me as the most difficult to blend into my understanding. I see how these can be used as a starting point for evaluation and even morphing, but I still struggle in making the connection to pedagogy.

    I did see the opportunity in use of handheld computing. I was reminded of Dewey's approach to inquiry learning,but here students are apprenticed to a master Discourse. This seems to hold much potential for imbuing relevance into classrooms.

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