I’ve been participating in a pretty interesting (I think) thread at Jeff Rice’s Weblog about new literacies and I wanted to pull some of the thoughts over here for some further thinking. (If you surf over there, read the comments from the bottom up.) One phrase he uses does a good job of naming this blog and wiki produced writing: “open text.” He defines it as texts created “within a network which writers and readers tap into, alter, appropriate, confiscate, download, share, etc.”
An open text is much different than what print creates – closed, authorial creation. The bigger picture would be to imagine an academic setting in which students don’t produce closed, authorial (name on your paper/do your own work) writings, but something more open and networked (and by extension, the classroom, too, would take this form).
Kind of goes to the mix, rip and burn culture that Lawrence Lessig talks about. And it also goes to the heart of where my own murky thinking about all of this is…it really is the collaboration, stupid. Aside from the digital paper part of it, which is important, collaboration IS the big idea here. It is what is truly different about Weblogs and wikis. And I’m really starting to believe that these technologies are the first(?) step down the road to completely changing how we think about reading, writing and producing products in general. Jeff says:
For example, if one has students work with weblogs only so that they can post their homework, why use the weblog? Same with a wiki. If students are just posting essays, we don’t need a wiki? But if students are doing something with the wiki that they couldn’t do without it – like creating highly networked and interconnected texts, with each other, other courses, other schools – then it seems like we’re starting to work with new media differently, right? That also is going to mean that the ways information is created and transfered will shift as well…so that what we used to ask for (literacy) no longer applies as is.
The opening up of the text is what is new. To use a written text as an example, right now, our students print the “final” copy, at which point, you can put a fork in it. It’s done. And despite the fact that we’re big on collaborative learning, that’s always been, for me at least, a very nebulous undertaking. In writing, it usually just means offering corrections or primarily insignificant suggestions on content. Rarely have I seen students significantly interact with someone else’s text, and I think part of the reason is they don’t own it and that the effects of that interaction have little or no audience or lasting purpose beyond the classroom walls.
But now, all of a sudden we have online, “open” texts. Texts that are not finished, per se, but are continually (perhaps) evolving from the interaction of others. Texts that can reach a wide audience. Texts that everyone can own. Texts that can have a real purpose for being created. This is a significant shift.
The big question here is, obviously, whether or not the collaborative construction of content will be the norm in the future. And if so, in what ways are we going to have to rethink what it means to be literate? It can’t be just reading and writing any longer. It has to include editing, publishing and managing of texts as well. And real collaboration skills. It incorporates all if not more of what we’re doing in this community: blogs, wikis, RSS, aggregators, online information managers.
Luckily, I’ve got a couple of nights under the stars coming up to think more about this.