Literacy in a digital age – Day 1 of ALEA conference 2011

The Australian Literacy Educators Association Conference kicked off today and I opted for the ‘Literacy in a digital age’ stream. In the fabulous and inspiring surrounds of ACMI, a small and varied group of educators came together to ponder the evolution of Literacy.

Brett McLennan of ACMI started off with a thought provoking keynote, ‘Towards a transformative Literacy’ which instantly resonated because he referred to the skills needed in a participatory culture originally identified by Henry Jenkins. He talked about learning as a 24 hour, 7 day a week activity, not something that should (or could) be restricted to school hours. Why are we making students turn off when they walk into the classroom? As proof of how much of his own life is lived and enjoyed online, he showcased a great tool in Intel’s Museum of Me, taking your facebook information and turning it into an impressive digital resume of your life online. Brett also touched on the ethics of living online and some of the dilemmas we face both as users and educators, citing a case demonstrating the greyness of the area – Virgin Mobile’s use of a teenager’s flickr photos under Creative Commons licensing. He ended with probably the key message for the conference – the fundamentals of literacy will always be there but the balance and the details are changing. And we need to keep up.

The next session was by Deborah Cohen of Australian Children’s Television Foundation on ‘Engaging Gen Y with digital learning strategies’. Unfortunately, not one that resonated so strongly as her references to our current students as ‘digital natives’ hit a nerve (read my recent blog post to understand why!) and I felt the presentation was aimed at an exclusive subset of the audience – those born pre-1965. However, as always, the ACTF’s resources are of top quality and it was great to be reminded of them – their YouTube channel has some gems and the My Place website is a good complement to an excellent book.

Session 3 was on Cloudstreet by Tim Winton and walked us through the extensive and well thought out website to support the mini-series. We were also treated to insights into how the book evolved into a screenplay from Producer Greg Haddrick. The book might be too old for the age group I teach but it has inspired me to wipe the dust off it and read it. It’s been sitting in my ‘to read’ pile next to my bed for over a year.

Project CLaim are an inspiring bunch of educators from Canberra who are working hard to re-engage Secondary school students who are struggling with Literacy. Through a multi-pronged approach with authentic experiences at its heart, they have experienced success, trialling Kindles to promote reading, having students publish a street magazine to promote writing and providing mentoring opportunities for both University students and Secondary school students to support their skills development and raise their self esteem.

Next was Vincent Trundle, also of ACMI who spoke passionately about video games and their role in literacy and education in general. He demonstrated that games can be beautiful (such as machinarium) and highly motivating (such as minecraft) as well as being fun. Vincent also stressed the importance of children as producers of content in terms of games, not just consumers. He noted that the process of thinking through how a user will experience your game is similar to telling a story albeit in an advanced, multi-threaded way.

Finally, Elise Hurst took to the stage and gave her take on the future of books from an author/illustrators point of view. She provided a thoughtful appraisal of the possibilities for and benefits of e-books including their ability to regenerate out of print books and provide an outlet for new authors unable to get a foot into the current, competitive market. Her artwork was a beautiful background to the Plenary and showed the power of the visual in conveying messages. A great way to end the day.

So that’s day one – looking forward to seeing what day 2 has to offer!