The Journal of the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) published a long article by me in 2013 entitled “Expanding Learning Opportunities with Transmedia Practices: Inanimate Alice as an Exemplar”. I have decided to convert the article into readable chunks and serialize it here on my blog, particularly in light of this new wave of digital assessments that require our learners to think and communicate effectively across all forms of media.
Most states in America have by now adopted the Common Core State Standards and are at various stages in the process of implementation. An explicit driving force behind this reform has been the need to better equip children in grades K-12 with the skills and knowledge deemed necessary to prepare them for success in college and in the workforce. As the Common Core State Standards Initiative website states, the standards:
…define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. (2013, par. 4)
Those states that are pushing the Common Core hardest are very clear that the higher levels of critical thinking set forth in the standards can only be grasped fully through the deployment of a range of digital learning strategies. Discussion and debate are already taking place across many forums about the myriad issues that schools and authorities need to consider in their planning for digital learning: personalization, interoperability, taking eLearning beyond mere digital content, shifts in pedagogical thinking and practice, and many other topics are lighting up the national conversation around Common Core. And in addition to the pedagogical and curricular impetus for the use of technology in schools, many standardized assessments will require to be administered digitally. Districts across the country are therefore required to prepare their schools with technology sufficient enough for their students to take what will be entirely online, computer-based, high-stakes tests. Students are expected not only to know how to use the technology in order to take such tests, but also they are required to be able to think and communicate effectively across all forms of media.
The State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) (2013) is addressing these challenges on behalf of schools nationally by seeking to: “Ensure readiness for next generation computer-based assessments, [i]mprove curriculum and instruction aimed at college and career readiness, and [l]everage technology to achieve better results and cost-savings” (2013, par 3). Of course, while we strive to meet the Common Core requirements and to prepare our students for the demands of standardized testing, we can also see this overall development as an opportunity to transform our schools into places of twenty-first century learning. We are at a digital inflection point and a window of opportunity exists right here and now for us to rethink, restructure, and redefine instruction in order to pull American schooling emphatically into the Knowledge Age.
None of this is easy though. Teachers must be given the support they will need to prepare for the concomitant shift in instruction; they will need help to make sense of the new kinds of content that will make their way into the classroom; they will need encouragement to change their approach to teaching and to learning accordingly; and they will need support in how to effectively weave and integrate technology into their practice. The effective use of digital learning can help school districts meet these educational challenges, including, as we have noted, implementing college and career-ready standards for all students, as outlined in the Common Core. Educators need to come to see technology as intrinsic to their instructional practices. Rather than envisaging a process in which technology is merely embedded into the curriculum, an attitude that so often relegates the technology to an afterthought or just one amongst a range of motivating techniques, it should be about the seamless integration of technology into every aspect of teaching and learning through transmedia practices. Technology tools should be so much a part of learning that the friction is removed because of educators and learners do not waste energy thinking about how it works, instead becoming an essential component of all that goes on in the classroom.
The world can now be our platform for learning. In a sense, of course, it always has been—learning has always been, or should always have been, simply a core part of what it means to live—but the opportunity now exists for us to take advantage of the vast multiplicity of media now readily available to us in new and powerful ways. Whether educators recognize it or not, our young learners are very aware of the new media that surrounds them. Students, sometimes consciously, often unconsciously, know that learning extends beyond the four walls of a classroom; they know that we are a part of a greater global community, and they see themselves as learners in ways that go beyond the notion of the institutionally-bound student. Most children participate actively in this networked society through social networking applications, but many also engage through the use of the likes of wikis, blogs, and the many other Web 2.0 tools available to them. Effectively consuming and producing content across multifarious media platforms is a basic life skill for the twenty-first century. Transmedia learning is flexible and can happen anytime, anywhere. Our kids know this instinctively. As a result, we as educators now need, urgently, to extend our notion of literacy skills way beyond print (but always continuing to include print, of course). We need to consider a broad spectrum of transliteracies for our young people and change our teaching practice accordingly.