Blog Post

Twenty-First Century Literacies: Course Description

Here's a course description for a "Twenty-First Century Literacies" class I will be teaching in Spring 2010.  This is for students who are not (yet) English majors.   But a different version will also be the gateway course for our proposed new Master's in Knowledge and Networks that we will be posting on Comment Press next month for feedback.  I'm happy for any feedback on this course, including suggestions of what we might read, see, experience during what will be an amazing course that, I hope, will plunge the stake a little deeper into the wicked heart of the Industrial Age "two cultures" binary that gets us all into trouble over and over and over again.



English 90 CS:    Twenty-First Century Literacies

Spring 2011  MW 1:15-2:30 MW

Humanities Lab, Smith Warehouse  "The Garage"  Bay 4, First Floor

Professor Cathy N. Davidson


DESCRIPTION:  We think we know what school and work are but what we really know are configurations of how we learn and how we labor that have been shaped, formalized, institutionalized, routinized, and measured over the course of the last 150 years.   In this course, we will be rethinking all of the basic concepts that make up our worlds of school and work, all the ways we see the world, for a digital age.  We will be rethinking not only the meaning of reading and writing and publishing but a whole set of interrelated skills (literacies) that were defined in a specific way for over a century and that beg redefinition.  One of the chief factors we will be rethinking in this course is the two cultures divide of science and technology on the one hand and the humanities and arts on the other.  It is disastrous if those who make our technology do not think deeply about it, with historical perspective and critical and creative skills.  It is equally disastrous if we think those who are concerned with philosophical depth, imagination, language, and history will never get a job or contribute to our future.  This course is for anyone interested in a new theory of English as a discipline, a new theory of education, and profound ways to rethink the most practical questions of your life.  


Why is this an English class?  Because it's hard to imagine what other department is better suited to helping us prepare, in practical and profound ways, for our future, for the highly unpredictable changes in how we read, write, and communicate that are reshaping school and work in the Information Age.


SYLLABUS We will be co-creating a syllabus in this course that will involve reading imaginative works, attending lectures, visiting art museums and going to concerts together, visiting businesses and community organizations to understand how these literacies are changing.  I will get us started with some readings but, by the second week, teams of students will be proposing readings, events, websites, music to listen to, art to see or make, performances to watch or do, and other ways to redefine literacy in a digital age.


ASSESSMENT:  Grades will be contract-based and peer-evaluated.   In what is one of the most famous blogs in recent pedagogical history, How to Crowdsource Grading, I described this method:  You may look at that blog to understand the method or contact the instructor.   Assignments consist of:  (1) readings, screenings, viewings, field trips;  (2) weekly blogs on a class-only private blog, in response to all class presentations, including comments on one anothers blogs); (3) a collaborative class presentation and self-evaluation (private) of the success and failures of the collaboration; (4) serious peer evaluation of all that week's blogs in response to your collaborative presentation, including feedback on how to make an unsatisfactory blog post satisfactory; (5) two contributions to public knowledge; (6) a final, collaborative multimedia project.  You will note there is no midterm, final, or research paper; the other requirements are new equivalents and imaginings of these old, standardized course requirements. One other feature of the course will be rethinking what is "required" of education, including forms of discourse and assessment that exist only within the confines of the academy. 


 A note on contract, peer-reviewed grading:  Detailed contracts spelling out what is required for each grade will be passed out the first day of class so that students can review them with care and make a considered and realistic decision about which grade and set of requirements works best for their schedule and needs that term.  Students and the professor will sign these before the end of drops-and-adds.  These contracts are binding. Failure to meet any of the terms of the contract results in a full point automatic grade deduction for the course.


TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY LITERACIES:   Here is a list of some of the twenty-first century literacies we will be assessing in this course.


Attention: What are the new ways that we pay attention in a digital era? How do we need to change our concepts and practices of attention for a new era? How do we learn and practice new forms of attention in a digital age? 

       Participation: How do we encourage meaningful interaction and participation in a digital age? How can the internet be useful on a cultural, social, or civic level? 

       Collaboration: Collaboration can simply reconfirm consensus, acting more as peer pressure than a lever to truly original thinking. HASTAC has cultivated the methodology of collaboration by difference to inspire meaningful ways of working together. 

       Network awareness: How can we both thrive as creative individuals and understand our contribution within a network of others? How do you gain a sense of what that extended network is and what it can do? 

       Global Consciousness: How does the World Wide Web change our responsibilities in and to the world we live in?

       Design: How is information conveyed differently, effectively, and beautifully in diverse digital forms? Aesthetics form a key part of digital communication. How do we understand and practice the elements of good design as part of our communication and interactive practices? 

       Narrative, Storytelling: How do narrative elements shape the information we wish to convey, helping it to have force in a world of competing information?  

       Procedural (Game) Literacy: What are the new tactics and strategies of interactive games, where the multimedia narrative forms changes because of our success or failure? How can we use game mechanics for learning and for motivation in our lives?

       Critical consumption of information: Without a filter (editors, experts, and professionals), much information on the internet can be inaccurate, deceptive, or inadequate. How do we learn to be critical? What are the standards of credibility?  

       Digital Divides, Digital Participation: What divisions still remain in digital culture? Who is included and who excluded? How do basic aspects of economics and culture dictate not only who participates in the digital age but how they participate?

       Ethics: What are the new moral imperatives of our interconnected age? 

       Assessment:  What are the best, most fluid, most adaptive and helpful ways to measure progress and productivity, not as fixed goals, but as a part of a productive process that also requires innovation and creativity?  

       Preservation: What are the requirements for preserving the digital world we are creating? Paper lasts. Platforms change.  

       Sustainability: What are the metrics for sustainability in a world where we live on more kilowatts than ever before? How do we protect the environment in a plugged-in era? 

       Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning: Alvin Toffler has said that, in the rapidly changing world of the twenty-first century, the most important skill anyone can have is the ability to stop in ones tracks, see what isnt working, and then find ways to unlearn old patterns and relearn how to learn. How is this process especially important in our rapidly changing digital world? 













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