Graduate Attributes

A Mapping of Graduate Attributes for a Digital Age at Brookes

This paper comes from the Centre for e-Learning and is directed to all programme teams working on the Mode of Delivery Implementation. It explains how programme teams can address an aspect of the new University e-Learning Strategy 2008-10 (see as part of the Mode of Delivery process, hitting two policy planks with one strike, so to speak.

It is increasingly important for universities to clarify the nature of the education they offer to their students, especially the contributions their students can make to society as a result of their university experience. In this digital age our understanding of graduate attributes is expanding to include a range of new abilities – digital literacies – that extend Brookes’ current formulation of six core transferable skills (see attached).

Brookes has a reputation for delivering high quality teaching, learning and employability and is a leader in innovative, technology-enhanced learning environments. Currently it does not have an explicit set of ‘graduate attributes’. The new e-learning strategy seeks to initiate a process that might lead to this, by proposing the idea of ‘graduate attributes for a digital age’, or ‘digital literacies’.

We take it as given that one benefit of a Brookes education in this digital age is that its graduates become digitally literate, which we take to mean that they should be:

  • self-regulating citizens in a globally connected society,
  • able to handle multiple, diverse information sources and media,
  • proficiently mediating their interactions with social and professional groups using an ever-changing and expanding range of technologies and
  • able confidently to use digital technologies to reflect on, record and manage their lifelong learning.

Therefore, the new Brookes e-learning strategy (adopted in principle at LTC on 04 June 2008) proposes that schools will be supported to:

  • specify the digital literacies Brookes graduates will develop;
  • undertake curriculum redesign and development that map these attributes across their programmes

We suggest that schools take the opportunity offered by the Mode of Delivery implementation to do this. The final recommendations for the Mode of Delivery implementation recommend that programme descriptions give “adequate consideration … to our main strategic and student focused objectives and to what characterises a Brookes degree and a Brookes graduate”.

At present, many of the innovative, technology-enriched learning methods and experiences that our programmes offer – and the graduate attributes they are designed to foster – are not explicitly stated. The Mode of Delivery implementation provides an opportunity for schools to map the digital literacies their students acquire through their experience at Brookes and to articulate them where they currently do not do so.

At this stage we are only suggesting that programmes map their current practice of technology-enriched learning experiences. This mapping will have two outcomes: it will make explicit to students and staff the digital literacies their programmes currently develop and provide a baseline for programmes subsequently to review their offerings and consider redesigns that maintain or enhance their digital currency.

What do we mean by digital literacies?

The term ‘digital literacy’ is widely used and arguably has as many different working definitions as there are users of the term. It may be helpful to think about the term in relation to widely agreed understandings of ‘Information literacy’. In 1999 the Society of College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) proposed the Seven Pillars Model for Information Literacy:

The model comprises an understanding of information literacy that “encompasses library user education, information skills training and education, and those areas of personal, transferable or ‘key’ skills relating to the use and manipulation of information in the context of learning, teaching and research issues in higher education” (SCONUL 2008).Proficiency with digital technologies is an essential part of working with information, be it to construct database queries or advanced web searches, set up RSS feeds for information updates, use bibliographic software for citations, manage electronic documents in multiple locations, or use specialist software for data manipulation, to name but a few ways.

In recognition of the impact of digital technologies, the 1999 model is being updated (see With due apologies to SCONUL, we propose also, for the purposes of this exercise at Brookes, an expanded interpretation of the model to include forms of knowledge building that are facilitated by modern communication and collaboration technologies, to arrive at a model of digital literacies. Thus, we suggest that in the digital age, as well as being proficient handlers of information, graduates need to be adept at using tools to manage the human interactions and processes concerned with knowledge building. The tools and technologies that we are thinking of here are things like: maintaining membership in multiple networks of friends and colleagues using social networks; ubiquitous web authoring with tools like blogs; managing various communications tools including email, discussion boards, instant messaging, video conferencing, mobile phones; working with others using collaborative tools such as wikis, group project management tools, electronic document management, document sharing and versioning. Thinking about these tools and processes, the SCONUL model might be expanded to look like this:

The processes of the SCONUL model apply equally well to working with other people as with information: recognising that learning is seldom a solitary process; learning how to distinguish those learning practices or communities that are most relevant to you and constructing best-fit strategies for locating and engaging with them; being able to compare and evaluate the often conflicting views and practices of different communities; organising the outcomes of knowledge building so that they are retrievable by others; using knowledge ethically and communicating it using appropriate media; learning to synthesise and create new knowledge as a collaborative process involving multiple human sources, agents and recipients.

What should our digital literacies look like?

We suggest that the framework within which to specify Brookes digital literacies is the current list of transferrable skills. At the same time, we acknowledge that many of the digital attributes that our learners acquire during their time at Brookes will be specific to their discipline. That is entirely appropriate and we do not wish to be prescriptive.

We can offer some initial examples of digital literacy for guidance. The e-learning strategy suggests several lifelong learning skills that our learners will need to develop in order to effectively use Brookes’ online learning environments, including:

  • using digital tools to reflect on and record their learning;
  • communicating effectively online (where the combination ‘effectiveness’ and ‘being online’ is likely to be defined by the professional context, e.g. perhaps in some disciplines at some levels maintaining active membership of professional groupings using email is appropriate, while in other disciplines and levels one might expect collaborative document authoring using advanced design tools);
  • engaging productively in relevant online communities;
  • proficiently managing digital information, including searching for, retrieving, evaluating and citing information appropriate to their subject matter;
  • effectively managing group interactions using multiple technologies;
  • developing fluency and projecting their ‘own voice’ in online authoring and publishing.

Naturally there are many more digital literacies than these that learners may develop during their time at Brookes, and there are many ways for them to be described. We suggest that school programme teams are best placed to decide on the wordings and the final mapping. We suggest that it would be helpful to students and employers to articulate both the generic and the discipline-specific digital literacies learners will develop in their programmes of study.

What happens to these mappings?

In the first instance we expect each programme to add their mapping of digital literacies to their programme description, as part of the MoD implementation.

Subsequently, we would expect the literacies to become embedded throughout programme specifications and module handbooks. It is especially important that the mappings are considered and updated in annual programme reviews; they should be critically appraised for currency and where necessary programmes redesigned at periodic review.

What support can we expect?
The Brookes Centre for e-Learning, OCSLD and Media Workshop will draw on the expertise of existing networks of e-learning practitioners (eL@B, e-Learning Forum, Learning Technologists Forum, etc.) to create the necessary supportive, collaborative networks for programme development teams as they undertake their mappings. We will bring the process into the open, providing an environment for the sharing of mappings.
Programme Design Teams (PDTs) are invited to request the participation of OCSLD/Media Workshop/School e-learning experts and subject librarians in this process.
PDTs engaged in significant curriculum redesign are also invited to participate in Course Design Intensive (CDI) workshops ( to support their e-learning design and planning from conception through implementation to evaluation.

Greg Benfield & Richard Francis 3 July 2008

Oxford Brookes List of Transferable Skills (

University policy is that all fields should include the development of the following six transferable skills.

A. Self Management.

This refers to a student’s general ability to manage her own learning development. Abilities required to do this successfully include:

  • an ability to clarify personal values
  • an ability to set personal objectives
  • an ability to manage time and tasks
  • an ability to evaluate one’s own performance

B. Learning Skills.

This refers to a student’s general ability to learn effectively and be aware of her own learning strategies. Abilities required to do this successfully include:

  • an ability to learn both independently and co-operatively
  • an ability to use library skills, to find and organise information
  • an ability to use a wide range of academic skills (research, analysis, synthesis etc.)
  • an ability to identify and evaluate personal learning strategies

C. Communication.

This refers to a student’s general ability to express ideas and opinions, with confidence and clarity, to a variety of audiences for a variety of purposes. Abilities required to do this successfully include:

  • an ability to to use appropriate language and form when writing and speaking
  • an ability to present ideas to different audiences using appropriate media
  • an ability to listen actively
  • an ability to persuade rationally

D. Teamwork.

This refers to a student’s general ability to work productively in different kinds of team (formal, informal, project-based, committee based, etc.) Abilities requires to do this successfully include:

  • an ability to take responsibility and carry out agreed tasks
  • an ability to take initiative and lead others
  • an ability to operate in a range of supportive roles within teams
  • an ability to negotiate, asserting one’s own values and respecting others
  • an ability to evaluate team performance

E. Problem Solving.

This refers to a student’s general ability to identify the main features of a given problem and to develop strategies for its resolution. Abilities required to do this successfully include:

  • an ability to analyse
  • an ability to think laterally about a problem
  • an ability to identify strategic options
  • an ability to evaluate the success of different strategies

F. Information Technology

This refers to a student’s general ability to use IT appropriately for their learning and employability. Abilities required to do this successfully include:

  • an ability to use IT as a communication and learning tool
  • an ability to use IT to access and manage information
  • an ability to use IT to present ideas
  • an ability to use specialist software where relevant to the discipline

August 2010 | Volume 52 | Number 8
Reading the Blueprint

Dawn of the New Literacies

Rick Allen

In her 2007 book Proust and the Squid, Maryanne Wolf presents a history of how humans developed the skill of reading and explains what happens in the human brain as we learn to read and write—or struggle with either.

Wolf warns that in a culture where visual images and massive streams of digital information are on the rise, people could become “decoders of information, whose false sense of knowing distracts them from a deeper development of their intellectual potential.” She fears that after a couple thousand years evolving a culture of reading, modern society could easily lose the capacity to read and think deeply through the desultory and multimodal nature of typical web reading, which lends itself to skimming rather than detailed reading.

And Nicholas Carr, who famously asked “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in a 2008 article for The Atlantic, points out in his new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain, that a variety of research shows online reading promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning that’s changing the structure of the human brain and turning us into shallow thinkers.

Where such dire prognoses leave K–12 educators and their students remains to be seen. Educators have been given the mandate to integrate successive waves of technology into their lessons as part of 21st century learning and teaching. These responsibilities put schools in the unique position to better understand digitally driven literacies and help minimize potentially negative side effects of the digital transformation.

Schooling Today’s Screenagers

For many K–12 classroom educators in the last three decades, technology integration has been an incremental process of expanding students’ computer access for web research and for producing print and multimedia projects. A minority of more ambitious teachers have fostered creativity and collaboration via e-mail, blogs, Twitter, and Skype. Despite real changes brought about by computers, most schools still negotiate knowledge and learning with hefty doses of books, papers, and pens, even if less so than in previous years.

The new generation, sometimes dubbed “screenagers,” does much more with technology outside school. Through social networking sites and wireless gizmos, kids are reading; texting; connecting socially; and making their own digital creations, from music mashups to backyard, YouTube-ready videos.

Because technology is transforming the habits of students as much as the workplace, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology has upped the technology ante with the release of itsNational Education Technology Plan in Spring 2010. The plan states, “The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures.” Federal officials reason that the world of school and the world beyond it should be better integrated if students are to prosper in their careers.

Defining New Literacies

For students to do well in the future, they must be able to work with what researchers call the “new literacies,” which involve reading and learning through the Internet and other information and communication technologies. Researchers at the University of Connecticut’s New Literacies Research Lab analyze the “new skills, strategies, and dispositions required for successful reading comprehension on the Internet,” according to the lab’s website, but they also admit that a variety of lenses focus the topic in myriad ways.

Donald Leu, the director of the lab, is also coeditor of the Handbook of Research on New Literacies. In that book, Leu and his colleagues note that the field of new literacies is emerging, and its complex nature means definitions are still being worked out. Nonetheless, they have outlined the following four characteristics that can help explain new literacies:

  • The Internet and other information and communication technologies bring about new ways of doing literacy tasks that require new social practices, skills, strategies, dispositions, and literacies.
  • New literacies are central to full civic, economic, and personal participation in a world community.
  • New literacies change as relevant technologies change.
  • New literacies are multiple, multimodal, and multifaceted.

So what can educators do to prepare their students for new literacies that already affect students’ wider world and will continue to do so? In the article “Fresh Perspectives on New Literacies and Technology Integration,” from the March 2010 issue of Voices from the Middle, Linda Labbo and Karen Place write that for students to effectively negotiate the new literacies, teachers must effectively integrate technology into the classroom with the notion that the learner is at the center of the meaning-making processes.

Classroom technology benefits learning when the following conditions can be met: finding a good fit between technology and the curriculum; understanding the outcomes of technology integration; identifying and celebrating students’ technology knowledge; addressing student access to technology in and out of school; and guiding students to ask critical questions about the use of technology and its impact. Labbo and Place add that a “good fit” between technology and the curriculum occurs when the learning connections are clear; the technology motivates students and offers them knowledge beyond the textbook.

Teachers should encourage their students to ask critical questions about the technologies they use, say Labbo and Place, whether they’re critiquing online gaming, the reliability of web information, personal privacy on the Internet, or issues about web-based literacy versus printed texts.

For example, the authors say, in examining role-play in the gaming world, teachers can guide students involved in discussing the structure of narrative and character development, with an added sense of agency because students are free to make choices about the role they take on within the context of the game. Many high-tech games often borrow from existing literary texts and cultural information, and teachers can help students make the connections to these references.

In the area of unintended outcomes of technology integration, Labbo and Price raise the issue of what teachers should consider “original” creations. The authors contend that when students borrow, copy, and import various digital media into their own work and properly cite them, teachers should recognize and value the students’ effort at “genuine synthesis.” This 21st century concept of authorship has certainly raised some eyebrows among educators.

Labbo agrees that the way students read has definitely changed. But that’s not a bad thing. Students need to read differently online and in other information and communication technology genre formats, says Labbo.

“The reading goes beyond traditional comprehension and study skills of skimming and scanning to more active decision making,” she emphasizes. “On a web page with rich links, students have to keep a clear purpose in mind and follow that purpose strategically as they navigate through different multimedia forms of information. Otherwise they are likely to go on superficial, exploratory scavenger hunts, following link-to-link in ways that may that take them far away from their original intentions.”

At the same time, teachers need to guide students to be critical readers “who can evaluate online information for credibility, timeliness, accuracy, and even hidden agendas,” says Labbo.

Despite the challenges the digital revolution poses to K–12 literacy, Labbo says, today’s students now have

  • A world of information at their fingertips;
  • Access to the work and advice of experts that were previously inaccessible;
  • New, creative ways of representing ideas with digital media (e.g., fanzines, online comic book creators, anime music videos);
  • Social networks such as affinity groups and online friends;
  • Opportunities to collaborate and lead projects;
  • New ways of interacting with media and data; and
  • Experiences in navigating the “virtual worlds” of online games.

With appropriate professional development focused on teaching online and digital literacies, teachers can help students capitalize on their interests and facilities with digital media.

Reading, Writing, and Thinking Differently

In a 2008 lecture at the U.S. Library of Congress titled “The Anthropology of Digital Natives,” Edith Ackerman, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Aix-Marseille in France, declared that based on how society—especially kids raised in a digital era—is using information and communication technologies, the gap between reading and writing is closing.

“It’s very interesting that this gap is actually narrowing and that the act of reading becomes the act of annotating, layering. That’s what wikis [are] about—I put on another layer, I give my version, and so on. So the reading becomes more active, and the writing becomes not more passive, but it becomes a way of producing assemblage of found art and iterating,” says Ackerman.

Students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach, concludes Ackerman. They think and process information fundamentally differently, and Ackerman contends, echoing other experts, that these differences run much deeper than most educators would like to see.

“While it is a big challenge, it is also a wonderful opportunity for educators and researchers to rethink their own beliefs on what it means and takes to be smart; knowledgeable; a good learner; an educated person; a well-read person; an efficient coworker; a well-centered, wholesome person,” Ackerman says. 

Copyright © 2010 by ASCD

iDC (@iDCtweets)
14/07/2011 10:04
Digital fluency can also involve locative media to expand learning beyond the classroom. #mobilityshifts #thenewschoolMOBILITYSHIFTS SUBTHEMES:DIGITAL FLUENCIES FOR A MOBILE WORLD

  • New pedagogical approaches for learning with mobile platforms;
  • Mobile media for the creation of rich social contexts around learning activities;
  • Revisiting the myth of the digital native;
  • Histories of media literacy, the book, reading, and writing;
  • Teaching user rights;
  • Limitations of the “digital literacies” paradigm;
  • Remix and responsibility; the ethics of database culture;
  • Using locative media to expand learning beyond the classroom;
  • Ubiquitous computing inside the traditional classroom;
  • Collaborative learning as a fundamental model of pedagogy;
  • Texts, tweets, and chats as new modes of writing;
  • Smartphone video capture and the art of witnessing;
  • Flash-mobbing, spontaneous gathering, and collective learning in a mobile world;
  • Nostalgia for pre-mobile learning spaces


Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century

Literacy today depends on understanding the multiple media that make up our high-tech reality and developing the skills to use them effectively  By Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan

Prior to the 21st century, literate defined a person’s ability to read and write, separating the educated from the uneducated. With the advent of a new millennium and the rapidity with which technology has changed society, the concept of literacy has assumed new meanings. Experts in the field suggest that the current generation of teenagers—sometimes referred to as the E-Generation—possesses digital competencies to effectively navigate the multidimensional and fast-paced digital environment. For generations of adults who grew up in a world of books, traveling through cyberspace seems as treacherous and intimidating as speaking a new language. In fact, Prensky1 recognized such non-IT-literate individuals as burdened with an accent—non-native speakers of a language, struggling to survive in a strange new world.

Literacy Then and Now

Perhaps literacy, and numeracy for that matter, have never really been optional for fully functioning members of society. In our 21st century society—accelerated, media-saturated, and automated—a new literacy is required, one more broadly defined than the ability to read and write.

Was it always so? History provides examples of societies trying to build connectivity into their communications infrastructures two centuries ago.2 Using the technologies of their time, people sought methods by which they might communicate faster, easier, and better. Today, we still seek better communication methods, only now we have myriad more choices, along with new tools and strategies and greater knowledge of effective communication.

Digital and visual literacies are the next wave of communication specialization. Most people will have technologies at their fingertips not only to communicate but to create, to manipulate, to design, to self-actualize. Children learn these skills as part of their lives, like language, which they learn without realizing they are learning it.3 Adults who did not grow up with technology continue to adapt from iteration to iteration. The senior population approaches the new literacy like a foreign language that is complex and perhaps of questionable use.

The New Literacy and Education

Our research suggests that the lack of education related to literacy is problematic, and the situation is exacerbated in the field of education. A common scenario today is a classroom filled with digitally literate students being led by linear-thinking, technologically stymied instructors. Although funds may be plentiful to purchase new equipment, wire classrooms, and order current software, few educational organizations have developed comprehensive technology plans that specify technical learning objectives or ensure successful integration of technology to enhance students’ digital and visual literacy. We have found a common void in professional development for faculty—training needed to gain the requisite computer skills to integrate technology into the curriculum effectively. Too often success occurs in pockets within the institution, where individually motivated faculty embrace advances in technology, mastering—on their own time—the skills needed to merge the digital world with academia.

Taking precedence over systematic planning is the trial-and-error approach to using technology in the classroom, specifically for nontechnical courses such as English or fine arts. Educational institutions have given priority to computer-based courses. An institutional modus operandi seems to justify technology funding for some disciplines over others. To approach the use of technology differently, to enhance teaching and learning across all departments, requires change. This change will be slow in coming, however, without vision combined with practical, recognizable goals and incentives that encourage people to embrace new digital and visual literacy skills individually and collectively.

Our Digitally Savvy Students

Our students are natives of cyberspace—they are digitally savvy. No longer does it suffice for a teacher to retype overheads into PowerPoint and have students take notes. No longer is it enough for a teacher to talk about another country and point to a given city while holding up a map. These days, new media literacy technical skills catapult traditional learning methods into orbit—traditional chalkboards and overheads with pens do not occupy the same realm as current capabilities. As an example, now teachers can do a PowerPoint presentation with streaming video, instant Internet access, and real-time audio-video interaction, and they can do it with relative speed and ease.

The greatest challenge is moving beyond the glitz and pizzazz of the flashy technology to teach true literacy in this new milieu. Using the same skills used for centuries—analysis, synthesis, and evaluation—we must look at digital literacy as another realm within which to apply elements of critical thinking.

Connecting the Digital Dots

As we researched current articles, books, reports, and papers related to digital and visual literacy, it became evident that many definitions apply, and the skills needed for digital and visual literacy are still being identified. However, common findings aid in furthering our understanding and awareness of what it means to be literate in the 21st century. Our world today is about connecting the digital dots. The challenge is in dealing with the complexity—the dots are multidimensional, of varying sizes and colors, continuously changing, and linked to other, as yet unimagined dots. Nonetheless, to successfully connect the dots at any level in cyberspace means we must be literate, both digitally and visually. According to a recent report from the Workforce Commission’s National Alliance of Business, “The current and future health of America’s 21st century economy depends directly on how broadly and deeply Americans reach a new level of literacy—‘21st Century Literacy.’”4

Defining Digital and Visual Literacy

Although a multitude of definitions exist related to 21st century literacy, our study focused primarily on digital and visual literacy—terms that often interact, overlap, or share common meanings. Digital literacy represents a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment, with “digital” meaning information represented in numeric form and primarily for use by a computer. Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media (text, sound, images), to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments. According to Gilster,5 the most critical of these is the ability to make educated judgments about what we find online.

Visual literacy, referred to at times as visual competencies, emerges from seeing and integrating sensory experiences. Focused on sorting and interpreting—sometimes simultaneously—visible actions and symbols, a visually literate person can communicate information in a variety of forms and appreciate the masterworks of visual communication.6 Visually literate individuals have a sense of design—the imaginative ability to create, amend, and reproduce images, digital or not, in a mutable way. Their imaginations seek to reshape the world in which we live, at times creating new realities. According to Bamford,7 “Manipulating images serve[s] to re-code culture.”

Weaved throughout the definitions of each term are a host of other subclassifications including information literacy, lateral literacy, and reproduction literacy. Specifically, each term defines skills inherent in a digitally or visually literate individual. The variations in terminology, including redundancies, represent the newness of this phenomenon. The lack of extensive or at least longitudinal research related to digital literacy and, most importantly, to its impact on the learner, also helps explain such variations and redundancies. Nonetheless, a common understanding has emerged—a leitmotif that characterizes a unique environment. Literacy, in any form, advances a person’s ability to effectively and creatively use and communicate information.

The New Literacy Environment

Competency begins with understanding. Each medium represents a unique environment, presenting the view of our world from varying perspectives. Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan coined the idiom “the medium is the message,”8 which seems prophetic in the high-tech reality within which we live. The idea that the world we shape in turn shapes us is a constant. Newspapers, television, and computers—all human inventions—help formulate our beliefs, perspectives, and even competencies. And from each medium we create new realities. Cultural theorist JeanBaudrillard used the term “hyperreality” to describe the simulation of something that never really existed.9 An example is a magazine photo of a model, the picture having been touched up or computer-enhanced—the creation of a new reality. Hollywood’s ultimate depiction of hyperreality was The Matrix, a movie about a world that does not really exist or exists only in our minds.

Ironically, while some see the profusion of realities as threatening to us, to our children, and even to democracy, the new media is nothing if not simply another way of viewing our world, of interacting with one another, of opening ourselves to learning in realms of possibility we never conceived of before. In our development as higher-order thinkers, multiple realities are far less important to our survival than our ability to understand what we see, to interpret what we experience, to analyze what we are exposed to, and to evaluate what we conclude against criteria that support critical thinking. In the end, it seems far better to have the skills and competencies to comprehend and discriminate within a common language than to be left out, unable to understand.

1. M. Prensky, (2001). “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” On the Horizon, Vol. 9, No. 5, 2001, pp. 1–6.
2. A. D. Chandler and J. W. Cortada, Eds., A Nation Transformed by Information: How Information Has Shaped the United States From Colonial Times to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
3. N. Andersen, “New Media and New Media Literacy: The Horizon Has Become the Landscape—New Media Are Here,” report produced by Cable in the Classroom, 2002, pp. 30–35.
4. 21st Century Workforce Commission, A Nation of Opportunity: Building America’s 21st Century Workforce (Washington, D.C.: National Alliance of Business, 2000), p. 4.
5. P. Gilster, A Primer on Digital Literacy (Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons, 1997).
6. B. A. Chauvin, “Visual or Media Literacy?” Journal of Visual Literacy, Vol. 23, No. 2, Autumn 2003, pp. 119–129.
7. A. Bamford, “The Visual Literacy White Paper,” a report commissioned for Adobe Systems Pty Ltd., Australia, 2003, p. 7.
8. M. McLuhan and Q. Fiore, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects (Corte Madera, Calif.: Gingko Press, 1967).
9. J. Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 1981).


Educating for a Future Within Our Sight
A conversation with Rita J. King.

By Maria Popova

“Pluralism is always practical,” famously declared Nabokov. By that measure, Rita J. King, journalist, nuclear expert, virtual worlds scholar, VP of business development at Science House and IBM Innovator-in-Residence — is a bastion of postmodern pragmatism. Her latest project, a collaboration with Joshua Fouts, is the product of more than two years of research, exploring the future of education and work through a concept King calls the Imagination Age — a fleeting period between the industrial era crumbling behind us and the technological hyper-reality glimmering ahead of us, in which we have the rare chance to reimagine our culture, our economy, our world and our place in it. 

IMAGINATION: Creating the Future of Education and Work explores how we can harness the unique opportunities of this new age and reshape the education system. The project offers a portal of resources for educators spanning a wide range of media, disciplines and potential applications. Maria Popova sat down with King to talk about the scope of the work, the role of imagination in academia and the cross-pollination of disciplines as a key enabler of creativity.

Maria Popova: At the core of this project is a sociocultural era you call The Imagination Age. Could you elaborate on it and what observations first led to its conception?

Rita J. King: The Imagination Age is a fleeting period between two longer eras: the fading industrial era rusting behind us and the hybrid reality that hasn’t yet fully taken shape, but will. It was catalyzed by a child’s comment that she was afraid that her imagination would die when she became an adult. The project begins with a quote from Ursula Le Guin, “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” 

Machines aren’t yet smarter than humans, so we have this time to imagine the implications of what will happen when they are, and how we can redesign the cultural and economic systems that govern our shared lives on this tiny blue planet. 

Imagination leads to collaboration, rapid prototyping, a deeper understanding of failure as part of the process and the ability to think in the long-term despite the accelerated pace of transformation. Imagination is the most effective path to balance between each individual and the global culture and economy. 

Popova: The cross-pollination of ideas across disciplinary boundaries is essential to creativity and innovation. Based on your research, how do current educational models and curricula hinder this and what are the most viable potential changes you’ve identified to foster rather than inhibit such cross-disciplinary education?

King: Current educational models prepare students for a fading industrial era, but making substantive changes is difficult. It’s hard to know where to begin and how. This project focuses on shifts educators can instantly make at no cost. 

For example, chapter 17, “Focus on STEM,” includes a video of the founding director of the National Institute of Aerospace, Robert Lindberg, explaining the difference between the Scientific method and the Engineering Design Process. A scientist and an engineer, Lindberg points out that students aren’t educated about the critical difference between the two. 

The skills required for success in the Imagination Age (particularly in science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) require a collaborative approach. Students in the American public education system are still bound by solitary test-taking and individualistic achievement and failure models. This runs counter to the reality of the emerging global labor market. 

Popova: How has your research on virtual worlds enriched and informed this exploration of the future of education and work?

King: Geographically dispersed learners, or even those who are in the same room in the physical world, can create environments that inspire a sense of discovery and a team-based approach. 

Many educators fear the loss of control in such environments because they haven’t been trained to teach in them, but a billion human beings currently participate in some form of virtual environment, and half of them are under the age of 16. 

Virtual environments are ideal for gaining proficiency, if not mastery, of core subject areas. How many people remember the difference between an equilateral, isosceles or scalene triangle? In a virtual environment, students can manipulate a triangle or any other object to change the shape. They can actually become a white blood cell, moving through a digital bloodstream and learning about the processes that occur invisibly on a much smaller scale. In this way, learning becomes far more vibrant. 

Popova: In a meta kind of way, the project is also a case study in the future of research itself and the practical applications of its findings. Why did you choose not to publish it as a book or white paper, and what role do you think design will play in the future of how we present, process and act on such information?

King: Publishing in this format is a demonstration of how modern tools can be utilized to reflect the spirit of the subject matter: imagination. Traditional book publishing remains a lengthy process, with a long time between manuscript completion and publication. Why not publish a book in pieces, with each short and interactive piece embedded with relevant multimedia? 

The information in the IMAGINATION project is current, so we wanted to get it out there and let it have a life of its own so we could get back into the field. Since our subject matter is imagination and the culture shift required to put it into practice, we wanted the most useful and interactive format possible. 

We can design better systems and create better lives for ourselves and others. Aesthetic beauty and functionality should exist in equal parts in every design. This principle is one of the core tenets of the Imagination Age. 

Popova: What has been the most surprising finding throughout the course of this project?

King: The most surprising findings were beyond the scope of the focus of IMAGINATION and were therefore not explored on the site. For example, the trend toward pharmaceutical intervention for boredom at school is a major issue. We were also surprised to learn that some districts, such as Pennsylvania’s Lower Merion, have used laptop webcams to monitor students at home. These issues require further examination in the appropriate forum. 

Many educators are enthusiastic about exploring technology but others perceive it as dehumanizing. A few years ago I saw an article of a graduating class throwing caps into the air while one girl texted. The caption indicated how sad this was. But maybe she was connecting with someone important to her who couldn’t be there due to illness, cost or timing. Technology enables deeper connections. The potential of the young to maximize this level of creative connectivity should be fostered.


June 30, 2011 Art and</p>
e-flux journal

No. 26
“Artistic Thinking”
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In the February 2009 issue of e-flux journal, Luis Camnitzer suggested in his essay “Art and Literacy” that a core problem in education (particularly for artists) can be traced back to an early stage when one is taught to read and write, in that order. On one level, it is simple common sense to suppose that one can only begin to write after learning how to read. But, at the same time, this ordering also takes for granted that consumption must necessarily come before production; only after you consume knowledge will you then be capable of producing it. It is a fundamental understanding of learning that is typical of the master-apprentice model found in craft guilds. The problem arises when the language to be learned has not yet been invented, or the practice of a craft is not controlled by a guild. Art education, on the other hand, has deeply internalized this problem by taking the inverse for granted; that one writes; first, and only later develops a language with which to read what was written. What would it mean to then build an institution around this idea? Such an institution would necessarily be ahistorical, and perhaps even amnesiac. It would resemble a Tower of Babel, in which each work could be understood as its own language, projecting its own art history. In the past few years, debates around art education have experienced a gradual, yet determined drift from an interest in open formats and the emancipatory potentials of semi-institutional structures, to discussions of how those educational institutions can be optimized, or even standardized. One can easily dismiss this shift towards pragmatism for reflecting an endemic crisis of the imagination; and it probably does, but it is also a necessarily concrete response to very real threats to art education that have come in the form of severe budget cuts and sweeping measures to bring art production in line with the broader administrative mandates of research universities. Yet the field of art is not set up to deal with these administrative challenges, for it refuses to offer a definitive answer to the question of what it is actually doing: the question “What is art?” must be left open. The more important and interesting question then concerns not the prudishness of this refusal, but the fact that the most useful answers are always provided in the negative. These are the answers that account for the fact that art education is, in fact, a fundamental paradox; almost a contradiction in terms. For how can we even begin to think about teaching something that, on a basic level, cannot be taught? How to form the audacity to make moves that have not been already sanctioned, and within spaces where they may not be acceptable? Fostering this audacity is less a structural concern; of how to deal with a given space, of how to access a history or a network of relations, of how to make work visible, and so forth—and more a question of identifying the kind of thinking that can surpass structures and institutionalization altogether. We might call this artistic thinking. On the one hand, following from Camnitzer, granting the artist a position that precedes language (and, by extension, history), while opening a large space for experimentation, could be seen as a tediously romantic endorsement of the artist as mad genius; unaccountable and unaware of the vocabularies that have consolidated around him or her. But would this not be another way of describing an already-existing hysteria embedded in a field where all legitimating mechanisms are subject to highly contingent and subjective impressions and projections of value and importance? While we could say that a vocabulary exists for linking these together, it still does not manage to form a coherent language of judgment, of totalizing denouncement or terms that could otherwise measure the definitive success or failure of a work of art. This could be the source of a good amount of psychosis, but it would be even more insane to suggest that a central authority should form a central criterion of aesthetic judgment as a template for all. And anyhow, art at its best does not provide answers and solutions; it creates problems. —Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle___*

Howard Rheingold (@hrheingold)
30/06/2011 07:45
New Rheingold U course “Toward a literacy of cooperation,” Jul 12-Aug26 $250/$400 corporate,


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