How wikis facilitate 21st Century Literacy, pt.3

I am moved to reflect on this item that arrived today in my NCTE Inbox. It’s from this guy:

Kent Williamson photo

Kent Williamson, NCTE Executive Director

How Is Literacy for the 21st Century Different?

Nearly two-thirds of the poll respondents indicated that their teaching methods had undergone marked changes reflecting new concepts of literacy. The most important 21st century literacy skills identified by poll respondents focus on decision making, interpretation, and analysis. Specifically, the top three abilities required for student success by poll respondents are:

1. The ability to seek information and make critical judgments about the veracity of sources (rated very important by 95% of poll respondents).

2. The ability to read and interpret many different kinds of texts, both in print and online (94%).

3. The ability to innovate and apply knowledge creatively (91%). [emphasis added]

If I look at what students in our department are doing now, I see that we are teaching these top three competencies through our current use of wikis. But before explaining just how, I want to stress that we’re not practicing these competencies because of the wiki. There is nothing magical about the tool: students in our curriculum would be engaged in the same sorts of intellectual activity if there were only paper and pencil, and no Internet.

All that the wiki can do, it seems to me, is harness the distance and delay-killing power of the Internet and make each of these basic literacy skills–which inquiry-based curricula already include–more efficient.

Seeking and evaluating information sources happens when students engage in their webquesting projects, such as the Popularity Timeline project of the Popular Literature class, or in Speech class, the student interest wikis. In order to do these well, students need to access a variety of sources and make critical assessments of their usefulness. Since veracity and accuracy are what make their informative wiki pages valuable, students take the time to gather quality information from reputable sources, and as a matter of course, hot-link their citations.

Reading and interpreting many different kinds of texts, and then making claims about them is part and parcel of the Profile in Speaking project. Video, audio, and historical/archival documents become students’ texts.

Innovating and applying knowledge creatively happens each time the wiki-student comes up with a significant extension of knowledge, each time s/he makes a wiki page, in other words.

I’d like to reflect more on what Williamson says about the NCTE poll, but for now, I’ll quote his listing of the top three sorts of teaching/instruction that are being called for by the 21st Century:

Consistent with this view, the teaching/learning methods most strongly identified with building 21st century literacies were

1) learning through cross-disciplinary projects/project-based learning,

2) inquiry-based learning, and

3) incorporating student choices as a significant part of instruction.

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