Digital Media and The Transactional Theory

One of the threads that I noticed running through each of the readings this week was the emphasis on teaching students “habits of mind” (Jenkins) or “habits of thought” (Clark). The Lessig TED Talk further noted the importance of emphasizing creativity, a characteristic/action listed in Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing as a significant habit for students to practice or be mindful of. One argument for teaching habits, rather than skills, is that values within the field of composition or in the discourse of technology/digital literacy are constantly changing or evolving. Fostering habits allows students to gain access to knowledge or practices that are transferable to other discourses or disciplines.

However, this was not what I was most interested in. Some of the rhetoric used in these readings, mostly in Lawrence Lessig’s TED Talk, reminded me of Louise Rosenblatt’s Transactional Theory , covered in English 715 (theories in postsecondary reading education). This theory suggests that reading and writing are not just “interactions” – to Rosenblatt, this term implies that there is only a give and take (one consumes, stops, and then creates, and stops…etc.).

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This “stop,” she argues, is unrealistic. More accurately, she suggests that consuming and creating are simultaneous “transactions” that happen all the time, at the same time, without end. This relationship is a continuous cycle with infinite intersections.

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When Lessig discussed the nature of the revived “read-write” culture and the relationship between the “consumer” and “creator,” I immediately remembered the “Transactional Theory.” For some reason, this helped illustrate the ways in which students, or people in general, engage with technology.

Rosenblatt’s text was read to inform our understanding of integrated reading and writing (IRW) courses. I’m wondering if I can make more connections between approaches or practices associated with digital media with IRW approaches or practices – not just surface-level connections like similar activities or assignments used in each curriculum, but I want to analyze each discourses’ values and ideology. I think that new media and technology can definitely be used in IRW classes, but I want to consider why these things seem to fit so well together.

I think this post got a little drafty towards the end…it sounds like I’m about to start writing a damn essay. However, I thought the connections between IRW concepts and new media/digital media ideas were interesting, and hopefully you’ll find it interesting too.

P.S. If you loved the singing Jesus video in the TED Talk as much as I did, please click on the cat: =^..^= ~

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Consuming Creativity with Creativity

When it comes to societal advancement there is a running theme of fear and resistance by older generations; a sense that the ways they were brought up is somehow superior.  If history is any indication, this theme will only continue. What’s so interesting about its recurrence now is that the older generation fears technology will do to their children what it had done to them – create passive consumers of creativity, or what Lawrence Lessig refers to as a “read only” only culture in his TED Talk titled “Laws That Choke Creativity.”

Under this light, I suspect today’s fear comes from a lack of understanding. This generation is not consumed with creativity without any outlet for creativity, they are engaged in (re)creativity as Lessig coined it. Users take creative pieces and recreate them in their own image. Lessig champions this new read/write culture where users consume creativity and (re)create. The problem is the legal obstacles attempting to limit the growth of the read/write culture. These obstacles are forcing the read/write culture to “live life against the law.” I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t part of the appeal to the emerging culture, however. Being told not to do something has always sparked an interest that might not otherwise be there. It’s as old a theme in our culture as resistance to technology.

More than likely, the appeal of “living life against the law” only appeals to a fraction of users. As Jenkins points out in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century creating media creates a higher form of respect for other users media.  By letting users (re)create creativity they in turn have more respect for the creativity of others, just as they want their own creativity to be respected. Jenkins seems to suggest that the problem could take care of itself.

For better or worse, education is influenced by the culture we live in, at least I hope it is. As long as we’re living in a read/write culture, and what better culture to be a part of, we need to find out where we fit in as educators. While our students are consuming and creating media, they’re not always doing it critically, appropriately, legally, or safely.  Students could benefit from instructors that helped define these blurred lines, validating what students do, and helping them do it better. This can contribute to an affective learning environment where it’s clear that students are learning from teachers and teachers are learning from students.

None of this is to say it’s easy, the world wide web is infinite and omnipresent; there is so much out there to be gained and lost over and over again. We all fear the unknown; the internet can be a big and scary place. The benefits of using media, however, far outweighs the risks as Will Richardson points out in his Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Tools for Classrooms. Richardson acknowledges this tension between school (parents included) and the literacy activities students participate in outside of school, and shares some ways for working around it. Ultimately, Richardson claims that teachers need find their own balance – that’s the most important takeaway.

Teachers and parents resistance to new practices and the immersion of the read/write culture only hurts students in the long run leaving them less prepared. Richardson also points out that “communicating and collaborating with peers using instant or text messaging [social media], accounts allows them to be ‘always on’ and always connected. That is their expectation, one that has changed greatly in just the past ten years.” This expectation isn’t going away. They expect to “always be on” and they’re expected to be as well.  Some teachers try and remove distractions from their classrooms, but those distractions are still there and they’re not going away. By ignoring this expectation, I wonder if we’re only leaving them less prepared. .

Jenkins touches on this idea of expecting to be expected when he describes multi-tasking. He describes it as “the ability to scan ones environment and shift focus onto salient details on an ad hoc basis.” This idea of consuming endless media while trying to perform is rooted in the fear of the effects of technology on the upcoming generation – the so called “ADD” generation. Their attention spans are so short because they are switching tasks at such a rapid pace. That multitasking will somehow ruin the ability to concentrate and problem solve.

The need to multitask and the expectation of constant communication isn’t going anywhere. As valuable as it is to be able to really devote your concentration to one thing, we cannot dismiss the value of being able to “scan your environment and shift focus”; it is a skill they need. Students need to know how to take in information through a variety of mediums, prioritize it, and assert some control over its effect on their lives.

Fair Use Practices in the Remix Culture

The proliferation of technology has made it increasingly simple for everyone to write, publish, and create their own material. The cost to produce video has become relatively inexpensive when you consider the days before YouTube and mobile technology with push-button video capabilities. It used to involve expensive high-end, industry standard, camera equipment and video editing programs like Avid or Final Cut, not to mention the deep financial pockets needed for distribution. Now anyone with a decent video phone or digital camera and simple editing software can produce and upload their own video on YouTube, and it doesn’t have to be a time or resource intensive project.

Not only has the digital culture given rise to an expansion of authorship like the previous post discussed, but also this notion of what Lawrence Lessig, author, Harvard Law professor, and founding board member of the Creative Commons, describes as free information–and the ability of people to draw on elements of prior cultural production to further the creative cause. Lessig has even published a book, Free Culture, which criticizes how big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity–and to prove he’s not all theory, Lessig has even made his book available for free under the a Creative Commons License.  Users are welcome to access Lessig’s Free Culture under the direction that they are allowed to redistribute, copy, or remix/reuse the content as long as it is for non-commercial purposes and proper credit is given to the author.

In Chapter one of A New Literacies Sampler, Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel address different dimensions regarding opposing mindsets about digital literacy.  In the first mindset, value is seen as a scarcity, which results in efforts to control by using copyright or licensing.  To a certain extent, Lessig’s criticism about big media and corporate interest suppressing creativity is not unfounded, especially when you look at the market share for a company like Microsoft.  But as the development for open source software grows, more people are gaining confidence with the alternatives to commercial software like Open Office instead of MS Office or Gimp in place of Photoshop.  These are examples of the second mindset, which sees value as a function of dispersion with more emphasis placed on the collective.  This mindset is more fitting with the Open Source and Creative Commons mission that sees information as public and collaborative.

A small but growing belief in the collaborative, free information, school of thought gives way to the remix culture.  It’s what happens when you take bits of cultural production that is already in existence for fair use, and either alter it, or remix it with another form of media to create something completely new.   The concept that creativity and new ideas will thrive under this model as more and more people contribute to the collective seems to be the distinctive aspect of the “new” literacy of the digital culture.