Sunday, February 24, 2013

Week 7: Participatory Literacies

Week 7: Participatory Literacies

As Howard Rheingold notes, “a participatory culture in which most of the population see themselves as creators as well as consumers of culture is far more likely to generate freedom and wealth for more people than one in which a small portion of the population produces culture that the majority passively consume.”

Although not on our formal reading list for this week, if you have the time, I'm sure you'll find this relatively recent article on Howard Rheingold interesting:

Howard Rheingold by Joi Ito
Howard Rheingold is truly a digital elder, and I mean that in the most respectful, old-school way. All of the fetishizing of the “digital native” can distract us from the wisdom of those who experienced and shaped the birth of internet culture, and Rheingold was right there, in time and in space. His new TED Book, Mind Amplifier: Can Our Digital Tools Make Us Smarter? traces the history of mental augmentation in its social, cognitive and technological forms.

Anthony Wing Kosner
The article is written by 


Some key ideas for this week:

★according to recent studies by the Pew Center on the Internet and American Life, more than half of American teens online have produced media content and about a third have circulated media that they have produced beyond their immediate friends and family.

★growing importance of participatory culture in the everyday lives of young people. Work across a range of disciplines suggest that these emerging forms of participatory culture are important sites for informal learning and may be the crucible out of which new conceptions of civic engagement are emerging.

★the next techno-cultural shift according to Rheingold

★collective intelligence

Part of this participatory literacy (which I would include as an element of transliteracy) are new skills or existing skills that we must refine for the online arena:

Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving

Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery 

Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes

Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content

Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details. 

Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities 

Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal

Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources 

Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities

Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information

Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.


  1. The new media platforms have given us more ways to participate, collaborate and communicate with one another. As the new platforms come on board, it is interesting to consider that not all of them appeal to people in the same manner. The key is that there is increasing choice in participative platforms with which to communicate. There is also the ability to customize our communication networks in a way that fits our own personal style and how we want to express it. The social network theories at work with these platforms is also impacting communication as the Web 2.0 platforms enable us to bridge into other networks using our own personal connections and bridging to communicate with people who we may not initially “know” but with whom we have shared interests. This is powerful and Rheingold reinforces this in the Forbes article from October 2012 when he talks about the convivial literacy displayed in disease support social networks with their deep bonds and empathy. I can personally attest to this with networks like my MACT cohort FaceBook group – or my Alumni LinkedIn groups.

    I found Rheinold’s Smart Mobs video incredibly interesting given the fact it was given in 2002! It hit me this was before the big Web 2.0 social networking platforms launched – for example, FaceBook, or Twitter. Back then he was talking about “Smart Mobs” forming around simple SMS. He gave the People Power demonstrations in Manila as an example, the organization of a revolution with simple text messages from the address book in a mobile phone.

    Jenkin’s video on “Combating the Participation” gap also had insights on how new media is affecting communication. His ideas about cross-generational perspective and looking for the silver lining by letting our kids teach us what they know about the new technologies. This really hit home for me, as it was my then 15-year-old daughter who first showed me how to upload a profile picture to my FaceBook account and she helped choose it. I loved the picture she chose – me flanked by my two children. It is an opportunity to both bond with and learn from our kids. I liked how both Jenkins and Rheingold both reinforce that there is mutual learning and value involved here. Twelve year old Adora Svitak reinforced this point along with the reciprocity of attitude and respect.

    Ethical issues are also amplified with new media as well. Jenkins points to how the ambiguities of the digital environment are exploited– for example the cyber bullying that occurs because people do not experience the consequences of their communication immediately, they do not “see” in-person the impact of their mean spirited message on the receiver. Although this issue does not rest with the majority of social media users it is an unfortunate negative consequence of how new media is affecting communication.

    1. Also responding to Q1 as well:

      That statement is McLuhan-eque and certainty rings true - the media we use is shaping the way we communicate. Rheingold's work around Smart Mobs in addition to the conversations he was having in 2002 (shockingly 9 years ago) was really insightful as he was recognizing shifts in social behaviour as it was unfolding in big ways. I'm glad he weaved in the example of President Joseph Estrada of the Philippines in his lecture at MIT - it was precisely when I started to understand the power of cheap, instantaneous, SMS communications. SMS in Canada didn't explode until a few years later in 2005 (, when many changed their preference from calling to texting.

      Teresa, I think you bring up a great point on the sheer choice we have in front of us to use for expression and connection. There is a level of deciphering or curating that didn't exist before. One of the most common questions people ask me (at work and personally) is "where should I share this message?" What we share, where, has become quite a topic of interest for some of my digitally savvy friends who regularly produce content for Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Path, Vine, Instagram, Foursquare, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, and others (never mind the fact that many manage multiple accounts on each platform). Communication is changing because different platforms attract different audiences and communities (lots of visual people like Instagram, news people love Twitter, etc.). The simple act of sharing one message now demands the sender to take a minute to decide who the receivers should be.

      This inevitably gives way to a lot of distraction. New media changes the way we communicate face-to-face in many ways. I've seen this in classes, conferences, coffee shops, offices, homes - and I would never deny being guilty of this myself. At one point in Rheingold's interview with Adora, he asked her if she gets distracted with her online schooling. She said a little bit, but earnest admits that she's not very good with multi-tasking. While multi-tasking is always held up to be a superior skill, I think it often impacts face-to-face communications in a negative way.

      New media, in its instantaneous delivery and rich formats, also influences our expectations of communications. There is a sense of immediacy - in the encoding and decoding of information. Reactions occur seconds after it is shared, posted, published, or sent. There is an expectation that there are visuals or motion picture embedded particular experiences.... New media certainly plays to our need for immediate gratification. The positive side of this is how these characteristics enable action. From raising money for a cause to searching for a lost child - having the collective attention of the masses with a few messages posted on the web is a powerful thing.

    2. Hi Sylvia, I agree with you that norms of behavior with technology including where and how we use it are changing. In one of Rheingold’s blog posts and his video, he talks about how he films his students and shows them what he sees as he interacts with them during class. He is speaking to their multitasking and the impact it has on him. As eye contact is lost, and students are engrossed in their screens, we aren’t sure what they are up to. I could relate to this. Remember that PBS documentary “Digital Nation” and the research of Dr. Clifford Nass from Stanford? He has solid research to show humans are not as good as they like to think they are at multi-tasking. My research on mobile telephone etiquette in the business environment is showing increasing concern by management with habitual, inappropriate behavior by employees and their use of technology. For example, as a distraction in meetings or interrupting face-to-face meetings to take a phone call or check a text message. As you noted, they are often prepared to admit they don’t like what they see, but are guilty themselves.

  2. Q2. What are some ways we can be critically literate about texts that are online?

    Rheingold makes a very nice synopsis of his blog post on Crap Detection 101 when he says; “The most important critical uncertainty today is how many of us learn to use digital media and networks effectively, reasonably, credibly, collaboratively, civilly, humanely”(

    Here is a synopsis of questions to ask ourselves when critically assessing online texts: Who is the author? Use to find out who owns the site if there is no author listed. Does the author provide sources for factual claims, and what happens when you search on the names of the authors of those sources? Have others linked to this page, and if so, who are they? (use the search term “link: http://…” and Google shows you every link to a specified page). Search the author’s name in order to evaluate what others think of the author – be critical when you assess reputation. Who are these other people whose opinions you are trusting? Is the site a .gov or .edu? See if the source has been bookmarked on a social bookmarking service like Delicious - it is not fool proof but the number of people who bookmark a source can furnish clues to its credibility. Take note of visibly amateurish design as a possible indicator that the “Institute of Such-and-Such” might be an obsessive loner (

    Some other resources I really appreciated in answering this question:

    • The CRAP detection test (CRAP: Currency – Reliability – Authority – Purpose /Point of View) ( It provides useful questions to help think critically to uncover information to assess the information you are reading on the internet.

    • Rheingold’s CRAP detection mini course video ( This is a new video posted in February 2013 and appears to mash up some of his existing videos and content.

    • Twitter Journalism Twitter is ahead of the mainstream news but sometimes its just wrong. Check the history of past tweets by a person to see what context you might find before the claim about a news event was tweeted, check the bio of twitterer who makes a claim, be wary of news tweets from someone with very few previous tweets or who recently joined. Engage the twitterer directly for validity.

    • This is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. I wish we had a Canadian equivalent. This site monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players.

    • hoax debunking sites. The infamous Tommy Hilfeger appearing on Oprah hoax – I ask students if they have heard about this and is it true. There is often a lot of uncertainty – one student told me she actually saw this episode. It is 100% urban myth. It is always surprising to me that more students do not know about this site.

    Any site that is asking you to input private information needs extra scrutiny - or if it asks you to download from their site.

    I have an assignment with my college PR class to help teach persuasive theory and critical thinking whereby the students must source a rogue or anti-website and assess it on it’s use of persuasive strategies. It is eye opening in how many claims are made on websites that appear factually based. Comedian Steven Cobert calls this “truthiness” ( Many websites and blogs make brazen unsubstantiated facts and rely on emotional video and non-verifiable testimonials to really carry the argument. I have seen this overpower common sense. is a site I use as an example with the students. It’s a PETA site and extremely disturbing for its video content – but evaluating it critically can be eye opening. I don’t doubt that atrocities happen in slaughterhouses but we must evaluate text/video objectively.

  3. Q3 Are there any new skills missing from Jenkins list?

    I would put forward Rheingold’s skill of mindfulness and the idea that we must become masters of our own attention. In reading Jenkin’s list I don’t believe he covers this worthy skill.

    Pew Internet research released a report in ( last year that was of particular interest to me in terms of my profession. It is titled: Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyper connected lives. Among the positives experts that were surveyed acknowledged a generation of nimble, quick-acting multitaskers. But many also indicated concern in a need for their instant gratification, hence quick choices and a lack of patience. Many survey respondents argued it is vital to reform education and emphasize digital literacy. Futurist Marcel Bullinga noted in his feedback to the survey: “. . . Also of value is an appreciation for silence, focused contemplation, and “lessons in ignoring people”( Rheingold spends his first chapter in his book Net Smart ( on the subject of mindfulness, which he describes as the process of metacognition – thinking about thinking. Rheingold describes it as “the power tool that all the other literacies depend on” in that it connects our attention to the skills of digital participation, collaboration, crap detection, and network smarts (p. 64). With so many things competing for our attention, the simple concept asks us to become familiar with where we are directing our attention and the benefits of meditation and breathing to help in that process. His chapter defends this as a skill and one that can and should be developed for the benefit of individuals and society. He refers to developing a “pedagogy of attention” (p. 62). This chapter intrigued me and I am in a process of experimenting with his ideas in my own mind now.

    A couple of recent research reports are also reviewed in a recent New York Times article and speak to the topic as well. The research points to a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks (

  4. In response to question four, I think Jenkins list is very comprehensive. It almost appears as a new form of Blooms Taxonomy for learning. I would be quite curious to see what this list would like if Jenkins had to rank these attributes by order of importance. As it is it looks now, they may be ordered by sequence of operation or function. I would include creativity as a new media skill. This weeks content has been focused on participatory literacies and ultimately our use of tools, applications, and technology. Looking at Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, they broke away from creating FOR users, and into creation OF users. They were able to redirect where technology would go based on what was of interest to them at the time, and not corporate direction. As Rheingold remarked in his MIT lecture, if left to follow it's original path of application, the internet would have been of primary use to the military, governments, and academic institutions. The internet is now driven by it's users and not these "big brother" like entities. Users of the internet are free to create and are not limited by financial, political, or commercial agendas. Emphasizing creativity as a media skill supports users to try new ways of doing things. There was no need for "Facebook" since we actively communicated without it, however, Zuckerberg and team creatively assessed what was "missing" and what was "cool" based on emerging technologies. What good are our phones today if we only use them to talk on (crazy as that sounds)!!! The school I teach at has a high number of International Baccalaureate (IB) learners and graduates. The IB learner profile is a long term, holistic vision of learning with one of the core competencies being risk-taking, and root competencies being creativity, and curiosity. We are often very slow toward change in traditional education, from this learning model there exists room for synchronous learning to occur with new media literacies.

    I believe another useful new media skill would be for users to gain competencies in redirection or prediction. In terms of Blooms Taxonomy as a classification for learning, it would mirror the highest order of thinking; evaluation. Looking in the direction of web 3.0, our activity online already is greatly influenced by applications and sites directing us to other things we might "like" based on our use and behavior, we may fall into an unconsciousness if we don't actively develop skills and habits to predict or suggest what to do with the information we are using and posting. Also included with prediction, the category of evaluation also includes the ability to estimate, value, compare, and rate. Tagging and bookmarking are examples of this skill already in use.

    1. Hi Gail, the idea of ranking the participatory skills is an interesting one to ponder. If it were laid out like Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid – what would that look like? It might need a matrix approach?

      I have started to read Rheingold’s book Net Smart – I am on Chapter 2 but he begins with a very convincing discussion on being more conscious with where we are directing our attention – then he gives a big clue to which literacy he thinks is most important because he out right states it “The next task for your attention in training is to develop the most important skill mindful digital citizens require to make it through life successfully these days: crap detection.” This of course is Jenkin’s skill of “Judgment”. This also supports what our NAIT Business School Advisory committees (industry practitioners and employers of our grads) are saying needs to be a focus -- critical thinking and communication skills.

      At NAIT we are in the process of implementing a new academic model across the institute using “Outcomes-Based Education”. This will ensure all student-centered learning is aligned with what they are really going to need and use in their careers to be successful. All courses are currently being audited for “authentic assessments” in this regard. Our business school has an industry advisory council for all our program areas – there are six just for our business school. The members advise us on industry trends and are available to consult on curriculum needs. Consistently over the years, across these advisory boards comment on the “networking skill” which for Jenkin’s means the ability to search for and synthesize information, critical thinking skills “judgment” which I see as related to your above noted competencies of redirection or prediction. What do you guys think?

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  6. Question two focuses on being critically literate. After listening to Rheingold's interview with Adora Svitak I agree with her comments that many kids (I would have to say users in general), don't check for credibility. Her list of checks included looking at the author, the bias, and the grammar. These are generally the pieces of information I also looked for. However, after reflecting on this question I tried to balance credibility for participatory culture and credibility for academic use. In the academic arena we need to have sound scholarly publications that have been scrutinized, meet high quality standards, and are trusted as being authentic and accurate. However, the traditional role of the publisher, selecting content (often with biases), and orchestrating writers revisions are indicative of old values of use on the internet. As today's users of the internet we have to balance the fact that text on line is not just academic, and that participatory text needs a place. Digital text of today are dynamic, facilitating contribution, collaboration and kinship. A different kind of trust emerges from peer to peer engagement versus publisher directed content. The role of the publisher is diminished as the emphasis is not exclusively on seeking information from experts, but instead looking for credibility, opinion, and engagement from peers. When planning to travel out of town, I often read hotel reviews from other customers. This information has been far more valuable than the travel books I've bought in the past. Most of the reviews were outdated since the publication wasn't current. Being critically literate in a participatory arena is more difficult without stream lined checks for authenticity of information. I would be cautious about seeking peer reviews for academic citation, however, the participatory community does have a voice online that should not be dismissed. With users considered partners of content, and not exclusively readers, what might the new boundaries of credibility look like? Kate Whittenberg published an article called "Credibility of Content and the Future of Research, learning, and Publishing in the Digital Environment", Her paper discusses what considerations and new mechanisms need to be in place for establishing credibility for this generation of online users. It was really insightful to me because it did not provide the answers I assumed, but posed relevant questions about the place critical engagement in participatory culture has in an online community. She writes about the idea that new models for developing credibility have to be established, with all stake holders (users, developers of web social networks, developers of commercial search engines, manufacturers of devices, students, libraries, and publishers) involved as partners as a result of the new and varied ways people research, learn, and communicate on line.

    1. Hi Gail, I think you and Teresa covered this question fully! I might even use some of this wording/links for a workshop I teach on social media and the web for college co-op students. Interesting how reviews and ratings have become such a valuable source to help guide our judgment and behaviour.

  7. I thought both Rheingold and Jenkin's lectures quite interesting to listen to. The example Jenkins used to describe how an artist like Soldier Boy used non traditional avenues to break out into mainstream music makes the point that new media communication tools like You Tube are quite impactful in the way that new media is affecting communication. Justin Bieber is another artist that was able to rise to mega stardom as a result of the same platform. Susan Boyle, although a contestant on a UK television reality show, also gained international attention after her audition on the X Factor went viral on You Tube. The idea that "one of us" can be seen and heard by millions of people around the world changes the media landscape completely. Jenkins discusses this in his lecture at Berkeley that any one with a recording device can contribute to new media. I viewed communication in a non-participatory culture as media that was delivered to viewers, with no return address. New media platforms like Blogster allows any user to publish their writing without censorship, Instagram allows users to become photographers with a following, and You Tube to highlight performers from across the world. All of these platforms remove the exclusivity that were associated in mainstream media, published writing and displayed art. Our devices allow us to communicate even the most mundane things to revolution in other countries as Rheingold relates it to Smart mobs in the Philipines. New media appears to be removing the "middle man", (the censor, publisher, casting agent, music producer, curator) which dictated and edited what could be publicly seen and heard. As a result of this autonomy, I believe it gives kids of today opportunities to take risks as Jenkins outlines as an element of transliteracy. There is no teacher/learner relationship based on age, but instead familiarity of platforms, devices, and web tools. New media has become more prevalent in my authorship of culture than in the past, although limitingly. I personally have a very light digital footprint as I don't post a lot on line, or tweet. However, I assign my classes to regularly work with tools like Google sites, and I continue to be an active observer.

  8. In case you're interested in following the youthful and brilliant mind of Adora, here is here Twitter handle: @adorasv