Digital Literacy, Remixes, and Outdated Ideas

Despite being some of the most recently published pieces we’ve read so far, this week’s readings somehow feel more outdated than ever. Will Richardson’s “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms” was published just before social media exploded and drastically changed the landscape of the “Read/Write Web.” Now, “everyone can have a voice,” (127) but somehow the Internet isn’t the collaborative educational utopia that Richardson seems to imagine. 

Part of the reason for this, I think, is exactly what Richardson predicts: the education system needs a complete overhaul to accurately reflect the way students learn in the age of the Internet, and “systemic changes will be a long time in coming” (132). Maybe the response to the coronavirus will speed things up; after all, students and teachers managed to rapidly move the entire curriculum online, so perhaps some of the changes made during these past few months will stick around. (Knowing how painfully slowly bureaucracy moves, though, I won’t get my hopes up.) 

However long it takes these changes to arise, it’s not soon enough. Students (and, let’s face it, adults, too) are constantly inundated with information from various (sometimes questionable) sources, and they need to be able to tell fact from fiction. Richardson mentions that in order to effectively use the internet as a tool, readers must become editors who can fact check and identify “worthy” sources (130). However, if my fake news filled Facebook feed is any indication, the education system hasn’t taught us how to be the “critical consumers” (130) that Richardson wants us to be.  

I wonder how much this lack of digital literacy instruction can be traced to the belief that digital natives are “far ahead of their teachers in computer literacy” (6). This theory has merit, of course—in 2006, when this article was published, I was probably more digitally literate than my gray haired sixth grade teacher. Now, though, I find myself teaching my high school students skills and strategies that should be obvious to digital natives, like how to Google something and get relevant results, or that sometimes the best fix for a frozen Chromebook is just turning it off and on again. Because everyone assumes that Gen Z grew up with iPhones in hand, no one ever bothered to teach them how to use other forms of technology in an educational setting. 

These gaps in knowledge show that we should be using more digital tools to teach our students how to navigate the internet outside of the classroom, so they can think critically about what they’re posting and reading online. However, I worry about the practicality of allowing students—especially younger ones—to publish public, permanent blog posts online. Posting weekly blogs works great for grad school classes, but if you’re teaching minors, you’d really need to know and trust your students to undertake such a high effort, high risk endeavor. 

Antero Garcia’s “How Remix Culture Informs Student Writing and Creativity” suggests some more practical, lower risk strategies for engaging students and promoting critical thinking in the classroom. He promotes remixing, which he defines as “tak[ing] and existing work and transform[ing] it into something wholly new.” Garcia gives plenty of examples of remixes in media, from Star Wars fanfiction to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton

I like the idea of letting students remix literature in the classroom, and it’s something that I’ve done both as a teacher and a student. In high school, for example, I had to rewrite a scene from Romeo and Juliet in a different genre (I turned it into a scene from Harry Potter), and while teaching “The Cask of Amontillado,” I had my students—who were disappointed in the abrupt ending—write their own conclusions to the story. Assignments like these force students to rethink the themes in the literature they’re studying and to make new connections between different texts.

Although I think remixing is a great way to reimagine well known stories, there’s a fine line between a remix that adds new meaning to a familiar text and an unoriginal, tired, and cliched remake. The latter is becoming more and more popular as media corporations churn out cash-grabbing replicas of beloved classics (but maybe I’m just bitter that I wasted ten bucks at the movies to see the soulless live action version of The Lion King). Garcia briefly mentions how these kinds of remixes can “reinforce traditional, problematic portrayals” instead of subverting stereotypes about “race, gender, and sexuality,” which Garcia believes should be the focus of remixes. Remixing is great when it has a purpose; it should reimagine the original story and add new meaning rather than simply rehash old, outdated ideas.

Published by M.E. O’Neill

Graduate student at Kean University studying English Writing.

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