digital humanities digital rhetoric Higher Education

NCTE's 21st century curriculum #edcmooc

Surprisingly, English teachers from K-12 through higher education are not a particularly forward-thinking bunch. Shocking right? While schoolmarm grammarian is uncharitable, it's probably closer to the mark than future-oriented innovator. So when the National Council of Teachers of English publishes a framework for 21st century literacy curriculum that is entirely focused on digital matters, one could almost say this means that one no longer needs to be forward-thinking to recognize digital literacy as a primary site of English education.

I want to combine this with a generally more future-oriented institutional document, the New Media Consortium's Horizon report. The full report isn't out yet but they have identified the 6 technological trends:

Technology to Watch

Time-to-Adoption Horizon

  • Massively Open Online Courses
  • Tablet Computing

  One Year or Less

  • Big Data and Learning Analytics
  • Game-Based Learning

Two to Three Years

  • 3D Printing
  • Wearable Technology

Four to Five Year

I think the MOOC and the tablet are fairly obvious, which they should be given the time-to-adoption horizon. They been reporting some version of game-based learning and 3-d printing for some time, so I'm not sure about how those will come about, how broad their impact will be, or what the time frame will be. However I think big data and wearable technology are good bets.

I don't know if the particular brand of MOOCs we see with Coursera will be around in 5 years, but I'd be willing to bet that there will be millions of "students" taking open, online courses in 2020. I put students in scare quotes because students suggests, for some, college credits, and I'm not sure what the relationship will be between open courses and credits. What I do know is that these massive, networked environments will alter the way we learn (and work and socialize). I know this because they already have but that trend is only going to intensify.

What NCTE recognizes is that English should be the means by which such literacy is acquired (at least in the US, which is the nation in "National Council"). To that I say, "good luck." Good luck providing this professional development for existing teachers, who are not prepared to do this. Good luck finding university English departments with faculty to provide this literacy to the general population of college students, let alone educate preservice K-12 teachers or graduate students who will become university faculty. Good luck finding English departments who even remotely view digital literacy as a subject that even marginally concerns them, let alone one that would be central to their curriculum in the way that print literacy is now. As I suggested above, I think you'd have better luck selling the average college English department on becoming grammar-centric than you would on becoming digital-centric. 

Now if you think I'm just trolling on my own website, well, you might be right. But the truth is that if this was 2003 and a department recognized that digital literacy was going to become the issue that might make or break their disciplinary future, then by now they might have four or five digital scholars hired and a couple tenured. Maybe they'd be in a position to deliver this content today. But few departments did that. This means the transition is likely to be rocky. 

Here's my point of comparison. In the mid-19th century, English departments studied oratory and philology: two things contemporary English faculty no little about. Why did English split itself off from speech? Speech still survives, in a way. Most universities have some public speaking course, and speech departments evolved into communication studies. Without wanting to sound techno-determinist, the second industrial revolution had a significant hand in that transformation. I look upon print-centric literary and rhetorical studies in the same way. In hindsight we might say that the 19th century transition took 3 or 4 decades. Things move a little faster now, but the truth is that 2020 will be 25 years after the rise of the modern Internet. 

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