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A post-literate age?

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Have you ever heard the phrase “post-literate age?” I personally had never heard the concept before reading Christopher Doyle’s article in Education Week. The idea in general, however, is not foreign to me. The discussion regarding society moving away from literacy to more simplified technological mediums is a very prevalent and controversial topic. In the article, Doyle focuses on how his students turn to books less and less. He says, “Books, long idealized as foundational shapers of intellect, no longer mold young people's minds. While continuing to tout their merits, educators marginalize books and have not come to grips with the book's declining role in society. Over the last few years, my high school students' facility for print culture has atrophied markedly.” To the older generation, this is a concern. We learned our skills and knowledge from textbooks. It was the focal point of our learning. Because it is how we are used to education, we are concerned when our younger generation seems to disregard those important tools.

Have you ever heard the phrase “post-literate age?” I personally had never heard the concept before reading Christopher Doyle’s article in Education Week. The idea in general, however, is not foreign to me. The discussion regarding society moving away from literacy to more simplified technological mediums is a very prevalent and controversial topic.

In the article, Doyle focuses on how his students turn to books less and less. He says, “Books, long idealized as foundational shapers of intellect, no longer mold young people's minds. While continuing to tout their merits, educators marginalize books and have not come to grips with the book's declining role in society. Over the last few years, my high school students' facility for print culture has atrophied markedly.” To the older generation, this is a concern. We learned our skills and knowledge from textbooks. It was the focal point of our learning. Because it is how we are used to education, we are concerned when our younger generation seems to disregard those important tools.

Doyle addresses how this “epistemological shift” affects his students and their research. While his students are quick to access the Internet and Wikipedia articles on their chosen topics, he says, “It is difficult to convince kids that most subjects they research have been written about in books.” He calls the students “library-averse.” If the kids won’t read our books, how will they learn what we learned?

As a writer, bookworm, and overall lover of words, initially the idea of “post-literacy” is terrifying. My books are becoming obsolete? My precious words are being thrown to the winds? Actually, no. I don’t think they are. I believe they are simply transitioning to a more efficient medium.

As a college student, I was subject to numerous research papers. I was also fully aware that there was a fully stocked library in the middle of campus with all the information I could want. Having grown up very tech-savvy, I knew there were also numerous scholarly articles online that would be much easier to track down. If you were faced with the option of sitting at a computer and sifting through PDFs of 30-page articles verses trekking through a large library to find a single textbook of 500-pages, what would you choose? Need I mention the 30-page article has an easy “Search” feature?

Today’s generation has been raised surrounded by technology. I have seen small children who are more technologically literate than their grandparents. It is only understandable then that our age is not one of post-literacy but rather an evolution of the medium of literacy. Kids experience the efficiency of technology every day. Google, Facebook, Netflix, E-books, etc. Can’t that same efficiency be translated into their learning? If a student can google the water cycle, then why would they search through a textbook?

That being said, there is a balance. Kids are smart, but they still need to be taught. Technology should be a tool for teaching, not a barrier to it. Students are going to use technology anyway, so we should teach them how to use it productively. Rather than focusing time on directing students to the library, we need to try teaching students the best methods of keyword searches. Help them become familiar with online catalogs and the Google Scholar search engine. Teach them which types of online sources are generally reliable. Show them the sources they can find online. Not only will you be speaking their language, but you will be validating that their interests have worth. When teachers build trust with students by sharing technology as a learning tool, students are more likely to embrace learning.

What effects of technology have you seen on your classroom? We’d love to hear about your experience.

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