Inspiration for Leaders

Enjoy this news and reflection blog brought to you from the LHRIC Technology Leadership Institute!

Friday, February 12, 2010

What's Old is New Again: New Students, New Literacies, New Media with Dr. Jason Ohler

Having never met Dr. Ohler before, I immediately keyed into the fact that he hails from Alaska during his introduction this morning. My brain already started to build a construct of expectations for him as being no frills, no nonsense, down to earth, and deeply passionate about his work. All against the backdrop of a landscape that has yet to be tamed. He did not disappoint, but in ways I wasn't expecting.

He began his morning with us reminiscing about two teachers that obviously had profound impact on his life: his beloved "Ms. Phelps", who created doors for him to walk through even at the tender age of second grade, and "Mr. Hassleback (sp?)" who inspired his love for music and latent talent, by allowing him to take a music theory class without being able to read one solitary note.

Two people who opened doors at different stages of his life, whose impact was unquestionable in terms of the opportunities they presented, helping to form the person and educator. And in some sense, what's old is new again - the thing that we know for sure: students are "banging on the doors" and we, he maintains, "control the door." That, in essence, is the charge of our current educational institutions - we are to be door openers: "the only metric worth caring about", in Dr. Ohler's estimation.

During his presentation we saw a picture of a cherubic infant holding a cell phone and gazing thoughtfully into the screen. Dr. Ohler posed the question if kids have one life, or two lives? Are they one person at school, interacting with a certain set of tools and expectations, and another when they leave the school grounds, interacting with tools and media of their choosing? And are our institutions reinforcing this duality by not mirroring adequately the tools, networks and literacies emerging around us?

We know that people use their tools not just to consume, but create. The screen, he says, becomes an "easel", and literacy is about producing media forms consistent with the day. There are no armchair quarterbacks in this game, since all of us need to learn how to "command the collage", and command the language of the day, which involves non linear multimedia.

The punch line for us is this: our students will develop these literacies with or without us. What we're missing is the opportunity to be that door for the time we have them in our charge as they move through the system.

Dr. Ohler shared a few talking points about media literacy as it relates to "web 2.0", the more democratized, decentralized web where the locus of control is no longer the "geek." (He says he's still 1/4 geek but I think he's underestimating.)

If you are media literate, then:
you shift from text centrism to being able to negotiation meaning from a "media collage"
you value writing more than ever, but "don't call it writing", because we know students don't like to write....
you embrace art as the next "R"
you understand that attitude is aptitude - your ability to learn constantly and always is related to how willing you are to persist in learning,
you practice private and social literacy
you become fluent, not just literate.
you harness both the "report" and the "story"

Speaking of storytelling: the art of storytelling is a huge part of Dr. Ohler's talent and something which he advocates through use of digital media and human performance. He shared with us some visuals that challenge the way we might typically think about helping students weave a story using digital tools. For example, "story maps" are dynamic visual aides that help people to chart the emotional flow of a story, rather than just the flow of motion you'd find in a typical storyboard. He's one to consider adding to your personal learning network if you're serious about investing time and energy in helping students to express themselves and their learning though the canvases of their choices, whether it be a screen, an instrument, a touch pad, a stage, a blog, or any other "digital easel".

We can't know what the new literacies or media will be years down the road, but we can always commit to being a door and not a wall.

For more about Jason Ohler's work, visit and