I submitted the following to the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy‘s call for Literacy Lenses essays.  This post is a reflection on my experiences in Doug Hartman’s CEP 981 class — specifically regarding the synthesis projects we worked on in pairs.

Sawaya&Skogsberg (2013).What is literacy.jpgI am a doctoral student in Educational Technology at a large mid-western university currently enrolled in a class on Research in Literacy and Technology.  The course is centered around four main themes: (1) What is technology? (2) What is literacy? (3) How do technology and literacy intersect? (4) What are the new literacies?

As part of our course grade, we had to collaborate with a classmate to respond to each of the above four pivotal questions.  The task, as set by our professor, was straightforward: read the assigned scholarly articles and book chapters, meet with your partner, and respond to the question for that week with a one-page explanation/representation.  These were our synthesizing projects.

The first week my partner and I met to discuss “What is technology?”, we both wanted to challenge ourselves and the readings and come up with a visual representation of our answer.  Even though we could have simply synthesized what we read, we wanted our mini-series of synthesis projects to reflect the overall theme of the class: literacy and technology.  We wanted to go beyond one of the uber traditional views of literacy as printed text, bring to surface the bi-directional effects of technology on literacy, and include elements of multimodality in our responses.

Whenever we met, we would go through the same procedure.  First, we discussed the shared document we kept our annotations of the readings in.  Then we would move on to deciding on the main ideas.  Third, and here’s the fun part, we would brainstorm ways to incorporate those main ideas into an effective, meaningful, multimodal representation.  We did not want our answer to “What is literacy?” to be ordinary, straightforward text.  We wanted our illustration to reflect the layers of meaning in the readings.  We wanted it to be open to interpretation in such a way that each of our classmates would be able to look at it and see their own understanding of the readings reflected in it.

Looking back at our approach to the synthesizing projects assignments, I see how we inadvertently rehearsed our 21st century skills.  Independently, we read and annotated each reading and established our own understanding of them.  Collaboratively, we discussed the readings as a whole and developed a holistic understanding of them.  Then, we brainstormed creative ways to create a multimodal product and communicate our synthesis of the readings.

This was an insightful learning experience for me, and I hope that readers of this essay would borrow it for their teaching repertoire.  This simple synthesis assignment blossomed into an experiment with literacy and technology and their intersection.  Not only did we (as students) take-in content from the readings, we were able to transform it and in turn create content that went beyond mere text.  As we worked on our visual representations, I kept thinking how easy it would be to communicate in writing what we wanted to communicate; however, it was a challenging and ultimately satisfying task to translate our thoughts into expressive and meaningful artwork.

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