Thursday, December 20, 2007

Convergence Culture and Education...

I've just finished reading Henry Jenkins's book "Convergence Culture", and let me just say that if you have not yet read it that you should. His blog "Confessions of an Aca-Fan" should also be required reading for anyone interested in modern media, culture and their impact on what we do day to day. Essential reading for educators.

The book is full of useful information and insights, and I had several "AHA!" moments while reading it. The central theme of the book is that we are in a new media era where it is the consumer that is dictating the content, style and presentation of media and its content, not the traditional "old media" of large companies and defined media steams (radio, TV, newspapers, etc.) dictating when, where, what, and how we receive our content. Henry Jenkins presents a clear picture of the way our learners look at media as a tool that they can and should control, with them dictating the when, where, what, and how of content. Here are some of the highlights of the book for me (all attribution for excerpts from the book to Henry Jenkins):
  1. The distinction between mass culture and popular culture - mass culture is a category of production while popular culture is a category of consumption. Popular culture happens when the materials of mass culture get into the hands of consumers - Henry's example is a song becoming an "our song" for example. I like this definition and in my mind there is a definite shift towards popular culture as consumers take things on board for themselves and have much more creative freedom because of the Web and the tools now available to create and consume culture.
  2. How the smart media companies seized on convergence culture and became successful because of it and the best example is probably the "Star Wars" juggernaut. Part of the massive appeal of Star Wars and the mythology that has grown up around it has to do with how George Lucas has allowed consumers to craft their own visions of the legend and to expand upon the legend through the creation of their own movies and stories. the book also cites examples of old media organizations who didn't quite get it right by zealously "protecting" their brand and copyrights (we know who you are, don't we?)
  3. How convergence culture, and in particular blogging had an impact on the 2004 US presidential campaign. Blogging changed the dynamic of traditional news and public opinion (anyone could now be a political commentator), and changes to campaign funding rules shifted control of the campaigns from the candidates to independent action groups (remember "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"?). The political scene in the US (and I suspect everywhere in the developed world at least) has been forever changed by the shift to consumer engagement in the use of the media.
  4. The biggest "AHA" moment for me was when Henry Jenkins stated that one of his book's central arguments is that the biggest change occurring with media is the shift from individualized and personalized media consumption towards consumption as a networked practice. Boy is this so true! Just listen to a group of learners discussing what they have watched or read, or how the are telling each other about what they found on the Web last night - it's one of the most powerful learning tools we have today - collaborative learning.
  5. One of the final thoughts n the book is about education - historically public education in the US (and the same can be said for the education system in Canada) was meant to distribute the skills and knowledge necessary to train informed citizens. This doesn't work anymore - we have a participation gap and citizens today need to be more than informed, they need to be monitorial - not just being able to read and write but being able to participate in the deliberation over what issues matter, what knowledge counts, and what ways of knowing command authority and respect. The ideal of the informed citizen is in trouble because there is simply too much to know. The ideal of monitorial citizenship depends on developing new collaboration skills and a new ethic of knowledge sharing that will allow people to deliberate together. (page 259). This describes for me exactly the issues I am seeing in the classroom with learners - they need these "new literacy" skills of collaboration and information sharing in order to manage the sheer volume of information available today.
  6. The problem is that people for the most part are learning these new skills outside of any formal educational institution - they are developing their skills through affinity sites, newsgroups, social networking sites and other new media opportunities - Henry Jenkins actually points out that many schools are openly hostile to these developing skills and go out of their way to stop their development (anyone blocked Facebook recently?). This HAS to stop - it does a disservice to learners - we need to foster and develop these collaborative skills - they are essential to the future of our learners and our educational process.
As you can see Convergence Culture has had an effect on me that I think will improve what I do as an educator - I cannot recommend too highly it or anything else that Henry Jenkins does - if you have an opportunity to read what he writes or listen to what he says, take it...

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