Reflection: Aliteracy

I attended a teaching and learning session today and was exposed to the notion of “aliteracy.” As a philosophy student, and future professor, it struck me as an interesting concept – in large part because the work I do so heavily depends on having strong reading and writing skills. But also because I anticipate that the students I will be teaching in the next few years will be very tech-savvy, which might mean that traditional sources of learning will not appeal to them as much. “Aliteracy” is different from illiteracy in that it is not that students cannot read, but that they  do not read. And when they do seek information, they prefer to get it from “untraditional” sources (i.e., social media; Twitter; videos) over more traditional ones (i.e., books and novels). malala-yousafzai

The challenge for the upcoming generation (“generation Z”) will be the balancing of different sources of information (traditional and untraditional). This will help them to be more critical of the information they consume on social media (on Twitter, Wikipedia, blogs even such as my own, etc.), more aware, and better equipped to fact-check information for themselves. In this era of “Fake News” and “Trumpism,” having developed such skills is a must!

One possible response to my position is that it doesn’t matter where you get your information from, as long as it is accurate. Besides, you can learn much more from a 3-minute YouTube clip than you can from reading a 300-page book. I beg to differ, for a few different reasons. First, it does matter where you get your information from. If a book is published from a reputable source, chances are that the information contained within has been vetted, or at the very least subjected to much critique after it was published. A YouTube video put up by Joe Shmo about X-phenomenon may simply be inaccurate. He or she may have gotten that information from Google, WikiPedia, or his friend next-door. We all need to be much more vigilant about, and maybe even a little distrustful of, the information we consume from mass-media sources.

Second, I volunteer for an adult literacy program. You would be surprised (or, maybe not) how much having even the most basic of literacy skills can affect the trajectory of one’s life. It can mean the difference between getting a job and not getting a job, or advancing in a career and staying stagnant. If you can, read and write when you are young, and make a habit of it, so that when you are older you will not struggle (as much) to get ahead in life. And if you are older, that’s what libraries are for, and you can even get books on-line (I buy most of my books on Kindle). But if you find that you are struggling, don’t be ashamed to check out the literacy programs that are in your neighbourhood, and join. The resources are out there.

Finally, while watching that 3-minute YouTube clip might give you a quick boost of information, reading that 300-page book will most likely expand your vocabulary, which will allow you to express yourself in many more ways than you probably can now. Reading comments on social media pages demonstrates an overall lack of creativity on people’s part, in their responses and approaches to problems. There is a lot of emotion being released without thinking things through – and we know how many jobs have been lost because of that. At the very least, improving your reading and writing skills will enable you to argue better (hence, why I took up philosophy), and back up your positions with much more than raw emotion.

If you would like more information about the presenter and the research he does on student learning (which is quite interesting), his name is Wallace Lockhart and he is a Ph.D., Associate Professor at the University of Regina.

Stay Woke, and Stay Learning

T. M. G.

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