In the introduction to his book, Redefining Literacy 2.0, author David Warlick proposes the idea that the traditional “three Rs” are no longer adequate to define a literacy in the contemporary “information landscape” (xii). It is not that the Three R’s are irrelevant or unimportant, but simply that they do not go far enough to prepare students “how to teach themselves.” As the author describes, there is a movement to increase the level of technology integration so that students might be better equipped for the new technological age in which they will be living. However, he counters, “Educators should seek to integrate literacy, rather than integrate technology” (xiii). The questions then become, what is the difference, and what does that difference matter?
Teachers—like all members of society—individually fall along a continuum of technology adoption. Some of them are very comfortable with trying out new technologies with no assistance from so-called “experts,” while some of them would rather wait until they are forced, whether by necessity or by legislation, to adopt modern ways of communication, presentation, or information gathering. There is no right or wrong in this issue; there are both positive and negative consequences of being both an early- and a late-adopter. Rather, because of the disparity between the two different levels of adoption, Warlick’s point becomes apparent in that technology itself is not what needs to be integrated into the classroom. Why? Technology is constantly changing. Case in point: Warlick’s own book about the changing landscape of education is currently available only in paperback. As of this writing, one can not currently read this book on a Kindle e-book reader, its Barnes & Noble cousin the Nook, an Apple iPad, or even as an eTextbook. If technology is ever-changing, is it not then practically impossible to develop, test, and implement curricular changes that “integrate” these new technologies?
Instead, Warlick proposes a set of “learning literacies” (xii). Whether one is learning how to read, how to write, how to solve arithmetic problems, or how to develop PowerPoint presentations, one thing is constant: learning. Teach someone how to learn effectively, and they will never be “illiterate,” no matter what subject, skill, or concept lay before them. While a substantial majority of the computer software and hardware that today’s teachers learned when they were students are now perfectly obsolete, skills like problem solving, exploration, and creativity are as relevant now as they were when learning how to write simple programs in BASIC on an Apple IIe with a 5.25″ floppy disk drive.
“Technology” is a tool, yes, but all tools change over time. Gone are the sextants and the slide rules, replaced by distant digital relatives. The drive to discover and create, however, never have to be upgraded.