Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

UNTANGLING BINARIES: WHERE CANADA SITS IN THE "21St CENTURY DEBATE"

Academic journal article McGill Journal of Education (Online)

UNTANGLING BINARIES: WHERE CANADA SITS IN THE "21St CENTURY DEBATE"

Article excerpt

There has been significant attention paid to 21st century learning over the past decade, but what exactly constitutes 21st century literacy in Canada? There is no "one-size fits-all" answer to this question; however, there are some broad learning, thinking, and interactional patterns that seem fundamental to the phrase that has been bandied about. As researchers who have been involved in different 21st century projects over the years, we set out to examine what counts as 21st century literacy across the provinces in Canada and, in this article, we provide the findings of our audit. This audit includes a content analysis of the provincial / territorial curricula or standards documents that inform 21st century literacy pedagogies. Ultimately, the aim of this article is to offer fodder for future discussion on how policy, practice, and 21st century literacy learning coalesce.

Untangling binaries: Technology enthusiasts vs. innovative knowledge makers

We will begin with a discussion of some of the issues that undergird the topic of 21st century literacy before we turn to Canadian perspectives. As Burnett and Merchant (2015) recently noted, even though there is abundant technology in contemporary classrooms, curricular and assessment implementation is lagging in favor of traditional literacies. To begin with, there has been a tendency in literature and media on anything 21st century to turn to "technology determinism" to explain 21st notions of literacy learning. Technology is the end in itself rather than a means to different ways of understanding texts (McLuhan, 1964; Postman, 1993; Street, 1984; Williams, 1958/1990). As Street (1984) maintains, "technology is...not a neutral 'thing' arising out of disinterested scientific inquiry" (p. 65), but rather technologies carry with them ideological processes and different ways of thinking that are mobilized in a wide range of ways by different people. In other words, putting tablets and interactive whiteboards in classrooms is not enough to make classrooms current in the 21st century. In everyday life, people use different technologies to fulfill tasks that pertain to communicating, thinking, composing, reading, playing and a host of other practices and processes. By analyzing one of these actions, communicating, a researcher can focus on either the device or tool and how it is used to communicate, or, a researcher can focus on how ideas get communicated through device or tool. This clear-cut separation (i.e., technology enthusiast vs. innovative knowledge makers) diminishes the complexities of both arguments, but for the purposes of this article and our audit of provincial stances on both sides of the continuum, we offer both arguments. A technology enthusiast tends to focus on digital worlds and converged texts (Jenkins, 2006) to make meaning and communicate. Technology-driven individuals think and engage through the hybridity and multimodal capacities of virtual worlds. An innovative meaning-maker, on the other hand, thrives on DIY practices and problem-solving with materials and media. Makers (Halverson & Sheridan, 2014; Peppler & Bender, 2013) use digital worlds as well as physical, material worlds to make and to create multimodal compositions. As well, we disclose our particular bias which focuses on the thinking that takes place as a helpful way of viewing technology.

21st century literacy: The case of Canada

In Canada, education is governed provincially and territorially, not nationally. The mandate for all Canadian provincial and territorial educational jurisdictions is to ensure equitable access to education for all students, with each province and territory having evolved policies and approaches to literacy education that respond to its particular needs (Government of Canada, 2015). Accordingly, each of the 10 provinces and three territories has developed curricula or standards documents that describe the learning outcomes that students should attain within a given grade or year of education. …

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