Movellas: Reading and Writing on the Move.

First there were novels. Then there were novellas. So what else would you call an online publishing house, a meeting place for aspiring  young adult writers, dedicated to the writing of extended prose pieces and aimed at the mobile generation? A place where you can pick up the latest writing tips, practise your skills by emulating your writing heroes and share your work with a sympathetic audience? I have written before about the hugely popular, but largely ignored – in educational terms – world of fan fiction (see Harry Potter and the Fan Fiction Factory). Now there’s a new kid on the block in the shape of Movellas, and it is causing quite a stir in the literacy world. Writing in this week’s Guardian newspaper, the editor of book review website Omnivore, Anna Baddeley, explains how the ‘startup’ has attracted the support of The Reading Agency and the innovation charity Nesta as a result of its ‘dedication to boosting creative thinking, team working and literacy skills’. The site, which was set up in 2012, already has in excess of 200,000 users, 75% of whom are girls, an imbalance the founders hope to shift as they move into the world of ‘story games’. As it becomes more difficult for teachers to motivate young people to write, is this perhaps the trick that they are missing?

“Taking to heart the maxim that reading for pleasure is vital to a child’s educational attainment, the company’s founders believe that encouraging young people to write about their passions and share those stories with others can have a positive effect on literacy.”

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Responsible Citizens in the Digital Age

One of the four key aims of the Scottish Curriculum is to develop ‘responsible citizens’, ‘with respect for others’ and ‘ a commitment to participate responsibly in political, economic, social and cultural life’. One’s immediate thoughts are perhaps drawn to the life of the community, or the country, and the challenges of encouraging young people to engage in the democratic process at a time when trust in politicians is at an all-time low, but in an increasingly connected world, we have to think of responsible citizenship in global terms, especially in relation to the internet and social networks.

I learned the other day that YouTube is now the number one source of music for most young people. What happened to Top of the Pops while I looked away? Is it still on at seven o’clock on a Thursday? In reality, what is happening here is that the media which were once produced by the few and consumed by the many (and all at the same time), are now being produced by the many and shared by the many, at a time of their own choosing. To paraphrase transmedia guru Henry Jenkins, sharing is the new form of distribution. The implications of all of this are still emerging, but range from the ethical issues surrounding ownership, through digital literacy to e-safety and carbon footprints. How do parents and teachers begin to understand the issues, never mind teach the social responsibility which is such an essential part of the curriculum? Well appropriately enough, the answer may lie in the internet itself, and particularly in Google, which has developed an interactive curriculum on YouTube to support teachers in educating students on how to be safe, engaged and confident model ‘netizens’.

The initiative is aimed at students aged 13 to 17 and will help them to develop digital literacy skills on YouTube that would be applicable across the web. A list of 10 lessons has been devised, in which students can learn about YouTube’s policies, how to report content, how to protect their own privacy, and how to be responsible YouTube community members and, in the broader picture, digital citizens. The curriculum helps educate students on topics like:

  • YouTube’s policies
  • How to report content on YouTube
  • How to protect their privacy online
  • How to be responsible YouTube community members
  • How to be responsible digital citizens

Each lesson comes with guidelines for teachers and ready-made slides for presentation. There’s also a YouTube Curriculum channel where videos related to the project will be posted. Get started today by downloading your free Teachers’ Guide here.

We Think, Therefore We Are

In his latest book, We-Think, Charles Leadbetter argues that if the 20th Century was one of mass production and mass consumption, the 21st Century will be one of mass innovation and collaboration, the sharing of ideas being the currency on which our future prosperity depends:-

“In the economy of things you are identified by what you own – your land, house, car. In the economy of ideas that the web is creating, you are what you share – who you are linked to, who you network with and which ideas, pictures, videos, links or comments you share. The biggest change the web will bring about is in allowing us to share with one another in new ways and particularly to share ideas.”

At least two questions immediately come to mind. If the new economy is about sharing, what is it that is going to encourage people to share and to give away, rather than trying to cash in on their ideas and maximise their profit, according to the natural laws of self-preservation, natural human tendencies to self-interest etc etc. And in a world where it is rapidly becoming easier to organise on a global scale, what is going to prevent individuals and organisations from using the power of the internet for destructive rather than constructive purposes?

On the first issue Leadbetter is optimistic. It’s not that he believes we-think will entirely replace the market-driven economy but rather that there will be a balance between  market and non-market ways of organising the networked economy. In other words, individuals and organisations will survive according to their ability to sell and to share freely their ideas in the right proportions, a mix of collaboration and commerce, community and corporation. He believes that what motivates people above all else is not wealth but the quality of the relationships they are able to develop, alongside a sense of worth and a recognition of their talents, especially by their peers. This is threatening to traditional corporations with hierarchical structures, which operate on the basis of status and authority within the organisation rather than the creativity of individuals, and in the next few years we will see an increasing struggle between this dysfunctional world where decisions are made for us rather than with us and an alternative world in which we are, in the words of Pat Kane, “players”, where we are engaged and participating fully in the process of our own lives.

The challenge, according to the author, is to create a sense of order and security without undermining our capacity for sharing, for sharing can also spread diseases, infections and viruses, ideas and identities can be stolen. Furthermore, those who have top-down control, whether private corporations or governments, will fight to retain it. However, he believes that within organisations managers and professionals will struggle to retain power based on privileged access to information as those they govern  become less deferential, acquiring their own voices and finding their own information.  Secondly, more forms of peer-to-peer control, including surveillance, will provide the transparency needed to provide the security we all seek. We will get used to rating one another and being rated by our peers – something which is currently an accepted form of self-regulation in the scientific community but which will spread to many other walks of life. Finally, Leadbetter argues, we will have to encourage and develop in people more self-control so that they use their increasing technological power more responsibly. Enter the role of education and educators. He puts it succinctly like this:-

“That means, at the very least, children learning the skills and norms of media literacy and responsibility; learning to question and challenge information as well as copy and paste it.”  Reassuringly, this has echoes of the following statement from the new Literacy and English framework in Curriculum for Excellence:-

To help me develop an informed view, I am exploring the techniques used to influence my opinion. I can recognise persuasion and assess the reliability of information and credibility and value of my sources.

Never has the role of the teacher been more important in guiding and supporting young people as they develop that “informed view” for themselves as independent learners and thinkers.