Engaging the digital generation

I'm a keynote speaker for a conference being held at the University of Middlesex on June 29th. The conference is entitled: Engaging the Digital Generation in Academic Literacy, and looks like it's going to be a very interesting event. Other speakers include Tara Brabazon and William Wong. Below is the title and abstract of my keynote:

Digital Tribes and the Social Web: How Web 2.0 will Transform Learning in Higher Education

The Social Web is transforming the way students interact with others, and is challenging traditional pedagogies, values and practices. An analysis of students’ uses of social networking tools (e.g. Facebook, Myspace) and video/photo sharing sites (e.g. YouTube, Flickr) reveals the emergence of collective digital literacies. These include filtering content, new textual and visual literacies, managing multiple digital identities, representing self in cyberspace and engaging in new modes of interaction. In this presentation I will argue that identification through digitally mediated tools has become the new cultural capital – the set of invisible bonds that ties a community together. It is this ‘social glue’ – such mutual understandings and exchanges that occur on a daily basis within social media – that build the digital communities, and create new learning spaces, nurturing the habitus of a new ‘digital tribe’.

Emile Durkheim suggested that it is easier for tribal members to project their feelings of awe toward a totem than toward something that is as complex as the tribe itself. For digital tribes, their totem – the traditional rallying point for all tribal activity – is patently the Social Web. The digital spaces found within the Web are in themselves objects of intense interest and become meeting places for the tribe, but they also act as transmitters of units of cultural knowledge – memes.

Max Weber once remarked that culture should be construed as a ‘web of significance’ spun by the individuals who constitute the culture. Significantly, the increasing role the World Wide Web plays in the shaping of modern tribal culture causes Weber’s notion to resonate. In this presentation I will argue that digital technologies and electronic networks provide fertile environments for the transmission of memes and that new literacies are needed to receive, interpret and comprehend them. Such new literary practices of communication rely heavily on shared spaces, shared symbolism and the viral nature of the social web.

I will explore how the new digital literacies impact upon teaching and learning in higher education, and discuss the implications of a growing gulf between traditional teaching and the expectations of the new tribe – the digital generation. I will pose the questions: What will be the new roles of academics in a world where the boundaries between novice and expert are blurring? and what new digital literacies will scholars need to harness the full potential of the social web?

Related posts:

The tribal web
En masse, online
Digital tribal identity
Virtual clans

Image source (modified)


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