Beyond Literacy: A Class, An Event, A Conversation

Logo_SquareEvery time I teach the Beyond Literacy course (a First Year Seminar at Guelph) I am wonderfully delighted by the students. Frankly very few of them ever buy the premise of the course (“Reading and writing are doomed. Literacy as we know it is over. Welcome to the post-literate future.”) but it doesn’t matter. Like any good learning experience, it’s all about the journey. And it’s always quite the journey.

The students in the course are required to work on a single, final class project. They can do almost anything as long as 1) it explores and amplifies the course content, 2) they work together, and 3) the result is public in some way.

The last criteria is perhaps the most important to me. The public component sharpens their critical capacity and it puts some accountability into their work.

In previous years students have created podcasts, written an e-book or a magazine article, created videos on YouTube, and hosted a debate.

This year the class decided they wanted to host a book burning.

As it turns out (surprise!) that’s not so easy to do … anywhere, for any reason.

So they decided to host a book shredding instead.

That was no problem. So they did it in the Library.

They formed four teams: event planning, video interviewing, video editing team, and overall project management group.

They promoted the event on Facebook and other places, and on Wednesday March 26th at 12:30 in the main entrance of the McLaughlin Library, they invited people to step, rip a page out of a book, and put it through a shredder.

Let the wild rumpus begin.

As you might expect, people were confused, upset, intrigued and outraged. Some were disturbingly enthusiastic. One faculty member called it “pornography” and another said days later that he was still troubled by what he saw.

But the event did what the students wanted; it allowed them to engage in conversation about what we think about reading, writing, alphabetic literacy, and the future of all those things. It opened up a dialogue and it was a powerful learning experience.

As part of the assignment the students interviewed a number of people and recorded the book shredding event.

Here’s the final video:

And here are two reactions from James McGarry, a colleague at Guelph:


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