Identifying Key Issues or Debates (Lesson B)

Understanding an author’s argument is only the first step in a larger critical thinking process. Now, we need to consider what each article says as part of a larger conversation in society.

Note

This lesson draws on knowledge of two articles. If you haven’t already, you will want to read them now.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). Retrieved 5 October 2001, from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20 Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Wohlsen, M. (2016). Digital literacy is the key to the future, but we still don’t know what it meansWIRED. Retrieved 14 April 2016, from http://www.wired.com/2014/09/digital-literacy-key-future-still-don’t-know-means/

You do not need to have completed Lesson A to enjoy this lesson. If you haven’t completed it, you can use the following resources to help you in this lesson:

Writers like Wohlsen and Prensky do not write in a vacuum, isolated from the world. Just the opposite, they write in response to other writers, sharing and debating ideas. And more, the arguments and perspectives they send out are shaped by what they have read and been influenced by in the past.

Once we understand that articles are part of on-going conversations in society, we can begin to use those articles to map these larger social conversations. For example, we can look at several articles on the topic of digital literacy. We can begin to ask some questions: What do different writers have to say about this topic? How do different writers define digital literacy? Why is it defined in different ways? What do writers in the field of computer studies have to say about this topic? What do writers in the field of education have to say? Do writers in different fields have different views on this topic? Why?

The questions can go on and on. By asking these kinds of questions, we are exploring the different arguments and assumptions about a topic in our society. We will start by developing a comparison of just two arguments about digital literacy – Wohlsen’s and Prensky’s.

We will do this in two steps. In Step 1, we will look at a process for identifying issues and debates in an article. In Step 2, we will practice matching the information from each article to define a shared topic.

Asking Questions About An Article

Our challenge is to connect an article to bigger issues and debates in society and gain a sense of how that article fits into those debates. To do this, we can ask a series of questions about the goal and audience of the article.

Identifying Issues and Debates Template (Reference)
Initial Questions Use these questions to start thinking about the issues and debates in the article.
What is the author’s main argument? Answering these questions helps us to think about the writer’s motivations and goals. Are they trying to solve a problem? Are they trying to add to our understanding of a topic?
What is the author’s main goal? Why did they write the article?
What field(s) of study does the writer connect with?
Who is the writer’s audience?
Issues and Debates Use these steps to present the issues and debates

  1. Using the ideas from above, identify two or three different issues or debates in the article.
  2. Indicate what position the article takes on that debate.
Issue or Debate #1

  1. Describe the issue or debate.
  2. What position in the issue or debate does the author take?
Think of an issue or debate as a question that many different people might want to explore and answer. How does this writer choose to approach the question? Answer it?
Issue or Debate #2

  1. Describe the issue or debate.
  2. What position in the issue or debate does the author take?
Issue or Debate #3

  1. Describe the issue or debate.
  2. What position in the issue or debate does the author take?
Add more issues or debates as you find them.

It’s your turn to practice. Using the practice template, you will identify the issues and debates explored in both Wohlsen’s article and Prensky’s article.

Complete the practice template for each article. Use the information in the reverse outlines to help you. Remember, you can print sample answers of the reverse outlines for each article and have them in front of you while you complete this exercise.

Let’s do Wohlsen first:

Identifying Issues and Debates – Wohlsen Article (Sample Answers)

Initial Questions

What is the author’s main argument?

Wohlsen argues that skills in “computational thinking” and the logic of coding will be crucial in a world driven by information technology, and not just for those involved directly in computer programming.

What is the author’s main goal? Why did they write the article?

Wohlsen wants to convince his audience that we, in society, face a challenge of trying to define digital literacy and that this challenge is important to solve. He writes the article to get his audience thinking about what skills young people really will need in the future.

What field(s) of study does the writer connect with?

Wohlsen is writing in a technology magazine. His concerns and goals would be linked to working in the computer technology field, including computer programming. But also, his ideas would be of interest to the field of education, and perhaps social policy development.

Who is the writer’s audience?

Wohlsen’s audience are the readers of a popular online technology journal; the audience would certainly have some interest in the role of digital technology in our working and social lives.

These sample answers have highlighted key phrases that are clues to identifying the issues and debates in the article.

Issues and Debates

Issue or Debate #1

Describe the issue or debate.

Education: 

What do students need to know? What should we be doing in school today to ensure young people have the skills they need to succeed in today’s computer-driven society?

What position in the issue or debate does the author take?

Not everyone would agree with Wohlsen’s focus on the benefits of a heavy emphasis on computer skills and coding in schools.

Issue or Debate #2

Describe the issue or debate.

Digital Literacy:

How have computers changed what we know and what we need to know?

Computer technology has changed the priorities in our world. Given we live in a world dominated by digital information technology, what skills and knowledge do we need to handle it?

What position in the issue or debate does the author take?

Wohlsen’s emphasis is on coding, but not everyone sees it that way. Others might define digital literacy as simply being able to use digital devices and software.

Issue or Debate #3

Describe the issue or debate.

Information technology and data:

How will we be able to manage the mass data that we can now collect in society? What does a data-driven society look like? How will it be different from the past and what opportunities and challenges will we face?

What position in the issue or debate does the author take?

Wohlsen’s focus on the primacy of technology may lead him to overstate the value of data in society.

Add more issues or debates as you find them.

Download Sample Answers

Now, let’s do the same for Prensky:

Identifying Issues and Debates – Prensky Article (Sample Answers)

Initial Questions

What is the author’s main argument?

Prensky argues that for the education system to be effective, teachers have a responsibility to improve their approaches to teaching in order to engage today’s more digitally literate students.

What is the author’s main goal? Why did they write the article?

Prensky is motivated by his desire to promote computer use, especially computer games, as part of the learning experience. He wants educators to link innovation with increased use of digital technology.

What field(s) of study does the writer connect with?

Prensky’s arguments clearly engage with the fields of education and learning. But his work might also be of interest in the fields of computer gaming and the development of other educational computer resources.

Who is the writer’s audience?

Prensky’s audience are educators and people working in the fields of curriculum development, as well as those in the technology fields interested in educational resources.

These sample answers have highlighted key phrases that are clues to identifying the issues and debates in the article.

Issues and Debates

Issue or Debate #1

Describe the issue or debate.

Education:

How should students be taught? What should students learn in school? What role does technology have in the education system?

What position in the issue or debate does the author take?

Prensky emphasizes an education system that appeals to the preferences of a younger digital generation. Not everyone agrees this is necessary or beneficial.

Issue or Debate #2

Describe the issue or debate.

Digital Literacy:

What new skills are important in the digital era? In a world shaped increasingly by our use of digital technology, what skills do we need to succeed?

What position in the issue or debate does the author take?

Prensky emphasizes skills in multitasking, in game play, and in the fluent ability to use digital technology. Other writers identify different skills.

Issue or Debate #3

Describe the issue or debate.

Digital Divide:

What assumptions do we make about who has access to, and so benefits from, digital technology and who does not?

What position in the issue or debate does the author take?

Not all writers agree with Prensky’s idea that the generational divide is accurate or even the most important issue. Issues like class, urban and rural living, and the priorities of the education system also affect how competent people are with technology.

Download Sample Answers 

Defining a Topic

Usually, after you have worked with different articles for a while as we have been doing in this lesson, you begin to have a sense of what they are about and what connections they have to each other.

The next step is to explore these connections to define a shared topic for the critical comparison. The shared topic will form the basis of your comparison of the two articles and your goal will be to compare and contrast each author’s unique approach to the topic.

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