in New Literacies

Meeting with Ed.D. supervisor – 24 July 2007

Thesis

I met with my supervisor today to thrash out the way forward with my Ed.D. thesis proposal. It was a productive conversation and he helped me gain some much-needed focus to my sometimes rambling thoughts.

I’m going to focus on the concept of ‘digital literacy’. This, of course, means that I need to clarify exactly what I – and, perhaps more importantly, other people and organizations mean – by ‘literacy’. I’m also going to discuss whether digital literacy is a functional element which can be understood to reside under the umbrella term ‘literacy’ or whether it is something that can be considered as separate.

The scope of this thesis is potentially huge, so I’m going to have to be ruthless in keeping the whole thing focused. Whilst I can touch on things such as what it means to be ‘educated’, the purpose of education, etc. I need to make sure that it all adds up to a critical and in-depth discussion of whether the concept of ‘digital literacy’ is a useful one and relevant to what is (or should be) going on in 21st century schools.

My supervisor suggested that I might want to go with a historical approach in the introduction, perhaps looking at what ‘literacy’ and ‘to be literate’ has meant through the ages. This would help introduce the notion of literacy being dependent upon society and culture.

Other things to possibly think about and include from the notes I made during the meeting:

  • The Labour government seems to think it can identify the skills that will be needed by 21st century workers. Is this possible?
  • Habermas – argument r.e. serving the system or serving the lifeworld. Should/are students learning to make a living or learning to make a life (links to Citizenship, Every Child Matters agenda, etc.)
  • Is ‘digital literacy’ real or imagined? Different people mean different things by ‘literacy’, never mind ‘digital literacy’.
  • How and why do people respond to new technologies? (threats to established order)
  • Notions of ‘literacy’ are at the heart of education and always have been. Brings with it ideas of competence, being functional in society, skills, and being ‘educated’.
  • Schools don’t currently have a firm idea of why they’re doing what they’re doing.
  • Don’t cite blogs – use as second or third-stage source. Paraphrase ideas.
  • It’s difficult to distinguish between economic and educational importance of ‘digital literacy’ in government pronouncements -> assumption that using computers is important, therefore ‘digital literacy’ important (not necessarily the case -> counter-e.g. of Nissan car plant, Burger King, etc.)
  • Conlon article -> e.g. of cathedral -> each worker gives a different account of what they’re doing.
  • ‘Digital literacy’ implies that it is a skill that can be imparted -> threatens historical concept of teacher? Access vs. connections (relationships)

Possible structure of argument:

  1. What is literacy?
  2. Literacy = dynamic
  3. Why does literacy change (reflecting society vs. something ‘out there’ to be revealed)
  4. Government policy still informed by Victorian model of schooling.
  5. Emergence of term ‘digital literacy’.
  6. What did it mean to be ‘literate’ before and after a new technology (e.g. printing press)
  7. ‘Functional’ aspect of literacy -> is ‘digital literacy’ just another aspect of this?
  8. What do people mean when they talk of being ‘literate’?
  9. What measures and tests are used for gauging whether someone is literate/’digitally literate’?
  10. It makes sense for the government to want to improve ‘literacy’ -> but what do we mean by this?
  11. Go back to literature -> what do we mean by ‘digital literacy’?
  12. Are there/can there be consistent measures for ‘digital literacy’?

My supervisor also pointed me towards the following articles and books:

  • T. Conlon, ‘Visions of Change’ (British Journal of Educational Technology, vol.31, no.2, p.109-116)
  • Castells, The Networked Society
  • F. Coffield, ‘Running Ever Faster Down The Wrong Road’