From the dawn of civilization until the 21st century to be ‘literate’ has basically meant ‘to be adept at reading and writing’. What it means to be digitally literate is the subject of my upcoming Ed.D. thesis which I’m currently planning. One of the reasons that literacy is changing is that knowledge, or at least our relationship to it, is changing. Check out George Siemens’ Connectivism blog for more on learners as ‘nodes on a network’ and his excellent (wiki) book Knowing Knowledge.
What people have called Web 2.0 is where users of the Internet can create and share content easily. Each user is like a node on the network. For today’s students to be ‘literate’ in this type of digital environment, therefore, they need to be able to use the tools available in an appropriate and effective manner.
The step beyond Web 2.0, what some have understandably dubbed Web 3.0, involves the Semantic Web. This, to quote Wikipedia (as of today) means, ‘an evolving extension of the World Wide Web in which web content can be expressed not only in natural language, but also in a format that can be read and used by software agents, thus permitting them to find, share and integrate information more easily.’ This means human and machine – theoretically – working in harmony with two-way ‘understanding’.
Two web applications I’ve come across recently move us towards the Semantic Web for everyday use. The first is Freebase, ‘an open, shared database of the world’s knowledge’. Although it’s not fully ‘open’ yet, I’ve got a login to be able to add content. It’s still readable by anyone and the content is released under a Creative Commons license. Whereas Wikipedia‘s pages are very similar in layout, style, etc., pages on Freebase differ according to content. The latter automatically pulls in data from relevant sources and ‘mashes it up’ to form either new or insightful content for users. Applications can be created with the Freebase API for various purposes. Try Cinespin, for example – a graphical database of everything film-related.
The second web application I’ve come across is oSkope, a visual search engine. Given the dominance of Google, search engines trying to offer something unique come and go. oSkope, however, does look genuinely useful. From the list of supported websites, I selected Amazon UK and typed in the name of one of my favourite authors. I was given a choice of how to display my results. First of all I selected ‘pile’:
Then I selected a graph based on price:
The importance is not how pretty the interface is; the importance here is that students have to become literate in dealing with these types of digital environments. In the past it might have gone under the name ‘data mining’. But it’s so much more than that, isn’t it?