in New Literacies

Read the first complete draft of my doctoral thesis on digital literacies.

Update: I’ve now submitted my thesis and it’s available at!

Doug's Ed.D. thesis

In 2006 George Siemens asked a bunch of people (including me) to proofread his book, Knowing Knowledge which he – innovatively for the time – released as a book, PDF and wiki. I happily did so and was credited along with many others who had been following George’s work in progress.

I know that many people reading this blog have followed my doctoral studies which has lasted about the same time as I’ve been blogging – six years. I’m delighted to say that yesterday I sent a complete draft of my Ed.D. thesis to my supervisor at Durham University. It may be a bit rough around the edges and there’ll be some inconsistencies, but it’s a huge relief to me.

Whilst my thesis – entitled What is digital literacy? A Pragmatic investigation – has been online since I started writing it in 2007, I thought I’d take this milestone as an opportunity to point people towards it and ask for some feedback. The major new update is Chapter 9 where I propose an ‘essential core’ of eight elements which make up an overlapping matrix of digital literacies.

I’ve had some great input and made connections with people all across the world during the last few years as a result of sharing my work. It’s a bit like pregnancy: the expectation during gestation is very different from the reality of delivering it. But now’s not a time to become coy and overly-protective about something I’ve been nurturing for so long; it’s time to, as with all my work, share it for the good of mankind. Ideas should be free.

And hopefully, just like a baby, people will admire and smile at it.

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  1. Well done for getting this far, Doug. And thanks for making it available for all to read. I genuinely look forward to giving up some time to go through it soon.

    Keep being awesome!

  2. Hi Doug, came here via twitter. Nice idea putting your draft online, thanks. What is the best way to send feedback? Cheers, Mark

  3. Hi Doug, I came here by twitter. I salute you for your courage to share
    your doctoral thesis draft online. I just picked (by chance, admittedly)
    the chapter on “critical theory” and would only make a few comments to

    (1) You state that “Postmodern Critical Theorists such as Michel Foucault” merged Marxist Theory with Frankfurt School ideas “in the sense that everything is
    considered to be a ‘text’”. Actually, Foucault neither merged both
    “streams” nor do this streams consider everything as a ‘text’. Rather,
    Foucualt suggested an alternative approach to Marxist Theory and
    Critical Theory always insisted on the difference between ‘objects’ and
    ‘concepts’, thus on the discrepancy between ‘world’ and ‘text’.

    (2) You mention Derrida as a theorist of the “linguistic turn”, dealing with language
    as a symbolic representations of the world. Actually, Derrida wouldn’t
    agree on this ‘representational usurpation’, I guess… Moreover he
    tried to deconstruct the ‘representational’ point of view.

    (3) You state that Habermas “fused” the ‘Foucaultian’ and the
    ‘Derridaian’ point of view. Well, I’m not an expert in the work of
    Habermas, but I think, that’s a quite problematic statement, not only
    resulting from (1) and (2) but also from Habermas’ self-conception,
    based on the concept of “reason”.

    (4) You write that “In the 1990s, Horkheimer defined a ‘critical theory’ […]” – Either you’re wrong on the year or on the name: Horkheimer died in 1973.

    (5) You speak of a “transcendental idealism evident in the
    first phase of Critical
    Theory with a selection of ideas from the American Pragmatist
    tradition”. First, if you mean works like the “Dialektik der Aufklärung”
    then there is by no means a “transcendental idealism”. Adorno and Horkheimer tried to overcome such a conception of philosophy. And second, which “selection of ideas from the American Pragmatist tradition” do you mean?

    (6) Finally, I don’t have a clue how important this section of your
    chapter for the whole doctoral thesis is. But perhaps you can focus just
    the methodological argument you need for your thesis and can avoid the
    most of the mentioned problems by relinquishing such questionable

    I hope, my comments can be useful for your final version. In any case, I wish you good luck with your work – may you do well!

    • Wow! Thanks for taking the time to give me that feedback – much appreciated! I’ll certainly remedy the errors.

      Although I don’t want to set up a straw man in the shape of Critical Theory the cut-and-thrust of the section on Pragmatism is my main concern. :-)

  4. Hi Doug,

    I’m here by way of Gary Woodall, who asked me to take a look at what you have so far. I’ve given a quick look over your methodology chapter and have a few comments.

    I would make several semantic quibbles about the placement of the various pragmatic philosophers and the neopragmatic trend towards interpretationism (as led by the contemporaries). I also echo “info” commenter above, but add that generally the evolution of continental philosophy takes a different path when it comes to dealing with the limitations of analytical philosophy. It is possible to put both the British/American and Continental traditions on different evolutionary paths and they do indeed appear to come together in Davidson and Rorty and the other Interpretationists in the post-analytic school (along with Derrida, Foucault and Barthes mainly).

    Generally the issue with pragmatism is that it can’t resolve higher-order goals (purpose goals, other than power motivations), and this is generally due to the antifoundational stance that is one of its defining features.

    The trap of using a pragmatic approach outside of the physical sciences is that that you think you have a useful tool to question ontological assumptions and a couple of ways to reassess epistemic systems by examining dualisms (false dichotomies), but pragmatism can’t answer “why” questions other than
    providing utilitarian explanations. Basically pragmatism, like deconstruction, can’t really see beyond the dualisms and the rather utilitarian value of productivity.

    The evidence for this is that many of the contemporary pragmatists were philosophers of science, and looking for ways to (more or less) salvage positivism. In this regard, pragmatism is good for
    factor analysis (correcting ontological assumptions of post-empirical research, especially in psychology) and lends itself well to technological approaches to education (especially if you use Quine and Rorty’s post-analytical methods). The problem is that a century of this type of research and resulting methodologies has been quite unproductive in the sense that we have not really improved educational or learning performance (in fact we seem to have reversed it).
    I strongly recommend you take a peek at Roy Bhaskar and his Critical Realism. Since you are also quoting McLuhan you should be aware that he was also a critical realist from the Canadian school of communication and political theorists (which includes Harold Innis, Charles Taylor and George Grant, to name a few). Briefly, critical realism is a critique of pragmatism that restores transcendence as the goal of any cultural activity (ultimately literacy of any form) which is also (in my opinion), the goal of learning. And it does so without falling into any form of idealism (or on the other side, solipsism or nihlism).

    Finally, in philosophy of science there has been a rejection of fallibilism in favour of falsificationism, and a quick reading of Karl Popper and the evolution of his thinking (moving from naive to sophisticated falsification) might give you some valuable insights to your discussion.

  5. Hi, Doug! Thanks for sharing this. 
    I noticed in chapter 9 that you have ‘no date’ next to the quote from Sir Ken. He said this on 16th June 2008 at (as you know) the RSA/EDGE Lecture in London ( I’m not aware of an earlier documentation of this quote.I’m enjoying reading this very much and I would love to talk to you further. I’ll contact you later. Thanks again. All the best, Pete