Web Literacies: What is the ‘Web’ Anyway? [DMLcentral]

Network flower diagram

My latest post for DMLcentral is now live. Entitled Web Literacies: What is the ‘Web’ Anyway? I take a step back to examine something we now take for granted every day:

Over two billion people now use the web on a regular basis. For many people, like me, the web is a fundamental part of how they communicate — and, therefore, how they are. We create and sustain relationships through the web. We watch videos that provoke joy, laughter, sadness, and anger. We exchange artifacts and multimedia such as photos, memes, and audio files. The web is an inherently social technology.

You can view the archive of my posts for DMLcentral here. I also participated in a recent DML Connected Learning webinar with colleagues Mark Surman and Carla Casilli entitled Mozilla Webmaker: Digital Literacy Through Making and Sharing

Image CC BY saintbob

 

Some thoughts on the Department for Education’s consultation on ‘Parental Internet Controls’.

The Department for Education's consultation on 'Parental Internet Controls'

If you’re in England and a parent, guardian and/or educator you should be responding to the Department for Education’s consultation on Parental Internet Controls.

The assumptions behind it are quite staggering.

It would appear that the government believes that the best way of ‘protecting’ young people is to shield them from ever accessing ‘inappropriate’ material online.

This is wrong for several reasons:

  1. Despite your best efforts, all young people will at some point come across inappropriate things online
  2. Any tool you use to block inappropriate sites will be a fairly blunt instrument leading to false positives
  3. Blocking tools tend to lead to a false sense of security by parents, guardians and educators
  4. Who decides what’s ‘inappropriate’?

The best filter resides in the head, not in a router or office of an Internet Service Provider (ISP).

I don’t want my internet connection to be filtered in ‘the best interests of my children’. I don’t want to be subject to censorship.

I’ve responded to the consultation. I’ve pointed out that their questions are sometimes unfairly worded. For example, I want to respond for one particular question that I don’t think ‘automatic’ parental controls should be in place in any households.

It’s about education, not censorship. Make sure you respond to the consultation, please!

 

‘Literacy’

As I’ve neither the time nor the amount of energy needed to get published in an academic journal for the first time, this blog will continue to serve as a repository for slightly more formal blog posts (or less formal journal articles, however you want to think of them…) 😉

I’m aiming to investigate the concept of ‘digital literacy’ and issues surrounding it in my Ed.D. thesis. You can read my proposal at digitalliteracies.edublogs.org.

Everybody knows what literacy is. It’s the ability ‘read and write.’ But read and write what, and to what standard, and for what purpose? An even more important question might be ‘to read and write with which technology? For, as Tuman (1992:2) notes, notions of ‘reading and ‘writing’ are unstable as meanings shift along with technological change. We can no longer take it for granted that someone’s remark that they ‘read’ something means that they had to hand physical paper marked in a decipherable way by ink. By ‘writing’ we can no longer assume authorship using a pen or pencil. The digital world has turned literacy on it’s head.

Although people do write for an audience of only themselves in diaries, journals and suchlike, the usual purpose of writing is to communicate something – an idea or an emotion, for example. As new methods of communication become available, so new sub-literacies come into being surrounding them. As Kellner (2002:163 – my emphasis) puts it:

As technological convergence develops apace, individuals need to combine the skills of critical media literacy with traditional print literacy and new forms of multiple literacies to access and navigate the new multimedia environments. Literacy in this conception involves the abilities to engage effectively in socially constructed forms of communication and representation. Reading and interpreting print was the appropriate mode of literacy for books, while critical media literacy entails reading and interpreting discourse, images, spectacle, narratives, and the forms and genres of media culture.

Literacy, as alluded to above, it always reading and writing for a purpose. We would hesitate to call someone ‘literate’ who could read words and write them, but could not meaningfully communicate in written form with other people. Literacy is a ‘set of socially organised practices’ (Rodríguez Illera, 2002:51) or a ‘social technology’ (Tuman, 1992:vii) and, as such.

…involves gaining the skills and knowledge to read and interpret the text of the world and to successfully navigate and negotiate its challenges, conflicts, and crises. Literacy is thus a necessary condition to equip people to participate in the local, national and global economy, culture, and polity. (Kellner, 2002:157)

Without culture and society, there is no literacy. It is the practical application of historically-situated (Barton & Hamilton, 2000:13) sets of codes and signifiers that allow meaningful discourse within domains of various sizes. The activities within these domains are neither accidental nor random and are structured by these literate practices. (Barton & Hamilton, 2000:11-12) ‘Literacy’ has traditionally been pointed towards ‘high culture’ – which is actually a minority culture. (Beavis, 1998:240) The democratization of literate practices through technologies such as the Internet and the blog upon which I write this serve to illustrate this. Niche groups, with literate practices of their own, flourish. Take l33t, for example.

Schools, institutions that are perhaps the most conservative and preservative of the status quo in a society, perpetuate this link between literacy and ‘high culture’. As Alan Luke (2003) puts it,

Literate practice is situated, constructed, and intrapsychologically negotiated through an (artificial) social field called school, with rules of exchange denoted in scaffolded social activities around particular selected texts. (Eyman, no date:20)

Whilst there need to be some ‘rules to the game’ for there to be meaningful discourse, it would appear that schools are the enemy of evolving literate practices. Teachers have, almost necessarily, been successful at ‘working’ the existing system. They are at least reasonably successful within the bounds of traditional literate practices. There is therefore, somewhat understandably, a fear by some teachers that new technologies and literacies may somehow supplant those which they hold dear. As Illayna Snyder comments, however, such a sharp demarcation and transition is unlikely to occur:

New introduction of a new technology of writing does not automatically render older ones obsolete. For example, even though printing completely replaced handwriting in book production, it did not spell the end for handwriting. Rather, the boundaries between the two writing technologies blurred… The future of writing is not a linear progression in which new technologies usurp earlier ones. A more likely scenario is that a number of technologies will continue to co-exist, interact, even complement each other.

So just as we have both printed and online versions of newspapers, printed and electronic scholarly journals, and a variety of ways of accessing information we need for our day-to-day lives, so literacies can co-exist. Realising this, we need to embrace new technologies rather than fear them, finding ways to transform our world, and responding to the challenges we face by discovering new literacies (Kellner, 2002:154). 

Ultimately, decisions about literate practices are not ones we can avoid as educators by ‘sitting on the fence’. As William James put it, ‘…our thoughts determine our acts, and our actions redetermine the previous nature of the world.’ (Bredo, 2006:21). For us to be able to act, and interact, with others in a meaningful way given the nature of the technologies that surround us, we must develop new literacies, new pedagogies and new stories.

References

  • Barton, D. & Hamilton, M. (2000) ‘Literacy Practices’ (in Barton, D., Hamilton, M. & Ivanic, R. (eds.), Situated Literacies: reading and writing in context
  • Beavis, C. (1998) ‘Computer games, culture and curriculum’ (in I. Snyder, Page to Screen)
  • Bredo, E. (2006) ‘Philosophies of Educational Research’ (in Green, J.L., et al, Handbook of Complementary Methods of Education Research)
  • Eyman, D. (no date) ‘Digital Literac(ies), Digital Discourses, and Communities of Practice: Literacy Practices in Virtual Environments’ (Cultural Practices of Literacy Study, Working Paper #12)
  • Kellner, D.M., (2002) ‘Technological Revolution, Multiple Literacies, and the Restructuring of Education’ (in I. Snyder (ed.), Silicon Literacies: communication, innovation and education in the electronic age)
  • Rodríguez Illera, J.L. (2004) ‘Digital Literacies’ (Interactive Educational Multimedia, number 9, pp. 48-62)
  • Tuman, M. (1992) Word Perfect: literacy in the computer age
(image adapted from an original by Pink Sherbert Photography @ Flickr)
 

Living offline

Apologies for the lack of updates this week. Normal service was to be resumed yesterday after returning from a school trip to the WWI battlefields in France/Belgium (http://battlefields.posterous.com). However, Orange, in their infinite wisdom, cut off our Internet connection earlier this week instead of migrating it from my mobile phone contract to Hannah’s. 😮

I’m obviously meant to have a break. My Ed.D. supervisor’s ill so couldn’t meet up with me today, Nick Dennis isn’t able to come up to collaborate on some work we’re doing for a publisher and, finally, it would seem that my house is no longer in a 3G area.

I’m writing this using the WordPress iPhone application. Whilst it’s fine for short text entry, it’s not really able to create my usual sort of blog posts. It would seem that this is a blessing in disguise. I’ll *have* to slow down this half-term! 🙂

Orange have promised to have us up-and-running by the end of next week. In the meantime, check out the battlefields blog (see link above) and the work I’ve been doing in my first half-term as E-Learning Staff Tutor at my school (http://elearnr.edublogs.org) :-p

 

The feature that will make Posterous better than Edublogs is…

…themes! Or at least backgrounds and the ability to change the colours on your blog home page – à la Twitter.

<<< Rewind! For those who haven’t come across Posterous, it’s a great blogging platform that just works. You can blog by logging into your account as with normal platforms, but the real power of Posterous comes through it’s ability to ‘intelligently’ deal with anything you send to post@nullposterous.com.

In fact, sending an email is all you need to do to set up a blog in the first place. I love how straightforward it is to use – it certainly sticks to the 7 Essential Guidelines for Functional Design as far as I’m concerned! Text formatting from your email is retained on the blog post, links to YouTube become embedded videos, PDFs and text files become Flashpaper-like previews, and images become galleries. Check out my test posts here and here! 😀

As far as next year and my E-Learning Staff Tutor role, this is perfect for recommending for classroom teacher blogs. It’s just so easy to get stuff up there and online! For students, however, a Twitter-like ability to change colours, backgrounds, etc. needs to be there before they’re likely to be sold on it… :-p

Thanks to @tombarrett and @johnjohnston for making me aware of Posterous!

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Doug lives in rural isolation thanks to the Internet

Years ago, before I saw the light and used Macs, I used to subscribe to PC Pro. There was a guy who wrote for that magazine called Davey Winder whose short bio simply read ‘lives in rural isolation thanks to the Internet’. I can remember thinking that must be great. Now I’m living the dream:

Obviously I’m not going to link to a Google Map showing exactly where we live. I don’t want to give the SWAT teams too easy a time… 😉

Home broadband will be installed in a few weeks’ time due to issues I won’t go into, but for the meantime I’m very happy with mobile broadband access on a pay-as-you-go basis via the 3 network. I’m sharing the connection obtained through HSDPA with Hannah courtesy of our Macbooks’ Airport feature.

Life Chez Belshaw is peachy. No non-human/animal/bird created noise. Rolling fields. A 19th century mill within our grounds. What more could I ask for? 😀

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Porn in every school? or Why filtering will soon be irrelevant.

The world is a scary place. It’s seemed to become even more so in the past 16 months with the arrival in the world of my one-and-only son, Ben. Young people need protecting from the dangers and perils that we, as adults, either know to avoid or can take somewhat in our stride.

It’s the same online. There’s websites and links I know not to click on as my home Internet connection is unfiltered. At school, however, I’m subject to the same restrictions as pupils, which is annoying. I’m a responsible adult and can navigate to relevant parts of websites for lesson preparation and delivery. There’s no good reason for my having the same level of restricted access as pupils.

I had a discussion a month or two back in which my interlocutor, sounding reasonable at the time, said that wireless Internet access should be opened up to students. It’s filtered, so there shouldn’t be a problem. That’ll be why I keep seeing pupils trying to hide that they’re on Bebo via the newest proxy server to have sprung up, yes? Unless you have a whitelisting system, where the Internet is blocked except for those that are put onto a list, then filtering via blacklisting will never be 100% effective.

But pupils accessing Bebo via a proxy server through the school network is small potatoes compared with what’s about to happen. Here’s the five steps:

  1. Schools allow students to bring in mobile devices that can connect to the Internet, realising that having policies which ban them whilst some teachers promoting their use is problematic.
  2. The cat-and-mouse game of students trying to access blocked sites and administrators blocking them continues.
  3. In the wider world, unlimited mobile broadband data plans become commonplace.
  4. Students from wealthier families start being able to connect to whatever they want, bypassing the school network.
  5. A trickledown and pester-power effect begins; soon most students can access the Internet in this way.

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This is going to cause a HUGE problem. Why? Schools haven’t realised that the only way to have students behaving responsibly online is to teach them how to do so from an early age. We’re going to see reactionary administrators floundering in an attempt try to claw by some type of control, when all along we should have been educating pupils instead of blocking them… :-s

We need to start planning for this eventuality NOW.

Image credit: based on iPorn by jasonEscapist @ Flickr

 
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