Tag: literacyconversation

Conversations about (new) literacies

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m (still!) studying towards my Ed.D. on the subject of ‘digital literacies’. The subject crops up in various networks of which I’m part from time-to-time, not least via my Twitter network.

Twitter only allows 140 characters which can be a little limiting sometimes and tweets are hard to collate and archive. As a result, I decided we needed a old-skool forum. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:

literacyconversation.org

literacyconversation.org

It’s powered by bbPress, the sibling of the excellent WordPress (which powers this blog). It was super-easy to setup and there’s already some first-class debate and conversation going on. Head on over and take part! 😀

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My Ed.D. thesis concept map on ‘Digital Literacy’

This concept map took me ages. So long, in fact that I’ve no big long words or energy left to pad out this blog post longer than it needs to. Suffice it to say that the references on it can be found on my wiki. 🙂

I created the concept map using XMind, which is Open Source, cross-platform software that allows you to upload and collaborate. I found it very easy to use and would recommend it as a perfect blend of online and offline functionality! 😀

I’ve been asked under what license I’m releasing this mindmap. Here’s my answer:
Creative Commons License
Digital Literacy Ed.D. thesis concept map by Doug Belshaw is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at share.xmind.net.

The Third Conversation

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Image by biverson via Flickr

In the beginning was ‘The Conversation’, ‘The New Story’, or how new technologies had the potential to change the educational landscape. What could we do with these new technologies. Did it mean the end of schools? This was from around 2003/4 up until 2006.

From around 2006 until 2008, conversations centred around applying these new technologies in the educational landscapes. What are the barriers to implementation? What’s the best tool for this particular learning outcome? I’ve just spotted this new Web 2.0 tool – has anyone used it in their classroom yet? Things got a lot quicker from 2007 onwards by many educators beginning to use Twitter.

At the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 a new conversation is starting. Perhaps as a consequence of what has been termed the ‘Credit Crunch‘, there’s a renewed focus on the signal/noise ratio. What’s important in education? What do we need to see in practice for things to change? Is literacy in the 21st century different?

I just hope this conversation doesn’t end before I finish my Ed.D. thesis! 😮

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Gunther Kress on Literacy

I’ve been doing more studying this evening, this time looking again at Gunther Kress‘ 2003 book Literacy in the New Media Age. There’s lots to like and agree with in Kress’ writing, but there’s a couple of things I’d take issue with, not least his definition of literacy:

…for me literacy is the term to use when we make messages using letters as the mans of recording that message. When we communicate through numbers, we use the term ‘numeracy’, and for very good reasons: the meaning-potential and the meanings made with numbers are very different from those made with letters. (p.23)

This is a fair enough point, that literacy should mean something specific. But I’ve decided that I don’t agree with what he goes on to say about adding prefix modifiers:

My approach leaves us with the problem of finding new terms of the use of different resources: not therefore ‘visual literacy‘ for the use of image; not ‘gestural literacy‘ for the use of gesture; and also not ‘musical literacy‘ or ‘soundtrack literacy‘ for the use of sound other than in speech; and so on. (p.23)

I think he’s used unfair examples. If we substitute instead ‘media literacy’ and ‘digital literacy’ I think that many would argue that these are different in the way that he accepts numeracy to be. If literacy is, as Kress believes, simply creating messages using letters, there would seem to be no point in his work and the following statement earlier in his book:

Given that in the world of the new media there are numerous modal resources involved in the making of ‘messages’ – word, spoken or written; image, still and moving; music; objects as 3D models; soundtrack; action – it has in any case become essential to ask what we mean by ‘literacy’. (p.21)

Clearly, he feels that there is something that is not quite being described by our current terminology.:

They make it easy to use a multiplicity of modes, and in particular the mode of image – still or moving – as well as other modes, such as music and sound effect for instance. They change, through their affordances, the potentials for representational and communicational action by their users; this is the notion of ‘interactivity’ which figures so prominently in discussions of the new media. (p.5)

This element that Kress terms ‘interactivity’ is what sets digital/21st-century/whatever ‘literacy’ apart from its standard definition. Kress would deny that it is in fact a literacy and instead claims it’s a skill:

[W]e can have writing or speech as the names of two resources for making meaning. Using pencil, pen, (computer) keyboard or whatever else are then separate and different matters, involving the skills of both production and dissemination, which may be more or less closely integrated with the potentials of the resource. Literacy remains the term which refers to (the knowledge of) the use of the resource in writing. The combination of knowledge of the resource with knowledge of production and perhaps with that of dissemination would have a different name. That separates, what to me is essential, the sense of what the resource is and what its potentials are, from associated questions such as those of its uses, and the issue of whether skills are involved in using a resource in wider communicational frames. (p.24)

However, this does not make clear as to whether ‘literacy’ under Kress’ conception and definition can be deemed a skill, item of knowledge, combination of the two, or neither. Whilst he quite rightly points out that the term ‘literacy’ has, and is being, used to lend credibility and legitimacy to questionable ideas (p.24-25), this does not mean he needs to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’, so to speak.

One of his main arguments not to extend ‘literacy’ to mean more than creating messages using written forms is that other languages do not contain the word. I believe this to be a weak argument. He asks rhetorically whether English, as the dominant world language, should impose the word ‘literacy’ and demand that other languages have a translation of it. He conflates this with the quite valid point that the more things to which a concept can be applied, the less it means. To my mind, there’s absolutely no valid reason Kress gives why a modifying prefix such as ‘digital’, ‘media’ or ’21st-century’ cannot be placed in front of the word ‘literacy’ to make it apply to a specific context.

I’m going to be thinking more about this. These are just my initial thoughts. You can see more over at my wiki. 😀

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The problem(s) of 21st century literacy/ies

I’d really appreciate it if you tagged anything related to this post or topic literacyconversation.  It will help me (and others) collate ideas and conversations. Thanks! 🙂

As most people reading this will already know, I’m studying towards an Ed.D. at the moment. My (tentative) thesis title is What does it mean to be ‘educated’ and ‘digitally literate’? The impact of ICT and the knowledge society upon education in the 21st century.. You can find my thesis proposal here and bookmarks related to my studies here. My current thinking is that I’m just going to focus on the concept of what ‘literacy’ means in the 21st century as it’s a huge and confused (confusing?) field.

Because of my studies and deep interest in this field, I was delighted to come across Ben Grey’s blog post entitled 21st Century Confusion, which he followed up with 21st Century Clarification. Ben’s an eloquent and nuanced writer, so I suggest you go and read what he has to say before continuing with this blog post. 😀

The above blog posts sparked a great conversation on Twitter, of which I was part. The hugely influential Will Richardson suggested, as we were getting a little frustrated with being limited to 140 characters, that we have a live session via Elluminate the following day. You can find a link to the archived session here.

My own thoughts about that skillset/mindset/ability range we’re trying to quantify and describe by using terms such as ‘digital’ or ’21st century’ literacy are still a little jumbled. I’ve read, and am continuing to read a lot on the subject (and related areas), notes on which you can find on my wiki.

For now, though, here’s some highlights:

1. Literacies as ‘umbrella terms’

Many of the literacies or ‘competencies’ that are being put forward are described in ways that suggest they incorporate other literacies. Take for instance, this definition of ‘information competence’ (Work Group…, 1995):

Information competence is the fusing or the integration of library literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, technological literacy, ethics, critical thinking, and communication skills.

And again (Doyle, 1994)

In the last decade a variety of “literacies” have been proposed, including cultural, computer, scientific, technical, global and mathematical. All of these literacies focus on a compartmentalized aspect of literacy. Information literacy, on the other hand, is an inclusive term. Through information literacy, the other literacies can be achieved (Breivik, 1991). In attaining information literacy, students gain proficiency in inquiry as they learn to interpret and use information (Kuhlthau, 1987).

Ryan Bretag’s post, The Great Literacy Debate, introduced me to a word to describe this that I hadn’t come across before – deictic. This means that ‘literacy’ tends to be used in a way heavily dependent upon context. I couldn’t agree more!

2. Literacies defined too broadly or narrowly

As referenced above, if a type of literacy being put forward by an individual is defined too broadly, it becomes an umbrella term and of little practical use. Initially, I liked Judi Epcke’s comment that she’d heard Jason Ohler define literacy as “consuming and producing the media forms of the day”. But this began to trouble me. Aren’t consuming and producing different skills? And if they’re skills, is ‘literacy’ involved?

But then, defined narrowly, it’s easy to come up with counter-examples. For instance, if we define 21st Century Literacy in relation to technology, it begs the question ‘does literacy in the 21st century relate to printed matter at all‘. The answer, of course, would have to be yes, it does.

3. Do we need new definitions?

I share the despair of Gunther Kress (2003, quoted in Eyman) when he sees new forms of ‘literacy’ popping up all over the place:

…literacy is the term to use when we make messages using letters as the means of recording that message….my approach leaves us with the problem of finding new terms for the uses of the different resources: not therefore “visual literacy” for the use of image; not “gestural literacy” for the use of gesture; and also not musical “literacy” or “soundtrack literacy” for the use of sound other than speech; and so on.

Semantics are important. Whilst we can’t keep using outdated words that link to conceptual anachronism (e.g. ‘horseless carriage’) we must be on our guard against supposed ‘literacies’ becoming more metaphorical than descriptive.

Concluding thoughts

One educator left the Elluminate discussion on 21st Century Literacies before had really got going. He mentioned that he was in favour of deeds rather than words. I can see what he means, although as I have already stated, semantics are important.

But there comes a point where one has to draw a line. In my thesis, I’m using a modified version of the Pragmatic method, as spelled out by William James (1995:82)thus,

To ‘agree‘ in the widest sense with a reality, can only mean to be guided either straight up to it or into its surroundings, or to be put into such working touch with it as to handle either it or something connected with it better than if we disagreed… Any idea that helps us to deal, whether practically or intellectually, with either the reality or its belongings, that doesn’t entangle our progress in frustrations, that fits, in fact, and adapts our life to the reality’s whole setting, will agree sufficiently to meet the requirement/ It will hold true of that reality.

Thus names are just as ‘true’ or ‘false’ as definite mental pictures are. They set up similar verification-processes, and lead to fully equivalent practical results.

I’m looking for a definition that doesn’t ‘entangle my progress in frustration’. I’m yet to find it, but I’ll keep on looking! :-p

References:

  • Doyle, C.S. (1994) Information literacy in an information society: A Concept for the Information Age, DIANE Publishing
  • Eyman, D., Digital Literac(ies), Digital Discourses, and Communities of Practice: Literacy Practices in Virtual Environments (Cultural Practices of Literacy Study, Working Paper #12, no date)
  • James, W. Pragmatism (Dover Thrift Editions, 1995)
  • Work Group on Information Competence, Commission on Learning Resources and Instructional Technology (1995), quoted by Spitzer, K.L., et al. Information Literacy: essential skills for the information age, 1998, p.25


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