Search results: "creative ambiguity" (page 1 of 2)

Creative Ambiguity and Digital Literacy

I’m (re-)writing my first journal article at the moment, ostensibly in order to make my viva easier when I’ve finished my Ed.D. thesis. It’s easier to prove an ‘original contribution to knowledge’ when some of it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal! You’ll understand, therefore, why this post, which constitutes the first part of the article, is Copyright (All Rights Reserved).

All human communication is predicated upon vocabularies. These can be physical in the form of sign language but, more usually, are oral in nature. Languages, therefore, are codified ways in which a community communicates. However, such languages are not static but evolve over time to meet both changing environmental needs and to explain and deal with the mediation and interaction provided by tools.

As Wittgenstein argued, a private language is impossible as the very purpose of it is communication with others. Those with whom one is communicating must have the ‘key to open the ‘box’. Yet if all language is essentially public in nature it begs the question as to how popular terms can be used in such a variety and multiplicity of ways. Terms, phrases and ways of speaking have overlapping lifecycles used by various communities at particular times. A way of describing a concept often enters a community as a new and exciting way of looking at a problem, perhaps as a meme. Meanwhile, or soon after, the same concept might be rejected by another community as out of date, as ‘clunky’ and lacking descriptive power.

Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions provides some insight into this process. Kuhn identified periods of ‘normal’ science in a given field which would be followed by periods of ‘revolutionary’ science. The idea is that a community works within a particular paradigm (‘normal’ science) until the anomalies it generates lead to a crisis. A period of ‘revolutionary’ science follows in which competing paradigms that can better explain the phenomena are then explored. Some are accepted and some are rejected. Once a paradigm gains general acceptance then a new period of ‘normal’ science can begin and the whole process is repeated. Kuhn’s theory works in science because there are hard-and-fast phenomena to be explored; theories and concepts can be proved or disproved according to Popper’s falsifiability criterion.

The same is not necessarily true in the social sciences, however: it can be unclear what would constitute a falsification of certain widely-held concepts and theories. Indeed it is often the case that they gain or lose traction by the status of the people advocating them rather than the applicability and ‘fit’ of the concept. In addition, a concept or theory may serve a purpose at an initial particular point in time but this utility may diminish over time. Unfortunately, it is during this period of diminishing explanatory power that terms are often evangelised and defined more narrowly. This should lead to a period of ‘revolutionary’ social science but this is not necessarily always the case. If, for example, a late-adopting group holds political power or controls funding streams, even those in groups who have rejected the concept may continue to use it.

An example of this process would be the coining of the terms ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ in 2001 by Marc Prensky. This led to a great deal of discussion, both online and offline, in technology circles, education establishments and the media. Debates began about the maximum age of a ‘digital native’, what kind of skills a ‘digital native’ possessed, and even whether the term ‘digital immigrant’ was derogatory. As the term gained currency and was fed into wider and wider community circles, the term became more narrowly defined. A ‘digital native’ was said to be a person born after 1980, someone who was ‘digitally literate’, and who wouldn’t even think of of prefixing the word ‘digital’ to the word ‘camera’.

It is our belief that the explanatory power of a concept, theory or term in the social science comes, at least in part, through its ‘creative ambiguity’. This is the ability of the term – for example, ‘digital native’ – to express a nebulous concept or theory as a kind of shorthand. The amount of ambiguity is in tension with the explanatory power of the term, with the resulting creative space reducing in size as the term is more narrowly defined. Creative spaces can also bring people together from various disciplines, allowing them to use a common term to discuss a concept from various angles.

The literal meaning of a term is the denotative element and includes surface definitions of a term. For ‘digital literacy’ this would be to simply equate the term with literacy in a digital space. The implied meaning, on the other hand, is the connotative element and deals with the implied meaning of a term. With digital literacy this would involve thoughts and discussion around what literacy and digitality have in common and where they diverge. The creative space is the ambiguous overlap between the denotative and connotative elements:

Such creative ambiguities are valuable as, instead of endless dry academic definitions, they allow for discussion and reflection, often leading to changes in practice. In order to maximise the likelihood and impact of a creative space it is important that a term not be too narrowly defined, for what it gains in ‘clarity’ it loses in ‘creative ambiguity’. There is a balance to be struck.

Terms and phrases, however, can be ambiguous in a number of ways. Some of these types of ambiguity allow for creative spaces between the denotative and connotative elements of a new term to a greater or lesser degree. In other words, they involve greater or smaller amounts of ambiguity.

References

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (On The Horizon, 9(5), available online at http://dajb.eu/fpIs05, accessed 14 December 2010)

The rest of the journal article deals with Empson’s 7 types of ambiguity as related to the above. You may want to check out the posts I’ve written previously relating to creative ambiguity. I’d welcome your comments!

Wabi-sabi, Mono no aware & creative ambiguity

John Connell's 'Buddha', an example of wabi-sabi

Introduction

After last week’s post about designing opportunities for ‘creative ambiguity’ I had a brief Twitter conversation with @siibo about what exactly I meant. Which is kind of the point. :-p

The great thing that came out of it, however was being directed towards a couple of Japanese concepts of which I knew nothing previously, Wabi-sabi and Mono no aware.

Wabi-sabi

Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist assertion of the Three marks of existence specifically impermanence . Note also that the Japanese word for rust is also pronounced sabi… and there is an obvious semantic connection between these concepts.

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and the suggestion of natural processes.

To me wabi-sabi is a different concept than creative ambiguity. Whereas the former is ‘imperfect, impermanent and incomplete’, those terms and concepts that provoke creative ambiguity often claim to be perfect, permanent and complete.

If we use the concept of ‘Digital Natives’ as an example, we can see that this creatively ambiguous term is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete only in retrospect. Much like Kuhnian ‘normal science’, many latched onto the idea of Digital Natives in order to build an edifice that could be applied more universally. It was only when there were too many problems with the concept that a period of ‘revolutionary science’ began. I would argue that we are still in this revolutionary phase.

Whilst I would love to proclaim that everyone should embrace wabi-sabi, it flies in the face of western academia and cultural practices. Pragmatically, therefore, it would be better (to my mind) to make people aware of how creative ambiguity can be useful in a specified period of time.

Mono no aware

Mono no aware (…literally “the pathos of things”), also translated as “an empathy toward things,” or “a sensitivity of ephemera,” is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of mujo or the transience of things and a bittersweet sadness at their passing.

People like the status quo, it makes them feel safe. To my mind, the reason why we don’t like endings and change is that it reminds us that we will all eventually die. This sadness is summed up very nicely in mono no aware.

Something that is central to creative ambiguity is its time-limited nature. What from a Pragmatic point of view is ‘good in the way of belief’ at one point in time may not be at another. We must be willing to let go of terms that have served us well but no longer have any cash value.

Conclusion

Whilst I used to be a ruthless believer in Occam’s Razor, I’m now of the opinion that there’s actually no long-term harm in allowing a plethora of terms to proliferate. In fact, the more the better. The best, most useful terms – those that actually have some explanatory power, are good in the way of belief, and have some ‘cash value’ should win out.

We just need to be aware that, as wabi-sabi teaches us, nothing will ever be anything other than imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. And, as mono no aware teaches us, we should not be sad when a term outlasts it’s value! 🙂

Designing for Creative Ambiguity

Design (Wikipedia’s definition):

Design is the planning that lays the basis for the making of every object or system. It can be used both as a noun and as a verb and, in a broader way, it means applied arts and engineering.

Creative Ambiguity (my definition):

Creative Ambiguity is brought about when an intangible idea, process or way of thinking is defined in an imprecise way. It is a delicately-balanced conceptual space in which the very nature of the ambiguity leads to creative outputs.

So if Creative Ambiguity is a good thing, how do we go about planning and designing for it? I suggest 3 guidelines:

  1. Avoid using precise language if your understanding of a idea, process or way of thinking is imprecise.
  2. View other people’s opinions in an and/and/and way rather than either/or. Embrace the greyness!
  3. When coming across a new idea, process or way of thinking, find out if it has been previously defined. If not, come up with a new term and throw it out there for people to comment upon.

According to Pragmatism, things don’t have to ‘exist’ they just need to be ‘good in the way of belief’. Is Creative Ambiguity good in the way of belief for you?

Volcanoes and ambiguity

We all have mental models and ways we approach the world. Some of these are more conscious and visual than others. Here’s a diagram one I used in The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies that, at this point in time, is pretty much part of my ‘operating system’.

Continuum

Recently, I’ve been thinking it makes more sense to think of ambiguity in terms of geographical strata, perhaps tied to the metaphor of a volcano.

Volcano
I need a better diagram, but you get the idea…

The lowest strata represents Generative ambiguity. Here, words are used as symbols for ideas that are very hard to express; an individual gives a name to a nebulous collection of ideas or thoughts. They struggle to make this approach make sense to others.

The middle strata represents Creative ambiguity. This is where one part of an idea is fixed, but the other part has a lot of freedom of movement. A good example of this would be appending ‘digital’ or ‘e-‘ to existing ideas – such as ‘e-books’ or ‘digital literacy’. Others can begin to see what the person is getting at.

The erupting volcano represents Productive ambiguity. This is where the real work is done at scale. Concepts can be productively ambiguous through straight metaphor, or by mass (media) convergence on a particular term. It resonates with many people.

The area on the surface represents dead metaphors. These are concepts that have become clichés. They don’t do any productive work and are usually over-used. They don’t particularly mean anything any more.

Does this make any sense? It does for me and helps me make sense of my information environment. However, it’s perhaps it’s not ‘productively ambiguous’ enough for others yet! 😉

Main image CC BY-SA Cai Tjeenk Willink

Trajectories of ambiguity: my first journal article.

In a move that will no doubt shock known world, I’ve decided that first-ever journal article will be both a collaborative venture and cock a snook towards traditional subject disciplines. Provisionally entitled Seven types of ambiguity and digital literacy I’m co-authoring it with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor Steve Higgins. Allegations that I’m doing so to prove originality in my research ahead of my viva voce by producing an article from an intended thesis chapter are, of course, completely unfounded.

Ambiguous terms and phases of ambiguity

I’m not going to give an overview of the entire article (for obvious reasons) although it will be published in an open-access journal. Suffice to say that we’re introducing the idea that terms such as digital literacy and digital natives/immigrants exhibit a ‘trajectory of ambiguity’ through which they pass on the way to becoming what Richard Rorty calls ‘dead metaphors’.

To prevent you having to go back and do Philosophy and Linguistics 101 I’ll remind you that the denotative aspect of a term is its surface or primary meaning. The connotative aspect of a term is its secondary, or implied, meaning. In the article, which features the overlapping diagram above (I’m not allowed to call it ‘Venn’, apparently) we’re arguing that there are three distinct phases through which terms pass. Whilst they never completely shed their connotative aspect the edge to the right of ‘Productive ambiguity’ is where the dictionary definition of terms reside. Generative ambiguity tends to be ‘blue skies thinking’, Creative ambiguity discussing and debating the definition of a term, and Productive ambiguity putting it into practice in various contexts.

You’ll be delighted to learn that we’ve done a sterling job in making the article itself ambiguous, situating it in the phase of Creative ambiguity. “Be the change you want to see,” “walk the walk,” etc.

What’s the most common type of ambiguity in definitions of ‘digital literacy’?

Every literacy is alike; each digital literacy is ambiguous in its own way.

I’m currently putting together a journal article applying Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity to the concept of ‘digital literacy’.* As I match those definitions of digital literacy I find ambiguous to one of Empson’s seven types, it’s becoming clear that the most common type of ambiguity is Empson’s third conception:

An ambiguity of the third type, considered as a verbal matter, occurs when two ideas, which are connected only by being both relevant in the context, can be given in one word simultaneously.

That is to say, the definition of digital literacy is ambiguous because it holds in tension two ideas that are linked by the context. The term ‘digital literacy’ serves as a kind of shorthand with the wider picture somewhat fuzzy in scope (and hence ambiguous).

Take, for example, the following:

Having digital literacy requires more than just the ability to use software or to operate a digital device; it includes a large variety of complex skills such as cognitive, motoric, sociological, and emotional that users need to have in order to use digital environments effectively.

(Yoram Eshet Alkali & Yair Amichai-Hamburger. CyberPsychology & Behavior August 1, 2004, 7(4): 421-429)

In this example, which is not uncommon, digital literacy is merely a convenient shorthand to some kind of ‘requisite skills to function effectively in a digital context’. However, the scope of the digital context, the level of skills required, and what would constitute effective functioning is not clear.

Similarly, but less scholarly, is the definition included with Microsoft’s Digital Literacy Curriculum:

The goal of Digital Literacy is to teach and assess basic computer concepts and skills so that people can use computer technology in everyday life to develop new social and economic opportunities for themselves, their families, and their communities.

The definition conflates teaching, learning, assessment, concepts and skills and then mentions that this applies to society, the economy, families and communities. Clearly, two words – ‘digital’ and ‘literacy’ – can not do enough explanatory work to make this anything other than ambiguous with a veneer of contextual respectability.

Finally, although there are many more examples, comes the following from a seminal work in the field in 2008:

Digital literacy presupposes an understanding of technical tools, but concerns primarily the capacity to employ those tools effectively. Hence, digital literacy begins with the ability to retrieve, manage, share and create information and knowledge, but is consummated through the acquisition of enhanced skills in problem solving, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. (SNAB, 2001, p.3)

Martin, A., ‘Digital Literacy and the “Digital Society”‘ (in Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices, 2008) p.165

The scope is so wide in this definition of digital literacy that it is difficult to see what isn’t included within it. Without clear boundaries it is difficult to apply and build upon such definitions.

* You may want to read my recent post Why the European view of ‘digital literacy’ is ambiguous for some background. The quotations in this post (and lots more besides) can be found on my wiki at dougbelshaw.com/wiki 🙂

Meeting with Ed.D. thesis supervisor: digital literacy & ambiguity

I learned several things in my Skype chat with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor (Steve Higgins) this week, notably:

  • I’m a pearl-grower
  • People can be metaphorical in different ways
  • How ambiguity can be productive

Our conversation

Steve was very interested in what I’d mentioned in our brief email conversation earlier this month about different types of ambiguity. After reading William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity (Wikipedia)recently I’ve realised that the terms that I’ve been analysing in the literature – ‘digital literacy’, ‘electracy’, information competence’, and the like – are actually ambiguous in different ways.

In fact, the level of ambiguity and lack of clarity can depend upon the ‘level’ at which people are working. So, for the teenager at school talking about ‘digital literacy’ isn’t productive or helpful. For the university professor, on the other hand, it could create a productive space in which to discuss one or more concepts.

Steve mentioned that I need to be careful about different positions taken by thinkers about literacy. Radicalists, for example, would argue that the way that you become literate affects the way you are literate later. This all links into the seven types of ambiguity mentioned above. I think that, given that Empson was considering mainly poetry and works of literature, there may be scope in my thesis to collapse or discard two or more types of ambiguity.

The problem about New Literacies is that they potentially lead to ‘infinite literacies’. For example, I’ve seen studies that seem to consider the use of Flickr as requiring a separate ‘literacy’ than, for example, Facebook. If there is such a thing as ‘digital literacy’ then it would need to be a level up from this – a complex organizing construct that could explain such affinity spaces. 🙂

Moving on to the structure of my thesis, I explained to Steve that I’m thinking about moving the location of my discussion on the Pragmatic method to the beginning of my thesis. If it went after the Literature Review, as originally planned, then it would seem a bit out-of-kilter. If so, that would give me the following structure:

  1. Pragmatic method (plus discussion of other lenses that can be used)
  2. Literature Review (including evolution of New Literacies)
  3. Discussion and analysis of seven types of ambiguity
  4. Analyse digital literacy (and other concepts) as constructs (do they have pragmatic utility?)
  5. Review of terminology used in government, NGO and media reports (e.g. Singapore, BBC, NGOs, UK, USA – what do people mean by digital literacy? is it a productive ambiguity?)
  6. Digital Flow as a more coherent and less ambiguous construct

Steve noted that ‘digital literacy’ is a term used mainly by digital enthusiasts. It creates a positive space or construct for people to explore shared meanings. I thought this was an interesting idea and brought up the idea of a continuum of positions people could take. Steve expanded on this to say that it’s as if the whole of the Venn diagram can be discussed rather than just the intersect:- includes the whole of the Venn diagram rather than just the intersect:

My ‘Norwegian analysis’ (as Steve calls it) contains a metaphorical aspect which is at heart of way the term has evolved. It creates a ‘productive space’ which may or may not be useful. By moving computer skills into the ‘literacy’ domain the debate is altered as a ‘value space’ has been created. After all, no-one is going to argue about the utility of a literacy. This could be a useful segué into the section about the what the media and governments say about digital literacy and related concepts.

Regarding my final section on ‘flow’ I mentioned how in the literature it is used most in relation to computer games. Steve mentioned that he has an unpublished presentation/paper on how interactive whiteboards (IWBs) develop teacher didactic ‘flow’ (in that they control IWB with one hand and class with another). The IWB encourages whole-class presentation, with more answers from students, but less depth. The teacher ends up in some kind of bubble which becomes less and less permeable. They are in control of resources; lessons ‘progress’ but without the cognitive dissonance required.

I was concerned that I wasn’t discovering academic journal articles in the most efficient mannter. I explained to Steve my method:

  • Find recent relevant, high-quality journal article using Google Scholar
  • Scour reference section for relevant articles.
  • Go through relevant articles and repeat.

Steve calls this pearl-growing and apparently it’s a popular method. He did, however, mention that ‘forward-tracking’ via services such as Google Scholar is also useful. Steve also recommended keyword searching at the Web of Science and directly within the archives of relevant journals. The problem with everyone ‘pearl-growing’ I pointed out is that, like the iPhone App Store, once something becomes slightly popular, it will become exponentially more so. Steve said that his colleague, Peter Timms, had found that there is evidence to this effect as there is no strong correlation between the quality of references in academic papers and the quality of the article itself.

Moving on we discussed the problem of ‘solidification’. As I’ve referenced before, Allan Martin has written on the idea of ‘liquid modernity’. This is the idea that by the time research has been done and social norms have begun to emerge, the technology has moved on. What Steve wondered, however, was whether this is true from this point forward (i.e. we will be in this situation forever more) or whether it’s for a finite period of time. I pointed out that my historical research has shown that people pretty much always think they’re living through times of rapid change! Steve quite rightly pointed out the difference between technological and conceptual things changing. Something to dwell on… :-p

The problem with such a nebulous concept as ‘digital literacy’ is that it can collapse to meaning no more than ‘having access to digital texts’. Steve and I discussed the importance of ‘knowing’ (in terms of internalization and understanding). All an individual can do on the first attempt is to assimilate information and value judgements into what W.V. Quine would call an individual’s web of belief. It would be interesting to explore the extent to which new concepts such as ‘digital literacy’ restructure belief systems (as oppose to merely being assimilated)

This led onto my wondering about ‘digital epistemologies’ – especially as Richard Rorty claims that pragmatists don’t have an epistemology. Steve though that, although he would have to check, Rorty means by this that pragmatists don’t have a single epistemology. They are more agile than thinkers holding different positions.

I thought that this potentially linked together our discussion of ‘liquid modernity’ with the idea of a ‘web of beliefs’. Pragmatists have a more fluid and changeable web of beliefs, meaning they are better situated when faced with fluid change. It’s something I’m going to think about putting into the first section of my thesis. 😀

Finally, Steve and I discussed the difference between C.S. Peirce (a community of inquirers would find truth in the long run) and Richard Rorty (there is no ‘truth’ to find). Peirce, coming before Thomas Kuhn, didn’t take into account paradigm shifts where the graph of what constitutes ‘normal science’ is forever having to restart. Although Peirce can be interpreted in a Postmodern way, Steve is more comfortable interpreting him towards the Realist end of the spectrum. That is to say: Peirce believed that the external world exists and there are truths to be known, it’s just that we as humans aren’t in a position to do that. The difference between Rorty and earlier pragmatists, suggested Steve, is that Rorty came from a strongly libertarian standpoint, whereas Dewey, for example, was more of a communitarian.

The hour went very quickly. Lots to think about and lots of work to do! 🙂

(pearl image CC BY Vali… & web image CC BY josef.stuefer)

Meeting with Ed.D. supervisor: conceptual ecologies, productive concepts, and hypozeugma

I met via Skype with my thesis supervisor, Steve Higgins, a couple of weeks ago to discuss the process of finishing off and submitting my thesis. It currently stands at around 34,000 words but, given that I wrote 17,500 words of a mobile review in little more than a week, it’s not the actual getting close to 60,000 words that’s the issue: it’s the overall coherence.

Skype’s persistent chat history is fantastic; I can remember reading recently of a company that’s committed to promoting Open Source products, but that uses Skype (which is proprietary and closed-source) internally because of exactly this feature. I use it to note down important points in the conversations Steve and I have (as well as recording the audio of the whole conversation) so I can go back to it later. Here, then, are my thoughts prompted by revisiting that Skype chat history:

Where’s the value(s)?

One of the many problems I have with the concept of digital literacy is that it’s an inherently value-laden proposition. It is, as Steve puts it, and ‘intentional concept’ in that people want to achieve things through its adoption and promotion: consensus, change, and the like. It’s like bandwagon-jumping rather than hitchhiking.

Problematising policy

In an attempt to make my thesis of practical value, I had intended to apply my findings to the policies in various countries. However, Steve and I are agreed that moving this section (with a slightly different focus) to near the beginning of the thesis makes more sense. I’m now going to analyse policies relating to ‘digital literacy’ in various countries, show how they are problematic, and then go on to my Pragmatic methodology.

Digital AND Literacy?

If we imagine a Venn diagram with ‘Digital’ in one overlapping circle and ‘Literacy’ in the other then it would appear obvious that ‘Digital Literacy’ is the intersection of these two. However, as has become clear in my research, the information literacy community seem to have taken over the ground that includes everything other than the intersect. This muddies the waters massively.

In order for ‘Digital Literacy’ (in terms of the intersect) to be of added value then there needs to be something particular about it that isn’t covered by ‘Digital OR Literacy’.

Hardness and methodological rules

Before our meeting, Steve sent me this from my former Philosophy lecturer at the University of Sheffield:

The pragmatist principle is defended as a methodological rule [author italics] and Peirce hopes to show, on the basis of a systematic theory of signs, that it is an adequate rule for its intended purpose. A pragmatist analysis of hardness, for example, would tell us what is involved in believing that something is hard. … Clarification of a concept using the pragmatist principle provides an account of just what commitments I incur when I believe or assert a proposition in which the concept is ascribed to something. (Hookway, C. (2002) Truth Rationality and Pragmatism, p.60)

If I’m using the Pragmatic method, therefore, I need to explain the ‘commitments incurred’ when expressing the concept of ‘digital literacy’.

The local and the global

Pragmatism is predicated upon the idea that truth is what a community of inquirers would settle upon after a long period of time. There are, as Steve points out, both ‘local’ and ‘global’ communities of inquirers which has an impact for the meaning of terms such as ‘digital literacy’. It is likely, therefore, that the conclusion of my thesis will reconsider the policy documents presented in the first half of the thesis, explaining that what is ‘good in the way of belief’ in one country/area (local) is not necessarily good or useful elsewhere (global).

Conceptual ecologies

Words and vocabularies change over time. It may be, therefore, that at one point in time ‘digital literacy’ is/was a functional metaphor that, through a ‘creative ambiguity’ provided a negotiable space for dialogue. Taking a ‘conceptual ecologies’ view allows for the consideration of ‘spaces not boundaries’ (to quote Steve) – engaging with the concept of digital literacy may change your view of the world, and in turn change your view of the concept.

Productive concepts

Just because an ambiguity or a concept creates a metaphorical space for discussion and debate doesn’t make it useful. Like the f-stop controlling the aperture of a camera lens, larger and smaller amounts of creative space can be created through the use of metaphor. The debates in these spaces, however, have to be useful and of value to be considered ‘productive’. Any two words could be mashed together to create such a space, but it is the resulting conversation that is important.

Zeugma

Steve introduced me to the term Zeugma during our conversation, but then wondered whether ‘digital literacy’ was, after all, an example. I think he may be on to something and, given further investigation, think ‘digital literacy’ may be a hypozeugma:

The hypozeugma, also called an adjunctio in Latin, is a zeugma where a verb falls at the end of a sentence and governs several parallel clauses that precede it.

On the other hand, ‘digital literacy’ may be a full-on Syllepsis:

Syllepsis, also known as semantic zeugma, is a particular type of zeugma in which the clauses disagree in either meaning or grammar. The governing word may change meaning with respect to the other words it modifies. This creates a semantic incongruity that is often humorous. Alternatively, a syllepsis may contain a governing word or phrase that does not agree grammatically with one or more of its distributed terms. This is an intentional construction in which rules of grammar are bent for stylistic effect.

Literacies of the digital

The idea of ‘literacies of the digital’ may be a better expression as it makes clear (as opposed to with ‘digital literacy’) that digital is the noun. Literacies of the digital could well be everything apart from the intersect of the two-circle Venn diagram mentioned above. Steve and I discussed whether ‘digital participation’ was the intersect, or whether such a concept was ‘read-only’. I would argue that there needs to be a critical element to this participative element of literacy.

I’ve certainly got some more thinking to do on this… :-p

The best blog posts I’ve ever written, by category.

OMG MACRO! [p52 w1]

Sometimes the little times you don’t think are anything while they’re happening turn out to be what marks a whole period of your life. — Andy Warhol

The process of redesigning the look of this blog enabled, indeed forced, me to go through old posts and reflect on what I’m doing here. I stumbled across a post I wrote back in 2008 entitled The very best of teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk referring, of course, to a blog I wrote between 2005-2007 whilst teaching History.

I realised that, whilst there’s ways of finding the most popular posts on this blog, I haven’t reflected on what I would consider my best posts. So here goes (the 10 in bold are important to me for various reasons):

Education

Technology

Productivity

Ed.D. Thesis

Design

Leadership

Everything Else

In compiling the above I also came across My (finely crafted) information environment from 2007 and an attempt by Scott McLeod to collate ‘seminal’ blog posts. It’s amazing how going through things you’ve written not only reminds you of stuff but also prompts further thinking…

Image CC BY-NC-SA Don Solo

http://dougbelshaw.com/blog/2010/10/31/why-we-dont-celebrate-halloween-in-our-house/

Freire, Conscientization & Digital Literacy

Before I begin, I confess not to have read Freire in the original Portuguese so I may have missed a nuance or two. What I’m trying to do is link some of his thinking around Conscientization to the concept of Digital Literacy (and other ‘new literacies’) through the lens of Pragmatism.

Paulo Friere (1921-1997) was a Brazilian educator and philosopher best known for his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed. His ideas were heavily influenced by his Catholicism and his (somewhat ambiguous relationship with) Marxism. One of the key themes of his work is that of Conscientization or ‘critical consciousness’, explained by Taylor in The Texts of Paolo Freire (1993) as the type of consciousness that can transform reality. Taylor claims that Freire does not mean by this that objectivity is created by consciousness – for example, to believe you are free does not make it so – but education is nevertheless a means of transforming reality.

The part of Conscientization I believe applies to conceptions of digital literacy is encapsulated, although not teased out fully, in the following statement by Freire:

Conscientization occurs simultaneously with the literacy or post-literacy process. It must be so. In our educational method the word is not something static or disconnected from people’s existential experience, but a dimension of their thought-language about the world. (1970:222)

That is to say that ‘literacy’ as a concept does not really exist as such – it is a construct that we abstract from experience and communication. There would be, therefore, for Freire, no such entity as ‘digital literacy’ but only individuals who are ‘digitally literate’. Whereas Freire couched this in terms of those who are critically literate and therefore able to engage in a literate way with their own emancipation, we can apply this to those who may be considered digitally literate and therefore able to engage in a ‘literate’ way with their digital world.

Education transforms reality, believed Freire, because it can never be neutral. It always includes elements of both ‘domestication’ and ‘liberation’, the two seemingly opposite ideas being held in tension through what I would term a ‘creative ambiguity’. As Taylor explains, Freire, whilst championing (a certain type of) literacy, was wary of it because of his Marxist tendencies:

Society requires literacy because in the power-knowledge relationship of the modern world, literacy defines who controls the means of production, that is the means to produce wealth (industry) and the mans to reproduce knowledge (education). (1993:139)

The difficulty is with the English language itself, which does not disambiguate ‘non-literacy’ and ‘sub-literacy’ in the term illiteracy. The difficulty with this is that the ambiguity from such definitions of ‘classic’ literacy become built-in to new literacies and other concepts that use the seemingly-innocent and obvious term ‘literacy’ as their bedrock.

I’m going to leave it to Taylor to sum-up, given that he puts so succinctly my own view of what we’re talking about when we talk about literacy:

[T]here seems to be no ontological imperative that necessarily correlates literacy with transforming knowledge… What is significant is not the actual learning to read and write but rather that relationship between the word, reality and the ways in which the latter is transformed by the former. (1993:61)

I’m still thinking about this and mulling it over. What are your thoughts? Do you agree that literacy is a construct that cannot really be considered independently of the people to whom the word ‘literate’ applies? What about ‘digital literacy’? 🙂

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