Open Thinkering


Tag: articles

New to digital literacies? Read this.

Earlier today John Sutton asked for my “top few accessible reads overviewing digital literacies”. I was walking my son to his new school at the time, so responded that I would write a quick blog post later. Well, here it is.

Right off the bat I’d go for Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart. It’s wonderfully written by a (gentle) giant of the field. What I like about it is the mix of anecdote and academic research. It really is well put together.

After that, it’s slightly trickier to know where to turn – for a couple of reasons. First, the books in this field tend to be more academic than perhaps they need to be. Second, they’re also more expensive than they need to be. £20 for a text-based book is not my usual idea of money well spent. I’d rather dip into the Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy (available free online) – especially articles like Towards a Transformative Digital Literacies Pedagogy (Thomas, 2011)

Having said that, anyone who wants to get to grips with the field of digital literacies really does need to read Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel’s Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices. I enjoyed (re-)reading it. You might also want to try James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.

I haven’t read everything that’s come out around digital literacies since I finished my thesis, but it’s important to realise that there’s different understanding of what the territory looks like depending upon which sector you’re in (schools, universities, formal/informal) and where you are in the world. The ongoing work of Henry Jenkins is venerated in North America so it’s probably worth reading the free MacArthur report he wrote with some others in 2009: Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.

Other than that, and perhaps some work by David Buckingham, it’s difficult to point you towards something specific. There’s some great work by Stephen Downes and by Helen Beetham, but their work is more wide-ranging than just digital literacies. Downes’ excellent presentation Speaking in Lolcats, for example, is almost an hour and a half long. You can find Beetham’s work scattered around the Jisc Design Studio (a wiki).

Finally, while I’m slightly wary of tooting my own horn, I did spend six years looking at the field of digital literacies in my thesis. While that in itself is not as incomprehensible as some academic work, I am (taking my time in writing) a more accessible version of it. It’s an ebook called The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies which you can buy it now (currently at v0.9) and you’ll get v1.0 when it’s finished. I hope that helps John and some other people.

If there’s something I’ve missed that you’d recommend, please do mention it in the comment section below! 🙂

Image CC BY-NC-SA Tyler Wilson

Journals, academia and the ivory tower.

This post will make more sense if you read this one first: You need us more than we need you. Further to the results of my reader survey, it will probably resonate more with you if you’re in Higher Education…

Academic journals on a shelf

So how did academic journals come about?

Until the late seventeenth century, communication between scholars depended heavily on personal contact and attending meetings arranged by the early learned societies (e.g. the Royal Society). As the membership of these societies increased, more people could not attend the meetings and so the Proceedings, usually circulated as a record of the last meeting became a place to publish papers that had not been presented at the meetings at all and moved towards what we now recognise as scholarly journals. (Wells, 1999)

So journals are a replacement for personal contact.

Are they good for anything else? Brown (1997) cites the following:

  1. distributed (many copies are stored in many places)
  2. scholars trust and understand the system
  3. journals have prestige built up over many years
  4. portable and easy to read

Which of the above benefits either (a) cannot, or (b) are not currently able to be replicated by another system?

Some would argue that an important difference between (for example) a blog post and a journal article is that the latter has been formally peer reviewed.

However, as even the editor of The Lancet points out:

The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability — not the validity — of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong. (Horton, 2000)

Just how big do the cracks in the ivory tower have to get before the whole edifice tumbles?

Odlyzko (September 1997) points out that there was an “extensive resistance to print by scholars” in Gutenberg’s time which included calls to ban the new technology because only trash was getting into print and books were not as durable as parchment. The reaction to the Web of today’s scholars has largely echoed the reaction of scholars to the printing press in the 15th century. (Well, 1999)

Is the only reason we persist with journals and their articles is because they provide a convenient means to weigh the pig?

Image CC BY-NC-SA Lal Beral


Brown, S.A. (1997). Scholarly publishing using electronic means : a short guide. Newcastle: Northumbria University

Horton, R. (2000). “Genetically modified food: consternation, confusion, and crack-up”. MJA 172(4), p.148–9

Wells, A. (1999) ‘Exploring the development of the independent, electronic scholarly journal.‘ Sheffield: University of Sheffield

Google Knol: the future of academic journals?

Update: Great minds think alike! (and fools never differ…) @jonbecker quickly pointed out after I pressed ‘Publish’ that @doug_holton has already blogged about, made notes upon, and tested out this idea! 😀

Before Google Teacher Academy last week I was revisiting Google tools I don’t use every day. One of these is Google Knol. Like Google Wave, it had changed a lot since I last used it, so I experimented further on the train down to London. Below is a link to the New Literacies ‘knol’ I produced along with a video overview of some of Knol’s features. I really do think the current peer-reviewed academic journal system is broken and needs a replacement. Something like Knol could do the job!

(choose 720p and click the arrows to the bottom right to watch full-screen!)