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’.
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.
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! 😉
I’ve been thinking about web literacy (or web literacies) on and off since I posted a diagram version of Michelle Levesque’s helpful first efforts.
The post-it note arrangement above is the result of a burst of creativity following a migraine earlier. The structure was prompted by some things mentioned by Helen Beetham at a couple of JISC events earlier this week.
Since completing my doctoral thesis on digital and new literacies, I’ve been thinking a lot about how educators can use my work in a practical way.
In Chapter 9 of my thesis I come up with eight ‘essential elements’ of digital literacies, abstracted from the literature. I’ve presented these in various forms, my most popular slidedeck being available here.
After seeing me present on these essential elements, people tend to ask me one or both of the following questions:
Which is the most important element to focus upon?
How can I develop these in practice?
I’m helping with the second question through my iterative e-book, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, which I’ve just started (and you can buy into). The first question, however, about relative importance and focus has been bugging me.
On the one hand, I want to say that all of the elements are equally important – but that the relative priority that should be given to each will depend upon context. That’s true, but it feels like a bit of a cop-out.
So, after spending some time visualising Mozilla’s first attempts at defining web literacy, I think I’ve hit upon an organising concept: the remix.
Literacy is all about reading and writing. If we take ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ metaphorically (as we must when moving into the digital realm) then these become, loosely, understanding and processing and creating and applying.
This sounds a lot to me like remixing.
I’m going to be thinking about this further. It will form a central theme to my e-book, and I’ll be using it as an organising concept for my TEDx Warwick talk in March. 🙂
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.
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.
We’ve done plenty of work as a team on mapping our workflows but, given the fast-paced world we work in, I’ve not thought through mine as a researcher for a while. I decided to break out the crayons this afternoon, therefore, and think through both what I’m currently doing and how I can make that process more effective.
The first thing I did was to create four columns, reflecting what I consider to be the stages of research I go through:
Once I’d done that I placed every web app I use regularly into one of the columns (or ‘other’) and then identified which are core to my productivity. Then I thought how they fit together and how I could hone my workflow. I came up with this:
The grey river thing to the left stands for sources of information whilst the one in the middle for projects (current and potential).
I’ll no doubt have missed out something huge, but it was an interesting process to go through. I realised, for example, that I need to pay for Evernote on a yearly basis (I’ve been paying on an ad-hoc monthly basis) and use it more consistently. Also, I hadn’t carried out the very simple step of auto-feeding my Amplify RSS into Licorize as I had done with my starred twitter items!
I can see now that it takes more than having passed through school as a student to understand the education system.* After all, it looks something like the diagram below, right?
Of course those who have worked in educational institutions know that the above is far from the truth. Instead of, for example, research being the bedrock of all that goes on, it is marginalized and distorted. The issues** along the lines linking the elements together show how it’s a messy picture – not in itself a bad thing – and it’s distorted by politics (which is a bad thing) :-p
* Not that you’d know that from talking to your average member of the general public! 😉
** N.B. The reason I didn’t add ‘time’ as a factor in the second diagram is because, as I’ve said to a few people this week, time itself isn’t an issue. It’s priorities – which is a different matter.
I guess I could sum it up in one single sentence: “The more heavily involved I’m with the various social networking sites available out there, the more I heart my own… blogs“.
It all has got to do with something as important as protecting your identity, your brand… your personal image, your own self in various social software spaces that more and more we seem to keep losing control over, and with no remedy.
I’ve decided to start the Curmudgeon’s Manifesto, which may serve as a call to arms to start dumping platforms that don’t understand how to play nice on the Internet. It’s our playground, and through our actions we get to set the rules of conduct.
Here’s my start (additions welcome):
I will not use web services that hijack my data or that of my network.
I will share openly on the Web and not constrain those with whom I share.
I will not lead others into the temptation of using web services that do not respect privacy, re-use, open formats or exportable data.
Friends are fun, but they’re only on some websites. OpenSocial helps these sites share their social data with the web. Applications that use the OpenSocial APIs can be embedded within a social network itself, or access a site’s social data from anywhere on the web.
OpenID is a decentralized standard, meaning it is not controlled by any one website or service provider. You control how much personal information you choose to share with websites that accept OpenIDs, and multiple OpenIDs can be used for different websites or purposes. If your email (Google, Yahoo, AOL), photo stream (Flickr) or blog (Blogger, WordPress, LiveJournal) serves as your primary online presence, OpenID allows you to use that portable identity across the web.
Change the name of the Curmudgeon’s Manifesto to the Open Educators’ Manifesto (or similar). Back OpenID and OpenSocial. People like to sign up to positive-sounding things that cite big players or existing traction. I’m sure Chris Messina and other open (source/web) advocates have a take on this! 😀