Tag: digital literacy (page 2 of 7)

Why e-safety isn’t part of digital literacy (and never will be).

Increasingly, I’m realising that there are unsaid words that precede almost any statement involving a connotative element. What are those words?

Let me tell you a story…

Given the potential for almost any word in any language to be used metaphorically, storytelling is happening pretty much most of the time.

So here’s my story.

Digital literacy, despite the heated debate going on behind the relevant page at Wikipedia isn’t computer literacy. It isn’t media literacy either. And it’s certainly not e-safety.

Including e-safety as an input, as a constituent part of, digital literacy makes no sense at all. It’s like defining traditional (print) literacy by describing behaviour in libraries (or what you can do with a book). What lies behind this approach is the assumption that a collection of competencies makes a literacy, which isn’t true: a collection of competencies is a skillset. And one only has to refer to Searle’s Chinese Room argument to see the fallacy behind equating a skillset with any form of understanding.

No, e-safety is an output of digital literacy, something that flows out of it once an individual is fluent. Fluency is the top end of the literacy scale – and fluency is the result of practice. To divorce e-safety from practice, to conceive it as something that can be taught in isolation is ill-advised and, ultimately, futile.

So stop building your creepy treehouses, and start thinking holistically about literacy and education more generally. Avoid digital Taylorism, and start debating about what it is we’re trying to do here. If we’re truly trying to protect and educate our young people we need to know what it is we’re protecting them from, why we’re doing it, and the best ways of going about it.

Scaring people with statistics and horror stories perpetuates the wrong type of responses (e.g. blocking) and avoids the problem. Let’s tackle it head-on. Let’s start focusing on digital literacy.

Update: Fixed incorrect link.

Speaking in Lolcats: What Literacy Means in teh Digital Era

In 2009, Stephen Downes gave several presentations entitled Speaking in Lolcats. He put forward three theses:

  1. That New Media is a new vocabulary (and therefore people can literally speak in Lolcats)
  2. That languages can be understood analytically through a semantic framework
  3. That 21st century skills are languages (not just content + skills + tools)

Of particular interest are the six elements of ‘literacy in teh digital era’ identified by Downes:

  • Syntax
  • Semantics
  • Pragmatics
  • Cognition
  • Context
  • Change

The talk is just over an hour with another twenty minutes or so of Q&A. Well worth listening to with the slides in front of you. Doug’s mindmap notes are here.

Literaci.es: Reflecting on New Literacies

Literaci.es

There’s not a lot to see there yet, and I’ve a whole thesis on the matter to complete, but I’ve started a new place to collate thinking and resources about New Literacies.

You can find it at http://literaci.es

I’d love for it to become a collaborative resource along the lines of Smart Mobs, so if you’ve got something to share, a post you’d like to write, or a desire to become a regular contributor, please do get in touch!

Futurelab’s Digital Literacy: professional development resource

Futurelab have an enviable track record of running top-notch events and producing high-quality resources. Their recent Digital Literacy: professional development resource certainly continues that trend.

What’s so impressive about it? Not only does it seek to encourage groups to come up with their own (informed) definition of Digital Literacy, but it provides activities to make the abstract practical.

Digital literacy and the public/private boundary

Dave White writes:

Social media platforms, with their inherent hyper-connectivity require the user to hold highly complex multi-dimensional maps of them as social spaces, with many thresholds of differing permeability. It’s a long way from closing-the-front-door type methods of creating privacy boundaries. Some people are very skilled at managing the ‘edges’ of these social maps and manage their digital identities with great skill and to great effect. The rest of us have come to expect occasional moments of disjuncture.

I would argue that our notions of the public and the private don’t yet account for the width of these social thresholds or for the speed at which they can shift. We constantly negotiate the boundaries between the public and the private but we have an expectation that these boundaries, while moving, will remain sharp. The web and especially social media platforms defocus our understanding of these boundaries. Our ability to map and remap our relationship with these social thresholds is a key form of digital literacy, and possibly a new life-skill (if I can call it that).

Dave brings up an important element of digital literacy here: the ability to negotiate multiple spaces, some purely digital and some blended. This will inevitably involve shifts, even subtle ones, in the way that an individual projects themselves into that space. The boundary between this as a ‘literacy’ (reading/writing oneself) and a life-skill is itself blurred, I would suggest.

Operationalising digital literacy #1: Wikileaks

This is the first in a planned series in attempting to operationalise the term ‘digital literacy’. Feel free to respond here, on your own blog or anywhere else you desire!

It’s Sunday morning, a great time to do some thinking and reflecting. Go and get a warm beverage and your thinking cap; this post is going to take half an hour of your time.

Step 1 (5 mins)

Watch this presentation by Tabetha Newman: Digital literacy literature review: from terminology to action (click Menu –> View Fullscreen for best results):

I think we can agree that Tabetha’s work provides a starting point from which we can start to align and move towards operationalising ‘digital literacy’. With that in mind, move to Step 2.

Step 2 (21 mins)

Listen to this recent RSA talk on The Future of Wikileaks. The whole thing, including Q&A, is an hour but the talk itself is only about 21 minutes.

Step 3 (variable)

Informed by what you’ve learned in Steps 1 and 2, how much ‘digital literacy’ do you think it takes to:

  1. Run Wikileaks?
  2. Be part of the Wikileaks network?
  3. Submit something to Wikileaks?

Answers in the comment section below. Please don’t answer these questions if you haven’t done steps 1 and 2 – you’d be missing the point. 🙂

Nobody knows what digital literacy is.

A request for information series

I’m currently in the latter stages of my Ed.D. thesis focusing on the concept of ‘digital literacy’. It’s been a long haul – 6 years (spanning 4 jobs, 2 supervisors, and the birth of 2 children) working part-time in a quickly-moving digital world and, to be honest, I’m rather glad it’s coming to an end.

One of the reasons I’m glad that I’ll finish my doctoral thesis this year is that it’s clear just how much we need some alignment and operationalisation around the term ‘digital literacy’ rather than the endless squabbles, petty niggling and swamping of agendas by large organizations. I outlined these problems in 2009 and, unfortunately, they haven’t improved any. The fact that we’re still debating what is meant by the traditional term ‘literacy’ says a lot about how far we’re able to get on with operationalising notions of ‘digital literacy’ in the current climate. I’ll be explaining my notion notion of a ‘trajectory of ambiguity’ in an upcoming journal article: discussions of ‘digital literacy’, I believe, have become mired in endless debates half-way through this trajectory.

During my studies I’ve read countless reports and watched a myriad of presentations claiming (or at least assuming) some kind of authority when explaining what constitutes digital literacy. Many of these elide at least two agendas – usually e-safety or media literacy – with almost all of them missing the main point: digital literacy isn’t the ‘aftermath’ of literacy at all.

We don’t need to be told what digital literacy is, we need to discuss, build consensus, start aligning around a reasonable definition. Granted, there might be a difference in emphasis here and there, but only through such alignment will we able to start operationalising the concept of ‘digital literacy’ and use it for the benefit of learners.

And ulimately, after all the academic churning and grandstanding, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Image CC BY-NC Pulpulox !!!

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!

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

Media Literacy: the biggest enemy of UK ‘digital literacy’ initiatives?

This is my (very) first draft of the UK element to a chapter of my Ed.D. thesis where I’m looking at government policy in relation to ‘literacies of the digital’. I’ll also be looking at the Norway and the EU more generally, Singapore and North America (US/Canada). I really hope I’ve missed the point with what follows and that there’s massive UK government interest and funding for proper digital literacy-type initiatives…

Whilst pockets of discussion about ‘digital literacy’ exist both in official reports and online, the main focus around ‘literacies of the digital’ in the UK is upon ‘media literacy’. Initiatives in this area include bodies such as the BBC, Ofcom, UK Film and the British Library. Bodies such as Futurelab mention digital literacy often in their publications but, as is the issue with all externally-funded bodies, the money follows government pronouncements and policies.

Following the Digital Britain report (DCMS & BIS, 2009) the aim of the UK government was to promote ‘digital participation’. The follow-up plan was to encompass ‘three distinct but interdependent strands’: digital inclusion, digital life skills, and digital media literacy – with the latter defined as “the ability to use, understand and create digital media and communications” (DCMS & BIS, 2010). However, the National Plan for Digital Participation [PDF] was ill-fated, launched only a few months before a General Election saw a change of government. The Digital Participation website, set up alongside the National Plan, now states:

As part of the major review of public expenditure, the Government has re-scoped the digital participation programme. The limited funding which is now available will be focused on supporting the activities to encourage people to go online and led by the UK Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox.” (accessed November 2010)

The institutions mentioned above have staked their claim in the arena of literacies of the digital. Media literacy, the promotion of which since 2003 has been the responsibility of the Office of Communications (Ofcom) is considered separately from ‘digital participation’. The latter, more narrowly defined since the advent of a Conservative-Liberal coalition government, is concerned with connecting all homes with broadband by 2012. The Race Online 2012 website sets out a manifesto with two key aims, “no one should retire without web skills” and “everyone of working age should be online”. Curiously, the ‘manifesto’ makes no commitments by the government, rather seeking to ‘challenge’ individuals and organizations in the UK to meet these targets. Some may call this empty rhetoric.

Evidence of the UK government’s low-level basic skills definition of ‘digital literacy’ can be found in the pronouncement within the Race Online 2012 manifesto:

Digital literacy is a great enabler of social mobility. It is a way for those who have had bad experiences of institutions to re-engage in learning. And it can break down feelings of social isolation. It is a powerful weapon in the fight against poverty. (Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Department, Work and Pensions)

‘Using a computer connected to the internet’ and ‘digital literacy’ are seen as synonymous not only in this manifesto, but in wider publications by the government. The critical element of literacies of the digital is served by discussion of ‘media literacy’ with ‘digital literacy’ reserved for basic skills:

‘Get Digital’ will work with residents, scheme staff, RSLs and the wider community including local schools, as well as DWP, to promote, deliver and sustain digital literacy skills for older residents in sheltered housing. (DCMS & BIS, 2010, p.43)

In 2004, after a Communications Bill that would lead to Ofcom, the UK Film Council and Channel 4 organised a seminar entitled Inform and Empower: Media Literacy in the 21st Century. This seminar, attended by two hundred delegates including representatives from the BBC, the British Film Institute, “government, Ofcom, industry, education, [and] media arts organisations” (UK Film Council, 2004:2) was addressed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Whilst the introduction by the Chair of the UK Film Council espouses a standard definition of media literacy (“learn[ing] about the power and influence of moving images” – UK Film Council, 2004:3) the report of the Secretary of State’s address states shows signs of the basic skills definition the UK government later settled upon implicitly for ‘digital literacy’: “It is the content delivered to people that matters” (UK Film Council, 2004:8)

This seminar led to the creation of a Media Literacy Task Force (MLTF) with membership comprising the BBC, the British Board of Film Classification, the British Film Institute, Channel 4, ITV, the Media Education Association, the UK Film Council and Skillset. The MLTF came up with the following wide-ranging definition of media literacy:

A media literate society is… not a luxury, it is a necessity in the 21st Century – for social, economic, cultural and political reasons – as we try to make sense of a sea of Reality TV, iPod downloads and streaming video on the Internet.

This is what encouraging media literacy is really all about: giving people the choice to communicate, create and participate fully in today’s fast-moving world.  And this will help create a society in which everyone is enfranchised – whatever their economic, social and ethnic background – and in which the UK’s creative and knowledge economies are able to draw upon the widest possible bank of creators and producers.” (http://www.medialiteracy.org.uk/medialiteracy)

It is arguably this all-encompassing, ‘umbrella’ definition of media literacy and its subsequent formalisation and dissemination through the form of a charter that has marginalised the kind of ‘digital literacy’ initiatives seen elsewhere in the world. The MLTF, disbanded as of December 2009, promulgated the charter to other EU member countries with Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden becoming also becoming signatories to the identical European Charter for Media Literacy.

Given that the MLTF no longer exists and digital literacy in anything other than a ‘basic skills’ sense is not currently part of the UK government’s financially-crippled ‘digital participation’ plan, it is difficult to see from where the critical element of ‘literacies of the digital’ will come from. Whilst some work by JISC (2009) and more informally by Josie Fraser (2009) has pointed the way in the educational sphere, the momentum, interest and willingness of other nations who have embraced digital literacy is lacking. Initiatives, reports and resources such as Film: 21st Century Literacy by the UK Film Council have meant that the room for discussion about digital literacy and its relation to media literacy, remains small.

The bibliography for my whole Ed.D. thesis as it currently stands can be found here.

Unlike the rest of this blog, this post (because it relates to my unpublished thesis) is Copyright, All Rights Reserved.

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