I’ve been very impressed with my Sony Reader PRS-600 since I got it last week. It’s a great device for reading, highlighting and taking notes on academic articles. Since before I couldn’t find much useful video on how the highlighting and note-taking functionality works, I’ve quickly put together the above two minutes by way of demonstration.
Hope it helps. 🙂
Note: those reading via RSS/email may need to click through to see the video – or view it on YouTube!
I have unlimited love for Google Scholar, I really do. It’s the one tool that I really wouldn’t be without for academic purposes these days; I really wish it had been around when I was doing my BA in Philosophy and MA in Modern History. Still, I’m not grumbling – it’s around for my Ed.D. research! 🙂
There’s two really powerful things you can do with Google Scholar. The first, which I’ve mentioned to many people many times before, is click on the ‘Cited by…’ link underneath search results. This helps you find seminal papers fast.
The second is the subject of this post – integrating your access to electronic journals with Google Scholar. I’m fortunate in having two methods now – through Durham University because of my Ed.D. research and now through Northumbria University, hosts of JISC infoNet (for whom I now work).
Enter the name of your university/institution in the ‘Library Links’ box and click the button ‘Find Library’.
When Google Scholar comes up with some suggestions, click the ones that are appropriate. Then click the ‘Save Preferences’ button.
Search using Google Scholar as usual. Links to PDFs, etc. will appear to the right. Click on them and then login using your university/institution password. You will be directed straight to the PDF without having to login to various repositories.
Every academic area of research and study has its leaders in the field. In the case of digital literacy and, more particularly, new literacies, it’s Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel. They have a joint blog at everydayliteracies.blogspot.com and a couple of months ago wrote a post requesting volunteers to review books they’d been sent for the academic journal e-Learning and Digital Media, of which Michele is the editor.
I, of course, jumped at the chance and offered to review two of the books. One had already been claimed, so Michele very kindly sent through The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age. I thought it would fit hand-in-glove with my Ed.D. thesis. I’ve promised to get the review to her by the end of this month, so this post is a way to keep me on track towards that target! 🙂
The Hyperlinked Society (hereafter THS) has three sections:
Hyperlinks and the Organization of Attention
Hyperlinks and the Business of Media
Hyperlinks, the Individual and the Social
The book is a follow-up project to a conference in 2006 that featured around 200 people from countries around the world. They ‘came together to address the social implications of instant digital linking’ (Turow, p.5):
We did not intend to solve any particular problem at the meeting. Instead, the goal was to shed light on a remarkable social phenomenon that people in business and the academy usually take for granted… The aim [of the book] was not to drill deeply into particular research projects. It was, rather, to write expansively, provocatively – even controversially – about the extent to which and ways in which hyperlinks are changing our worlds and why. In short, we hope that this book will function as a platform from which others… will launch their own research projects and policy analyses. (p.5-6)
Given this stated aim it is easier to forgive the eclectic nature of the collected essays and the curious organization of the book as a whole. The final section, easily the strongest, which touches on the philosophical background and implications of the hyperlink, would seem naturally to come first. The middle section is the least academic of the three, with few references and bald assertions mainly about the future of advertising. The first section, whilst very interesting, is unfortunately almost entirely descriptive.
And therein lies one of two problems for a book about hyperlinks that is ostensibly a conversation-starter. First, the criticism can be levelled that why, if the book is about hyperlinks, does it need to be in book form at all? The second is the scatter-gun approach in terms of the target audience for the book. Whilst it sounds grand to state that ‘professors, graduate students, lawmakers [and] corporate executives’ (p.6) will find it useful, widening the book’s scope could lead to accusations that it lacks depth.
One of, if not the best, essay in THS is David Weinberger’s The Morality of Links. This is due to Weinberger’s willingness to not only going beyond description but to stick his neck out in defending his belief that ‘links are good’ and that ‘Morality and the Web have the same basic architecture’. Links are good because of two main reasons, he believes:
The Web is a real potential that ‘we’re actively creating and expanding’, and
Every time we create a link we ‘take a step away from the selfish solipsism that characterizes our age’ (p.189-190)
It is in this meta-level analysis of the importance of hyperlinks that the book has value. Given that most of the target audience would be aware of the history of the internet and would have probably only a passing interest in advertising, the third and final section of the book adds most to human knowledge in this area.
Overall, the book is valuable in providing material for undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Whilst it would be difficult to envision an occasion in which it could be used in its entirity, it is useful as a resource for a course organizer to dip into. The first and third sections are the most valuable: the first because it describes well the current situation and how we got here; the third due to its analysis and where we’re headed.
The great thing about having a weekly slot for my Ed.D. thesis on this blog is that it forces me to produce things that I would otherwise forget about or not action. One such thing is the above mindmap (click here to enlarge) – which I’ve produced to help me with the section of my thesis I’m currently writing on the ambiguity of new literacies. 🙂
Some people talk of ‘learning styles’ but I think that, really, we use each main type of style (kinaesthetic, visual, aural) depending on what it is we’re learning. In fact, as a teacher, I’ve observed this in the classroom.
Those (high-flyers) who have the groundwork understanding to quickly assimilate concepts need merely aural input to learn effectively.
Those (most of the class) who need some consolidation of the groundwork before assimilation need things explained visually.
Those (SEN, etc) who need to re-explain the groundwork completely before moving on need kinaesthetic activities.
Feel free to shoot me down, but that what I’ve observed. And the same is true for my own learning.
At the moment I’m trying to apply Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity to my Ed.D. thesis. Specifically, I’m interested in finding out how terms such as ‘digital literacy’ and ‘electracy’ are ambiguous. It’s confusing. So I did my equivalent of breaking out the Duplo:
Note that this is visual learning for you but kinaesthetic for me – I did something similar when doing my MA.
Thoughts/comments? Do you do something similar? :-p
I’ve been studying towards my Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) qualification for almost 6 years now. My PGCE (teacher training qualification) at Durham University was the equivalent of the first year of an MA in Education. I thought it a waste not to continue with that on a part-time basis whilst I was teaching.
When it came to write the dissertation for my MA it wasn’t the greatest period in my life. I was told by my MA supervisor that I had the grades required to transfer to the Ed.D. if I wanted. At first I couldn’t see her logic; if I wasn’t in a position to complete my MA how would I be in a position to move up to a doctorate? But then she explained. If I transferred, I’d be able to take higher-level modules the next academic year rather than having to churn out a dissertation that academic year. I’d always had at the back of my mind that I’d like to do a PhD and so this made sense!
Tool choice: wiki
All of a sudden, then, I was a doctoral student. I didn’t quite fall into it, but even so it was going to take a step-change in attitude and organization. Going to get my Durham University student card replaced I laughed at it’s new expiration date: July 2012. That seemed a very long way off!
Up until starting my Ed.D. I’d had a fairly ad-hoc way of organizing my academic work. After all, although I’d written 20,000 words for my MA in Modern History in 2003, I’d organized my notes chiefly on paper – using my chunky (although at the time, stylish) laptop merely to write. I could see that this approach was going to change. Thankfully, when in 2006 I wanted to change programme, blogs, wikis and podcasts had just become all the rage.
I’ve used a wiki and a blog with my Ed.D. from the start. After toying with various wikis courtesy of the comparison at wikimatrix.org I decided it was important that I owned my own data. In effect, I sacrificed a little bit of ease-of-use and prettiness for speed, functionality and full control of my data. Whilst services such as Wikispaces, PBwiki and Wetpaint would have done the job admirably, they didn’t quite fit the bill.
I came across TiddlyWiki via Lifehacker. It’s an extremely lightweight wiki designed primarily for personal use. There’s a learning curve in terms of the syntax used to create, for example, things in bold and italics but once you’ve got used to this it’s second-nature. The standard version of Tiddlywiki is merely an HTML file. The massive advantage of this is that you can put it anywhere and it ‘just works’. Put it on a USB flash drive and you can work on it from any machine; put it on your website and you can read it from anywhere.
Although you could download the HTML file, work on it, and then re-upload it, I found this a little clunky in practice. After all, I wasn’t always in a position to fire up an FTP client to do so. On top of that, sometimes I would forget and/or have multiple versions of my wiki. Looking around, I came across ccTiddly, a server-side implementation of TiddlyWiki. In layman’s terms this meant that, upon installing it on my webhost’s server, I could not only access it from anywhere, but edit it from anywhere. In addition, clicking on a link means I can take it all offline quickly-and-easily when I want to. 🙂
Tool choice: blog
It’s amazing how quickly things change. At one time, the obvious choice for anyone creating an education-focused blog was Eduspaces. This aimed – and succeeded, to a degree – in creating a ‘community’ feel to blogs surrounding educational practice and research. You can still see the original blog I created there at eduspaces.net/dougbelshaw/weblog although when the owners announced it was shutting down, I transferred the posts first to teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk and ultimately to here, dougbelshaw.com/blog.
I enjoy the amount of control that WordPress, my blogging software of choice, gives me over what I do with my thesis. More recently, I decided that having a separate category for my thesis-related posts here wasn’t enough; I went ahead and created another blog at dougbelshaw.com/thesis. WordPress is easy to extend and customise through the use of themes and plugins. One extremely useful plugin is digress.it (formerly CommentPress) which allows commenters to easily comment on particular paragraphs in addition to the whole post. 😀
Tool choice: mindmap
After doing a great deal of reading on the ‘literacy’ aspect of digital literacy (the construct which I’m analysing in my thesis) I realised that I had no real idea how to start to put it all together. I needed a visual way to represent what I’d learned and to plan out what I was going to say. I looked at various options for mindmaps but found the online ones (such as Bubbl.us) a little clunky and the offline ones inflexible.
I was delighted, therefore, when I came across XMind. The beauty of XMind is that not only is it free and Open Source, but the offline program allows you to put your mindmap online in an embeddable, zoomable way. Perfect! You can view the mindmap I created for that digital literacy overview here.
My studying, then, tends to go something like this:
Skim-read article or chapter in book. Attempt to the main arguments to myself.
Go back through article or chapter with sticky notes, adding them at quotable/important parts.
Add relevant sections (highlighted with sticky notes) to my Ed.D. wiki, commenting on them as I go.
Come up with idea for synthesis/analysis of what I’ve been studying.
Write section/blog post.
It seems to work fairly well for me, but I’m always looking to improve! Recently, I’ve stuck a pinboard to the wall next to my desk. It allows me to keep those important, but sometimes fleeting, ideas buzzing around.
Sometimes things come to me. Sometimes these things are garbage. Sometimes they’re insights. I’m not sure which category this taxonomy fits into, but it represents a very abstract overview for the next section of my Ed.D. thesis… :-p
Is the word ‘literacy’ useful? Literacy is a state which has traditionally been ascribed (or not) to individuals. Is the state that writers on ‘New Literacies’ espouse simply a case of encoding and decoding texts? It would appear from the above, given the references to ‘identity’ and ‘community’ that perhaps we have moved beyond literacy. An idea to be explored in what follows is that a digital version of the concept of Flow may be a Pragmatically-useful concept to use in place of the seemingly never-ending ‘umbrella terms’ outlined earlier.
In his seminal book of the same name, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced flow as being at the root of true happiness, successful learning experiences and what can loosely be termed ‘intrinsic motivation’. In a state of flow, individuals undergo what Csikszentmihalyi refers to as ‘the autotelic experience’:
The term “autotelic” derives from two Greek words, auto meaning self, and telos meaning goal. It refers to a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward… Most things we do are neither purely autotelic nor purely exotelic (as we shall call activities done for external reasons only), but are a combination of the two. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, 2008:67)
Focusing on the term ‘literacy’ and attempting to shoehorn 21st-century behaviours, technologies and attitudes into the concept could lead to anachronism. Literacy, as we have seen, is predicated upon technologies used to encode and decode texts. The reason Traditional Literacy was such a stable concept with a definite meaning in the minds of most people was due to it built upon a technology that did not change significantly in hundreds of years. It is the pace of innovation in new technologies that has caused a problem for conceptions of literacy.
If instead of a ‘top-down’ approach to literacy (‘x, y and z consitute literate activities’) a ‘bottom-up’ approach was considered this could potentially side-step the difficulty caused by the pace of technological change. The reason that concepts such as ‘digital literacy’, ‘cyberliteracy’, ‘new literacies’ and the like have been proposed is to give a name to a socially useful state to which individuals can aspire. Given that most proponents of such terms would agree that their thinking is built upon Traditional Literacy, it would seem that using ‘literacy’ as an epithet for these extra skills, abilities and behaviours is unnecessary.
What may be more useful in a Pragmatic sense may be to assume Traditional Literacy and combine these skills with digital tools and sociocultural practices that lead to socially and educationally-useful outcomes. Instead of viewing a ‘digital’ version of literacy as a pinnacle to be achieved or surmounted, the focus would be on Flow. When dealing with digital ‘texts’ (loosely defined) this would result in Digital Flow depending upon literacy. Literacy becomes a staging-post on the journey instead of the destination itself:
Mass education – as developed in the 19th century – served to instil a minimum standard through drill-and-practice within the realm of Traditional Literacy. Some have likened this to a factory model with Taylorism as its guiding principles. This is slightly unfair, given the constraints, social problems and political landscape of the time, but does throw light upon how debates surrounding the purpose of education have shifted. It is no longer enough to ensure that young people leave school with the ‘3Rs’. Indeed, under initiatives such as Ofsted’s Every Child Matters (ECM), wider concerns such as children’s (mental) health, and their ability to achieve ‘economic wellbeing’ have necessarily been brought to the forefront of planning and curriculum design in UK schools.
Despite this, skills and abilities in almost every area of the curriculum are, somewhat indiscriminately, designated ‘literacies’. Courses are designed around concepts as ‘health literacy’, ‘financial literacy’ and ’emotional literacy’ as a shorthand to convey action relating to the ECM agenda. It may be more productive and instructive to replace this ‘scatter-gun’ approach to literacy with a more far-reaching commitment towards helping young people develop their ‘autotelic self’:
A person with an autotelic self learns to make choices… without much fuss and the minimum of panic… As soon as the goals and challenges define a system of action, they in turn suggest the skills necessary to operate within it… And to develop skills, one needs to pay attention to the results of one’s actions – to monitor the feedback… One of the basic differences between a person with an autotelic self and one without it is that the former knows that it is she who has chosen whatever goal she is pusuing. What she does is not random, nor is it the result of outside determining forces. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, 2008:209)
Instead of having to continually widen and redefine literacy to cater for new technologies and methods of social interaction, a focus on Digital Flow would be consistent with the idea of ‘liquid modernity’. It would serve to end the idea of a ‘life-project’ being something external to the individual and encourage individuals to embrace short-term, pragmatic strategies when approaching digital technologies (Martin, 2008:153). Digital Flow is focused on the creative act, as opposed to never-ending definitions of literacy predicated on the consumption of media or physical goods. As a result, Digital Flow can be considered the ‘umbrella-term’ for which theorists have been grasping and over which they have been arguing. Moreover, it can be seen as a coherent target at which to aim educational experiences.
Some would reject the idea of a dialectic when it comes to literacy. Instead of encouraging an interplay of old and new conceptions of literacy, they would espouse a clear demarcation. New technologies call for new literacies – and perhaps, epistemologies:
[A] seemingly increasing proportion of what people do and seek within practices mediated by new technologies – particularly computing and communications technologies – has nothing directly to do with true and established rules, procedures and standards for knowing. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:242-3)
There are three main reasons why “what people do and seek within practices mediated by new technologies… [have] nothing to do with true and established… standards for knowing.” The first relates to the personality traits of people involved. A common internet saying is that “the geeks will inherit the earth” – certainly they are the early adopters, the first to figure out ways of using new technologies. By the time technologies reach the mainstream they are far from neutral having been tried, tested, accepted, rejected or accommodated by a ‘digital elite’. Skewed epistemologies can lead to skewed literacies.
The second reason why practices surround technology-mediated practices are different is down to identity. Digital interaction removes a layer of physicality from interactions. This can be liberating in the case of, for example, a burns victim or someone otherwise disabled or disfigured. It can also be ‘dangerous’ as individuals are often able to remain anonymous in online interactions. Physical interactions are bounded by time and space in a way that digital interactions are not. Whilst asynchronous interactions have been possible since the first marks were made in an effort to communicate, digital interactions go beyond what is possible with the book. In the latter, it is difficult to accidentally take something out of context as one has to deal with the book in its entirety. With digital interactions, however, it is much easier to misrepresent and distort the truth, even accidentally. Interactions and texts tend to be shorter online. Thus, in the fight for the soundbite distortion can take place.
Third, practices mediated by technology are different because of the element of community involved. Traditional Literacy, is predicated upon a scarcity model of education and exclusionist principles. An example of the latter is a near-synonym of ‘literate’ as ‘cultured’ (in the sense of having a knowledge of ‘high’ culture). Communities on this model are based on the who rather than the what – identity rather than interest. With technology-mediated practices, even ‘niche’ interests can be catered for.
These, then, are three reasons new technologies can be linked to new epistemologies. Whether new epistemologies necessarily lead to new literacies is an interesting question. As Erstad notes in quoting Wertsch (1998:43), all interaction is mediated and involves social and psychological processes. This is transformed when technology is used to do the communicating:
Regardless of the particular case or the genetic domain involved, the general point is that the introduction of a new mediational means creates a kind of imbalance in the systemic organization of mediated action, an imbalance that sets off changes in other elements such as the agent and changes in mediated action in general. (quoted in Erstad, 2008:180-1)
It is at this point that Lankshear and Knobel’s demarcation between ‘conceptual’ and ‘standardized operational’ definitions of literacy becomes useful. Conceptual definitions are what primarily interest us here – the extension of literacy’s “semantic reach” as opposed to ‘operationalizing’ what is involved in digital literacy and “advanc[ing] these as a standard for general adoption” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2008:2,3).
Instead of coining terms and giving existing concepts a ‘digital twist’, those who reject the dialectical approach propose ‘New Literacies’. They would reject Gilster’s (1997:230) assertion that ‘digital literacy is the logical extension of literacy itself, just as hypertext is an extension of the traditional reading experience.’ Instead, New Literacies theorists such as Lankshear and Knobel believe that ‘the more a literacy practice privileges participation over publishing, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship…, the more we should regard it as a ‘new’ literacy” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:60).
In an attempt to flesh out this conception of New Literacies, however, the authors tie themselves up in knots, so to speak. By seeking to explain what is ‘new’ about New Literacies, Lankshear and Knobel make reference to ‘a certain kind of technical stuff – digitality’ (2006:93) which seems to somewhat beg the question. What is ‘digitality’? They do concede, however, that ‘having new technical stuff is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for being a new literacy. It might amount to a digitized way of doing ‘the same old same old’.’ The authors attempt to deal with the difficulty of New Literacies involving identity by demarcating between ‘Literacy’ and ‘literacy’. Their demarcation is worth quoting in full (my emphasis):
Literacy, with a ‘big L’ refers to making meaning in ways that are tied directly to life and to being in the world (c.f. Freire 1972, Street 1984). That is, whenever we use language, we are making some sort of significant or socially recognizable ‘move’ that is inextricably tied to someone bringing into being or realizing some element or aspect of their world. This means that literacy, with a ‘small l’, describes the actual process of reading, writing, viewing, listening, manipulating images and sound, etc., making connections between different ideas, and using words and symbols that are part of these larger, more embodied Literacy practices. In short, this distinction explicitly recognizes that L/literacy is always about reading and writing something, and that this something is always part of a large pattern of being in the world (Gee, et al. 1996). And, because there are multiple ways of being in the world, then we can say that there are multiple L/literacies. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:233)
Earlier, Lankshear and Knobel moved from new technologies to new epistemologies, here they move from ontology to literacy. It is not clear, however, that such a move can be sustained. What do the authors mean by stating that ‘there are multiple ways of being in the world’? What constitutes a difference in these ways of being? Does each ‘way of being’ map onto a ‘literacy’? The authors claim that to be ‘ontologically new’ means to ‘consist of a different kind of ‘stuff’ from conventional literacies’ reflective of ‘larger changes in technology, institutions, media and the economy… and so on’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:23-4).
This is so vague as to be effectively meaningless.
The assumption made by many is that Traditional Literacy has some form of counterpart in the form of ‘Digital Literacy’. Such thinking places use of, for example, the internet on a continuum stretching neatly back from inventions such as writing on slate, through papyrus, the printing press and mass media (TV, radio, cinema). The danger with this ‘artefactual’ approach when examining new technologies, argues Ursula Franklin, is that ‘[technologies] involve much more than simply passing on and/or adding to written or visual texts or information per se… Rather, they are tied directly to ways of interacting with others… and to ways of being, knowing, learning and doing’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:235). ‘Reading with understanding’ on the internet is not as straightforward as the ‘reading with understanding’ of a book or other printed matter. On the most basic level, unlike with most printed matter, there is no correct way to navigate via hyperlink the myriad websites that make up the digital world. But more than this, there is no barrier to publishing. No barriers means no editorial control. No editorial control means potential equal weight and emphasis given to extreme views, incorrect assertions and illegal acts. Thus access to, and use of, technology becomes a moral issue.
Given this and other ‘problems’, theorists have attempted to incorporate extra elements within literacy in an attempt to answer or avoid them. For example, Martin (2005) conceives of ‘Digital Literacy’ as including ‘the ability to plan, execute and evaluate digital actions in the solution of life tasks’ (quoted in Erstad, 2008:50) – something without parallel in conceptions of Traditional Literacy. Martin also adds ‘the ability to reflect on one’s own digital literacy development’ (ibid.) as being an important aspect of Digital Literacy, propelling the term into a level much higher than mere ‘competence’. The heart of the tension is whether or not the technologies involved are ‘transformative’ in their bearing on literacy. A difficulty arises, however, as improvements in technology mean that the goalposts are continually shifting and thus altering social practices. This is an important point raised by Graham 1999:25-6) who wonders at what point something (such as the internet) that extends literacy practices can count at transformative. There must be some revolutionary, transformative technologies, otherwise everything from the invention of the wheel would be an ‘extension’ of existing technologies and social practices. Those who support this ‘revolutionary’ view, such as Taylor & Ward (1999:xvii) believe that because ‘computer networks… improve communicative interaction among students, teachers, and even texts’ then sociocultural practices are altered. It is these changes in sociocultural practices that result in a new form of literacy being required.
This sociocultural practices model conceives of literacy as ‘an active relationship or a way of orienting to the social and cultural world’ (Rantala & Suoranta, 2008:96-7). Unlike models of Traditional Literacy based upon the printed word, the sociocultural practices model conceives of literacy as being a process instead of a state. Literacy is thus bound up with identity, culture and involves a reflective element. Whereas Traditional Literacy is about training and competence, the forms of literacy put forward by the sociocultural practices model involve interaction and creativity. This almost ‘meta’ form of literacy is defined by the mashup, the remix and could be seen as post-postmodernism: making one’s own sense of a fragmented ‘reality’.
The difficulty is that the view of literacy put forward by the sociocultural practices model strains at the very edges of the word ‘literacy’. This, believe Lankshear & Knobel, is a problem relating to conceptions of Traditional Literacy, not a new problem for the sociocultural practices model to face uniquely:
Sometimes… ‘literacy’ [is] a metaphor for ‘competence’, ‘proficiency’ or ‘being functional’. Concepts like ‘being computer literate’ or being ‘technologically literate’ are sometimes used to mean that someone is more or less proficient with a computer or some other device like a video recorder: they can ‘make sense of’ and ‘use’ computers, or can program their video player or mobile phone. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:20)
Presumably, Lankshear & Knobel’s conception of true ‘Traditional Literacy’ would be more than the ability to ‘read with understanding’ any printed matter. It would involve some meta-level remixing, the ability to deconstruct the text and reflect on what would have done. If not, then it is difficult to see how they could describe skills in the digital world at a ‘literacy’.
Much has been made of the fact that Norway has a curriculum based on digital skills. Indeed, after a review in the early 21st century, Norway named digital skills as the ‘fifth basic skill’ along with reading, writing, arithmetic and oracy (Søby, 2008:120-1). Some have championed this as ‘digital literacy’ and, indeed, some European Union policy documents consider it as such. However, as Audunson & Nordlie argue (2003:319) point out, ‘[t]he Norwegian language does not use the term literacy to describe a person’s competencies in other fields of activity, be it cooking, social intercourse, skiing – or in the field of ICT and information.’ As a result, the Norwegian example cannot defensibly be referred to as an example of ‘digital literacy’ in action.
If the use of, and interaction with, digital texts is not a ‘revolution’ and if therefore theorists want to continue using the term ‘literacy’, then some type of middle ground must be sought. Most would agree with Lankshear & Knobel’s ‘working hypothesis’:
[T]he world is now significantly different from how it was two or three decades ago… this different has a lot to do with the emergency of new technologies and changes in social practices associated with these… the changes are part of a move from what we have called ‘industrial’ values and ways of doing things and increasing embrace of ‘post-industrial’ values and ways of doing things. (2006:53)
To establish a ‘middle ground’, then, a dialectic should be set up:
[T]he idea of ‘new’ literacies is a useful way to conceptualize what might be seen as one component of an unfolding ‘literacy dialectic’. By a dialectic we mean a kind of transcendence, in which two forces that exist in tension with one another ‘work out their differences’, as it were, and evolve into something that bears the stamp of both, yet is qualitatively different from each of them. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:29)
Indeed, Martin (2008:173) believes that ‘transformation is not a necessary condition of digital literacy’ as ‘[a]ctivity at the level of appropriate and informed usage would be sufficient to be described as digitally literate.’ This is a rather conservative and non-specific conception of literacy. It allows for ICT-based, procedural definitions such as those that frame Microsoft’s ‘Digital Literacy Curriculum’ and European Commission reports as well as more ‘critical’ conceptions – as championed by authors such as Buckingham (2008).
To be clear, the forces that ‘exist in tension with one another’ on Lankshear and Knobel’s view are, on the one hand, Traditional Literacy, and on the other, digital skills. The problem is that words used to describe the latter are used imprecisely. As Fieldhouse & Nicholas put it:
Definitions of digital and information literacy are numerous. Within this pool of definitions, terms often are interchangeable; for example, “literacy”, “fluency” and “competency” can all be used to describe the ability to steer a path through digital and information environments to find, evaluate, and accept or reject information. (Fieldhouse & Nicholas, 2008:50-1)
Without an appeal to a dialectic, this ‘ability to steer a path’ would becoming in what amounts to a naming dispute. What remains to be seen, however, is whether the term ‘literacy’ can be stretched to accommodate the higher-level, ‘meta’, reflective elements that ‘new literacies’ proponents envisage.