Tag: New Literacies (page 2 of 15)

Read the first complete draft of my doctoral thesis on digital literacies.

Update: I’ve now submitted my thesis and it’s available at neverendingthesis.com!

Doug's Ed.D. thesis

In 2006 George Siemens asked a bunch of people (including me) to proofread his book, Knowing Knowledge which he – innovatively for the time – released as a book, PDF and wiki. I happily did so and was credited along with many others who had been following George’s work in progress.

I know that many people reading this blog have followed my doctoral studies which has lasted about the same time as I’ve been blogging – six years. I’m delighted to say that yesterday I sent a complete draft of my Ed.D. thesis to my supervisor at Durham University. It may be a bit rough around the edges and there’ll be some inconsistencies, but it’s a huge relief to me.

Whilst my thesis – entitled What is digital literacy? A Pragmatic investigation – has been online since I started writing it in 2007, I thought I’d take this milestone as an opportunity to point people towards it and ask for some feedback. The major new update is Chapter 9 where I propose an ‘essential core’ of eight elements which make up an overlapping matrix of digital literacies.

I’ve had some great input and made connections with people all across the world during the last few years as a result of sharing my work. It’s a bit like pregnancy: the expectation during gestation is very different from the reality of delivering it. But now’s not a time to become coy and overly-protective about something I’ve been nurturing for so long; it’s time to, as with all my work, share it for the good of mankind. Ideas should be free.

And hopefully, just like a baby, people will admire and smile at it.

Methodology section: Critical Theory

This is is the first draft of a section for my Ed.D. thesis; please don’t quote it as it’s not the final version.

The bibliography relating to the referenced literature can be found at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis (I’ve blogged more about my thesis at http://dougbelshaw.com/blog)

Critical Theory is a complex fusion of two different schools of thought. Although based upon a critique of society and culture, Critical Theory remains an umbrella term within which are found Marxist theory and the ideas of the ‘Frankfurt School’. Whilst the former has a normative dimension (there is a way that the world ‘ought’ to be) the latter is more of a hermeneutic approach (gaining knowledge through interpretation of ‘texts’).

These two distinct streams are merged by Postmodern Critical Theorists such as Michel Foucault and Jean Baudrillard in the sense that everything is considered to be a ‘text’ and therefore open to multiple (and potentially infinite) interpretations. In addition, a ‘linguistic turn’ in the social sciences from the 1960s onwards led to theorists such as Saussure, Derrida, Chomsky and Barthes redefining the social sciences as dealing with symbolic representations of the world. The fusion of the two streams became complete when, from the 1980s onwards, Habermas redefined Critical Theory as a theory of communication.

In the 1990s, Horkheimer defined a ‘critical theory’ as adequate only if it is simultaneously explanatory, practical and normative. “That is, it must explain what is wrong with current social reality, identify the actors to change it, and provide both clear norms for criticism and achievable practical goals for social transformation” (Bohman, 2010). Critical Theory undoubtedly fulfils the third of the criteria set out as necessary for a methodology underpinning Digital Literacies. If Critical Theory were successful, society would be transformed. However, as Bohman goes on to elaborate, Critical Theory is “rife with tensions” because of its ambition to transform capitalism into ‘real democracy’ (Bohman, 2010).

The failure of Critical Theory to revolutionise society is a result, claim Blake & Masschelein (2010), of “the failure to overlook the most serious motive behind Critical Theory, its negative aspect and messianic impulse” (in Blake, et al., 2003, p.55). To respond to this negative aspect, continue the authors, “is to accept as valid the cry, “I don’t know what, but not this!” – and thus to repudiate the fatalism of a seemingly compulsory acceptance of the present” (ibid.).

A second phase of Critical Theory, led by one of the leading intellectuals of our time (in the shape of Jürgen Habermas), seeks to transform it into “the mode of inquiry that participants may adopt in their social relations to others” (Bohman, 2010). Habermas combines the transcendental idealism evident in the first phase of Critical Theory with a selection of ideas from the American Pragmatist tradition (Shalin, 1992, p.253). The latter is evident in Habermas’ claim that universal consensus is the ultimate goal of communicative action – with anything short of this evidence of our commitment to the process. As Shalin points out, this differs (as we shall see) with Pragmatism as, in the latter, a dissenting attitude is “imminently rational in that it points to conflicting potentialities of being,” alerting us to the “risks and uncertainties inherent in alternative lines of action” (Shalin, 1992, p.258).

Through the work of Habermas, Critical Theory (as defined in its second phase) is a recognised and respected methodology. It is an established and active research area with journals, professorships and many books dedicated to debates and developments. In this sense, Critical Theory not only meets the third of the aims of a methodology, but also the first (being recognised and respected as sound). It is only with the second criterion that issues emerge: Critical Theory’s suitability to the research area of Digital and New Literacies.

There are three main issues with Critical Theory that I shall outline here that make it unsuitable as a methodology within the area of Digital and New Literacies. First, there is the difficulty of a theory which is general and universal in outlook, but which depends upon subjective experiences. It leaves the individual in an epistemological dilemma: either their choice of approach seems arbitrary, or the Critical Theorist has a ‘special ability’ to make correct choices. Neither is satisfactory. The way out of this dilemma explained by Bohman (2010) – to treat the subjects of inquiry as ‘knowledgeable social agents’ and to focus on the goal of “initiat[ing] public processes of self-reflection” – seems to beg the question when it comes to fostering digital literacies. One cannot assume competencies and behaviours that one is hoping to instil.

Secondly, Critical Theorists conceptualise praxis (the enactment of a theory) almost solely in terms of work. Whilst Critical Theorists set their targets against the ’scientification’ and ‘technologization’ of society, they often fall back onto instrumentalist thinking. Even Habermas, claim Blake & Masschelein (2010), strips individuals of the ‘humanness’ of their interaction, conceptualising communication in terms of “the economic and rational logic of performance and counterperformance” (Blake & Masschelein, 2010, p.54). A methodology suitable for understanding and putting into practice work around Digital and New Literacies should not be continually reduced (or necessarily even reducible) to purely economic considerations.

Thirdly, and briefly, there is no genuine direct connection between Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy in the English-speaking world. This, allied with the concerns about the instrumental understanding of communication, concerns Blake & Masschelein (2010, p.50-1). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a methodology should help make clear the path from theory to practice for a research area. Critical Theory does the opposite of this, adding a layer of complexity to an already confusing and contested field. Using Critical Theory as a methodology for research into Digital and New Literacies would be to multiply uncertainty and confusion.

Blake, N., Smeyers, P., Smith, R. & Standish, P. (eds.) (2003) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education (Oxford)

Bohman, J. (2010) ‘Critical Theory’ (in Zalta, E.N. (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Shalin, D.N. (1992) ‘Introduction: Habermas, Pragmatism, Interactionism’ (Symbolic Interaction – Special Feature: Habermas, Pragmatism and Critical Theory, Vol.15(3), 1992)

Shift up a gear: work with me from September 2011!

Gear stick

I’m still going to be at JISC infoNet but, given that I’ll be finished my Ed.D. thesis I’m looking for interesting side-projects and opportunities starting from next academic year.

Drop me a line if you’re interested in working with me on anything you’ve seen mentioned on this blog, including:

Check out more about me – I look forward to you getting in touch!

CC BY-NC-SA quimby

New Literacy Studies

This is is the first draft of a section for my Ed.D. thesis; please don’t quote it as it’s not the final version.

The bibliography relating to the referenced literature can be found at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis (I’ve blogged more about my thesis athttp://dougbelshaw.com/blog)

In the last two decades of the twentieth century an interdisciplinary group of academics including Brian Street, James Paul Gee and David Barton started to approach literacy from a sociocultural point of view. They continued to view literacy in a traditional way, as ‘reading and writing’, but looked to move away from defining it as a merely cognitive process. This became known as the ‘New Literacy Studies’ (NLS):

The NLS opposed a traditional psychological approach to literacy. Such an approach viewed literacy as a “cognitive phenomenon” and defined it in terms of mental states and mental processing. The “ability to read” and “the ability to write” were treated as things people did inside their heads. The NLS instead saw literacy as something people did inside society. It argued that literacy was not primarily a mental phenomenon, but rather a sociocultural one. Literacy was a social and cultural achievement-it was about ways of participating in social and cultural groups-not just a mental achievement. Thus, literacy needed to be understood and studied in its full range of contexts-not just cognitive but social, cultural, historical, and institutional, as well. (Gee, 2010:10)

Literacy, therefore, was no longer a journey that a teacher could take a child upon to a predictable destination, but something that resulted from thought and an evolving understanding of the world. Literacy became a construct.

In fact, a plurality of literacies is necessary, NLS theorists argue, because texts can be read in different ways. The Bible, for example, can be read from a religious, historical or hermeneutic point of view meaning that literacy always involves ‘apprenticeship’ to a group. Being literate is always being literate for entry into a particular community or group:

Many different social and cultural practices incorporate literacy, so, too, there many different “literacies” (legal literacy, gamer literacy, country music literacy, academic literacy of many different types). People do not just read and write in general, they read and write specific sorts of “texts” in specific ways; these ways are determined by the values and practices of different social and cultural groups. (Gee, 2010:11)

Proponents of the NLS therefore do not literacy directly but always through the lens of organizations, institutions and groups. The ‘manifesto’ of NLS is a book edited by Cope and Kalpublished in the year 2000 entitled Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures. Despite this, Gee, one of the contributors to the book believes that NLS ‘never fully cohered as an area’ (2010:12). Confusingly, NLS bred the new literacies studies which, instead of focusing on viewing literacy in a new way, investigated literacies beyond print literacy. To demarcate the two, Gee refers to new literacies studies as New Media Literacies Studies (NMLS). As suggested by its name, the latter is particular interested the ‘literacies’ associated with media and popular culture:

The emphasis is not just on how people respond to media messages, but also on how they engage proactively in a media world where production, participation, social group formation, and high levels of nonprofessional expertise are prevalent. (Gee, 2010:19)

The NLS is part of a wider ‘social turn’ which shifted the focus away from individual minds towards social interactions. Proponents of NLS argue that literacy (i.e. ‘reading and writing’) is always for a purpose and therefore must be understood as operating within social and cultural contexts. The specific practices of literacies, taking place within specific contexts are known as ‘discourses’. Understanding literacy as operating within such discourses can lead to two different types of ‘new literacy’.

The first type of ‘new literacy’ comes through understanding what is ‘new’ as being the ‘digital’ element of literacy: examples of this include word processing and hypertext. Whilst the context (and therefore the discourse) may have changed, literacy still involves reading and writing text. In terms of the denotative and connotative elements of ‘literacy’ we explored in Chapter 5, this definition is remains towards the denotative end of the spectrum.

The second type of ‘new literacy’, however, resides closer to the connotative end of the literacy spectrum. Here, ‘literacy’ remains ‘reading and writing’ but these elements are understood in a post-typographical and metaphorical way. In the same way as a footballer might be said to ‘read’ a game, so this second type of ‘new literacy’ employs a definition towards the connotative end of the literacy spectrum that embraces non-written methods of communication. Examples here include the type of ‘mash-ups’ prevalent on video-sharing websites such as YouTube and often include memetic and other meta-level elements.

As Lankshear and Knobel (2006) have pointed out, educational practices within the realm of the first type of new literacy often fall into the trap of ‘old wine in new bottles’. Just because new contexts are being used through the use of new technologies does not mean that any form of ‘literacy’ is involved. For new discourses to be created both new contexts and new literacy practices are necessary. In other words, literacy is more than the mastery of procedural skills.

Literacy, as we have alluded to elsewhere, confers some kind of status to a set of practices. For something to be a ‘literacy’ means that it is a socially-acceptable practice to be engaged in and, therefore, something with which an ‘educated’ person needs to be familiar. As with the Australian ‘literacy wars’ mentioned in Chapter 2, there is a tendency for educational institutions – conservative at the best of times – to focus on the denotative, procedural, and cognitive elements of literacy. The sop given to the ‘social turn’ of NLS is to use traditional literacy practices with new technologies: requiring students to ‘type up’ their essays, for example, or produce a PowerPoint presentation. These, however, neglect to immerse and induct young people into the kind of ‘discourses’ that they encounter outside and beyond school, college and university. There is no ‘cognitive apprenticeship’ (Ghefaili, 2003) but merely a semblance, a veneer, of new literacy practices where old ones persist.

From my research: New Literacies around the world

In case you’ve not subscribed to the RSS feed yet, I’m updating my new blog literaci.es regularly with the outputs from my ongoing Ed.D. work:

‘Digital literacy’ in Norway?

The history and status of digital literacy in Norway is complex. The term is presumed by English-speaking researchers and educators to mean, in a straightforward way, the same in Norwegian as it does in English. However, given the difficulty in translating words such as ‘literacy’ into Norwegian, and words such as ‘kompetanse’ from Norwegian, ‘media literacy’ is a term preferred increasingly to ‘digital literacy’.


New literacies (or the lack of them) in Singapore

In this standards-based, heavily-pressured educational culture – a society where, anecdotally, painkillers are stocked alongside exam-preparation books (Bracey, 2008) – it is unsurprising to find the dominant ‘new literacy’ to be Media Literacy. In addition, much of the available research literature into new literacies comes from, or through the lens of, Singapore’s National Institute of Education.


Digital Media Literacy in Australia

The seeming Australia-wide agreement on Digital Media Literacy as the accepted form of New Literacies is explained in part by Gibson (2008). He gives an overview of the ‘literacy wars’ in Australia, quoting Ilyana Snyder on how the press and professional journals keep alive the debates between conservatives and progressives (Snyder, 2008). The battleground over different forms and manifestations of traditional (print) literacy allows, suggests Gibson, Digital Media Literacy to show “some promise of a revival of educational optimism” (Gibson, 2008, p.74).


The USA: a New Literacies desert?

Due to the standards-based, testing culture in US schools, NYC’s approach is understandable. They have adopted the publication of an authoritative body who, in turn, have reacted to an environment created by US educational policy in the wake of NCLB. Such an environment stresses the importance of being ‘information literate’ and focuses on the traditional basics but, perhaps, at the expense of a cohesive programme for New Literacies.


Digital Media Literacy in Australia

This is is the draft of a section for my Ed.D. thesis. The bibliography relating to the referenced literature can be found at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis (I’ve blogged more about my thesis at http://dougbelshaw.com/blog)

Updated and expanded (26 April 2011)

It would be easy to dismiss Australia, a former British colony, as derivative and dependent upon publications, research and policy from the UK, Europe and the USA. Certainly, there is evidence that Australian policy is influenced by outputs from these three. However, Australia has a much more coherent set of policies and strategies relating to New Literacies than other countries.

The dominant form of New Literacy in Australia is ‘Digital Media Literacy’, enshrined in policy documents, strategies and educational frameworks. However, as the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s (ACMA) Digital Media Literacy in Australia: Key Indicators and Research Sources’ document points out, there are many and varied definitions of ‘Digital Media Literacy’. Whilst referencing Ofcom’s (UK) definition – “the ability to use, understand and create digital media and communications” – the ACMA settle upon “the skills and capabilities needed for effective participation in the digital economy” (ACMA, 2009, p.8)

Importantly, resources relating to Digital Media Literacy in Australia are collated, easy-to-find, and demonstrate some coherence of approach. This is possibly due to the structure of government departments: Australia has a Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. Interestingly, the focus on the ‘digital economy’ is a result of “a unique opportunity to shrink the distances that have historically dominated our domestic and international relationships” (DBCDE, 2009) using as an example the “remote specialist diagnosis of patients” so important in a land as expansive as Australia. Importantly, there is a growing awareness in Australia of the difference between the so-called ‘digital divide’ (which focuses on access to hardware) and the ‘digital use divide’ (or ‘participation gap’) which involves the Digital Media Literacies necessary for 21st century citizenship.

A 2009 report entitled ‘Australia’s Digital Economy: Future Directions’ highlights Digital Media Literacy alongside other issues such as ‘Consumer Digital Confidence’ in a section focusing on the successful elements of a digital economy. The three main partners in building such a digital economy are seen as the government, industry and ‘community’ with Digital Media Literacy included in the latter section. Being a government document, however, it focuses upon the economy and social cohesion:

Digital media literacy ensures that all Australians are able to enjoy the benefits of the digital economy: it promotes opportunities for social inclusion, creative expression, innovation, collaboration and employment. People in regional, rural and remote areas can also have improved access to these opportunities. Digital media literacy gives children the capability to effectively learn online; consumers the confidence to search for information and transact online; and businesses the ability to become more efficient and compete in a global marketplace. (DBCDE, 2009)

The seeming Australia-wide agreement on Digital Media Literacy as the accepted form of New Literacies is explained in part by Gibson (2008). He gives an overview of the ‘literacy wars’ in Australia, quoting Ilyana Snyder on how the press and professional journals keep alive the debates between conservatives and progressives (Snyder, 2008). The battleground over different forms and manifestations of traditional (print) literacy allows, suggests Gibson, Digital Media Literacy to show “some promise of a revival of educational optimism” (Gibson, 2008, p.74). He sees Digital Media Literacy as a way to transcend entrenched positions, for:

When my critical or media literacy can be your illiteracy, the concept has become emptied of definite meaning. While literacy is still central to most notions of education, it is increasingly unclear what exactly we mean by it. (Gibson, 2008, p.75)

This ‘conceptual fuzziness’ stems from a shift in the media by and with which we read and write – and also by what we mean by ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ in the first place. This shall be explored more fully in Chapter 3, but in the Australian context there is an indication from Gibson that agreement over Digital Media Literacy provides a welcome respite from argument and debate over traditional (print) literacy.

The operationalising of Digital Media Literacy has led to initiatives such as the ‘Digital Education Revolution’ in New South Wales. The aim is for elements of Digital Media Literacy to be taught across the curriculum meaning, for example, in that in English lessons students work towards a unit entitled ‘When machines go bad…’ where they “examine and explore their own humanity in terms of their relationship with, and dependency on technology” (Digital Education Revolution, no date). Other modules deal with the creation of new media such as podcasts and using a collaborative online whiteboard.

As would be expected, libraries and librarians in Australia have a history of attempting to develop Information Literacy. Definitions of Information Literacy are influenced from work carried out in the USA by the American Library Association:

Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”. (ACRL)

This definition was adopted in 2000 at the Council of Australian University Librarians in Canberra, revised slightly in 2001, with an Information Literacy Framework (Bundy, 2004) developed in 2004 by the Australian and New Zealand Institute for Information Literacy (ANZIIL). The latter organisation, however, no longer seems to be active with the ‘Information Literacy policy’ of universities such as the University of Sydney referencing 10 year-old standards and documents. Either Information Literacy is so entrenched that it no longer needs developing or, as is more likely the case, the zeitgeist has been captured by Digital Media Literacy.

New literacies (or the lack of them) in Singapore

This is is the first draft of a section for my Ed.D. thesis. The bibliography relating to the referenced literature can be found at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis (I’ve blogged more about my thesis at http://dougbelshaw.com/blog)

Education in Singapore is often cited as ‘world-class’, largely due to their students’ consistent high performance in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). These tests have been carried out every three years since the year 2000 and are administered to several thousand students per country near the end of compulsory education. PISA assesses reading, as well as mathematical and scientific ‘literacy’ and problem-solving. The OECD claims that the skills tested in PISA are those required in adult life.

Dissenting voices point out that those countries at the top of the PISA league table are only fractionally ‘ahead’ of other countries, but also tend to be largely homogenous countries. Hong Kong, having a different political system that China, is effectively a country in its own right and, along with Finland and Singapore, is relatively small geographically.

Other important considerations about Singapore by way of context are that it became an independent country as late as the 1960s, English is used as the primary language of instruction in schools, and corruption is low (Transparency International, 2009) whilst censorship is relatively high (Press Freedom Index, 2010). A picture of a conformist culture placing a large emphasis on high-stakes testing emerges, as is evidenced by one Singaporean in her twenties reflecting on her experiences:

Success in Singapore revolves around exams, good grades, and certificates. In other words, getting the right paper qualification… Singaporeans are obsessed with exams because they want good grades. They want good grades because those are essential if you want to go to a famous university. (Tan, 1998)

In this standards-based, heavily-pressured educational culture – a society where, anecdotally, painkillers are stocked alongside exam-preparation books (Bracey, 2008) – it is unsurprising to find the dominant ‘new literacy’ to be Media Literacy. In addition, much of the available research literature into new literacies comes from, or through the lens of, Singapore’s National Institute of Education. One such example comes in Tan, Bopry & Guo (2010) who ostensibly focus on ‘new literacies’ but focus almost entirely on the decoding of visual media.

Another driving force in a country as economically-competitive as Singapore is productivity. The launch of the International Computer Driving License (ICDL) in Singapore in 2010 mentioned explicitly the aim to encourage foreign investment and “a growth in the national economy through higher productivity and a higher standard of living across Singapore” (ECDL, 2010). Such economic goals are evident in the top-down ‘Masterplans for ICT in Education’, the third of which runs 2009-2014. One of the four stated ‘broad aims’ of this Third Masterplan includes the desire to ‘develop competencies for the 21st century’ (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2008a). These, however, are closely tied to mention of the ability of Singapore to ‘position [themselves] better as a global trading hub,’ to ‘train [their] soldiers in combat,’ and investment in high-speed communications to create ‘new opportunities for [their] economy, government and society’ (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2008b).

An interesting tension is evident in Singaporean educational policy between the desire to conform with the more liberal west and the drive for efficiency and productivity. On the one hand, therefore, the need to use ICT ‘critically’ and develop skills of analysis are mentioned, swiftly followed by mention that school ‘autonomy can lead to less efficiency’ (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2008b). The procedural elements of new literacies are to the fore with mention of the use of ICT to help develop ‘competencies to be able to discriminate information require technology literacy, higher-order thinking skills and even life and collaboration skills’ (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2008b). These are to be developed in staff as well as students, but to save ‘re-inventing the wheel’ grassroots approaches are discouraged in favour of ‘educational labs, where innovations can be prototyped and tested’ (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2008b). The aim of this is to ‘equip the next generation with skills and competencies to succeed’ in the never-actually-defined ‘knowledge economy’ (Singapore Ministry of Education, 2008b).

Media Literacy is the dominant ‘new literacy’ in Singapore and this is evident through ongoing research. It is an umbrella term through which other literacies (such as ‘technology literacy’ and ‘information literacy’) are understood. Digital literacy, meanwhile is understood as ‘Digital Curricular Literacies’ (DCL), used as shorthand for the contextualisation of ICT in school-based learning. In practice (NIE, 2003-6) this tends to be on the level of what Puentadura’s (2010) SAMR model identifies as ‘Substitution’ or ‘Augmentation’ rather than the higher-order ‘Modification’ or ‘Revolutionary’ use of educational technology. Indeed, even current research (NIE, 2009-12) aims to ‘contribute to the new media literacy research by developing and validating a survey instrument to measure students’ new media literacy’. This focus on quantitative measures is indicative of Singapore’s approach to technology as well as associated competencies and literacies.

Given the focus on Media Literacy and the tight integration of government departments and policies, it is appropriate to look at the Singapore Media Development Authority’s definition of the term:

Media literacy refers to the ability to critically assess information that is received daily via different media platforms. When a person is media literate, he would be able to read, analyse and interpret messages, regardless of whether he is using media to gain information, for entertainment or for educational purposes. (Singapore MDA)

This is equated with a ‘media-savvy population’ that has the ACE attribution of Awareness, Competency and Engagement. This approach to new literacies is rather passive and based upon a consumption model of literacy. Other definitions of digital literacies mention explicitly the importance of being able to create media rather than simply access and critically reflect upon it. Although lip service is paid to new literacies by the Singapore Ministry of Education the focus is, in effect, on accessing and critically reflecting upon information.

ECDL (2010) ‘National e-Productivity Campaign Launch: Driving Singapore’s Productivity Growth’ (accessed 17 April 2011)

National Institute of Education, Singapore [NIE] (2003-6) ‘Digital Curricular Literacies and Project Work’ (accessed 17 April 2011)

National Institute of Education, Singapore [NIE] (2009-12) ‘Establishing a Blueprint for Singapore Youth’s Participation in New Media Ecologies’ (accessed 17 April 2011)

Press Freedom Index (2010) (accessed 17 April 2011)

Singapore Media Development Authority [MDA] ‘Media Literacy’ (accessed 17 April 2011)

Singapore Ministry of Education (2008a) ‘MOE Launches Third Masterplan for ICT in Education’ (accessed 17 April 2011)

Singapore Ministry of Education (2008b) ‘Opening Address by Dr Ng Eng Hen, Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence, at the International Conference on Teaching and Learning with Technology (iCTLT) at the Suntec Convention Hall, on Tuesday, 5 August 2008’ (accessed 17 April 2011)

Tan, H.H. (1998) ‘Singapore Slog’ (accessed 17 April 2011)

Tan, L., Bopry, J. & Guo, L. (2010) ‘Portraits of New Literacies in Two Singapore Classrooms’ (RELC Journal, 41, pp.5-17)

Transparency International (2009) (accessed 17 April 2011)

‘Digital literacy’ in Norway?

This is the first draft of a section for my Ed.D. thesis. The bibliography relating to the referenced literature can be found at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis (I’ve blogged more about my thesis at http://dougbelshaw.com/blog)

Norway is often held up as an example of how to integrate digital literacy into a nationwide school curriculum. A four-year programme from 2004 to 2008 was sponsored by the Norwegian government, aiming to provide ‘Digital literacy for all’ (Kunnskapsdepartementet, no date). Investment in infrastructure and a focus on using ICT in learning activities was underpinned with a mission to enable Norwegians to use ICT to be ‘wealth creators’. Norway’s focus on digital literacy, therefore, as with the wider EU focus, was upon inclusivity and employability.

An educational reform known as The Knowledge Promotion led to digital literacy being given ‘important and historical status’ in the Norwegian national curriculum. It became the fifth basic competence along with reading, writing, arithmetic and oral skills, being mandatory in every subject at every level of compulsory schooling. As explained in a later chapter, however, Norwegian does not use the word ‘literacy’ in the same was as it is used English. This means that competence and literacy are used almost interchangeably.

In 2007, Almås & Krumsvik found that many of the pronouncements by the Norwegian government were merely ideology and rhetoric:

“[T]here is reason to believe that despite the government’s good intentions, the ‘ICT pedagogy’ is more strongly anchored in rhetoric than in practice. Essentially, Norwegian teachers are doing what they have always done, and traditional teaching methods and technology-free learning environments are dominant.” (Almås & Krumsvik 2007, p.482)

According to the most recent bi-annual ITU Monitor survey (2009) the ‘fifth pillar’ of competence is “the ability to make use of information and communication technology” and constitutes a ‘basic skill’ (ITU 2009, p.3). The authors of the report acknowledge that “the actual basic understanding of digital skills is rather vaguely formulated in national and local curricula” (p.14). Their solution to this was to come up with a multiple-choice test the sample questions from which seem to be similar to ‘e-safety’ questionnaires in the UK.

As Hatlevik points out in an analysis of the 2009 ITU Monitor report:

“There are several important challenges in the process of identifying and describing digital analysis: 1) to have a broader perception of digital literacy, ranging from demonstrating digital skills, such as the use of a specific software, towards production, ethical judgement, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity; 2) prevent assessment-driven teaching practices, such as by emphasizing the assessment of digital literacy as a formative evaluation; and 3) to ensure that the identification and understanding of digital literacy is theory driven and not solely defined from what is possible to measure in a quantitative way.” (Hatlevik 2009, p.173)

The second and third points – that digital literacy is not a ‘fixed’ attribute, and that not everything worth measuring can be measured – are particularly important to take into account given that Norway is viewed as a world leader in the integration of digital literacy into curricula.

Discourse around digital literacy in Norway has evolved to reflect the state of play in the EC. Digital literacy and digital competence are terms that are used interchangeably, with media literacy becoming an increasingly-dominant term with reference to critical skills. This, despite the White Paper that was used to outline the Norwegian curriculum framework defining digital literacy as “the sum of simple ICT skills… and more advanced skills that makes creative and critical use of digital tools and media possible” (Erstad 2007, p.3). However, the difficulty of translating the Norwegian term ‘kompetanse’ means that the term is translated variously even in official documents. The 2005 policy document eNorway 2009: the digital leap, for example, talks of ‘digital skills’:

“Digital skills include the ability to exploit the opportunities offered by ICT, and use them critically and innovatively in education and work. Digital skills also include the ability to be critical to sources and assess content. Use of digital tools is a skill the individual must acquire, maintain and continually develop, if he or she is to be a digitally skilled and critical citizen.” (p.8)

It is clear, therefore, that however ‘digital kompentanse’ may be translated, there is a critical element at the core of the definition involving reflection upon using sources of information and digital tools effectively. However, as Erstad translates the authors of the White Paper as stating, “In total digital literacy can be seen as a very complex competence” (Erstad 2007, p.3)

In order to tease out the complexities involved in digital literacy, the quarterly Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy (http://www.idunn.no/ts/dk) was set up in 2006. It has attracted some of the biggest names in new literacies research as contributors, accepting contributions in English as well as Norwegian. Interestingly, and rather inevitably, the journal has moved from having a narrow focus on digital literacy to a more wide-ranging focus on new literacies. There is little evidence, however, that such research is any more than a one-way process with empirical evidence coming either from the bi-annual ITU Monitor report mentioned above or from researchers’ own classroom.

One of the best-known digital literacies researcher in Norway is Ola Erstad, whose research focus seems to have followed a trajectory from mainly ICT-focused conceptions of digital literacy to those allied to media literacy. We shall explore the concept of ‘umbrella terms’ in a later chapter: in Norway (and in Europe more generally) it is media literacy that is the dominant umbrella term. Erstad explains why he prefers this term:

“There are different terms used in this field of research, such as media literacy, ICT literacy, digital literacy, information literacy and digital competence. The key term, and the one highlighted in this article, is media literacy. In a Scandinavian context the term competence is often used instead of literacy since the latter term does not translate to the languages in these countries.” (Erstad 2010, p.56)

The dichotomy, therefore, is between digital competence (or ‘basic skills’) on the one hand, and a critical, more holistic ‘media literacy’ on the other hand. Erstad believes that this focus is appropriate given “the conceptual history in this field, where media literacy has been used since the beginning of the 1980s” (Erstad 2010, p.57).

Mifsud (2006) questions what we mean by ‘digital literacy’ noting, and by doing so, reinforcing, Erstad’s point about Norwegian not using the term ‘literacy’:

“Consider digital literacy in the school context. Does being able to send text-messages from a mobile phone or playing puzzle games constitute being digitally literate? While sending SMS messages represents the height of “e-literacy” for my mother, from an educational perspective, SMS-sending, and mobile telephones in general, have so far been frowned upon by schools.” (Mifsud 2006, p.136)

Digital literacy is far from a revolutionary competence or set of skills for Mifsud. She argues that there are broadly four elements to digital literacy: (i) the manipulation of digital tools, (ii) an extension of print-based literacies, (iii) appropriate “cut-and-paste” and “copy/delete” techniques, and (iv) the “inclusion of the visual” (Mifsud 2006, p.136-9). Digital literacy, therefore, is effectively a body of basic skills in a digital world.

Korten and Svoen (2006) point out that media literacy and digital literacy are often used as near-synonyms in Norwegian, hence the confusion. Perhaps one reason for the recent shift in emphasis in Norway (and in Europe more generally) from digital literacy to media literacy is that, as Pietraß puts it, it “lead[s] to much more satisfactory conceptions… than functional approaches” (Pietraß 2009, p.132).

The history and status of digital literacy in Norway is complex. The term is presumed by English-speaking researchers and educators to mean, in a straightforward way, the same in Norwegian as it does in English. However, given the difficulty in translating words such as ‘literacy’ into Norwegian, and words such as ‘kompetanse’ from Norwegian, ‘media literacy’ is a term preferred increasingly to ‘digital literacy’.

My thesis is your thesis.


Ever since 2007 when I started writing it, I’ve shared what I’ve written towards my Ed.D. thesis over at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis. Today, given that I was a bit too ill to write for sustained periods of time (during the annual leave I took off specifically to do so) I decided to update and tidy it up a bit. It now reflects:

The design was inspired by this site and pimped with a bit of Media Query viewport: goodness so it looks half-decent on iPads.

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.