Talking to people via Skype and in person about integrating with the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI). I had my closest meeting yet – just 5 miles away! Also, excitingly, it looks like CoderDojo might be badgifying their belts!
Starting planning an Open Badges workshop focusing on assessment at the Mozilla London office in June. I then had to postpone/cancel it as I’ve been invited to an EU summit on the same date.
Next week it’s Bank Holiday (woo!) then I’m in London on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning for a meeting with Lord Jim Knight. Then on Friday I’m in Salford to talk to the BBC about Open Badges for their CPD programme(s).
I had a fascinating Skype conversation with Amber Thomas, a JISC Programme Director. She mentioned the concept of liminality in reference to the ‘trajectory of ambiguities’ idea I’ve been writing about in my journal article. It struck me afterward that I need to firm things up a bit given that I seem to exist in somewhat of a liminal digital world.
So here’s what you’ll find me doing where in 2011:
I’ll be writing, as usual, at dougbelshaw.com/blog about user outcomes (including: education, technology, productivity, leadership, design). I’ll be posting around 1-2 times per week and won’t be writing the ‘Things I Learned This Week’ series. It’s a shame, but it’s too much of a time-suck to justify.
I’ve cut back drastically on the number of people I’m following on Twitter (@dajbelshaw). It might be just me, but the signal/noise ratio seemed to decline sharply in 2010. I’ll be autoposting things from here and Amplify and using it for mainly work purposes.
I thought I deleted my Facebook (http://facebook.com/dajbelshaw) account in mid-2008, but it turned out I simply deactivated it. It’s now re-activated and I’ve gone about removing almost all of my ‘friends’, cutting back sharply to just my immediate family and close contacts. If you’re not one of those, I’m afraid I’ll be ignoring your connection request. Sorry.
As Facebook is the most popular social network and because pretty much all my close contacts are on it, I need to know how to use it effectively. Facebook’s also a great way to organise events and get groups started (without necessarily having a direct connection to people). More on that later, although you can (and should) ‘Like’ this blog there already.
My policy with LinkedIn (http://uk.linkedin.com/in/dajbelshaw) is simple: I need to know who you are, have dealt with you in a professional sense, and met you in person to connect with you. I’ll only waive the latter condition if you’re somebody I know really well online. It’s a professional, not a social, network.
I’m still experimenting with Quora (http://quora.com/Doug-Belshaw). Coming back to the notion of liminality, it’s a great example of what happens when boundaries are broken down as a result of new ways to connect to people. I really like the way it’s structured and it marries Yahoo! Answers with Digg and wiki-like functionality. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll connect with anyone on there. :-p
I’ve got more to discuss in terms of how I’m organizing things – especially related to academic stuff. This post covers just what others will see.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
I spent Tuesday until midnight last night travelling to and from, and attending, mLearn 2010. One of the largest mobile-related conferences in the world, mLearn was not only held in a great location, but attracted some top names.
Of course, there was the usual conference idiosyncrasies, but overall both the quality of research and social aspect were solid. People really do need to learn how to present more engagingly, though and not rely on tiny sample sizes. I met some really interesting people and it was nice and Malta was sunny most of the time.
Putting the new version of my thesis structure online
I met with my thesis supervisor via Skype on Monday to discuss my progress over the last few months. I’m happy with how things are going and, perhaps more importantly, so is he! My thesis is much better structured now. Whilst I’ll not be submitting on 1st January 2011 (my earliest submission date) next Easter is looking good. More here.
Considering my future
Next year is crunch year. If I want to return to working in schools at senior management level it would have to be for 2011/12. Whilst that could be sensible given my 2-year contract with JISC infoNet, I’m not entirely sure whether that’s in my own or my family’s best interests. And, besides, I’m enjoying myself with in FE/HE. 🙂
Last night I had a Skype conversation with Steve Higgins, my Ed.D. thesis supervisor at Durham University, for the first time in a few months. As I half-expected when I set myself the challenge, a deadline of 1st January 2011 is going to be pretty much unachievable now as I’m only 34,000 words into a 60,000 word thesis. That being said, Easter 2011 is looking good.
I find it useful to record our Skype conversations to go back through at my leisure. I haven’t done that yet – but I did capture the main points of our conversation via the Skype chat window. Here’s the highlights:
Other people’s work
As long as I acknowledge them, I can get other people to draw what I can only describe. Whilst I’ve made an attempt at representing what I discuss in diagrammatic form, there’s certain conventions and methods that I’m just not familiar with. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to afford to commission someone, especially given that I want to publish my thesis as a book.
Adjectives & verbs
Steve said something which, although he’s mentioned it before, struck a chord with me. He stated his belief that with ‘digital literacy’ the adjective and the verb seem to be the wrong way around. That is to say that ‘digital’ is the modifier for ‘literacy’ when it should be vice-versa. This led to a conversation about the final two chapters of my thesis before the conclusion. I intend to show that ‘digital literacy’ – and even ‘new literacies’ are too ambiguous to be nailed-down for all time. Instead, we should focus on notions of ‘digitality’ or similar.
Structure of thesis
Most theses, or so I’m led to believe, contain an introduction, followed by a methodology followed by a literature review, explication of points, and a conclusion. Not mine. As I’m writing a philosophical, non-empirical yet vocational doctoral thesis a slightly different format is required. As I began to explain in Ed.D. thesis restructure, I’m going to situate my methodology section almost half-way through my thesis, using it as a lever or a lens through which to focus the rest of my thesis. As for the literature review, this will be in (at least) four parts:
History of traditional (print) literacy
The history of digital literac(ies)
Policy documents (digitality)
That should keep things interesting. 🙂
Usually, as with most people writing something lengthy, I’d decide on my conclusion and then work backwards. That’s not entirely possible given the constant state of flux my thesis is in. As befitting Pragmatism, I’m making tentative conclusions. At the moment I’m given to concluding that the process (i.e. the inquiry) of notions surrounding ‘digital literacy’ and the like is at least as important as the resultant definition. In fact, I’m leaning more 70/30 in favour of process over product.
Steve quoted Douglas Adams at me. If this quotation doesn’t end up in my thesis, then you know something has gone horribly wrong:
We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!
I learned several things in my Skype chat with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor (Steve Higgins) this week, notably:
I’m a pearl-grower
People can be metaphorical in different ways
How ambiguity can be productive
Steve was very interested in what I’d mentioned in our brief email conversation earlier this month about different types of ambiguity. After reading William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity (Wikipedia)recently I’ve realised that the terms that I’ve been analysing in the literature – ‘digital literacy’, ‘electracy’, information competence’, and the like – are actually ambiguous in different ways.
In fact, the level of ambiguity and lack of clarity can depend upon the ‘level’ at which people are working. So, for the teenager at school talking about ‘digital literacy’ isn’t productive or helpful. For the university professor, on the other hand, it could create a productive space in which to discuss one or more concepts.
Steve mentioned that I need to be careful about different positions taken by thinkers about literacy. Radicalists, for example, would argue that the way that you become literate affects the way you are literate later. This all links into the seven types of ambiguity mentioned above. I think that, given that Empson was considering mainly poetry and works of literature, there may be scope in my thesis to collapse or discard two or more types of ambiguity.
The problem about New Literacies is that they potentially lead to ‘infinite literacies’. For example, I’ve seen studies that seem to consider the use of Flickr as requiring a separate ‘literacy’ than, for example, Facebook. If there is such a thing as ‘digital literacy’ then it would need to be a level up from this – a complex organizing construct that could explain such affinity spaces. 🙂
Moving on to the structure of my thesis, I explained to Steve that I’m thinking about moving the location of my discussion on the Pragmatic method to the beginning of my thesis. If it went after the Literature Review, as originally planned, then it would seem a bit out-of-kilter. If so, that would give me the following structure:
Pragmatic method (plus discussion of other lenses that can be used)
Literature Review (including evolution of New Literacies)
Discussion and analysis of seven types of ambiguity
Analyse digital literacy (and other concepts) as constructs (do they have pragmatic utility?)
Review of terminology used in government, NGO and media reports (e.g. Singapore, BBC, NGOs, UK, USA – what do people mean by digital literacy? is it a productive ambiguity?)
Digital Flow as a more coherent and less ambiguous construct
Steve noted that ‘digital literacy’ is a term used mainly by digital enthusiasts. It creates a positive space or construct for people to explore shared meanings. I thought this was an interesting idea and brought up the idea of a continuum of positions people could take. Steve expanded on this to say that it’s as if the whole of the Venn diagram can be discussed rather than just the intersect:- includes the whole of the Venn diagram rather than just the intersect:
My ‘Norwegian analysis’ (as Steve calls it) contains a metaphorical aspect which is at heart of way the term has evolved. It creates a ‘productive space’ which may or may not be useful. By moving computer skills into the ‘literacy’ domain the debate is altered as a ‘value space’ has been created. After all, no-one is going to argue about the utility of a literacy. This could be a useful segué into the section about the what the media and governments say about digital literacy and related concepts.
Regarding my final section on ‘flow’ I mentioned how in the literature it is used most in relation to computer games. Steve mentioned that he has an unpublished presentation/paper on how interactive whiteboards (IWBs) develop teacher didactic ‘flow’ (in that they control IWB with one hand and class with another). The IWB encourages whole-class presentation, with more answers from students, but less depth. The teacher ends up in some kind of bubble which becomes less and less permeable. They are in control of resources; lessons ‘progress’ but without the cognitive dissonance required.
I was concerned that I wasn’t discovering academic journal articles in the most efficient mannter. I explained to Steve my method:
Find recent relevant, high-quality journal article using Google Scholar
Scour reference section for relevant articles.
Go through relevant articles and repeat.
Steve calls this pearl-growing and apparently it’s a popular method. He did, however, mention that ‘forward-tracking’ via services such as Google Scholar is also useful. Steve also recommended keyword searching at the Web of Science and directly within the archives of relevant journals. The problem with everyone ‘pearl-growing’ I pointed out is that, like the iPhone App Store, once something becomes slightly popular, it will become exponentially more so. Steve said that his colleague, Peter Timms, had found that there is evidence to this effect as there is no strong correlation between the quality of references in academic papers and the quality of the article itself.
Moving on we discussed the problem of ‘solidification’. As I’ve referenced before, Allan Martin has written on the idea of ‘liquid modernity’. This is the idea that by the time research has been done and social norms have begun to emerge, the technology has moved on. What Steve wondered, however, was whether this is true from this point forward (i.e. we will be in this situation forever more) or whether it’s for a finite period of time. I pointed out that my historical research has shown that people pretty much always think they’re living through times of rapid change! Steve quite rightly pointed out the difference between technological and conceptual things changing. Something to dwell on… :-p
The problem with such a nebulous concept as ‘digital literacy’ is that it can collapse to meaning no more than ‘having access to digital texts’. Steve and I discussed the importance of ‘knowing’ (in terms of internalization and understanding). All an individual can do on the first attempt is to assimilate information and value judgements into what W.V. Quine would call an individual’s web of belief. It would be interesting to explore the extent to which new concepts such as ‘digital literacy’ restructure belief systems (as oppose to merely being assimilated)
This led onto my wondering about ‘digital epistemologies’ – especially as Richard Rorty claims that pragmatists don’t have an epistemology. Steve though that, although he would have to check, Rorty means by this that pragmatists don’t have a single epistemology. They are more agile than thinkers holding different positions.
I thought that this potentially linked together our discussion of ‘liquid modernity’ with the idea of a ‘web of beliefs’. Pragmatists have a more fluid and changeable web of beliefs, meaning they are better situated when faced with fluid change. It’s something I’m going to think about putting into the first section of my thesis. 😀
Finally, Steve and I discussed the difference between C.S. Peirce (a community of inquirers would find truth in the long run) and Richard Rorty (there is no ‘truth’ to find). Peirce, coming before Thomas Kuhn, didn’t take into account paradigm shifts where the graph of what constitutes ‘normal science’ is forever having to restart. Although Peirce can be interpreted in a Postmodern way, Steve is more comfortable interpreting him towards the Realist end of the spectrum. That is to say: Peirce believed that the external world exists and there are truths to be known, it’s just that we as humans aren’t in a position to do that. The difference between Rorty and earlier pragmatists, suggested Steve, is that Rorty came from a strongly libertarian standpoint, whereas Dewey, for example, was more of a communitarian.
The hour went very quickly. Lots to think about and lots of work to do! 🙂
I met (via Skype) with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor, Steve Higgins, last night to discuss my progress over the last couple of months. Regular readers interested in my thesis (What does it mean to be ‘digitally literate’?) will already know that it’s available online as I write it at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis. Here are the relevant posts that make up the parts of my thesis we discussed:
The structure of my third section: I want to include an analysis of policy documents from various countries and outline a definition of ‘digital flow’. Possible?
This definition of literacy that I developed after an analysis in the early stages of my literature review:
Literacy involves the mastery of simple cognitive and practical skills. To be ‘literate’ is only meaningful within a social context and involves having access to the cultural, economic and political structures of a society. In addition to providing the means and skills to deal with written texts, literacy brings about a transformation in human thinking capacities. This intellectual empowerment happens as a result of new cognitive tools (e.g. writing) or technical instruments (e.g. digital technologies).
Whether he considers ‘affinity spaces’ to comprise of networks or groups of people (or whether they are ‘third spaces’)?
Which modern-day Pragmatist thinkers should I be reading in preparation for writing my methodology section? (e.g. Richard Rorty)
Is it worth spending time looking at ‘media literacy’ separately (as I have done with ‘information literacy’), or should I simply insert it as part of the evolution of ‘new literacies’?
Steve thought my roadmap seemed sensible, but that I needed to be aware of times at which I would have more/less time to write. Writing the section on the history of new literacies now is fine, but I’ll have to (as I was going to) make sure I’m up-to-date on the latest thinking surrounding ‘digital literacy’ in late 2010.
One of the most exciting aspects of my thesis is how I’m going to publish it. Steve and I are both of the opinion that (only) publishing it in a traditional way would be somewhat anachronistic. Instead, we’re going to think of ways in which my thesis is very much a ‘digital text’. This won’t be an easy option by any means as I will have to balance author intentionality (i.e. what I’m trying to argue) with reader freedom (i.e. to ‘jump around’ the text). I’m going to finish the traditional version first, but have at the back of my mind the digital version. Steve suggested I might want to ‘tag’ sections to help me do this.
Whilst Steve maintained that he’s no problems with ‘the quality or quantity’ of my work, we need to think about how we’re going to prove that it’s an original contribution to knowledge. Suggested ways included:
Synthesizing of different conceptions of literacy.
Proposing a new definition (‘digital flow’)
My method of publication (digital text)
Steve sees a couple of journal articles in the third section of my thesis – perhaps one on analysing policy documents (how ‘digital literacy’ is used as a construct/aspirational term) and then another on how this helps flesh out economic policies, etc.
I then brought up the concept of ‘digital flow’ and how I could use this as a separate lens through which not only to analyse policy documents, but to consider concepts such as ’21st century skills’. There may be something, Steve said, in synthesizing policy presentations of what the ‘digital future’ is going to be like. He reminded me that it’s not just country-specific policy documents I should look at but European Commission, OECD papers, etc. A PhD student of Steve’s is doing a review of the ‘digital divide’ in China which may be useful (to compare, for example, with Futurelab’s report).
The definition of ‘literacy’ (above) that I came up with in the introduction to my thesis seemed reasonable to Steve, although he’s going to have another look at his leisure. He brought up the important point that ‘literacy’ can bring about a transformation in human thinking capacities. I linked this to the reading I’ve been doing of Ong and McLuhan – especially the latter’s belief that:
We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.
There is something beyond ‘reading’ digital texts and manipulating information – how does this alter cognitive structures? Although we both don’t like her conclusions, Steve suggested that looking at some of Professor Susan Greenfield‘s work. I could speculate about longer-term influences here and perhaps link it to my conception of ‘digital flow’. I need to have a realistic conception and presentation of this rather than re-iterating a polarisation (good/bad) of the debate as it currently stands.
We then moved on to the concept of ‘affinity spaces’. I explained how I was interested in these but wasn’t sure whether they were networks, groups or something different. Steve is going to get back to me with some pointers for further research. He did point out, however, that it is usually theorised in terms of ‘cultural spaces’. Each affinity space has its own cultural norms and practices, usually understood by reference to activity theory. I mentioned how these are often ‘third places‘ and that this blurs traditional boundaries. Steve mentioned how the ‘continuity of contact’ that social networking services and affinity spaces provide changes social interactions but also conceptions of identity. He suggested a distinction between ‘temporary spaces’ (not enduring, provisional) and ‘parallel spaces’ (contact maintained over time). It may be interesting to examine the status literacy and ‘digital flow’ in relation to these.
In terms of Pragmatist philosophers and thinkers that I need to make sure I’ve read, Steve suggested Quine in addition to Rorty. He also mentioned Mead (although this strays into anthropology) and perhaps Merleau-Ponty. Pragmatism itself is always presented from a certain point of view – for example, Rorty tends towards right-wing libertarianism. I asked whether there was a collection of articles on Pragmatism that Steve recommended. He’s going to look for this, but also picked Gutting’s Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity from his shelf as one I could look at. I should also look at Neopragmatism and its influences.
I then suggested that I should write my introduction, set out my stall, and then go about explaining my methodology in depth. Steve agreed, stating that this should be a justification of my approach to the thesis and include underpinning epistemologies. He outlined the difference between ‘necessary’ and ’empirical’ epistemologies – i.e how things ‘should be’ versus how they actually are. This is something I need to explore further, but Steve said that it was perfectly possible to have a strongly empiricist or realist epistemology in a digital world. He cited Tim Berners-Lee, the ‘father of the internet’ as someone who had a traditional view of the exchange of knowledge.
This reminded me of a debate I’d heard on Radio 4’s Start the Week about Wikipedia and its history. Steve talked about the role of the expert and the fact that there is in fact some type of hierarchy within Wikipedia. He related this to Peirce‘s idea of a ‘community of enquirers’, explaining that what Peirce had in mind in terms of 19th century Boston wasn’t quite the same in digital, hyperconnected spaces. Steve continued to state that there is an elision underpinning Wikipedia: the notion seems to be that knowledge is not tied to context and intention, whereas we always know something for a purpose. How ‘disinterested’ in information/knowledge can you be, asked Steve, if you’ve chosen to write about it for free? (Platonic forms don’t exist!)
After this I brought up my question surrounding the concept of ‘media literacy’ – should I incorporate it within a history of ‘new literacies’, or would it be better to consider it by itself? Steve’s response was really useful and enlightening. He said that media literacy was ‘quite a meaty chunk’ and was probably worth considering by itself. Whilst analysing ‘information literacy’ has allowed me to get a handle on the ‘literacy’ part of ‘digital literacy’, an analysis of media literacy would allow me to look at the ‘digital’ part. What he meant with this is that information literacy is predicated upon the neutrality of information/knowledge, whereas media literacy recognises communicative intent. A comparison of these against various definitions of digital literacy would be Pragmatic with a capital ‘P’.
Steve warned that I need to be careful how far down the media literacy rabbit-hole I go, as there are many forms – film, TV, radio, etc. I suggested that I should look at the work of (for example) Negroponte and Tapscott (especially the latter’s Growing Up Digital and Grown Up Digital). Steve suggested that there are two main conceptions of ‘digital’:
Similar messages communicated in different ways (e.g. film/poem, text/graph)
Translatability – moving things across different contexts
I mentioned how the latter could be conceived of as a ‘networked literacy’ and could be linked to ‘digital flow’. Steve agreed, mentioning how nowadays things ‘spill out across contexts’. We linked this to mashups and memes.
To conclude, Steve talked about how the level and detail of what I’m looking at is complex. I therefore need to think about how the reader is going to scaffolded through this, to impose a structure to help the reader understand. I could have alternative routes through the structure (through the use of hyperlinks) but then readers could lose the intended structure. As a result, I will need more scaffolding than usual and keep going over my arguments. I noted that I’ve already started doing something like this by writing my thesis on Google Docs but taking out blog posts that need to stand by themselves. Steve re-iterated that a potential contribution to new knowledge could be a synthesis of the ideas and form of my thesis.
We’re going to be looking at potential external examiners in 2010. Steve’s currently thinking someone from the London Knowledge Lab or similar – someone who ‘can deal with’ presenting my thesis as a digital text.
Steve and I will be meeting (via Skype again – it works well for us) in about a month’s time. I’m going to consider the 3 (or so) main points I want to make in my thesis, as I will need to reference these throughout the digital text by way of scaffolding. At the moment, I’m thinking that two of these will be:
Digital literacy is not useful term to use as consensus cannot be reached.
Digital flow is a useful for conceiving of post-21st century skills.
Finally, Steve’s invited me to meet up with a couple of his other doctoral students who are working in similar areas to kick around some ideas. I look forward to it! 😀
I had another Skype chat with my Ed.D. thesis supervisor, Steve Higgins, last night. I really enjoy our informal video conferences as he’s at the forefront of things at the University of Durham (and further afield!), as well as being very experienced and intelligent.
I’d been a bit apprehensive as during our email exchanges prior to the Skype chat he’d talked about bringing in my second supervisor. I assumed that this was because I wasn’t organized enough, wasn’t on track, etc. – but it turns out that it’s a result of the university’s new QA procedures. Steve said he’s ‘no concerns about the quality and level of my work’. So that’s good to know! 😀
I’m in the slightly odd position of undertaking a vocational doctorate (Ed.D.) in a purely conceptual and philosophical manner more suited to a PhD. That’s because my doctoral course is an extension of my previous MA (and before that my PGCE!) Steve urged me to focus on the overall conceptual schema so that the whole thing ‘flows’ and fits together. We agreed that the following thesis structure (which I’ve blogged about before), with one added section, has the scope to do that:
Literacy(what is literacy?)
‘Digital literacy’(literature review)
Pragmatic methodology(what is the ‘core’ of definitions?)
‘Flow’(Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work – ‘digital flow’?)
Application to schools(how ‘digital literacy’ as a concept is applied in educational systems around the world)
Meta-level definition(*new*)(pragmatic definition of ‘digital literacy’ or similar)
Texts as metaphors
Steve and I started by revisiting the idea of ‘texts’ as metaphors. Whilst some would question this use of the word ‘text’, it is use widely in the literature to refer to even objects (digital/physical) that do not have an alphabet-based written element to them. Steve talked about the ‘denotative’ as well as ‘connotative’ meanings of texts, which is something I’m going to have to explore further… :-p
Hierarchical model of digital literacy?
I brought up the possibility of coming up with some kind of ‘hierarchical model’ of concepts in the digital literacy arena. Perhaps ‘digital competency’ would be at the bottom, with ‘digital literacy’ above it and ‘digital fluency’ as being at the top of the conceptual pyramid?
Steve agreed that this may be possible as ‘competence’ has a restrictive element to it in that it can be assessed or measured – it is bounded in some way. Literacy implies some kind of transferability which is, presumably, why educators like it as it assumes more than mere ‘competence’. Problems arise, however, when people want to be able to ‘assess’ digital literacy as what would such a test look like? Finally, the idea of ‘digital fluency’, Steve wondered, would surely be an extension of digital literacy rather than something separate?
Again, this is something I need to go back to the literature and investigate!
Forms of literacy
Steve mentioned en passant that librarians have really latched on to the term ‘information literacy’ as it describes what they are trying to engender in students and library users. We then discussed the use of ‘umbrella terms’ by those coming at new literacies from a particular angle. I mentioned the fact that not only do people try and use their preferred term as some type of overarching term encompassing other literacies, but that some make up words to try and make a name for themselves when doing so!
21st century skills
Regarding 21st century skills, I wondered about the relationship such an idea may have with ‘digital literacy’. Steve said it was worth looking at in terms of the formation of the phrase and where the drive is coming from. Is it coming from politicians worried about global economic competition and effectiveness, or from educators? If the latter, is it coming from those who would be considered ‘digitally literate’ or not?
We discussed the EU, and Norway in particular, as being at the forefront of ‘digital literacy’ from a participatory rather than simply an economic perspective. I’m going to compare and contrast this with views from (for example) the USA and Singapore.
Can literacy by dissected?
I mentioned to Steve that I’ve read this week about Knobel & Lankshear’s belief that literacy cannot be ‘dissected’. I thought I knew what this meant, but then when trying to explain to Steve got a bit tongue-tied. Steve talked about literacy being ‘complex’ – not complicated – but fundamentally difficult to understand and prise apart. If the various parts are teased apart do they still make sense in isolation? The danger is that literacy is reduced to competency – and therefore susceptible to tick-box tests… 🙁
Whilst I was aware of some of his work, Steve thought that Paolo Freire’s idea of conscientization might be applicable to my thesis. This is something I need to explore more thoroughly, but the concept of an ’emancipatory literacy’ which is in some way opposed to ‘functional literacy’ would set up a good dialectic in my argument, I think! We came back to the previous discussion of whether ideas of ‘literacy’ in the EU, Singapore and USA involved an emancipatory element.
Solid and liquid modernity
I’ve mentioned before on this blog how struck I was with Martin’s idea of ‘liquid modernity’. Steve and I discussed the relationship between knowledge and technology and how, because of the rate of change of technology, ‘literacy’ and ‘knowledge’ are always in a state of flux. I raised my concern with Steve that this would mean not even a working definition of something like ‘digital literacy’ could be achieved. He responded that going to some type of ‘meta-level’ without specific mention of technologies, so long as it was rigorous enough, would work.
Steve mentioned the idea of ‘punctuated equilibrium‘ in evolutionary theory and how technological advancements can be seen in a similar way. We moved into discussing cultural practices – for example the difference between being able to quote someone and/or use their ideas in your own words, compared with copying word-for-word what they said. At what stage will we privilege ‘organization’ as a higher-level skill?
After Steve raised the above, it got me thinking about Lessig’s book The Future of Ideas, which I’m currently reading (and have blogged about). Lessig talk about ‘remix culture’, something which Steve said he had a slight problem with as it has a negative connotation as being ‘derivative’. Howeer, if there is some type of granularity of reassembling, then such works should be valued as much as the originals.
Returning to the idea of a ‘meta-level’ definition for literacies, Steve talked about how they are not susceptible to shorter-term change, but must be applicable retrospectively to, for example, someone in Roman times. Obviously the ‘digital’ element will not apply, but the other elements should have some explanatory power.
What is ‘digital’?
Just before we finished, Steve drped a bit of a (positive) bombshell. Up until now I’ve been focusing on the ‘literacy’ aspect of ‘digital literacy’. But what about the ‘digital’ part? What makes something digital? How are, for example, a cassette recorder and a digital recorder different? Do they involve different skills?
In an attempt to tease this out a bit we talked about interoperability and connectedness. I thought about the conceptual difference between a book and a Word document (very little difference) and the difference once hyperlinks are added (quite a lot of difference!)
The idea of ‘digitality’ is something I’m going to have to explore further! 🙂
The way forward
Finally, Steve gave an example from a project he’s working on. He’s part of a group at the University of Durham experimenting with ‘multi-touch tables’. He talked about how some Year 6 pupils had seen him and other supervisors use ‘hidden menus’ within the software. The children only had to see this once to be able to access this themselves. Steve wondered wither this would fit into ideas of ‘digital fluency’.
This reminded me of the work of Sugata Mitra, creator of the ‘Hole in the Wall’ computer and ’emergent literacies’. This is, again, something I need to explore in more depth, but Steve said it fits in with the currently-popular Activity Theory (of which he’s not a big fan) and his concerns about the literature on literacy focusing on meaning rather than intention. It turns out that Mitra is now at Newcastle University, which is handy!
I’m going to concentrate now on my literature review, which I’ve already written a couple of thousand words on. Once that’s (almost) complete I’ll start work on fleshing out the pragmatic methodology. 😀
(Image credit: Literacy by ~Anarxur at deviantart)