Friday, 7 August 2009

Forms of Literacy - in School and University

This is a thought I had whilst reading Victoria Carrington & Jackie Marsh, Forms of literacy,December 2008( This document was commissioned as part of the UK Department for Children, Schools and Families’ Beyond Current Horizons project, led by Futurelab.

A colleague passed this paper on to me, with the comment that it is a useful resource for us even though it's school-based and has traces of celebratory rhetoric. By that they meant that it occasionally adopts the slightly breathless tone of the technological visionary – “Knowledge production will be a dominant trend in the decades ahead, fuelled by greater access to participatory networks in which a more diverse range of literacy texts and practices will be used in the construction/recontextualisation of knowledge.”

However, given that it is a report for Futurelab which is usually pretty media-savvy (its Chairman is David Puttnam, celebrated film producer and also Chancellor of the OU, and its cause has been championed in parliament by no less a rhetoricist than Susan Greenfield) most of the discussion is actually quite cautious, erring on the “it is not possible at this moment in time to make firm declarations about literacy in the period 2025-2050” side, rather than the “how curriculum and pedagogy need to be transformed” one.

Apart from the fact that it is a pretty good review of 'new literacy' issues seen from the multiliteracies perspective, what is of particular interest to me is the fact that it is school-based.

They are talking about ‘dissolving boundaries’ between formal and informal learning and between real/virtual and online/offline spaces, and about literacy practices across space and time leading to transformations of texts and practices and ‘challenges to current boundaries between semiotic domains’ just as we in the HE sector are. What occurs to me is that if these major changes to the communication landscape are shaping primary & secondary curricula, what is left for universities to do, in terms of new literacies? How are blurred semiotic domains at HE level different from those that schools are dealing with?
Carrington & Marsh make the customary nod to the critical dimension of literacy and the way texts are imbued with ideologies, but it seems to me that it is chiefly the operational and the cultural (mainly participatory) aspects of communicating with new technologies that the transformed school curriculum is expected to feature. So perhaps this is where literacy in the digital university might find its particular mission – in developing and championing critique and the continuing role of objectivity in the evaluation of knowledge that is produced in participatory networks?

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