Tuesday, 20 October 2009

LIT meets TEL

The LiDU seminars were funded in order to bring together people from different disciplinary orientations, specifically applied linguistics and educational technology, to consider the meaning of Literacy in educational contexts which are characterised by the use of digital technologies. In his contribution to the plenary session at the end of the Friday 16th seminar, Chris Jones asked people to identify themselves as 'literacy' or 'technology' - slightly more than half opted for literacy, with a number claiming both. Chris then went on to say that, for him, 'literacy' simply meant the capacity of people to engage in various social and cultural practices around texts and that his interest was in the broader questions around the use of technologies (such as 'network effects').

Needless to say, he was challenged on his association of literacy with individual competence - a number of people in the room had spent most of their academic careers trying to move the literacy and learning agenda beyond this. However, this 'commonsense' view of literacy as a kind of marker of educational achievement does seem to be deeply engrained, and I suppose, in retrospect, wasn't likely to be shifted in a single day, especially when the only actual discussion of the point had occurred very early, and rather cursorily, in the first presentation given by Mary Lea and myself. Thinking about the day now I realise that only ours, of the four formal presentations, drew on a theoretical perspective on literacy as a social phenomenon shaping the nature of practice in digital environments. The others simply utilised the term 'literacies' as a descriptor for different kinds of technical practices.

This is not a criticism of the other presentations. They all had their own theoretical orientations, and illuminating ones at that. But I mention it in order to highlight the challenge for the LITs when talking to the TELs (Technology-enhanced-learning-ites) during these seminars. To get beyond the assumption that everyone knows what literacy means and of course its important but why are talking about it when there are major questions about how people learn with technologies to be answered?

I don't think we (the LIT-ites) are going to get beyond this simply by constantly challenging the technology focus that IDA ("in a digital age") discussions always seem to have. Rather we need to make use of new and existing concepts that foreground the idea of the 'relations' that shape the networking, bookmarking, content-generating, mashing, tweeting, streaming, etc. and the impact that these practices have on the wider social and institutional contexts in which they occur. Relations like 'power' and concepts like 'identity' and 'meaning-making', which belong in literacy studies just as centrally as they do in social psychology, cultural studies, media and communication studies etc. I think that us LITS are going to have to be a lot more convincing about how we deploy them if we are to shift our TEL colleagues away from the idea that digital literacy is what you get the first time someone signs up to follow your tweets!

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