Friday, 6 November 2009

'Literacies and Technologies' or 'Why I think we need to keep talking'

I have been thinking about the question Mary H raised about why literacies people should want to talk to technologies people. From a personal perspective, my own interest in literacies comes from a deeply held belief in the central nature of language in learning, particularly in HE contexts, where to be a successful student means engaging effectively in a range of highly nuanced literacy practices across different contexts. The social and contextual nature of language in use is fundamental to understanding literacy as a social practice. So why am I interested in technologies? In short, because any exploration of academic literacies always involves, at some level, an understanding of and possibly more detailed exploration of technologies. It’s probably true that we’ve never been able to understand literacies without looking at technologies e.g. pens, pencils, paper, blackboards, and indeed literacy theorists such as Brian Street and David Barton have, historically, paid attention to these. I’m not sure they named them as ‘technologies’ though and in addition older technologies often became ‘black-boxed’, so familiar to us that we didn’t even notice them as technologies at all. However, this doesn’t pertain to the present situation for two reasons. First, because a whole industry has grown up around the use of, let’s call it ICT in HE, driven at first largely by software companies looking for emerging markets. Second, because in tandem, new professional groups, broadly termed learning technologists are now involved in actively and visibly harnessing a range of technologies and applications for learning. You can no longer talk about learning in HE without paying attention to technologies. For people like me who are primarily interested in learning in institutional contexts, and take a literacies lens to do this, I cannot engage in literacies and learning without paying attention to technologies and the implications of their use for practice.

The question I am asking myself now though is, I think, a more empirical and /or methodological one. How is my literacies approach similar or different from my colleagues who are also examining issues of learning and the Net Generation /Digital Natives? This has been brought very much to the fore for me having read two papers recently, where the authors invited my comments. One was from Laura Czerniewicz from the University of Cape Town and the other was from our own Chris Jones (IET/OU). Laura and her colleagues are drawing on Bernstein and the notion of boundaries in their research on students’ experiences of using ICT. Chris and his group draw on sociological concepts of structure and agency, Actor Network Theory and Activity Theory in reporting on their research. In our publications from the Digital Literacies in Higher Education Sylvia Jones and I draw primarily on the literacies framing but also Actor Network theory and multi-modal theory. What is really interesting for me though is that through these different lens there are remarkable similarities in terms of our findings, even if the ways in which we choose to articulate them through our own theoretical and methodological lens are on the surface rather different. The commonality between our findings lies in the fact that we all highlight the significance of the institution in framing and understanding students’ practices around the use of technologies in learning contexts. As a literacies person I admit to feeling a bit troubled by this because I want to hold on to the literacies perspective and everything it buys me ideologically and epistemologically. I don’t want to lose the focus on textual practice and what that can tell us about issues of meaning making and power and authority in learning contexts. On the other hand I value this coming together with technologists and the different perspectives they bring. I hope they feel the same!

No comments:

Post a Comment