Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Summary of seminar themes - towards a research agenda for Literacy in the Digital University (long post!)

This is a summary of the 'keynote' talks, discussants' comments, feedback forms, and subsequent discussion on this blog, from the three LIDU seminars to date. I'm offering it as a basis on which we might start to discuss a future research agenda, in advance of the last seminar in Lancaster on April 8 at which we hope to make some concrete plans.

There is much missing from this summary, inevitably. Particularly from the discussions that went on in the parallel sessions. Most of these sessions are recorded on the LIDU website but not always very audibly. If anyone remembers points made or questions raised in these discussions, that should be included in this summary please post a comment here to that effect.

Similarly if any of the authors of the talks summarised below want to amend or correct any of my interpretations -- be my guest ... (and any innaccuracies are likely to be Dragon's!)

Seminar one (Edinburgh) October 16 2009:

Academic Literacies in the Digital University (Mary L & Robin)
Technologies have the potential to disrupt some of the conventional literacy practices of the Academy, but these continue to be dominated by a a traditional model of academic written discourse. In order to understand the nature of emerging practices of scholarship, we need to compare texts produced under different conditions and for different purposes.

Uncanny Digital Literacies (Sian)
Online communication destabilises classrooms, producing disorienting and disquieting effects on the participants by loosening the connection between the bodily and the digital self. A pedagogy which 'revel[s] in the ontological mixups and volatile literacy orientations' of networked digital media, raises problematic issues relating to the agency of individual students, questions of assessment, and the ethics of deliberately embracing chaos.

Discussant (Chris Jones)
...unease with terms like 'literacy' and 'text' ... what are we talking about? Also, digital and networked are not the same thing -  literacy has to do with people's capacity to deal with technologies - digital technologies have a capacity to 'act back' - also network effects... composite forms.. where is the self? - persons and institutions becoming fragmented through technologies

Discussant (Gunther Kress):  
This has been a discussion from one particular cultural viewpoint (Anglo/American). How do other cultures discuss these issues? What kinds of ideologies are driving the 'top-down' (i.e: sociocultural) approach to these questions? Should we name it as the 'university of digital age' or the 'university of the neo-liberal capitalist age'?  ...Too much freight on the term 'literacy' - losing its usefulness as a tool to prize open the questions we are interested in? ... Prefer the term 'knowledge practices'. ...Pedagogy means social relations in the classroom - related to rhetoric - but what sort of rhetoric can you have when you don't know the audience? We can't always transport existing ideas to a new site. ... The issue of pace - the pace of technical change is not the pace of institutional change (although institutions feel obliged to try and mirror it) - also not the pace of human evolutionary change. How do we adapt ourselves to pace - should we attempt to simply describe passing phenomena, rather than trying to analyse them in depth? 


Subsequent discussion in this blog:

LIT meets TEL (Robin)
... challenging the association of literacy with individual competence -- not much of the discussion drew on a theoretical perspective on literacy -- the term gets used as a descriptor of technical practices -- LIT people need to shift TEL people away from this view of the concept -- we need to talk about 'relations' that shape meaning-making: power, identity etc.

... literacy already comprehensively theorised within a very particular domain -- prefer to talk about 'knowledge practices' in particular situations -- technology is only 'the point' as long as you are an outsider to technical practices -- to insiders the online and the 'real' exist in parallel -- the technology only becomes visible when it doesn't work. We need to surface and explore and negotiate social practices around technologies.

Thoughts from the first seminar (Mary H)
...we need to take up the challenge to think about multimodality and how it operates within the academy -- literacy studies people need to better understand how reading and writing are changing, not just in terms of practices but also academic and scholarly values -- technologies people need to better understand the expectations practices and associated identities that staff and students bring to new technological practices in the academy -- research techniques of microanalysis of practices and events from literacy studies should be of use

More thoughts: Some Ontological Issues (Mary H)
...How do new technologies change the nature and boundaries of what we have in the past called “the text” -- Do we need some new language terms to describe what we are doing in a virtual worl? -- are approaches from Science and Technology Studies, including Actor Network Theory, helpful in bridging our understandings of literacy and digital worlds? -- it would be good to look across different genres and see how they are expressed as the same or different in print and digital environments


If Literacy is social practice why do we need to talk about Texts? (Robin)
...how much we don't know about 'Net' communities, as opposed to 'Academy' ones, and how much we don't know about the potential impact of 'Net' cultures of knowledge on the historical mission of universities to educate in a broad, critical and ideologically-aware sense -- practices in the university are uniquely defined in terms of texts -- [but] as practice-oriented communication becomes more mutimodal and time-shifted and otherwise dispersed won't the notion of text as a defining characteristic of university practice become less and less relevant?

'Literacies and Technologies' or 'Why I think we need to keep talking' (Mary L)
...The commonality between our findings [research drawing on Bernstein/notion of boundaries, structure and agency/actor network theory/activity theory, academic literacies/multi-modal theory] is 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.

Sian Bayne's uncanny talk at the Edinburgh seminar (Robin)
...issues are raised here about the kinds of social action that a lifestream and its re-making of identities might take part in -- 'virtual ethnographies' of Internet communities ... are the scholarly and informal blended together here?
Comment (Sian): I'm not really trying to construct the online as simply 'spooky' ...I'm really looking for a way almost of formalising - or at least theorising - models of course design which engage with uncanny principles [time, presence and embodiment]

Seminar two (Glasgow) March 31 2010

Beyond competence: Digital literacies as knowledge practices, and implications for learner development (Helen, Allison, Lou)
...Efforts are being made to support learners' ICT skills ... are rarely integrated with the development of other capabilities critical to higher learning -- we aim to investigate how learners are developing literacies for learning and meeting their learning goals at a time when valued knowledge is predominantly communicated in digital form -- how are digital tools changing the nature of knowledge practice in specific disciplines and professions? Our core values and epistemologies changing or being expressed in new ways? How are these changes explored with learners, and how are staff committed to such exploration being rewarded by the Academy?

Crossing boundaries: literacy practices in formal and informal contexts in FE and HE (Mary H, David, Candice)
Literacy practices of staff and students as part of a bigger institutional shaping in the changing post-school sector -- how the literacy practices of academic staff are adapting to major change in the culture and infrastructure of the university sector -- 'sense of identity' as an overarching aspect in the configuration of literacy practices in the different domains of people's lives -- -- technologies as acting to dissolve boundaries of time and space ... sometimes welcomed sometimes resisted by users -- practices in informal contexts do not migrate in any simple way into educational settings even when technology is in place to facilitate this -- literacy studies approach needed to untangle elements of social practice 'boundaries' that differentiate home life from work.

Discussant (Alison MacKenzie)
...Boundaries between Information Literacy and other literacies are breaking down, but professional boundaries within the institution haven't adapted - focus on development rather than deficit needed...

Discussant (Caroline Haythornthwaite)
...What makes people have a 'good collaboration'?  Socio-technical systems as a way of understanding situated knowledge practices - changes in what is acceptable as an academic 'product' - what do we need to teach about how to be participatory ('group literate') citizens? Who is the audience (student, teacher, employer, university admin?) - haven't brought up the issue of the content of technology-enhanced learning.. bio-sciences...computational visualisations... data mining ... literacy around understanding of representations...

Subsequent discussion in this blog:

The Glasgow plenary - a microcosm of the question? (Robin)
'Digital literacy' is beginning to lose its meaning, as applied to an increasingly broad range of learner capabilities and activities and institutional competences and practices -- but literacy has a precise meaning for the Lancaster product (characterised by a framework of attributes such as audience, purpose, mode, technology etc) and a precise application for the GCU project (aligned with actions for developing lifelong learners: authentic tasks and contexts, community practices of meaning making, knowledge practices as resources for learning etc) -- one a disciplinary, the other a practice perspective on literacy - a conversation between people who think they know how practices 'work' and people who think they know what practices are 'needed'...


From the feedback forms for seminars one and two:

1. Focus at institutional and workplace level:

How can an awareness of digital literacies, particularly issues of power, subversion etc., engage with much narrower, technicist, university agendas?

How do universities respond, in terms of assessment frameworks, regulations etc., to new text types and literacy practices?

Research into ‘authentic’ workplace practices, i.e: looking at literacies in real workplace compared to courses preparing for those workplaces.

2. Focus on academics & practitioners in higher and further education:

What kinds of digital environment do practitioners create and use? How do particular toolsets influence or reflect work practices, attitudes and beliefs?

Should digital literacies be the aim of professional development courses (e.g. PG certs) for new academic staff?

What is it to be a digital scholar? What makes a ‘successful’ ‘academic’ blog, for example? Will a blog ever have the same status as a paper in a reviewed journal?

3. Focus on learners and learning:

Production, assessment and practices in collaborative learning – how to consider e-discussions, collaborative writing projects (wikis), in educational contexts, or certification of what is learned/produced by whom?

Exploring notion of audience with literacy and technology. E.g: the public multiple audiences for students’ work implied by an ‘exhibition’ as opposed to essay or logbook.

Understanding the balance between context-specific & cross-context literacy development.

Assessment frameworks for digital assignments in HE, notions of the ‘essay’, and what counts as ‘criticality’ in digital writing?

‘Ownership’ of the goals of learning and assessment criteria.

Visuality and the assessment of multimodal texts.

4. General research issues:

Socio-technical practices – what are they, how are they learned, what group, and group-use-of-technology practices need to be learned for collaborative, participatory practices?

Further deconstructing the ‘digital native’.


Seminar three (Open University) October 14/15 2010 

we need empirical examinations of the extent to which different people embrace various affordances of digital media -- who is participating, who is not ... implications for the democratising potential of new tools and services -- in US colleges, privileged, male, white and Asian American students know more about the Internet, are more confident and take part in more participatory activities...

...Exploring the insights of critical post-humanism as a way of thinking through the new literacy modes -- rethinking educational purpose as 'a gathering of the human and nonhuman to establish matters of concern'-- rethinking literacy in terms of disaggregation, reaggregation and gathering - reflexively and explicitly engaging with fragmentation...

... challenges to the description and analysis of practices and associated texts and technologies which constitute data -- the need for a nuanced research framework for understanding meaning making in contexts of integrated textual and technological practice -- actor network theory as a perspective in which tools/applications and literacy practices are not distinguished...

... eliciting, capturing and problematising the student perspective on learning -- how the dynamic between personally and institutionally owned technologies is changing research and learning relationships -- an 'anthropology' of the student experience...

... textually-mediated online spaces and their users -- text-making practices of online participants -- 'ways in which people choose and transform resources for representing meanings in the form of texts for different purposes' -- turning the research site into the research tools -- need for a discourse-centred online ethnography examining texts across participants and within individual participants' practices...

...methodological issues of access, shifting texts, ethics of public online data, collaboration, digitally-based research tools -- specific discourses of learning within new vernacular writing practices -- domains of social activity online -- experience of changing technologies across the lifespan -- intergenerational and cross-cultural sponsors of learning -- material factors affecting learning and take-up of technologies for communication -- technology as a method for investigating literacy practices -- tboundaries between formal and informal literacy and learning

... Impact of digital communication on practices of scholarship in research and teaching in higher education -- disciplines, institutional missions, digital tools and applications, 'open' knowledge-sharing practices -- combining text/textual practices and socio-technical interaction frameworks to investigate functions of the academic university in the digital age

Discussant (Carey Jewitt)
The papers in this seminar have focused on: getting at hidden practices, uncovering, differentiation of users and practices, making visible forms of practice/the digital gaze, reality checks, debunking myths, invisible frameworks of sociotechnical designers -- current research fails to capture nuances of situated digital literacy moments/events/practices -- research methodologies need to be more flexible, to move beyond the snapshot, to make connections across existing binaries,to get at complexity and process, to reimagine time and space, to better understand both the search subjects and us as researchers

Subsequent discussion in this blog:

...the problem terms 'literacy' and 'technology' are being absorbed into shared notions of practice and learning in digital environments

...she is finding ways to mine the responses of hundreds of informants, and if these studies can be satisfactorily replicated in other countries and cultures (which she says they have) I would think this is a really valuable 'other' dimension to the qualitative description of the practices of situated individuals.

Her association of 'text' with 'writing' is part of her methodological approach - writing is also data for a linguist - but of course there are others who might use the term in a wider sense, to include other modalities too. Nevertheless, I for one am completely convinced that a 'literacies' approach to learning with technology is always going to have at least one eye on the written word, as it is so often the 'bottom line' where social action grounds out (especially in formal education and scholarly practice: assessments, evaluations, appraisals, arguments, evidence, reflection, etc.).

she picked up on, and re-emphasised, the necessity for us as researchers to be reflexive - to put ourselves into the literacies frame and interrogate our own practices, across media and across time. Research in this field is a boundary-crossing activity [as MaryH and David have demonstrated in their workshops].

From the feedback forms for seminar three:


implications (on the ground, in schools and unis) of digital capital and uneven distribution of digital skill?
what is the relationship between the systematic integration of skills into the curriculum, and the choices that students (and their teachers) make about their academic practices?
a clear conceptual map or model of what we have been discussing in these seminars?
explore the overlaps with research in the Information Literacies domain?
interaction between students online texts and traditional assessed texts -- innovative assignment types, e.g.: assessing Powerpoints, blogs, websites?
comparative international work -- can findings from qualitative studies inform instruments and measures for quantitative studies?
alignment of research methodologies?

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