Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Literacy & Technology 'Onion'

There is a discussion about digital literacy going on in Cloudworks at the moment as part of an OU event.  I wanted to say something about definitions, using the diagram below, but couldn't immediately see how to embed the picture into a Cloudworks message, so I've posted it here instead (since worked out how to do it in Cworks too).

This diagram...

...is a simplistic view of the developing media context against which literacy education is set. 

...is an ‘onion’ because it represents the building up of layers of context one on top of the other (ie: one layer gradually becoming the next one, not being superceded by it).

...represents layers of media communication practice, each characterised by a governing principle (trying hard to avoid the p word) and each associated with a 'literacy' label.

So: ubiquitous print was one of the first forms of mass media, and reading & writing is at the heart of all 'literacy'...

Mass media communications, which came to include the internet, changed the relation between ‘reader’ and ‘writer’ and brought multimodality and criticality into education in the form of media literacy...
The information ‘explosion’ generated by the spread of internet technology and new knowledge practices (commercial, journalistic, educational, scientific, governmental etc.) brought the concepts and practices of information literacy into education
So far so good, but the layer of the onion that is currently growing (represented by Web 2 & 3, mobile communciation, ubiquitous computing etc etc) is hard to characterise at this early stage. Various suggestions for its governing principle have included:

Networked Individualism (eg: Wellman, see  http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol8/issue3/wellman.html);

Sociality (e.g. Boyd, see http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2007/03/16/web_123.html);

Connectivism (e.g. Downes, see http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html);

Digital publics (e.g. McNely, see http://www.digitalcultureandeducation.com/uncategorized/dce1023_mcnely_abstract_2010/).

We are all busy exploring these practices at the moment, and their relation to the comparatively well-understood principles of the print, mass media and information layers is not at all clear.

We might, for example, go with Engstrom's notion of mass 'object-centred sociality' (see http://www.zengestrom.com/blog/2005/04/why-some-social-network-services-work-and-others-dont-or-the-case-for-object-centered-sociality.html). Educating for a world characterised by social connections between people, centred on shared objects, will shape digital literacy practices rather differently from their information, media, and print literacy predecessors. See, for example, Howard Rheingold's musings on 'participatory pedagogy' and literacy (http://freesouls.cc/essays/03-howard-rheingold-participative-pedagogy-for-a-literacy-of-literacies.html).

So digital literacy might have to wait for a definition, until we can see what kind of practices we are educating for (and through).

The LLIDA project's digital literacies curriculum development framework maybe gives us a bit of a start, prompting us to ask where in the curriculum learners get the opportunity to:
  • participate in hybrid (digital/f2f, learning/professional/academic) networks
  • input to the design of their personal or group learning situation
  • develop awareness of audience, purpose, genres, means of production
  • develop awareness of digital rights and responsibilities
  • understand how digital practices produce new ethical issues
etc. All aspects of sociality on the expanding surface of the onion!

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