Monday, October 24, 2011

Digital Literacies 2.0 

As we embark on an exciting new JISC-funded project 'Digital Futures in Teacher Education', the old challenge of defining what we mean by digital literacy has raised its head once again. In Writing the Future, published in Literacy in 2007 I argued the case for digital literacy as a kind of writing - one that was largely dependent upon alphabetic representation. Although the argument conceded that what counts as writing has expanded with new technology, it was, in hindsight, quite a tradional view. In that paper I also acknowledged that writing is now commonly found in the company of other forms of representation - in other words one couldn't avoid what the multimodalists were saying! My motivation was to save digital literacy from the technologists and to claim it for the literacy experts, who in my opinion have a far more sophisticated understanding of meaning-making. I also wanted professional literacy educators to wake up, and face up to the changes brought through the emergence of digital communication. But in four years, quite a lot has happened. For a start practice in educational institutions has changed quite a bit (although perhaps rather unevenly), but also the digital literacies movement has taken on a life of its own. A significant aspect of that is widespread discussion about digital literacy in the university sector. I'm not sure whether all the interpretations that have subsequently become attached to digital literacy are helpful, but nevertheless I feel obliged to revisit my own ideas. There's something about these versions of digital literacy that don't quite work for me. Well, let's say that firstly I'm not happy with skills, and secondly I'm not happy with the recursive argument that digital literacy is about preparing people to praticipate in a digital society. But, on the other hand it's easy to complain - I haven't got my new version completely thought through yet! I can see, though, that it will have the following ingredients: a new mindset (after Lankshear&Knobel, 2011); choice and creativity (Willett, Robinson &Marsh, 2008); meaning-making and social participation (Davies&Merchant, 2009); interlinked or networked spaces (Burnett, 2011) and maybe even something about new kinds of writing/reading (Merchant, 2007). That's not enough yet, but probably enough to suggest a different sort of emphasis.

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