Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Digital conclusion

Just finished the next draft of a paper on virtual worlds. It's strange how the writing process moves you to previously unarticulated positions. Does it make sense? I'm posting a bit of my final paragraph here, in the hope that I get some reaction. Here goes, warts and all... If the digital literacy practices of virtual worlds offer anything distinctive to formal education these attitudes and dispositions may hold the key. Enthusiasts claim that virtual worlds can promote learning that emerges from what Graham (2008)calls the ‘playfully social’ in which learners can benefit from network effects (Gauntlett & Jackson, 2008), developing interest-driven collective intelligence in which knowledge is distributed and collaboratively produced (Gee, 2004). If this is indeed the case then they pose a fundamental challenge to traditional schooling. The current emphasis on standards, derived from measures of individual performance on a rather narrow range of literacy practices coupled with pervasive and powerful discourses of what constitutes literacy instruction, limits our capacity for innovation. Changes in teacher preparation, continuing professional development as well as wider educational reform may be needed. The real transformation may rest on how we can re-imagine meaningful interactions in which pupils and teachers have the wider access to the ideational and relational resources that new technology can enable.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Digital literacy

I’ve been wanting to return to the matter of defining digital literacy for some time now, but never quite seem to get the opportunity to write a whole piece. After several encounters this week it seems like a good idea to put some markers down. Look out, this could be an uncharacteristically lengthy post! Here goes. My basic standpoint that digital literacy is best described as digitally mediated written communication (literacy qua literacy) remains unchanged. Unchanged for the reasons I’ve put forward elsewhere and synthesized in this piece. It seems to me that there are two substantive criticisms of this position. The first is that digital communication has become such a densely textured multimodal affair that it is unrealistic, reductive or somehow artificial to regard the different modes as separately functioning entities. They make meaning in and because of their interaction. The second criticism flows from this first one and suggests that that a literacy purist’s definition of the digital reduces literacy to letter-acy or basic alphabetic decoding and is therefore old-school. My counterargument is that literacy has always described the production and consumption of written language in a way that includes everything from the simple, perhaps unattractive but nonetheless essential, act of decoding letters, right up through comprehension into the critical reading of literature, media texts and so on in the various and diverse contexts in which it occurs. The fact that many texts are complex multimodal constructions does not undo the fact that we read different semiotic systems differently in order to build our various holistic meanings (that point follows on from Kress). In other words digital literacy has its origins in print literacy but reaches out and beyond the confines of bookspace. And this, I think, is the point at which digital literacy gets interesting; the very point at which the written word starts to take on new appearances, to perform new functions, to interact with new media, to connect different ideational and relational resources, to mutate, hybridize and so on. When we apply this sort of view of digital literacy to education it gets even more interesting! We are forced to re-evaluate the curriculum (what is literacy and literacy learning, how does it develop, where should it be placed in an education of communication etc etc) and our pedagogy (who learns what from whom and what, as well as how and when). I suspect that these are thoughts that will get developed in later posts!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Facebook tentacles

Wethink - the Facebook tentacles are everywhere. Already enormously popular, the social newtorking site is aggressive and ambitious. Last week I met 3 other academics who are researching Facebook - more or less by chance, and there are many more. But according to this piece, Zuckerberg hasn't just been very successful, he's aiming for world domination, or at least web domination. The idea is to make the social graph an integral and ubiquitous element of life fundamental to the way we use and search the web. The stats are staggering. 4 billion pieces of information uploaded each month means there's a lot of digital literacy going on. But the article also points out that the 850 million photos and 8 million videos uploaded are hidden from Google search engines. Anyone wanting to access them must go through Facebook because the social network treats it all as its own data. So is there competion for our interest? You bet there is. And there's plenty of scope for critical analysis, too. Time for educators to get active!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Worlds apart

I was in Lancaster today, doing this. I enjoyed returning to the Barnsborough material, and it’s interesting how a second reading of the data reveals new issues. Given the discussion that followed, I also thought how there’s scope for a methodological paper, too. Perhaps that could be a collaborative endeavour (maybe Tetra would be interested?). Tomorrow I’m meeting some of the Future Lab people. Dr Joolz will join us, too. Thursday we’ll be in Second Life for a planning meeting. Another day, another world!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pessimism and new literacies

In the paper I'm currently writing I argue that the social control of pedagogic practice mitigates against significant innovation, and that new literacy practices tend to be pressed into the service of older ones. I'm reminded of Foucault’s (1997) description of schooling in which the use of space, disciplinary time and the regulation of activity institutionalise conventional approaches to literacy learning and teaching. The dominant discourses of schooled literacy that emphasise particular understandings of particular textual genres tend to inform the views of both teachers and students. Testing regimes, although very different from the examinations described by Foucault, still guarantee ‘the movement of knowledge from the teacher to the pupil’ (Foucault, 1997:187) and secure the identity of pupils in individual performances of ability, rather than in collaborative acts of problem-solving. In this sense learning through partcipation seems doomed to failure without a radical reshaping of the education system. A pessimistic view?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Virtually planning

Planning the future, again! This is a snap of our first virtual planning meeting for the ESRC Seminar Series "Children’s and Young People’s Digital Literacies in Virtual Online Spaces". The hardest thing was arranging the dates. And isn’t that always the hardest thing in RL, too? There’s no getting away from it. As Willis says "Surprisingly, though, the place where anything is possible bears a striking resemblance to the physical world where what is possible is determined by cultural, legal, temporal and physical constraints "(2007). Maybe I’m not so surprised, after all. Anyway it was good to make some progress. We now need to find a good tag for the series, so we can do the Twitter, Flick mash-up thing; and I need to get back to writing about virtual worlds.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Planning, again

All planning involves imagining the future. In education that often means imagining the setting, the texts and resources, as well as the teachers and learners. But our imaginings are always coloured by previous experiences and constrained by different discourses. Often these discourses are enshrined in official documentation, and are themselves a reification of a past order. And so the past gradually begins to infect the imagined future, right up until the point at which the present is produced. So perhaps innovation rests in the strength and originality of our imaginings of the future and our ability to resist the gravitational pull of the past.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Planning and designing

As educators I think we invest considerable time and energy in planning for the learning experiences of our students. And planning is enshrined as a key professional skill in training programmes for teachers working at every stage of compulsory education. Design, particularly in the sense of curriculum design, is often the work of official bodies, examination boards, government agencies and so on. In this use of the word, design is associated with the aims and ambitions of a curriculum within the overarching project of education. So, for example, design has been described as ‘...an active, willed, human process in which we make and remake the conditions of our existence...’ (Cope& Kalantzis, 2000:203). And yet we still talk about designing games, designing activities, and designing environments, perhaps because the concept captures the sense of creative possibility that has been drained out of the act of planning by the discourses of learning objectives, learning outcomes and lists of skills and competences. So let's all get back to design!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Pop tarts and book sluts

Should I be offended? A friend calls me a pop tart, perhaps because I’m always talking about popular culture, or maybe it's because my ready-made ideas just pop-up like a rather unsatisfying breakfast snack, all taste and no nutritional value. I don’t know. And then in an attempt to navigate the uncertainties of another language I come across the word "book slut" in Sweden (which actually means book end), but since I always want to impose my own meanings on words, the two terms seemed like a handy way to categorise my friends. They’re either pop tarts or book sluts. It all goes to show that too much Bakhtin is a dangerous thing, in the wrong hands. After all a word becomes one’s own when "the speaker populates it with his [sic] own semantic and expressive intention." (1981:293). So there I go again, like a real book slut!

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Techno logic

I think I’m generally optimistic about the potential of Web 2.0. The book Web 2.0 for Schools : Learning and Social Participation, written with partner in crime Dr Joolz must communicate that optimism. It’s the sort of optimism I respond to in Leadbetter’s book We Think. But then his is a romantic view of Web 2.0, a view that seems to ignore issues of power, social division, and ownership. It’s all very communitarian, which is no bad thing of course, except for the fact that it’s a naive position to adopt. Bolter and Grusin (Remediation) is a more thought-provoking piece. They argue that "many cyberenthusiasts assert that the web and computer applications are creating a digital culture that will revolutionize commerce, education, and social relationships. Thus, broadcast television is associated with the older order of hierarchical control, while interactive media move the locus of control to the individual. That digital media can reform and even save society reminds us of the promise that has been made for technologies throughout much of the twentieth century..." (2000:60) and in so doing they provide a counterpoint to Leadbetter. I’m also rather taken with their description of networks of remediation and how new media must enter into relationships of respect and rivalry with other media. It is interesting then to trace how texts cross between media. Tweeting Blip.fm DJ onthetop playing Daft Punk’s Technologic could illustrate this. The link from Twitter connects to a YouTube video, one of several recontextualisations of the orginal sound track. This sort of hypertextual recombination has the capacity to make new meanings whilst at the same time challenging the haeccity of the text.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

More immediate

I’ve been thinking more about the immediacy effect after blogging about it here. In that post I was thinking about the illusion of the synchronous evoked by microblogging (Twitter) and that sense of the nearly now. But I’m now realizing that immediacy is a far more subtle concept than I first thought. For something to be immediate it has to be instantly available at this point in time and in this particular place. On demand and just in time are fashionable ways of saying the same thing. But looking at Bolter and Grusin’s book "Remediation" you also get the sense that the immediate is similar to the un-mediated, or at least the tendency towards it - a sort of invisible or immersive media or what you might call the nearly real. Virtual reality, live broadcasts, reality TV, and YouTube all move in this direction in their attempt to produce, or reproduce the authentic.