Saturday, September 26, 2009

End-game literacies

Even in the face of a family bereavement old media insists on re-cycling what they think we want to read. Obituaries of my brother have not been too kind. The literacies of power are everywhere at such times, even in the documentation which is recorded and signed, and then signed again. I remember Roy Harris in 'Rethinking Writing' claiming that your signature is the only thing you can't forge - but that's indeed what I thought I was being accused of at the Registry of Births and Deaths in Barnstaple. 'What does that say?' I was asked. 'My name.' I replied in all honesty. 'But what?' came the reply. And so I had to slowly write my name on some scrap paper to try to recall what exactly that scrawl was supposed to represent! Anyway literacy aside, the photograph shows the two of us outside the Captain's Table a week before he died.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I've just been reading about active lurking - what a great concept! I must say it sits up there with Ron Carter's 'purposefully vague' and Jim Gee's 'pleasantly frustrating'. Active lurking can be used to describe that early stage when you just watch what's going down online - in a discussion, in social software or in a virtual world. You're watching and learning, rather like young children do, just before they join in. It reminds me of the idea of the silent period we used to refer to in second language acquisition. The idea being that you are actively learning the rules of the game, but not yet ready to participate. Of course, the frustrating part for the teacher or facilitator is working out whether the lurking is shirking - when that attentiveness has become passivity. Still, feel free to actively lurk in the blogosphere. I'll only know if you've moved on when you leave a comment!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What's new?

I suppose there will come a point at which the 'new' of new literacies and the 'new' of New Literacy Studies will no longer be so new, suffering the same fate as the 'modern' in modern art. But that time has yet to come. Colin and Michele's idea of new literacies has been very influential and has suceeded in capturing and labelling some of the significant ways in which literacy is changing. These are not only changes in the creation and distribution of texts, but also in the ways in which meanings form and mutate - and as they point out, this involves a changed mindset. But literacy, like language itself, is always in transition and to a large extent new literacies have evolved out of earlier practices, and new-er literacies inevitably come around. New literacies has, however, enabled us to talk about some of the important shifts that have taken place in the last ten years and has given a focus for what we encourage educators and policy-makers to take on board. On the other hand, New Literacy Studies, although it has often become entwined with new literacies emphasises instead a new approach to the study of literacy - an approach that recognises the plurality of literacy and the influence of power in patterning both macro forms (or practices) as well as micro processes (or events). I imagine that New Literacy Studies remains 'new' partly because - Brandt and Clinton, aside - an alternative approach has yet to emerge. In Web 2.0 for Schools, Julia and I draw on both these 'news' to develop something newer. Unfortunately, what we didn't have space to do was to evaluate these approaches in terms of their capacity to help in conceptaulising Web 2.0. As attention shifts to virtual worlds and social software, I have a feeling that this sort of evaluation may begin to emerge.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Seeing through machines

When Second Life works well, you're not really so aware that you're 'on the computer'. The machine itself becomes transparent and you're looking into the world or else feeling that you're immersed in it. If linguistic transparency is what enables us to be in the world of the text, then technological transparency does something similar - it simply mediates your communication. That's how Second Life becomes 'a place to meet'. Bolter and Grusin refer to virtuality as a 'medium whose purpose is to disappear' and they describe it in terms of the 'logic of transparent immediacy' (2000:23). Today all four of us had sound and for once the technology seemed transparent!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Paying for it

'Oh, machines!' cursed the woman at the pizza checkout. The machine, in this case the card-reader, is the object that comes into focus when it's broken. The technology is obstinate. But, for the rest of the time it's just an integral part of the everyday transaction of ordering lunch. It's embedded in the whole process. In fact, the card-reader involves a very basic kind of digital literacy. The customer punches in a pin number, keys 'enter' and then waits. The machine responds and, if all goes well, payment is accepted with the appearance of a message on the small screen. Behind the scenes, of course, the technology connects to processes in the banking infrastructure - but all this is hidden from view and rarely requires much attention. We take it for granted that the correct account is debited by the exact amount. This is new technology at work. I wonder if we can make any connections to other digital literacies or even those associated with technologies in the classroom? Maybe - for instance, the example shows us technology fully embedded in a purposeful social context. It is easy, almost transparent and provides a convenient alternative (in this case to cash payment). In the same way, the search, the message, the collaborative project done on a networked computer could be the same: an easy, almost transparent, convenient alternative to traditional literacies. But the example of the card-reader also illustrates different orientations in research - what Cathy is calling the researcher's gaze. We could perhaps focus our attention on the technology (the card-reader) itself, and get interested in the magic, the functionality, the thing-ness of the machine and how it substitutes for human endeavour. Alternatively, we could get interested in how the various actors - employees and customers interact with each other around the card-reader. We could see the card-reader as a kind of catalyst for interaction and transaction. Or alternatively, we could see the card-reader as an integral part of the social experience and, in turn, the whole lunch-time economy. This becomes closer to actual everyday experience, removes the 'wow factor' from technology and embeds it in the wider ecology of the context. Three perspectives or three gazes, and they're probably all important, just different ways of paying for it!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Virtual worlds symposium

Today was the virtual worlds symposium at BERA (Manchester University). It was good to be presenting alongside Andrew, Julia and Peter, and Jackie - although I don't think any of us had long enough. It was also a pleasure to have Helen Nixon as a discussant and she made some great summary points. I'll now have to retrieve whatever I wrote about transmedia skills, because I forgot to include it in my preseentation, and she picked up on that! I also liked the way she talked about our challenge to the transformational discourses sometimes attached to new media and digital literacies. So there's plenty to set things in motion for the new ESRC Seminar Series which promises so much. I'm not a great fan of BERA and I've often complained about the timing, but this year it felt like a good start.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Close Encounter

Well, I’ve just finished revising the Sci-Fi materials for Scholastic and by far the most eye-opening thing has been re-jigging the activities to fit the new Primary Strategy objectives for writing. With 12 strands to look at and as many as 5 objectives per strand in each year, it’s a fairly complex task. I also felt that some of the objectives needed re-wording or else are just too general to make sense. Then, of course, some of the objectives are broken down into 3 steps for learning. To make matters worse the QCA assessment focuses for writing complicate rather than simplify the endeavour, often referring to concepts that you might find in Grammar for Writing. This is of course exactly what we mean by schooled literacy (coined by Cook-Gumperz, 1986). It’s all very worthy, but at the end of the day it seems rather like an atomised description of skills that get orchestrated (a favourite Strategy word) to produce texts that conform. Progression is sequenced in a rather arbitrary way. One can’t help thinking of the whole exercise as one of control....over on Planet Foucault.