Well… the course is well under way and there are already lively discussions starting off in the forums over at the course moodle. The discussion, i’m afraid, is closed, and rightly so i think for an introductory course in emerging tech. I personally like people to get a sense of what they are getting into (although from the posts many of the learners already do) before the decision of whether they want their thoughts and ideas to be in the permanent google record. I realize that this is a controversial position among the open Ed crowd (a crowd, if it were numbered, might include me) but while i ‘believe’ that openness is key for learning, I’m not yet willing to force everyone else into that belief. There is a very specific power in being an instructor, and I think part of the openness and transparency that we hope to acheive in education should include informed choice.
(All the information about what we’re teaching is available at the course wiki)
The first week of the course focuses on the idea of ‘literacies’ and, specifically, those literacies that come into play in the online world. The term ‘literacies’ is a controversial one and the readings from this week were meant to draw out some of those complex and controversial ideas and to get people thinking about what they know and what they think they need to know about ‘things online.’ This of course, prompted one student to immediately object to the idea that we could talk about literacies online as distinct from other kinds of literacies… (we can’t, I agree, but we need to set a context to start the discussion, i chose the word ‘online’ among a host of others because of the nice contrast with ‘offline’ that was fortunately picked up in some other posts… in retrospect ’emerging technologies’ might have been better)
The interesting thing that happened was that in response to several questions about ‘literacies’ people responded with posts about ‘skills’ using the words as synonyms. My own use of the word literacies (heavily influenced by the authors of the major reading for this week) goes past the ‘how to’ that I see as the major question with the word skill towards understanding and the ability to create meaning from a given situation or event. There is a sense in which there is an interplay of the words skill, knowledge, experience, culture, context and a bunch more in the word literacy and it’s not necessarily useful to ‘define’ it as such as it just tends to create ‘sides’ in an argument rather than forwarding a discussion of a word that will, necessarily, having slightly different meanings to all of us.
(for anyone who thinks it’s silly that I can’t define a word that I’m using… see Wittgenstein on Meaning)
Example – person 1 – Where is the police station. person 2 – over there.
I could read this conversation in Korean. I could (or could have), possibly, understood most of it had I heard it spoken…
I happen to be able to read, write and pronounce Korean Characters. My vocabulary, in Korean, however is limited to about 500 words so I miss most of what i’m reading unless I happen to be in a restaurant, at which point, I’m about 90% useful (which explains my post 25 year old horizontal growth). I currently have many of the skills required to interact in Korean but very few of the literacies. I have friends, also, who are native english speakers and are much more diligent than I am who have a vast Korean vocabulary but still miss much of the context of discussions for lack of the proper historical or cultural understanding of the language. An experience, for instance, that i had in reverse with my very advanced students who could not grasp what was going on in the simpsons… they lacked the required literacies to understand things like sarcasm and irony. Yes, in some cases it is simply a ‘knowledge’ gap but in others these are literacies that are tied to socio-economic and cultural contructs.
So… two people meet on the street and one enquires of the other where they might find the nearest police office. (an unlikely conversation in South Korea… but never mind) In the question there will be several indicators of class, status, education etc… Each area of South Korea has a specific dialect, and, purpotedly, a given personality that accompanies that dialect. Each South Korean verb (appearing at the end of the sentence) is finished with one of seven possible endings. (in reality 6, as one is reserved for speaking to the King… which they don’t have, but could, presumably (though I don’t know this for sure) be used as a joke) There is a great deal happening in the exchange of two sentences…
But there is more… one of the reasons that I suggested that the above conversation was unlikely, is that there is a certain resistance in South Korea to speak to other South Korean ‘strangers’ (this is not true of most foreigners). The reason for this, as it has been explained to me, is that without a clear idea of how old the other person is, or what their existing status is, it’s very difficult to find the correct, polite verb ending… and therefor to act ‘appropriately’. This doesn’t even begin to touch the different levels of volume, degree of hand gestures and other body language that make up a culture.
And, if that weren’t enough, in the 5 years I spent in South Korea i never saw a single street sign or number. They do exist, but they are only really used by the post office and pizza delivery folks… This means that in order to be able to follow the ‘over there’ description, they are going to need to have an idea of the landmarks that will be used and know ‘how landmarks are used’ by people there in order to be able to find the police station.
There is a great deal involved in using a language… some are skills, like knowing the sounds and knowing the characters… some are knowledge pieces… the combination of all these things and the ability to ‘make meaning’ from the encounter or, to be more irritating, the degree to which you were able to make meanign from the encounter… that where the literacies lie.
The first written piece that we covered this week concerned oral traditions as a form of literacy. It didn’t (as I’d hoped) spur much discussion seemingly because people found the conclusions of the article quite acceptable. What I find interesting about talking about oral traditions is how many people seem to feel like they have oral literacies. There is more, clearly, to the literacies around ‘oral traditions’ than simply being able to speak and to be able to hear someone else speak.
Back to emerging tech
When we look at the skills that are necessary for using emerging technology, search clauses, screen scanning, ‘multi’-tasking (more on the scare quotes here in a future post) many of which (though not all) could be acquired by repetitive effort. (no… i don’t mean this as a definition of skills) There is a great deal of information and knowledge that is needed to be able to be effective. If any of these skills are opened up and we look inside, we can find any number of literacies lurking.
If we unpack (or, if you’re feeling french, use the dreaded word ‘deconstruct’) any of our internet ‘skills’ or ‘literacies’ we will surely find any number of literacies hiding. Things related to socio-economic class (not to start this argument here, but any number of authors have written about access to the ‘dominant language’ changes the way that people see what you are doing) for instance. It might make for an interesting multilayered mind map… or even a massive literacy wiki that would allow for optional interpretations for each given skill/literacy.
We do need some way to talk about the things that are hidden in the things that we accept as ransparent.