Tag Archives: digital literacies

Timeline Outline View : HistoryofInformation.com

Source: Timeline Outline View : HistoryofInformation.com

This is an interesting resource to look at the history of social events, in particular I am looking at the history of the written tradition and the book and the concomitant writing skill in order to search for the intellectual impact it had in society and its culture. This with the intention to find similarities, at least in the process, with the intense and -in some sectors-ubiquitous use of the Web as the platform for almost every thing that has to do with writing, much of the reading and publishing, which is a relatively new possibility afforded by the Web.

Publishing our thoughts and ideas to a broader audience, the possibility to share, in a very easy way our process of thinking and generating ideas is, I think, one of the major shifts the Web has brought about to our society. The transition from the printing press to the ‘publishing Web’ at the tip of our fingers and the concomitant digital literacies required to use this features to its maximum potential, not always consuming the media but also thinking about creating and produce in it, are under scrutiny in my mind.

I am trying to make sense of this process. Not only am I looking at this online resource but also reading two relevant texts: Ong, W. (1982), Orality and Literacy and Haverlock, E. (1963), A Preface to Plato. Both are good sources of knowledge about the transition from the oral tradition to the written tradition, starting with the Greek Plato and his struggle with poetry and the writing tradition.

Haverlock in Preface to Plato wrote:

The oral state of mind was Plato’s main enemy

Ong adds to this that

Plato was thinking of writing as an external, alien technology, as many people today think of computers (…) Once the word in technologized, there is no effective way to criticize what technology had done without the aid of the highest technology available (…) the new technology brought the critique into existence. Plato’s philosophically analytical thought including his critique on writing, was possible only because of the effects that writing was beginning to have on mental processes

Looking more into the thinking process he argues,

(…) the writer-reader situation created by writing deeply affects unconscious processes involved in composing and writing , once one has learned the explicit conscious rules

He continuous his line of thought saying that although writing is an artificial creation, a technology that calls for tools: styli, brushes, prepared surfaces such as paper, animal skins, strips of wood and inks or paints, it is essential for the realisation of internal human potential.

Tools are not only external aids but also internal transformation of consciousness and more so when they affect the world.

The transformation some technologies bring about can be uplifting says Ong. He argues that writing heightens consciousness and that ‘artificial’ technologies, when properly internalised enhance humans ‘awareness’ thus, humans’ lives. I sustain that in order for tools to transform and enhance humans’ lives they need to be used in such a way that they become second nature (this is the maximum standard, there are different levels of mastery possible). In this process of mastering the tool skills are developed. The more internalised the skills become the better the tool operates hence the inner transformation, or in Ong’s words, the interior transformation of consciousness is more deep and intense.

This supports in part my argument that being digital literate is desirable in nowadays society and more so in the near future. These skills are aids to flourish in a society that is almost entirely mediated by digital technologies (take a look at this: Gov 2020). Digital skills are the equivalent of writing skills or literacy that Plato was rejecting but paradoxically he experienced its benefits in dramatic ways, leaving an intellectual legacy that still almost 2 millennia ago, when learned deeply can be transformative.

Digital literacies are the skills people, in this particular case, undergraduate students, need to develop in order to master different digital tools and the Web (as the overarching platform where most of the tools and resources live) in a way that allows them to take advantage of the benefits and opportunities this new digital ecosystem has to offer, in particular in academic setting . It will also enhance their digital capability so much in demand in the work place. Look at this interesting report from the Institute for the Future (USA) to get a grasp of what the future work skills will look like.

For young people operating in their personal and informal digital context, away from the university, seems natural. Using mainly ‘consuming’ tools, e.g. Google to find out almost everything or YouTube as the source for any informal hands on learning and BBC channel to find more about an area of interest. All of these platforms and tools seems to be handled easily without much of a struggle. Some preliminary and very early findings from the focus groups I conducted, students navigate documentary channels, shopping platforms, online banking, social apps like WhattsApp, describing with no complications the sets of functions that these technologies allow them to carry out: communicating with friends and family, listening to music, watching documentaries, reading online books, playing games, or watching video clips. All of these activities that are part of their personal life and where they have a visitor approach seems to occur smoothly and seamless, not to much effort nor struggle is attached to its use. They were even able to offer a quite coherent pictures of how all these platforms and tools fit together in their daily lives giving meaning to the many activities they carry out, having a very clear picture of the advantages those spaces bring to them, some of them included how these personal activities had an influence in their academic life. One student said:

I watch a lot of documentaries in the BBC and I think it is not only for my personal benefit because when I watch those documentaries I gain a broader vision, a wider perspective and then when I write my essays I have a stronger position, I have developed a point of view. I safe them so I can see them when I need to refresh my knowledge.

It seems to me this student is very clear about the benefits of this medium. She has found also a system -not very efficient she said-to safe the relevant resources in case she would need them later. This was not the case when they talked about tools they could use only for academic purposes, e.g., Mendeley, MindMeister, Evernote to cite some. Word and PowerPoint where not mentioned, they take them as the default tool to write and create presentations, the main means by which they are assessed. It would be similar if we ask students about the use of their hands for typing. I think the word processor functions as an extension of the hand and the mind while thinking and writing.

The use of these new tools, mainly web-based tools or applications, that can serve as an aid to work in a more effective and organised way seems not to be very common, even less popular, among undergraduate and at first sight it seems to me they generate more aversion than pleasure let alone curiosity.  Digital literacies in academic setting definitely needs more exploration. We need to find ways in which they can be foster and improved, particularly for the more vulnerable and disconnected ones, so students can benefit of a wide range of possibilities that are available only if we know how to operate in this new landscape.

To complement this idea, again the Institute for the Future has a report about the future learning landscape that can give us an idea of the future of learning

Bildung and its connection with the idea of flourishing in the post-digital era

This post is about my reflections in relation to why I think that being digital literate will help students to flourish in a post-digital era, moreover why I think that being literate, in particular, digital literate, is desirable and will lead to students’ progress (I will not cover this second part of my argument in much depth, but it is my first approach to justify these ideas more theoretically)

A note from the author: It is a difficult task for a non-native and relatively new English speaker as me, to tackle some of this complex ideas from this still foreign language. My thoughts are still bubbling in my head trying to find better words and better sentences and paragraphs that can make my argument intelligible to others. I get very frustrated when I read my finished work, not because my ideas are not clear to me but because I feel still the limitation of not being proficient in the language in order to make them clear to others. My excuses for the confusion and lack of precision in parts of my text, all of this is still a work in progress.

I will start with my Research question:

How and to what extent can the university support and encourage undergraduates to enable their engagement with digital technology and research skills to become digital research literate and flourish in the 21st century?

With some help of a more knowledgeable other 🙂 I refined the question:

How and to what extent can the university support, encourage and enable undergraduates to become digital research literate and flourish in a post-digital era?

I have a potential solution to this question (the idea of re-designing and implementing a personal learning environment (PLE) by students will demand the deployment of digital skills in a critical manner)--> Re-designing students' informal PLEs and use it as a workbench in the context of the dissertation module will improve students' digital literacies and at the same time will increase their digital capability. My hunch, guess, hypothesis is that the PLE is in itself a learning outcome and an aid to improve digital literacies in students.

What do I mean by flourishing and on what does this idea rely on?

Bildung is an old German word usually translated into English as ‘formation’, ‘education’, ‘cultivation’ and more recently by Richard Rorty as ‘edification’ (edification takes us out of ourselves by the power of strangeness, to aid us in becoming new beings).

The word comes from ‘bilden’, German for giving shape and it is related to the idea of giving shape to a certain object. In its origin, it had connections with the religious sphere, but  later, in the 18th century, it became an indication of a new anthropological model and a different outlook on the world. The origin of the word does not lie in the Enlightenment although it is a keyword used in the 18th century due to the protagonism of knowledge as the driving force to construct a better world. Bildung and the idea of self-cultivation through the acquisition of knowledge give voice to the new intellectual attitude of the men of the Enlightenment.

Wilhelm von Humboldt’s work at the end of the 18th century is a good example of such a tradition. He placed the idea of Bildung at the centre of his work, it was rooted in a dynamic idea of transforming the idea of the natural and human world while also being oriented toward a model of balance and perfection. It is about the self and the world. The world represented by the unity of nature, culture and society all exerting its power of influence. In this sense, bildung is seen as a reciprocal process of formation between the individual as a self and the world she/he meets actively rather than passively (Fossland, et al. 2015). It suggests self-education as a path to transformation, to strive and change in the process of meeting the world. In words of Humboldt, it is about uniting individual and culture in a rich mutual and complex interplay.

Paola Giacomoni puts it in beautiful words,

Being is Bildung for Humboldt, it is growth, it is transformation, it is never a given thing, a quality. The point is not to recognize and identify a state, a condition or a situation but rather to understand the continuous substitution of forms, the never ending metamorphosis, the unstoppable flow in which the human world may be adequately illustrated. (…) What moves the world and history moves man above all, pressing him to act and express himself as a primary need and with no other goal than the reproduction of his own movement and research: man as part of nature is impulse, energy, an irresistible longing to live in a multi-form way.

Being educated or ‘becoming’, how I see it, is a concept encompassing but subjective knowledge as Kierkegaard calls it; it includes a broad cultural orientation, the understanding of science and technology, and a cultivation of the fine arts. All of this shall bring transformation and, in words of Reindal (2012), thus foster responsibility.  In this sense being literate (the word comes from the Latin word litteratus: learned, cultured, educated) is a necessary condition for knowledge to become subjective, a necessary condition to be able to understand the world and act on it, or at least that part of the world that is available to us, and participate proactively in society, taking responsibility for our transformation thus, societies’ change.

Contextualising this idea of bildung in the academic world, Fossland et al. (2015) are of the idea that in higher education there is a particular form of bildung that is expected to happen in the student in formal and informal learning. They call it ‘academic bildung‘. The world students will meet is one of ideas, thoughts and practices. The authors argue that it is a normative concept, an idea with which I agree as it is loaded with values, it is linked with specific attitudes used in concrete situations. It is, therefore, a concept that describes a developmental process towards something better, a normative ideal in an educational setting. It is linked with critical thinking, society-oriented reflections, how Solberg and Hansen (2015) calls it, and autonomy. But it is also connected with self-development and existential reflections hence the development of the individual is not only concerned with knowledge but also with cultural sensibility linking the individual’s development with his/her wider potential through education. It seems to me that bildung and the development of greater potential are intrinsically related.

And it is precisely in the suggestion of developing more full potential where the idea of flourishing makes sense. The word flourish is derived from the Latin word florere, flourish, blossom, be prosperous. My idea is that developing the knowledge and digital skills that will enable students to interact critically with the world and the cultural reality they live in –a post-digital culture in this case- they are more able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a digital mediated and knowledge driven society but at the same time being critical enough to think and speak from within their perspective and not only from the drivers of the labour market and other more deterministic agendas.

The link between digital literacies and progress still needs more development…

References:

  • The idea of Bildung of the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Oslo
  • Bruford, W.H. The German Tradition of Self Cultivation. From Humboldt to Thomas Mann (I only accessed today the pages available online, there is much to read when the book arrives 🙂 )
  • Fossland, T., Mathiasen, H., and Solberg, M. (2015). Academic Bildung in Net-based Higher Education. Moving beyond learning.
  • Giacomoni, P. (1998). Paideia as Bildung in Germany in the Age of the Enlightenment. Paper given at the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, in Boston, Massachusetts  August 1998. Available here
  • LLanera, T.A. ((2011). Shattering Tradition: Rorty on Edification and Hermeneutics. Kritike, Vol.5 (1). pp. 108-116.
  • Reindal, S. (2013). Bildung, the Bologna Process, and Kierkegaard’s Concept of Subjective Thinking. Stud Philos Educ (2013) 32:533–549. Available from here