Literacy and learning

This morning I have gone back to an article I wrote -seemingly before the dawn of time – well, before the dawn of the internet as we know it, and Web 2.0. I said that we need to examine literacy directly in relation to thinking, and as a tool for learning and the creation of meaning. In other words ‘meaning’ is an aspect of literacy. It is both context and content specific, and is with regard to something, some aspect of knowledge and experience.

To quote myself correctly this time:

Literacy has a specific cognitive dimension, and is a powerful enabling mechanism for thinking and learning. Through the skills of literacy, conscious and deliberate exploitations of text are possible, so facilitating a more abstract, reflexive stance towards information and the processing of meaning.

The problem is of course that since I wrote this much has changed and there are a plethora of ‘literacies’ that are discussed – sometimes in isolation from what I think of as the core concepts of literacy. This is to the detriment of the essential and fundamental purpose of literacy – creating, developing, understanding and sharing meaning!

I really liked the thoughts expressed by Ulises A. Mejias (discussed by Will Richardson and James Farmer) on Social Literacies.

The word literacy is used loosely these days to define all sorts of competences (viz. visual literacy, musical literacy, computer literacy, and so on). Here, I am using Kress’ more exact definition: literacy as the “term which refers to (the knowledge of) the use of the resource of writing” (2003, p. 24). This definition makes it possible to separate literacy from other resources (such as speech), as well as other ‘metaphorical extensions’ of the concept (such as musical literacy, cultural literacy, etc.).

He discusses wiki which make social literacy apparent by allowing us to witness the evolution of text in time, an evolution that reflects the decisions not of a single individual, but of a community.

Thank you! The powers unleased through the invention of printing have enabled thinking… by sharing. For me the fact that we can do this sharing simultaneously and online is not so revolutionary as evolutionary – particularly if we remember that our Web 2.0 literacy is “as the continuation of the struggle that began when Guttenberg released free speech first in our tradition”.

So I don’t totally agree that Wikis engender a new form of literacy: a social literacy. New framework? Yes. But what we are seeing is the actualisation of the full possibility of our literacy potential which began with Guttenberg and which was essentially about social communication as well as information dissemination. Having said that, the social literacy of Web 2.0 tools IS creating a renaissance in our time that will be reflected in creative changes as dramatic as the original Renaissance.

Anyway, to top it all off, I have to express my thanks to Stephen Downes for his post Things you really need to learn. While I’m rambling about literacy and the way it underpins everything! Stephen has given us yet another throught-provoking read that digs into learning.

He switches us over to consider in a deep way what literacy is about: description, arguement, explanation and definition. Yes, these emerge from core literacy and can translate to any context or environment we choose – and as you develop your literacy you are in fact doing what Stephen describes as creating ‘patterns of connectivity’ in your brain ………and enhancing what I understand as the capacity for cognition and metacognition.

This capacity for cognition and metacognition is for me the purpose and value of literacy acquisition, development, and extension in old and new contexts.

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