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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Getting Anchored in My #CritLit 2010 MOOC


When I started the Critical Literacy 2010 course, I started late and was not exactly sure what the major focus of the course was. In my mind the dominant thought was that this was a course that was primarily concerned with Critical Thinking Skills. Reflecting back at the outset, the course details did outline that:
"Content for the course is being drawn from the presentation Pedagogical Foundations for Personal Learning This presentation provides a frame for an understanding of the critical literacies required in a networked learning environment. Briefly, the elements are as follows: i) Syntax, ii) Semantics, iii) Pragmatics, iv) Cognition, v) Context and vi) Change."
During the course, discussion has emerged around the topic of critical thinking and many of the participants have gone on to suggest practical critical literacies that learners in a networked learning environment need to develop. The six week course as it suggests in the course details does also indeed follow the course themes weekly and these provide a background to the practical critical literacies which are being discussed on the course. I am much more comfortable discussing the practical critical literacies as i previously have not looked at all deeply at the underpinning elements of communication and thinking that are the bedrock of this course. I have not been able to attend the online synchronous presentations and i have not looked at the recordings (included here) yet either:
Impetus to learn more about Philosophy and Communication

Whilst preparing this blog post it seemed that although i believe i have something to contribute to the course that my main focus should be to ensure that i have good (better) grounding in the main underpinning topics and themes. This was a deviation from my intention which was to peruse various blogs from the CritLit 2010 course, looking for further discussion of literacies that might be deemed critical (as in imperative). Instead inspired by Ruth Howard's Blog post Self as a locus of Learning I linked to the following article on the pros and cons of postmodernism. Ruth was directed to this resource by the industrious, forthcoming and very interesting blog postings of John Mak. John's recent postings relating to the topic of critical litercaies include:
Reading the article on the pros and cons of postmodernism.gave me the impetus to get a brief grounding in Philosophy - A subject that i have not previously explored in any great depth. What i discovered from Wikipedia was that "17th century philosophy in the Western world is generally regarded as being the start of modern philosophy,", generally known as the Age of Reason. I learnt that this era was followed in the 18th Century by the Age of Enlightenment. The Age of Enlightment preceded the 19th Century Modernism philosophy, before the 20th century philosophy of Postmodernism came to the foreground.

Looking at the main themes of the course, communication is the nub of all the critical literacies being considered and therefore an appreciation of Linguistics, the study of natural language is a useful attribute. Important to note that linguistics can be divided between the study of language structure (grammar including syntax) and the study of meaning (semantics and pragmatics). Within the field, linguist is used to describe someone who either studies the field or uses linguistic methodologies to study groups of languages or particular languages. Outside the field, this term is commonly used to refer to people who speak many languages or have a great vocabulary. Wikipedia 2010.

A closely related field concerned with the general study of signs and symbols both in language and outside of it is Semiotics and whilst considering the topic of pragmatics in relation to a networked learner living in a multimedia environment it seems that communicative elements are going to be more than just the written or spoken word.

The Critical Literacy Pyramid

Since the last time i blogged i have perused a few more postings (not as many as i would have liked) and have been considering all the different Critical literacies that have been mooted. In trying to make some coherent sense of them i started to categorize them into top level literacies and categorized them accordingly. This needs thinking through a lot more,but in trying to catalogue them i have been considering a critical literacy pyramid model. Thus far i have captured the following mooted critical literacies and have categorized them thus:

  1. Basic Literacy - Reading and Writing
  2. Life Literacies
3. Computer Literacy (Digital Literacy - María Fernanda Arenas) – For example Completing an ECDL certificate could be evidence of this
4. Web Literacy - Navigating the Web including use of social media and appreciation of cultural, ethical, social and legal issues
5. Learning Literacy – Appreciation of how to use Web 2.0 tools and technologies in combination with various learning theories and strategies
  1. I observe data visualisation as an emergent critical literacy - Ruth Howard comment
  2. Information management mentioned as a critical literacy Network Student Youtube Video
  3. Self reflection, self-directed learning (with learning agenda, experimentation & practice), and relationship building (same as 2) John Mak
  4. Would that be the critical literacy that I also aspire to – concise, reflective expression and inquiry? . – John Mak
  5. Is a critical literacy for networked learning to know something about Complexity Theory? - Jenny Mackness
  6. Literacy of Memory –Steve Mackenzie
  7. Would another critical literacy be ASKING QUESTIONS? . John Mak
6. Teaching Literacy - Appreciation of how to use Web 2.0 tools and technologies to create and foster learning activities
What about Critical thinking? - see below

I intend to turn this into a diagram at some point. If you can imagine this as a pyramid with 1 at the bottom.I envisage perhaps a set of critical litercies that logically build on the preceding literacy. I apreciate that there colud be some overlapping/fuzzy areas especially maybe beween 5 and 6. Missing from the list is critical thinking which i'd have as an external force from level 4 onwards, (maybe earlier?). I need to think a lot more about it. This is my first stab, i am sure there are other top level literacies and many many more sub literacies ( or maybe not - maybe the list needs to be pruned or merged already). The main thing i wanted to do was to identify some top level literacies, so that all those literacies mentioned can much more easily be related to their purpose.
María Fernanda Arenas wrote a very interesting blog post relating pragmatics to digital literacy and along with Ruth set me off on this quest to know more about the underlying principles of communication and also increased my interest in trying to categorize critical literacies as i have never liked the term 'digital literacy' - it just conjures up images of zero's and one's to me.

What about Critical thinking?Again
Note that this blog post has drawn uncritically from Wikipedia for ease of reference. I generally find Wikipedia a reliable place to get initial descriptions, definitions and overviews from which i can delve into more deeply at a later date. I have found that i have used my blogging in this course more as a storage place for useful links for latter reference. By writing a blog post though i feel as though i have engaged much more with the material in trying to weave the links into a coherent written piece and i love the easy accessibility in retrieving this information (my learning) at a later date. Blogging is great for capturing the learning?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Critical Literacy – The Struggle Moves to a Different Arena – My Arena #CritLit2010

A snapshot of discussion around the term ‘Critical literacies’

The topic of what is actually meant by Critical Literacy has been raised in a number of places. Heli Nurmi an educationalist with many years experience has some great blog posts around the topic of critical literacy in this course and asks the questions “are we going to learn anything new, will we learn about new knowledge building, new media literacies (yes, but what?) or is it only technology which develops?” Heli’s three initial blog post give plenty of food for thought:

To guide others on the course Ulop O’Taat highlights the following text with this signposting - So Ken, if you and others are struggling with what is meant by critical literacies in this course, re-read the opening moodle page.

Critical, as the course is not just about finding out how to use the latest technologies for learning, but to look critically at the Web and its underlying structures. Literacies, as it is more about capabilities to be developed than about the acquisition of a set of skills”.

Ken Anderson in his post on Critical Literacy had previously highlighted his struggle to understand what is meant by Critical Literacies in the context of this course. He identifies two themes from the course information:

  • CL: literacies critical to functioning in a PLE. This definition suggests tool familiarity
  • CL: abilities related to critical thinking, reading, writing i.e. logic skills, syntax etc. as noted in the course outline

And makes an additional observation about the course

  • What I have really found interesting is Kop’s statement that the heart of the ‘course’ is about who controls access to information. Is this what this ‘course’ is primarily concerned with? Those that control the means of distribution (of information)… Will this be a course in Marxism?

My own sense-making of the term ‘Critical Literacies’ and my subsequent learning strategy

I more or less identified the same two strands as Ken, which i referred to in an earlier blog post. In trying to establish what is meant by critical literacies in the context of this course I focused on what I considered to be the two most relevant meanings of ‘critical’ that come to mind. These being:

  1. Critical as imperative. i.e. imperative literacies to have
  2. Critical as in being analysed and evaluated i.e. Literacies that analyse and evaluate

Additionally mindful of the stated aims/purposes of the course I also was aware that i need to consider the following element of criticality.

3. Critical as in looking at (analysing and evaluating) the Web and its underlying structures: i.e. sing traditional Critical thinking skills to analyse and evaluate the web and its underlying structures.

It seems to me that there is already a well established set of generally agreed critical thinking skills – therefore in relation to point 2 above I think the question to be pursued is “What technologies will best facilitate traditional critical thinking skills?”.

With regard to point 1, 'critical' as imperative seems to me to be the most important thing to focus on for the self directed learner in a networked personal learning environment and so far on this course the following critical literacies have been offered from the floor or have been found by me in text or video content that i have perused: My intention is to continue to trawl through the CritLit2010 opinions and offerings to add and then to refine the list:

  1. Management of Time, Workload and Prioritising –Jenny Mackness
  2. Relationship Building and Development – John Mak
  3. Wayfinding behaviors and Strategies in Large Virtual Environments - Jenny Mackness
  4. Literacy of Memory –Steve Mackenzie
  5. I observe data visualisation as an emergent critical literacy - Ruth Howard comment
  6. Information management mentioned as a critical literacy Network Student Youtube Video
  7. Emotional and Social Intelligence – John Mak
  8. Self reflection, self-directed learning (with learning agenda, experimentation & practice), and relationship building (same as 2) John Mak

So i plan to continue looking at themes of the week, but ultimately at the end of this course i hoped to have a clear idea of the emerging critical literacies (as in imperative) that a networked learner should develop. Maybe i should put this list in a wiki for all to add to – need to get this blog post finished and then have a rest first J

With regard to point 3 and issues of power and control, i shall leave that until another time.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Critical Literacy Course: An Online Distribued Learning Model adhering to a pedagogy of self directed learning using a PLE–Introducing #CritLit2010

Some Background

I became aware of connectivist, networked models of learning whilst completing my MA in the use of interactive and collaborative technology for Adult Distance Learners in 2008. I immediately appreciated the fantastic learning opportunities afforded by web 2.0 or social software and during this time I developed a model, of learning which I termed SCORE 2.0 (Synchronous Community Orientated Reflective and Experiential). A lot more research and development needs to be done but essentially i see this model as a combination of formal learning with the informal self directed connectivist model of learning. I look forward to revisiting and refining the SCORE 2.0 Model to compare with the Online Distributed Model of Learning that drives this course as i am keen to work connectivist learning into formal learning situations. Additionally whilst being a learner on CCK08, the first Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) I became aware of this much larger (Massive J), more open way of learning.

Why I enrolled

I enrolled on the course initially to learn more about critical thinking skills. The course also gives me a focus for learning, a motivation to put the hours to read and think more deeply than if i was just perusing the web for learning opportunities. Although the course is built around self directed learning there is a loose structure and more importantly a simultaneous group effort focused on the same themes at the same time (spread over a 6 week period).

What I found

After reading the course details further I found that the focus of the course whilst embracing critical thinking is primarily focused on the critical literacies that are needed to work with technology in a networked personal learning environment. Perfect – I get to:

  • · Think more about Critical Thinking Skills
  • · Think more about Critical Literacy Skills in relation to networked PLE’s
  • · Practically develop my PLE and Networking skills in this MOOC environment.
  • · Learn about Learning

First Thoughts

Firstly I needed to get organised – Do not want to miss any possible postings in this distributed environment. Prior to the course my own personal learning environment has revolved around using tweetdeck to monitor twitter activity. The easy setting up of search columns makes this a great application to monitor twitter activity. John Mak and Irmerli Aro and Michelle Drechsler have recently awoken me to the to the fantastic media rich and connectively sweet environment that is facebook. (I have never fancied using Facebook educationally in a formal class, but adopting it for use as part of your own personal learning network is a WIN WIN WIN situation).

So, for this course I Joined up to the Daily (aggregator of course news), but the best thing at the moment is using Google alerts – a quick and easy notification to my Google mail of anything related to the course using the hash tag #CritLit2010. Started to gather all #CritLit2010 feeds in Google reader, but have reverted back to just working from the alerts in Google Mail.

Found most useful to read the Course details page on the wiki to orientate myself to what this course was all about. The Blog posts of Jenny Mackness, John Mak and Heli Nurmi have initially kept me orientated. I feel; as though I am struggling to catch up, but we’ll see how we go. Mike Bogle’s Warcraft guild for CritLit2010 Blog post and his suggestion of using the gaming arena as a vehicle to facilitate learning seems good to me – I am a strong believer in synchronous online activity to strengthen bonds especially in conjunction with problem or task based learning. Unfortunately have not had time to engage much with other learners yet.

So what is Critical Literacy and what are we (me) to learn about

The Course Introductory page on Moodle states that:

Technology has brought changes to the way people learn and some “critical literacies” are becoming increasingly important. This course is about these critical literacies.

In the context of this course I expect to learn more about Critical Thinking Skills in general and Critical Literacy Skills in relation to networked PLE’s.

Critical Thinking Skills

John Mak posted a link to a useful presentation on the topic of Critical Thinking. The presentation initially asserts that Thinking is a purposeful, organised, cognitive process that we use to make sense of the world”.

The presentation goes onto explain that there are two types of thinking i)Creative Thinking - left side brain activities that generate new ideas and ii) Critical Thinking – right side brain activities involving for example analysing, evaluating, reasoning. There are a couple of definitions offered revolving around the themes such ash reflecting on the meaning of statements, examining the offered evidence, forming judgments around the facts – ultimately it is about checking facts, making assumptions, drawing conclusions, challenging assertions and exploring other points of view.

To quote from the presentation (Module 1: Introduction to Critical Thinking, Zaid Ali Alsagoff 2007)

Critical thinking is the general term given to a wide range of cognitive and intellectual skills needed to:

  • Effectively identify, analyse and evaluate arguments
  • Discover and overcome personal prejudices and biases.
  • Formulate and present convincing reasons in support of conclusions.
  • Make reasonable, intelligent decisions about what to believe and what to do.

Useful to consider from the presentation also these Critical thinking Standards:

  • · Clarity - e.g Can you give an example to illustrate your point?
  • · Accuracy - e.g Is the information source valid and accurate?
  • · Precision - e.g Could you be more specific?
  • · Relevance - e.g How is that connected to the question?
  • · Depth - e.g How are complexities addressed?
  • · Breadth - e.g Is here another way of looking at the question?
  • · Logic - e.g You have two contradicting statements - How do you square that :-)
  • · Fairness - e.g open minded, impartial, free of distorting biases and pre-conceptions.

Suggested Barriers to Critical Thinking Include:

  • · Egocentrism
  • · Sociocentrism
  • · Unwarranted assumptions
  • · Wishful thinking
  • · Relativistic thinking

Critical Literacy Skills (in relation to networked PLE’s)

To paraphrase the course designers this course is designed around the notion that to learn effectively in a PLE a certain set of skills and competencies are required. The course has in part been designed to test whether learners can in fact employ these skills to effectively self direct their own learning in a PLE OR whether and additional pedagogy is required prior to the use of a PLE. Note to self: Need to ascertain the role of the facilitators and whether more interventions on their part constitutes an additional pedagogy or whether teacher as facilitator is part of the pedagogy it just depend to what degree they scaffold and assist learning. The competencies identified are drawn from Stephen Downes presentation on the pedagogical foundations of learning. The Critical Literacies required are deemed to be:

  • Syntax – the ability to recognize and use forms, grammars, patterns and other structural properties of communication. This would include information literacy and ontology of information.
  • Semantics – the ability to connect communicative elements to underlying purposes, goals, objectives, theories or meaning, denotation, reference, truth and understanding. Including new ways of interpreting information and evaluating media, through aggregation and filtering for instance.
  • Pragmatics – the capacity to use communicative elements in actions, or to take actions using communication, to express, commit, interrogate, and engage in interactions. Including being active participants in the world and on the Web versus passive consumers.
  • Cognition – the capacity to infer, or detect faulty inferences, to use communicative elements in order to describe, argue, explain or define. Including the power of reflection, authority of knowledge, stability of knowledge, communication as conversation or as dialogue.
  • Context – the capacity to locate a communication in a wider environment, to understand the impact of this environment on semantics and pragmatics, and to assemble and understand sets of communications as expressive of frames, world views, or deontological constructs. Including issues of power, control, and ownership; motivational and affective issues.
  • Change – the capacity to reason dynamically, to detect and comprehend processes and flows, to understand the impact of progressions and differences, to reason employing dynamic events such as games and simulations.

The bullet pointed list above is an Extract from Critical Literacies Online Course Details and Learners in this type of course are expected to exercise the capacities described above.

Course Modus Operandi - Learner Expectations

Four types of activity are expected in this connectivist type course:

  • Aggregation (of content) e.g access Moodle for recommended readings, google alerts, RSS feeds
  • Remix e.g. Keep track of what you have read, maybe via a blog, social bookmarking, post in the moodle discussion boards
  • Repurpose e.g Put your own spin on the content you have aggregated, outline your own understandings
  • Feed Forward e.g. Share your repurposed work with others - Blog about it tweet about your blog or interesting links, share in a social bookmarking group.

Other points to Consider

Early discussions from course members identified the following critical literacies:
  • Management of Time, Workload and Prioritising –Jenny Mackness
  • Relationship Building and Development – John Mak
  • Wayfinding behaviors and Strategies in Large Virtual Environments
  • Literacy of Memory – Transliteracy
Other useful documents in relation to critical literacy competencies is Gráinne Conole's 'New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies' document

Final Thoughts

This initial blog post has allowed me to establish a base anchor from which to now consider the themes of the course. I have consolidated here the main competences and working practices initially expected by the course designers and have briefly started the process of collating others view on what critical literacies are important when learning in a networked environment. I can use this blog post as a reference checklist when analysing my own level of critical literacy. I shall also have a good read of this web article Critical Thinking Development: A Stage Theory to help me understand better the development process with regard to critical thinking. As we are well into week two - I'll need to crack on and move swiftly to consider readings and opinions of others on week 1 theme 'cognition' and wekk 2 theme 'change'.

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