The Critical Literacies Divide

Living in the Kashmir Himalayas

It’s not good to take 10 days out of the middle of a course – especially if you travel to the other side of the world and enter what feels like ‘a different universe’. Or maybe it is good –  as a reality check – for keeping grounded.

This photo – which I took last week on a trekking holiday in the Kashmir Himalayas – shows a family in front of their home.  As I passed, the woman was washing her clothes in a mountain stream. She stopped and gathered her children around her for the photo. I doubt she even knows that the internet exists. There was no internet or mobile phone connection once I arrived in the Himalayas and these families were shepherds living in the accommodation shown in the photo. Their living conditions were harsh by our standards. There was no school for their children although an NGO was working in the area to try and provide a school/education for these children/families. But they were skilled at living in these harsh conditions, at tending their goats and sheep, at ‘reading’ the environment – definitely more skilled than me. They could control their animals, goats, sheep, horses with a whistle, cross a raging torrent of a river by running across a fallen tree, light a fire in pouring rain, produce an amazing cake without an oven, climb mountain slopes as if they were a stroll in the park. They did not ask for money. They did not want to ‘talk’. The only thing they asked us for was medicine. Without basic medical services, the potential of sickness (so possible in these harsh conditions) meant that they would not be able to tend their sheep and goats, or climb the mountains, or raise the minimum income they needed to survive. Critical literacies – if at all on the horizon of these people – would be reading and writing and they would be lucky to access even this.

Charalambos Vrasidas raised this issue in a Hotseat discussion prior to the Networked Learning conference 2010.

Would a critical literacy of our networked world be to remember this digital divide and to try and bridge it?

Academic credibility

In recent days,  and as a result of ongoing conversation, both on and offline, in the light of my experience at the Networked Learning Conference, I have been thinking a lot about the implications of openness for academic credibility and learning.  The ideas I am about to express are the result of a conversation that I have been having with a friend, so I cannot claim them as my own, but neither can I attribute them, as they arise from a private conversation.

Academic credibility seems to stem from a recognised research record in academia. I am not an academic and I am a new researcher so I am aware that I could easily be shot down for what I write in this post.  However, being an independent consultant also gives me a degree of freedom to speak that maybe people who are trying to maintain their credibility and self-esteem within an HE institution and maybe climb the career ladder do not have.

As far as I understand it, an HE institution relies on its researchers to provide its credibility as an academic institution of note and from people I have spoken to, some if not all academics are required to publish a certain number of papers a year in esteemed journals. A recent article I read (can’t remember where) pointed out that the pressure on new researchers is much greater than on established/recognised researchers who can rest on their laurels a bit and have lesser demands made of them by their institutions as to how many papers they produce.

In this age of open online publication – what does this mean for academics? When Sui Fai John Mak, Roy Williams and I were selecting a conference to submit our two papers to, we specifically chose the Networked Learning Conference because our papers would be published online. For us this was/is important as we felt that this decision adhered to the principles of openness that we had learned about on the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course.

Despite having written in the Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC paper about the difficulties of understanding the meaning of openness, it seems to me to be a principle worth signing up to. But what might be the difficulties for academics if their paper does not go through a peer reviewed journal?

In discussion with my friend/colleague I realise that a peer-reviewed journal does offer some protection for the integrity of an academic’s ideas and for accuracy of citing the author’s writing. So for example, it is difficult to accurately cite writing in blog posts and often blog posts are not considered to have the same worth as an article included in a peer-reviewed journal. The link may go down, or the writing may be inaccurately cited or attributed.

And then there is the question of what happens when the online writing/article is translated into another language without the author’s knowledge  – interpreted inaccurately by the translator – and cited from there. The potential for dilution and distortion of the original post is huge.

So what do those who are keen to follow the openness route do? Do they just shrug and accept that their ideas and in many cases considerable work will be open to corruption and distortion – or do they need to consider the protection that the academic establishment can ensure for their ideas, through the long, slow, tedious and narrow confines of peer reviewed journals ( my interpretation of the submission to journal process, which I have to admit is based on very limited experience, and which, being independent of an HE institution, I don’t need to worry about!).

Which is more important: – that we ensure that our ideas/thinking/research reaches as many people as possible as freely as possible, or safe-guarding the integrity of our research? Quite a dilemma, for which I do not have an answer.

Second NLC Presentation 2010

Here is the presentation for our second paper which we will present on Tuesday at the Networked Learning Conference in Aalborg.

Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC

I think we are all set to go now.

Networked Learning Conference 2010

Heli in her post about the Networked Learning Conference writes about being lazy  but I don’t think she compares with how lazy I have been with regard to writing to this blog. Actually, I don’t think it’s been laziness – it’s been an active resistance to blogging.

Mike Bogle in a recent blog post with the title Losing My Edge writes about struggling to find his voice and feeling alienated and removed from his networks. I can really sympathise with this. I think Debra Ferreday and Vivien Hodgson ‘hit the nail on the head’ with their paper ‘The Tyranny of Participation and Collaboration in Networked Learning’ Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Networked Learning.

However, two things have prompted this post.

1. Next week I will start tutoring again on an online course about Reflective Learning  – which has raised again for me the whole issue of the role of reflective journals (which equates to one style of blogging) in reflective learning . If I find it difficult myself to keep up with reflective writing, then what does this say to my students/course participants? That’s a practical issue, but there is also the deeper issue of how reflective learning, reflective practice and reflective writing relate to each other.

2. In just over a week’s time I will be presenting (with Roy Williams) two papers at the Networked Learning Conference 2010  in Denmark – The two papers we (Roy Williams, SuiFai John Mak and me) wrote following the CCK08 course were both accepted

Unfortunately John can’t make it from Australia for the conference, so I still haven’t met him, despite working with him all this time on the research (which we did via a wiki), but Roy will be there and maybe we will meet up with some CCK08 people. That would be great!

This will be the first conference I have ever presented at, so I’m hoping it will be OK. The whole process has been interesting and raised lots of questions for me about the way we go about research – but that’s another story – to save for another day!

Thanks to Heli for her prompt!


140 characters

This week I was in a meeting where a colleague said ‘If a post can’t be written in 140 characters it’s not worth writing’  or words to that effect. It might have been ‘not worth reading’. Shock horror! Where does this leave a slow, slow blogger, a person who always has to pause before thinking, a person who simply cannot say what she needs to say in 140 characters and so has not yet ‘twittered’ despite having an account, i.e. me!

Following the comment I did think carefully about the length of my emails. I do have experience of receiving hundreds of emails each week and of deleting emails beyond a screen view in length, because I simply don’t have the energy to answer them. I am now trying to keep a check on the length of my own emails. But only for people that I am not really connected to. If I feel really connected to someone, I really couldn’t care how long their email or post is, I just want to hear from them / ‘connect’ with them. Do they feel the same, I wonder? I think they do, if they have the time – and I can empathise with not having enough time.

140 characters might be enough for a short in-the-moment  information exchange – but I don’t think it’s for me. Not at the moment anyhow!

CCK08 Research Papers

We – Sui Fai John Mak, Roy Williams and I – have finally completed work on 2 research papers following our participation in CCK08.

  • Blogs and Forums as Communication and Learning Tools in a MOOC
  • The ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC

On November 13th we will submit these papers to the Networked Learning Conference Steering Committee and hope that they will accept them for their 2010 conference in Denmark. The last time I went to Denmark I was 22 years old, quite a few decades ago. It would be great to go again!

Although we have not yet submitted our papers, we have been in touch with a member of the Conference Steering Committee who has encouraged us to share our papers with CCK09 before we submit them for the conference. So we have posted them (having first asked George and Stephen if that would be OK) in a variety of places including:

CCK09 Moodle site in Week 4 and General Discussion forums

Nellie’s CCK09 Ning site

John’s CCK08 Ning site

Roy has also invited discussion in his Google Groups Research site and John has invited discussion on his blog.

There is already some discussion about the papers. We will welcome feedback and are ready to amend the papers if necessary before we submit them.  There is still so much to learn!

Blogs: Resonance and online relations

Lilia Efimova on her blog – – seems also to be asking questions about how and why some relationships can be formed, developed and sustained in  blogs. She asks the question: What exactly helps to establish and maintain personal relations via blogging? and suggests that one answer to this question might be in the frequency of communication and in the use of multi-channels of communication.

Some research that I’ve recently been involved in suggests that it’s a bit more than this – and that the strongest ties are formed between people who not only communicate frequently via different channels, but also are engaged in collaboration around a joint activity. My experience is that once this activity stops, then the ties weaken.

Lilia suggests that the relation between a pair of people includes three dimensions of connection: affinity, commitment and attention. I am intrigued at her point that affinity is achieved through activities of social bonding – touching, eating and drinking together. This has come at a time when I have increasingly noticed how many people on Facebook, in their blogs etc. tell us about their recent meal. But I wonder if this is a spill over from forum online socialisation activities (designed by tutors) which are often used to encourage participants to get to know each other through describing their favourite meal or retiring to the virtual cafe to socialise. It’s difficult to know whether this is really a characteristic of affinity or a norm of online socialisation.

Commitment is described by Lilia as being  manifested through the effort of reading others’ weblogs, repeated interaction and maintaining your own presence via weblogs and other channels. I see commitment as something a bit larger than this – I prefer the word ‘reciprocity’, which also takes commitment, but requires some ‘giving back’. I’m not sure though whether most bloggers would agree. My feeling is that blogging can often be a one-way form of communication – from blogger to ‘out there’.

What I’m interested in is how blog relationships might be different to relationships formed through other media – how and why these blogging connections are made, and whether bloggers have specific characteristics that enable them to make these relationships via their blogs.

Thanks to Lilia for her post.