Syntax as a Critical Literacy

Week 4 Syntax: in the Critical Literacies course

The ability to recognize and use forms, grammars, patterns and other structural properties of communication. This would include information literacy and ontology of information

An interesting presentation on this by Jen Hughes and Graham Attwell, which Graham makes a blog post about.  Also a very creative presentation – but the content was difficult for someone not familiar with the intricacies of linguistics and I was wanting a discussion about why a week of this Critical Literacies course has been devoted to syntax.

I have just noted Rita’s post to the course blog which is helpful in putting it all in context – as is Stephen’s presentation which was sent to me by Matthias Melcher when I mentioned to him that I had lost my way and was having difficulty in understanding why the course has been structured into these weeks.

For me it would help to focus less on the what (i.e. that syntax is a critical literacy) and more on the why. Why is syntax particularly relevant for us as learners in the 21st century? It really does not help to be absent in the middle of a course!

Optional Readings/References:

http://www.shirky.com/writings/ontology_overrated.html Shirky on ontology

http://www.adammathes.com/academic/computer-mediated-communication/folksonomies.html folksonomies

http://youtube.com/watch?v=BBwepkVurCI Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe – Reality TV Editing

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2008/09/future-of-search.html google blog talking about searching

http://www.slideshare.net/librarianinblack/information-overload-is-the-devil?src=embed Information Overload is the Devil – by a librarian

http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/publications/whitepapers/presidential.cfm USA Presidential Committee on Information Literacy: Final Report

http://www.ofcom.org.uk/advice/media_literacy/ UK ofcom media literacy

http://www.medialit.org/reading_room/article540.html centre for media literacy

http://www.wikihow.com/Understand-and-Use-Basic-Statistics wikihow:statistics

Pragmatics as a Critical Literacy

Week 3 of the Critical Literacies course bears the title Pragmatics which is described in Moodle as follows:

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.

Having been away all week, I haven’t yet accessed any of the readings but list them below for my own future reference. However in this presentation by Stephen , I have interpreted what he says about pragmatics as a critical literacy as being the importance of understanding that the meaning of what you say is in the effect that you generate by saying it. Not sure if I have understood this correctly, but even if not, then this would have implications for networked communication. I will need to listen to the presentation again and come back to this.

Readings

10 best sites to sharpen critical thinking skills

Robin good New Media Literacy In Education: Learning Media Use While Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Thinking like a genius: critical thinking -creative problem solving

Optional Readings/References:

Wikipedia – “Pragmatics is a subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in which context contributes to meaning.”
http://en.wikipedia.Make a Donationorg/wiki/Pragmatics

What is Pragmatics – http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsPragmatics.htm
Pragmatics is the study of the aspects of meaning and language use that are dependent on the speaker, the addressee and other features of the context of utterance
http://www.sil.org/linguistics/GlossaryOfLinguisticTerms/WhatIsPragmatics.htm

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Pragmatics deals with utterances, by which we will mean specific events, the intentional acts of speakers at times and places, typically involving language.
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pragmatics/

http://www.missiontolearn.com/2009/09/sharpen-critical-thinking-skills/ 10 best sites to sharpen critical thinking skills

http://www.masternewmedia.org/learning_educational_technologies/media-literacy/new-media-literacy-critical-thinking-Howard-Rheingold-20071019.htm Robin Good New Media Literacy In Education: Learning Media Use While Developing Critical Thinking Skills

http://www.studygs.net/genius.htm thinking like a genius: critical thinking -creative problem solving

Here a more general paper by Shor on ‘critical literacies‘ that I used in the discussion forum to show the evolving meanings of the term in the literature.

Complexity and critical literacies

Is a critical literacy for networked learning to know something about Complexity Theory?

Dave Snowden was today’s speaker on the Critical Literacies open online course, talking about complexity. We had technical difficulties and had to move from ‘Open Meetings’ to ‘Elluminate’ (many thanks to Carmen) and when we finally got going it all seemed like a bit of a rush.  I’m not completely ignorant about complexity theory, but it was too fast for me and I will have to listen again to the recording when it finally gets posted (probably more than once), as there was a lot packed in there. We were also given this link which I have dipped into and looks as though it will be very useful.

http://learningtobeprofessional.pbworks.com/From-induction-to-abduction,-a-new-approach-to-research-and-productive-inquiry

My interest in complexity theory is related to what it has to say about teaching and learning – which comes back to critical literacies. My understanding is that a complex system is one in which you cannot predict what is going to happen and just that over-simplified one statement presents huge challenges for our education system (UK), which seems to want to prescribe and measure everything in sight. In an article that I read this afternoon, this question was asked about what complexity theory might mean for the philosophy of education:

Complexity theory poses a major question: What do the following mean for the philosophy of education: emergence and self-organization; connectedness; order without control; diversity and redundancy; unpredictability and non-linearity; co-evolution; communication and feedback; open, complex adaptive systems; and distributed control?

Any teacher will know the challenges that these ideas present,  just as anyone who took part in CCK08 might also recognise these as characteristics of a complex system.

I found this article (cited below) very helpful as an introduction to thinking about teaching and learning in terms of complexity theory.  Unfortunately it is not available online and I can’t post the pdf because of copyright restrictions, but it is likely to be in a University library if you have access to one.

Morrison, K. (2008). Educational Philosophy and the Challenge of Complexity Theory. Philosophy, 40(1).

So plenty to think about and plenty to come back to! Is complexity theory ever included in a teacher trainee’s degree course? It wasn’t in any of the courses that I was ever involved in, but it seems to me to be important in helping teachers to manage the inevitable uncertainty, unpredictability and emergent learning which is going to increasingly occur as students become more and more connected and networked.

Uncertainty and learning

This week the Critical Literacies course bears the title ‘Change’ and Stephen has made a great post about ‘Patterns of Change’. Whilst a lot of this was not new to me (down to having a science background), I was really impressed by the lucidity with which the information was presented.

I have had a good look at the Report capacity, change and performance article as it relates to some research that I am currently involved with and I sent the link about 50 ways to foster a culture of innovation to my eldest son who is an entrepreneur, although if you are an entrepreneur you probably don’t need to read articles like this.  And I have lightly skimmed this – Technology, complexity, economy, catastrophe – Article Globe and Mail . But I haven’t yet had time to check out the other readings.

I’m going to be very interested to hear what Dave Snowden has to say this week (assuming that I can hear the presentation – I wasn’t able to hear Grainne’s last week) – because it seems to me that the critical literacy that is being addressed this week is an ability to cope with uncertainty. I don’t know enough about this to comment about it any further at this stage.

Related to this is Heli’s post today in which I was struck by her comment:

The Basic Message is that learning and development is not linear, it has individual phases, it goes up and down or straight foreward.

I would add to this that it can also go sideways – and diverge into areas that teachers do not expect. In thinking about this I was reminded of a course I went on a very long time ago about teaching mathematics to young children. We were asked to carry out an action research project about how children progressed through the National Curriculum (UK) for mathematics – and what were our findings? Well that the National Curriculum expected children to follow a linear course through prescribed stages – but did they? No – they certainly did not. They jumped all over the place – forwards in jumps instead of a nice linear sequence, sideways and even backwards.

This would suggest that a good teacher needs to be able to cope with this unpredictability in students’  learning – this uncertainty as to how learners are going to learn.

Cognition

This is the subject of Week 1 (which has already whizzed by) of the Critical Literacies online open course. In the course materials on Moodle, cognition is described as:

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.
I am attending the course not only for the content on Critical Literacies, but also because I am interested in how open courses are designed and run. What is so intriguing is that the design of an open course cannot predict what participants will run with, what will grab their interest, what discussions will ensue, who will participate etc. So the quote above outlines what it was expected that we might discuss/engage with, but did we?

The discussion in Moodle about the evolving definition of  ‘expert’ generated quite a bit of interest.  Rita asked some great questions:
  • Who decides what information we can access, and how is it ordered.
  • Whose interests are served by providing particular information?
  • Does the (sub-)structure of the Web give us access to the ‘experts’, the most knowledgeable others, or to the people who are best at self-publicising?
  • Does it really matter? Or is it most important that people gain an awareness and understanding of these structures and the ability to assess sources of information?
  • Do people take for granted each word that is written down, or do they analyse what claims and conclusions people draw and if they are based on any substance or on thin air?
This aligns with ‘authority of knowledge’ from the quote above. The power of reflection and the stability of knowledge topics have only been touched on – unless it’s in someone’s blog post somewhere and I’ve missed it – but having this in the quote suggests that Critical Literacies include the ability to judge whether the author has the authority to talk/write about the subject, which is what Howard Rheingold highlights in his video. I haven’t quite got my head round why ‘stability of knowledge’ is linked to Critical Literacies. Are we supposed to be able to judge whether knowledge is stable or not?

So coming back to the ‘open course’ and participants ‘following their own lines of inquiry’ model, how am I to know whether the power of reflection and/or not knowing where ‘stability of knowledge’ fits with Critical Literacies is important or not.

We are already moving on to Week 2 Change – which is described as:
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.
As someone who does design online courses from time to time, it’s always very difficult to know how long to spend on each topic and to get the balance between breadth and depth – and of course, as always, you can’t suit all the people all the time!

So far, the course is well worth the time I am spending on it.

Where do you put your attention?

In thinking about why I am attending this Critical Literacies course, at a time when I should probably be focussing elsewhere, I realised that one reason is that I would like to know more about how to manage learning in an online networked environment. Sometimes, it hits me hard that I am seriously short of the necessary skills!

I mentioned this to a friend who suggested that I access this link – http://blip.tv/play/AYGSj3IC

This is a longish presentation by Howard Rheingold, who has a lot to say about 21st century literacies but principally about where you put your attention. I would agree that this is a critical literacy.

Also relevant to this is a post that George Siemens has made on his blog today. ‘Does the internet make you dumber/smarter?’ because I think it’s not just a question of ‘where you put your attention’, but ‘how you put your attention’ and I suppose that is what a lot of this course is about.

Wayfinding as a critical literacy

Heli’s first week reflections and Mike’s response to these have reminded me of the work of Darken & Sibert on wayfinding in virtual worlds, which I came across a few years ago when I was trying to learn more about why people might drop out of an online course.

This article is about what we might need to consider when designing large virtual environments in order to prevent people becoming disoriented and lost and suggests that navigation tools such as maps, landmarks and trails are needed. It has occurred to me that wayfinding must also be a critical literacy. In addition to being able to select and use technology, we need to be able to navigate virtual environments.

In another article by Darken and Peterson that I have found today – is this model of navigation

Darken, R. P., & Peterson, B. (2001). Spatial Orientation, Wayfinding and Representation. p. 6, Training, 4083.

This seems to me to be very relevant to discussions about critical literacies for networked learning and I’m wondering whether those with well-developed spacial awareness are in a better position to critically navigate virtual environments.