Category Archives: Digital Literacy

Eco and lists

Curating is making a list, but lists are significant.

The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order – not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. Eco on lists

I’m not talking about The Ten Best kind of lists, or their detractors. Or maybe I am, but I’m not emphasizing those occasional-lists here. Those lists that are aimed at narrowing, at reducing what is complex to a commodity chunk. I’m talking about the curated list, the list we make not to reduce to a finite and clever number but the list that we make to articulate the complexity. The list, the categorized list, organizes complexity without reducing it. Eco again:

Lovers are in the same position. They experience a deficiency of language, a lack of words to express their feelings. But do lovers ever stop trying to do so? They create lists: Your eyes are so beautiful, and so is your mouth, and your collarbone … One could go into great detail.

But listing is not just infinite expression and love. The culture part is indexing: how the list can be an index to the location of a tiny element of the thing.

Culture isn’t knowing when Napoleon died. Culture means knowing how I can find out in two minutes. Of course, nowadays I can find this kind of information on the Internet in no time. But, as I said, you never know with the Internet.

And while Google is The Master at aggregating the elements, it’s we Turks who gather and arrange and name the items to be indexed. That’s what makes even Google (even Google?) problematic. That’s where curation comes in. To feed Google so others can find out in two minutes.

Think of the list as a method of content curation, and as an index, or fetish.

Character and lists

Practice. Draw up a list of 40 items that characterize a friend or place.


Curating the Digital World: Past Preconceptions, Present Problems, Possible Futures

week 6: practice in #plenk2010

Revitalizing powers

The PLENK2010 readings this week point towards critical literacies and semiotics (skills as languages), and the challenge is that the facilitiators are providing less guidance by way of reading of how to connect the ideas to practices. That is left to us.

I say yay. Hooray. Huzzah.

Downes in LOLcats take 2 – about Learning in new media – illustrates the change in literacy on the net, and makes an argument for understanding skills as semiotic transactions in New media is a language. The Jenkins slides 34ff are the important ones here. The ground of PLE is stated in slide 41: when people construct artifacts they are constructing media with which to think < and old saw in comp/rhet. Slide 46 makes the link to critical literacies, when we ask, as good rhetoricians, about purposes, power, assumptions that inform and shape the communication. Objects communicate; they are semiotic artifacts, so these questions can be asked and answered by objects. How does the iPad serve the creators/sellers fundamental purpose? What assumptions are the designers making in their reasoning?

Downes takes a nice shot at Cialdini’s 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive with one arrow: Fallacious Tropes (slide 49). Consider what that book is going to look like: a scientific treatise? Consider who you have to be to take the book seriously because of the title’s claim. Consider the underlying assumptions the authors claim t build on by way of the title’s claim. One shot at that book becomes a killer shot at much of olde worlde educational thinking that is scientifically proven.

Downes: The concept of personal learning is that there is no teacher.

Hang around and skim the related slide shares:, and

What this means, then, is Study Social Semiotics. Now. Read Kress. We speak in artifacts and need to learn the appropriate languages.

To do: Create an exercise for a PLE learner that might allow him or her to link a critical literacy premise with an artifact that illustrates that premise, just as Downes does in LOLcats. Then do that exercise yourself.

Diagrams, exemplars, bootstrapping in #PLENK2010

Ergonomic Workspace Planner, Workstation Installation ToolLooking through some diagrams of PLEs at edtechpost has given me the impetus to create a diagram of my own, and the permission to really goof with it. Exemplars.

To my mind, these diagrams illustrate what happens when a straightforward exercise is approached with a PLE attitude. Given the variety of diagrams, it looks like learners chose their own terminology, media, and modes to work in. The diagrams become semiotically supercharged. The titles, the terminology used, the contexts represented, features of the model overall (eg: where the learner is placed in the model and how represented; how links, knowledge, services, contexts are represented, and the like), as well as the choice of media and mode (whiteboard, big paper, concept mapping software, illustration software, t-shirt) all signify as choices.

The variety complicates easy reading of each diagram and of the collection, but that’s appropriate for the issue. The diagrams become the ground and impetus for another turn. That is, they have to be actively interpreted, worked with, in order to become personal knowledge.

Which opens us into critical literacies. Interpreting these diagrams demands an approach – for, me a semiotic approach. Bootstrapping again. This would be the point where I would look into social semiotics social semiotics as a way of making sense of the diagrams.

Composed at the office, Target, and in the front garden. Posted using BlogPress from an iPad

#MOOC: A Chronicle Conversation

future shoppers

A Chronicle Conversation as MOOC

This showed up in my Chronicle list: ‘Open Teaching’: When the World Is Welcome in the Online Classroom. It’s a brief overview article of open classes (with a focus on being taught rather than learning), covering Downes, Siemens, and Wendy Drexler at U Florida. A good article as an overview, touching on the use of PLEs –

Instead of restricting posts to a closed discussion forum in a system like Blackboard, the class left students free to debate anywhere. Some used Moodle, an open-source course-management system. Others preferred blogs, Twitter, or Ning. In the virtual world Second Life, students built two Spanish-language sites. Some even got together face-to-face to discuss the material.

– and ending with the typical “educators are cautious.” There’s one misunderstanding that stands out for me, here, with the idea that BBoard or any LMS would be opened up to created a MOOC:

At the end of the day, the popularity of open classes will depend on whether learning-management software companies like Blackboard make it easy to publish open versions of online courses, says David Wiley, an associate professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young and an open-teaching pioneer.

This seems to go against the grain: It’s not a matter of letting students into the garden. It’s a matter of creating allotments.

But more interesting than the article are the comments, from Drexler and others. I’ll start with Drexler, who adds to the article’s content with some reassuring pre-conditions:

There are certain foundational skills necessary for learning in an open online environment. Early research indicates the need for learners to practice digital responsibility (including management of personal privacy and respectful behavior), digital literacy (ability to find and vet resources as well as differentiate between valid and questionable resources), organization of online content, collaborating and socializing with subject matter experts and fellow students, and the ability to use online applications to synthesis content and create learning artifacts.

What I’m getting at is this: The comments make the article a learning object (and what I’m doing i remixing demonstrates that) and so address this concern from chedept

How is what is being done here different than, say, what any number of people or groups are doing with sites and blogs. Is Ariana Huffington teaching a course on society and politics? Is Dan Savage teaching a course on human sexuality? Is TMZ teaching a course on whatever it is they waste their time on?

Calling it a course does not make it so.

Huffington isn’t teaching a course – and an open course is not a collection of articles. But incorporating a Huff post article in a course framework, even a loosely defined one, or using a post as stuff to learn from, makes the post part of a course.

The comments seem to be struggling in getting at the mindset behind the open course: Is it like other self-guided courses? How do teachers give feedback to so many? (How do teachers give feedback to self-learners? would be my question.) How do you handle mis-behavior? Again, Drexler answers these matters by demonstrating how: she posts her own comment, remixes them, and in so doing clarifies matters. (It gets a little patronizing, but that’s an effort to make sure the exchange doesn’t erupt in flames.)

I really believe there is a distinction between open teaching and open learning. As a teacher, I could conduct my course in a completely closed environment, but offer my course materials in an open forum that anyone can freely access. Is that open or merely transparent? You begin to see a continnum emerging here. On the other hand, as a highly motivated learner, I could piece together a rich learning experience with open courseware in the absence of a teacher or facilitator. Though at some point, I may have to connect with other learners or subject matter experts who can supplement the materials.

The examples in this article represent facilitated open online courses. Facilitation is a key component. Yet, there’s more going on here than the added guidance or scaffolding of an instructor. The connections to others and exposure to many points of view further enrich the learning experience.

Siemens gets in here, bringing in a practice that was overlooked in the article: that of learning communities forming within the course:

Not all 2300 learners stay in the same virtual space talking to each other. They form smaller networks, move into different spaces, or engage with others on topics of personal interest. The instructor does not have to direct all 2300 students. The the key power shift generated by the web is the loss of ability for a company, a person, or an educator to direct people.

What I really like is how the questions in the comments allow Siemens (and others) to compose focused responses. We can see coherence being created here by posting public responses to public questions, by remixing and sharing.

We can still lecture on how to find good information or how to write a persuasive essay. But…instead of the instructor being the sole source of guidance and information, she becomes a node among other nodes (important, even critical, but no longer the only or dominant one) in a learning network.

Also, the list of commentators makes a good starting point for forming learnninng community. And as a further note, the commentators demonstrate that not all learners have to be fully engaged in the course to provide material that can be made meaningful. Side comments can be opened into a larger room by another learner – which also challenges to the idea of course design as a matter of teacher control.

But there is still a sense, throughout, that a MOOC is not really a course so much as a hobby: fun, creative, experimental, tribal, but still side-stepping the Serious Work and Rigor of Properly Designed Courses.

I agree that the best way to evaluate these events (courses?) is to participate in them. I have been a high-flyer in three of them so far. I have enjoyed the interaction, and tend to think of these events as social interactions that produce socially constructed learning, using internet affordances for communication purposes. Since acronyms are all the rage, how about SMILEs, as in Social Media Induced Learning Events. The SMILE acronym helps to highlight for me the fun and creativity I had in the debates in the various forums.

Acronyms make a good heuristics. Here’s one to counterpoint SMILE when it comes to open learning: SMARTS: Study, Mix (or Meet if you prefer), Assess, Remix, Test by Sharing.

But I’ll leave it with this from Siemans. As I mentioned a couple of times in this post (remix, being tested by sharing), I have made the Chronicle article and the comments a learning object by using them for learning. They were not posted to overtly teach me anything.

Why do many educators conclude that coming to a particular place requires set structure? Just because we know what we want students to learn doesn’t mean that we have to inject the into an organized (“aligned”) process of learning outcomes, content/curriculum, evaluation. Nothing about a clear target suggests that a clear structured path is required. We quickly get to the Private Universe problem: pass the test, but miss the conceptual understanding required.

Note to Chronicle: why no “follow up comments via email” option?


See also

semiosis & open learning course pedagogy: my spurious connection?

As seen on tv in Walgreen's

Reading Kress, Multimodiality, I was struck by how his model of semiosis lines up with Downs’s and Siemens’s open course pedagogy of connectivism as it appeared in the critical literacies course earlier this summer.

Here’s Kress’s sketch of the sequence by which semiosis moves:

the recipient’s existing
interest shapes
attention, which produces
engagement leading to
selection of elements from the message, leading to a
framing of these elements, which leads to their
transformation and transduction, which produces a
new (‘inner’) sign.

Or, from the perspective of the interpreter:

interest produces attention;
attention shapes the form of the engagement;
this leads to selections being made;
the selections are framed;
there is the subsequent transformation and transductions of the elements in the frame;
and, in that, the (‘inwardly made’) sign is produced.

The sequence reshapes (aspects) of the initial message, the ‘ground’, into a prompt. Interest is the motive force: it is the basis for attention to the ‘ground’ constituted by the exhibition, for engagement with that ‘ground’; it shapes selection, transformation and transduction; and interest becomes evident in the new sign, the map.

And here’s Stephen Downes’s explanation of how the Critical LIteracies Online Course is designed:

1. Aggregate
We will give you access to a wide variety of things to read, watch or play with…. , what you should do is PICK AND CHOOSE content that looks interesting to you and is appropriate for you. If it looks too complicated, don’t read it. If it looks boring, move on to the next item.

2. Remix
Once you’ve read or watched or listened to some content, your next step is to keep track of that somewhere. How you do this will be up to you.

3. Repurpose
We don’t want you simply to repeat what other people have said. We want you to create something of your own. This is probably the hardest part of the process.

Remember that you are not starting from scratch. Nobody every creates something from nothing. That’s why we call this section ‘repurpose’ instead of ‘create’. We want to emphasize that you are working with materials, that you are not starting from scratch.

4. Feed Forward
We want you to share your work with other people in the course, and with the world at large.

Now to be clear: you don’t have to share. You can work completely in private, not showing anything to anybody. Sharing is and will always be YOUR CHOICE.

I wasn’t going to map Kress’s sequence to the course sequence, but I will: The instruction to aggregate let’s the learner draw on interest to shape her attention, to produce engagement which leads to selection, which slides into remix. Remix and repurpose put the focus on framing the elements of aggregation, to produce a new inner sign – which can then be shared, or not.

This connection between theory of communication and pedagogy – I’m not sure if it’s spurious or not yet –  also gives the vernacular activities aggregate, remix, repurpose, feed forward a pedagogical strength that I hadn’t recognized before.

That’s my morning started.

things we would never put on the university home page

This graphic has been making the rounds.  I found it on The Bamboo Project Blog: It’s About Answering Their Questions, Stupid: What Goes on the First Page ? – where I find a lot of Good Stuff.  The reminder that Michele gives:

[W]e still have this broadcast notion of content that can trip us up at the oddest moments. We need to stop thinking that social media–or any online content, for that matter–is first and foremost about us. The best stuff is always, always about our users.

If we could only get our PR/Communications people to hear that, we’d see an improvement in BSU’s little website – an improvement that the students who use the site – and those who never enrolled because the couldn’t find what they were looking for at a university – could then carry forward into their professions. [Warning: Don’t expect any of the following on our front page.]


But design, it’s really about control, isn’t it?

traveling without a laptop

I’m considering traveling to the UK for a month without a laptop – just (ha!) an iPad and an iPhone with data roaming off. The rationale is weight and accumulation – and fear of fanaticism.

Both my wife and I traveling with MacBooks and iPhones makes a kind of embarrassing middle-class sense. Compatibility. Shared chargers. Facetime. It does come close to twinning – those matching floral shirts some old farts wear to signify “We’re on vacation.” We don’t do that.

And we can explain our over-devicing professionally. This isn’t a holiday, not really. We’re both working on projects that require technology, V on Lakes to Lakes, and me on sabbatical stuff. While traveling, I need to do some interviews, draft a chapter of a book, monitor a wiki, post to my blog and to Twitter (Yeah, I wrote tweeting into the sabbatical. I teach with social media – gotta practice my chops), keep up with some blogs, check mail – and in October, I’m skyping in to present at a conference in Fargo. Carrying computers is what we do now. No apologies there.

But a laptop, smartphone, and tablet seems like overkill. Bravura. Fanaticism. Indecision. Weight. So, if I leave my MacBook at home, we travel lighter in a lot of ways.

Question is, can I get the work done on an iPad, using my wife’s laptop only when absolutely necessary?

I’ve been trying it for a day now. I started Friday morning. I’ve been able to get everything done that I needed to – which was not a lot, I admit. I did have to move a set of PDFs from my desktop to Dropbox so I could read and annotate them. And I’ve been struggling with getting this post to show up on my blog: something’s up with BlogPress. But other than that, it’s been good.

Some added benefits:

  • All the files I’m working on are in one place. I don’t have to think about moving a PDF that I annotated on the iPad to the desktop, or muck around with emailing myself a draft of a proposal I started in Pages. Less is more.
  • I’m in a position to Twitter more – ok, that’s a mixed blessing.

Some matters to work through:

  • How to handle a synch with using V’s laptop during the month for system updates or crashes.
  • How to get past the lack of smooth multitasking. Stop – switch app – copy – switch app – paste is driving me nuts.
  • How to streamline blogging. BlogPress had a glitch in uploading to WP, the WP app is awkward to use, and blogging through Safari is back to hand coding. [update: BlogPress uploaded fine. I had set the incorrect date on the post and it was lost in June.

Most of the changes are changes in workflow rather than technical issues. Those are the issues I want to uncover.

What I’ve found so far:

  • I need to move all the files I might need to Dropbox, with copies just in case on a flash drive that I can get to via V’s laptop if necessary. That might require an update to Dropbox. But now that more apps (eg iAnnotate) support Dropbox, cloud access with the iPad is becoming feasible – with the exception that
  • Dropbox will save an annotated file only back to the account from which it was downloaded.
  • I need to bring a Bluetooth keyboard. I’m typing this longish post on the iPad’s keyboard, which suits me just fine, but it does get wearing after a while. No penalty for a keyboard.

And just in case this post and iPadding around looks like self-indulgence: The material grounds and the physical and social situations of reading and writing – which is what I do when I’m not teaching reading and writing – are significant matters. They afford and constrain the resources readers and writers use to construct meaning. That is, finding that it’s not possible (yet) to copy and paste a passage from an iBook into a draft limits what I can do – and it means that I have to figure out how to get around the constraint either technologically or rhetorically. So do students. As literacy is an interaction between writer and the technologies of consumption and production (pencil, paper, book, iPad, keyboard, ebook) (see Kress), this post is a consideration of a situation of literacy.

If I decide to take on a month of travel and work without a laptop – a device that I’ve become pretty adept at – then the whole affair will be an experiment in digital literacy.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Afterthought: Check 18th and 19th century novels for incidents of traveling and writing: tools (portable letter desks), where writing was done. Richardson, Sterne, Defoe, Fielding, Smollett, Thackeray, Austin.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Grange Rd NW,Bemidji,United States