Interestingly enough, in the last several days, at least five unrelated items of online content have made me think about what I’d call “online literacy.” Not too surprising a co-occurrence, given the feeds I follow, but I think still interesting. Especially because different perspectives were behind these items and the ways I was led to them.
Here are the five items I most directly connect with my streams of thought about online literacy, during the past few days.
- Digital Domain – First It Was Song Downloads. Now It’s Organic Chemistry. – NYTimes.com (via the Buzz Out Loud tag on Delicious)
- Literacy Debate – Online, R U Really Reading? – Series – NYTimes.com (via Language Log)
- Who Will Digitize the World’s Books? – The New York Review of Books (via media/anthropology)
- A Portal to Media Literacy – YouTube (via Digital Ethnography and Moodle Lounge)
- Savage Minds: Notes and Queries in Anthropology — A Group Blog » How to do research – special free sample
Several items in my streams of thoughts on online literacy have found their way into a Moodle Lounge thread where they were mostly connected with the future of textbooks.
My notion of “online literacy” might be idiosyncratic. The concept, to me, relates to “media literacy” which (as far as I can tell) refers to the efficient use of a set of conceptual tools meant to help in approaching media items from the perspective of critical thinking and intellectual engagement. “Online literacy” would be the same thing applied to the Internet in general. One element specific to online literacy, I would argue, is that some basic principles of the Internet (including its decentralized character) make the critical/engaged approach very prominent. Simply put, the way the ‘Net is set up almost forces people to apply critical thinking to what they read, view, watch, or listen to, online. In something of a “cool medium” sense, the ‘Net also encourages active engagement in the material (though for reasons different from McLuhan’s description of medium coolness).
Furthermore, I tend to associate “book literacy” with modernity while “online literacy” seems quite compatible with orality which is itself typical of both post- and pre-modernity. I’m guessing this last point seems exceedingly weird to a number of people, but it really seems to fit in a larger scheme.
There are ways to discuss these issues which are more tech-friendly or geeky. Synchronous communication, many-to-many relationships, peer-to-peer (file) sharing, distributed processing… But as I think out loud, these concepts are mostly in the background.
My basic claim in all of this is that, regardless of how positive we think the move toward online content and away from mass-produced books, it’s important to train ourselves (and others) to gain a level of savviness in the online world. This form of online literacy is especially important with students because of their active engagement in the construction of knowledge.