[Image retrieved from http://blog.theminibrochure.com/ 5 January 2012]
This week Howard Rheingold got the Change MOOC off to a flying start with his focus on “Net Smart: Introduction to fundamental social media literacies”. Although I could not attend the live sessions (compliments of a lack of bandwidth and time), I thoroughly enjoyed the readings and video he provided as resources.
His blog on “Crap detection 101” is one of the highlights in this MOOC (so far). He proposes that the first thing one needs to know about online information is “how to detect crap” which is, for him, synonymous with “ignorance, inept communication, or deliberate deception”. I would like to expand his claim that this also applies to printed study materials in distance education contexts…
Without going into detail, I found his proposition very sound.
Rheingold also shares an essay by Manuel Castells on “why networks matter”. This is vintage Castells. Since his first books up to his latest “Communication Power” (2010) Castells is one of the most important voices in exploring and understanding the roles, constitution of and processes in a networked society. (If I remember correctly, Rheingold is the first MOOC facilitator who explicitly refers to the work of Castells?). I found Castells ideas (again) mind-blowing. Castells proposes that if we accept networks as the basic structure of present-day society, we need to remember the following:
- Networks is the basic structure of globalised society – while not everyone is connected, everyone is affected.
- Successful networks are flexible and based on cooperation and strategic alliances.
- Global governance is led by networking between a variety of actors and stakeholders.
- Civil society is “reconstructed at the local and global level through networks of activists”.
- Sociability is transformed with “networked individualism emerging as the synthesis between the affirmation of an individual-centred culture, and the need and desire for sharing and co-experiencing”.
- The media “in the broadest sense, are the public space of our time”
- In a networked society “power continues to be the fundamental structuring force of its shape and direction”.
It is Castells’ exploration of this last point regarding power that is very critical in my reflection on Rheingold’s proposal for “Crap detection 101”. In following Castells, I would like to propose that critical literacy in the 21st century is not only about the detection of “crap” but about having a succinct and organic understanding of power, ideology and our personal capacities to act. Castells state that “Power is exercised by specific configurations of [these] networks that express dominant interests and values, but whose actors and forms can change”. The only way to address this gestalt of networked power is by introducing alternative networks of counter-power. “Networks versus networks”.
In a very insightful essay Thomas P Mackey and Trudi E Jacobson, “Reframing information literacy as metaliteracy” (College of Research Libraries 72(1):62-78) moot the notion of “metaliteracy” as an encompassing and expanded notion of literacy when considering “producing and sharing information … in participatory Web 2.0 environments” (2011: 62). Their proposal encompasses traditional literacies such as media, digital, visual, cyber and information literacies. Mackey and Jacobson (2011: 67) refer to the proposal by James Elmborg who argues that “by developing critical consciousness, students learn to take control of their lives and their own learning to become active agents, asking and answering questions that matter to them and to the world around them”. [It would be very interesting to compare Elmborg’s proposal for a “critical consciousness” with the work of Paolo Freire!]
Mackey and Jacobson’s (2011:70) proposal for a “metaliteracy” is therefore an attempt to provide “an overarching, self-referential, and comprehensive framework that informs other literacy types”. Metaliteracy, according to Mackey and Jacobson (2011) includes the ability to
- Understand format type and delivery mode
- Evaluate user feedback as active researcher
- Create a context for user-generated information
- Evaluate dynamic content critically
- Produce original content in multiple media formats
- Understand personal privacy, information ethics and intellectual property issues
- Share information in participatory environments
Mackey and Jacobson (2011:76) conclude by stating “Metaliteracy moves beyond an exclusively skills-based approach to information and emphasises collaboration in the development and distribution of original content in synchronous and asynchronous environments”.
In concluding this reflection, I would like to propose a combination between Rheingold’s “Crap detection 101”, an understanding of how power functions in a networked society (as proposed by Castells) and metaliteracy as proposed by Mackey and Jacobson (2011). Literacy in the 21st century is not only about recognising the dominant or normative discourses of the time, but also the ability to interrupt, reformulate, redefine and create counter-narratives and actions addressing the meta-narratives such as “disaster capitalism” (as mooted by Naomi Klein, 2007).