Stephen Downes is a Senior Researcher for the National Research Council of Canada. Based in Moncton, New Brunswick, he’s perhaps best known for his thoughtful presentations and OLDaily newsletter. This provides links and commentary for the online learning community (and beyond).
Although Stephen is not currently using the Web Literacy Map, he has read, thought, and written widely on critical literacies and it was from this perspective that he approached our conversation.
Stephen thinks that the Web Literacy Map does a good job of depicting literacy as not just something you learn. It reflects an interactive learning process, and is similar to his Aggregate - Remix - Repurpose - Feed Forward model. He believes this to be an important model because this is how you build networks. Dropping any of the current strands (Exploring / Building / Connecting) would mean that we were no longer talking about literacy.
Literacy isn’t about grammar, says Stephen, it’s about communication. He cited his now-classic presentation Speaking in LOLcats as an example of this. The Web Literacy Map as it currently stands is episodic rather than systemic. It talks, for example, about how to decode URLs, but not about the syntax of addressing over the architecture of the internet in general. The 15 competencies work, but it’s like picking 15 features to describe an elephant - we could have chosen a different set of features.
He noted that the Web Literacy Map seems to focus on the lower elements of Bloom’s Taxonomy rather than the higher elements. Stephen said that if web literacy was a forest, we’re picking out trees and areas of the forest, but not the types of trees and overall nature of the ecosystem. When I mentioned the idea of introducing ‘cross-cutting themes’, he thought this might work, but implored me to avoid the term ‘lenses’. This, Stephen says, infers that we’re looking at ‘reality’ through some kind of process. Talking of ‘perspectives’ is fine, however.
Is it important to talk of a ‘Web’ Literacy Map? Should we be talking about ‘internet’ literacy? Should we make it wider in scope so that we can include (for example) connecting to wifi securely? Perhaps yes, but we need to think about context.
When I asked about terminology, Stephen said that using ‘competency’ to mean merely a ‘collection of skills’ is too narrow. Instead, we need to add in things like ‘habits of mind’ or ‘values’. That is to say, not just doing stuff, but determining what is important and what is not.
In terms of the way that the Web Literacy Map is currently presented at webmaker.org/resources, Stephen asked why the appearance of the ‘teach’ elements is different from the others - he completely missed them at first. Where’s the dots? The medium is the message. We’re saying ‘teach’ is different from the other stuff. Also, the list of skills on the competency pages is too easy to miss. It’s like they’re not there. This is problematic, as it’s the core of what we mean by the competencies.
Stephen asked about whether some of the text we use, such as the web being a global, public resource, is actually true? Perhaps we should be asking ‘who owns the web?’
The latter part of our conversation was extremely interesting, as Stephen got into whether the Web Literacy Map continues to be necessary once you’ve used it to reach ‘web literacy’. He likened this to using an ethical framework to become a ‘good person’. This may be an ongoing reflective thing as new situations become available, but the Web Literacy Map is like the Ten Commandments: “how to be good with respect to the web”. We chose these 15 things, but we could have chosen a different 15 and ended up with a similar result.
Finally, Stephen pointed out that we need to hone and re-hone the map to get to the spirit of web literacy. The more we change the Web Literacy Map due to changes in specific technologies, the more problematic it is.