To me critical literacies are the abilities and competencies people need to function well in a changed learning environment. The learning environment is much more open that it used to be when institutions guarded it. The institution would make sure our information we accessed was reliable; they would get an educator to organize and structure the learning activities and learning communications, and help to make meaning by creating an atmosphere conductive to thinking, by asking relevant questions about resources provided.
All this has changed now. The learner is expected to be actively engaged in the activities of finding resources and validating information; be more of a researcher than a student. People have to find other people to communicate with and initiate contact. Create and publish resources. Set out their learning goals, sequence the steps to take on the learning pathway to achieve learning outcomes.
People need to understand how others have produced resources; how they sequenced steps in their arguments. There are different syntaxes now that require different analytical abilities to validate the resources: different formats, such as video, require different analytical skills. As Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe video shows, it is possible to say something completely different with the same video footage if the order of the shots is changed. Producers have a choice in how they represent information.
The way information is organized is also changing. From taxonomies, as is the case in libraries to folksonomies as is the case by using tags to make relations between information. Shirky advocates a tagging system as he argues that human context is the main denominator in the meaning of these connections.
He says: ‘This is what we’re starting to see with del.icio.us, with Flickr, with systems that are allowing for and aggregating tags. The signal benefit of these systems is that they don’t recreate the structured, hierarchical categorization so often forced onto us by our physical systems. Instead, we’re dealing with a significant break — by letting users tag URLs and then aggregating those tags, we’re going to be able to build alternate organizational systems, systems that, like the Web itself, do a better job of letting individuals create value for one another, often without realizing it’.
You might argue that this makes for a much more complex learning environment than we have been used to in traditional formal education. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. As Kilpi highlighted recently: this complexity could enrich our learning. We shouldn’t try to avoid complexity, as in the complex connections lies the learning.