Critical literacy and churnalism

market 1

market 1 (Photo credit: tim caynes)

Anybody who’s interested in starting an online business could not but notice the interest in internet marketing – specifically through the so-called ‘social media’ (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn and the like).  Yes, we all know that in cyberspace, no-one can hear you scream – but can they hear you market?  Interesting conundrum.

What I find amusing, in my wry and cynical way, is the huge emphasis on ‘content marketing’, and this is, I believe, of direct interest to information professionals.  Do a Google search for ‘content marketing’ and be prepared to be astonished – not so much by the number of hits you get, as the enormous range of differing opinions of what people think it is.  The most popular use of the term seems to suggest that it is little more than the fluff surrounding product promotion.  For example, if your product is dog shampoo, you will write anything at all about dogs, and keeping them clean and flea- and mud-free.  Never mind that the content is trivial, repetitive, and extremely badly written, as long as it scores on the Google hit charts and that people are directed to your site.  And buy your dog shampoo.

Now, as has been extensively discussed on this blog previously, ‘content’ – i.e. the stuff contained in a document such as a web page or book or film or vinyl record – is what I call ‘information’: the idea somebody has had, expressed and recorded in shared symbolic codes (language, writing, music, mathematics).  Extending this, it would appear that the newest trend in the digital world – in particular, the commercial part of it (and sometimes it’s hard to know what isn’t commercial) – is marketing ideas.

Yawn.  So what else is new?  Information professionals – and educators of all stripes – have been ‘marketing’ ideas for a long time.  Indeed, they do more than that: they select, arrange, organise, curate, store, protect and make available ideas, from any source.  Why? Not to sell ‘products’ as such, but to enable people to better understand their lives and the context in which they live: specifically, perhaps, to help them make better decisions by developing critical thinking skills and so sorting out the wheat from the chaff.  As previously mentioned, information professionals have a social responsibility and thus, it should follow, do not have ulterior motives.

‘Content marketing’ as it is practised seeks to achieve something quite different: manipulation.  From syndicated (and biased) news reports repeated endlessly no matter which newspaper you read (so it seems, anyway), to badly written ebooks written by people deficient in intelligence, erudition, maturity, insight and grammatical skills, to billions of blogs, probably written by the same people.  And they all repeat each other.  In fact, there is even software which will ‘rewrite’ the same thing in many different ways so that the same ‘content’ (I hesitate to call it ‘information’ because it may not even contain an idea) can be published many times.  You can also get – and for free, quite often – a collection of ready-written blog articles to suit whatever it is that you wish to publicise – home-schooling, gluten-free recipes, sportscars, adventure holidays – you name it, someone has supplied a load of bumpf for you to re-use.  I visited some freelance sites a while ago, and found that the majority of bidders for jobs requiring writing and editing skills for English content did not have English as their home language and/or couldn’t write their application without glaring grammatical errors.  No wonder so much stuff published on the internet is virtually unreadable.

So much for the ‘information explosion’.  Most comments on this issue focus on one of two phenomena: the huge increase in scientific and scholarly publications, or the easily accessible media now available – including, of course, the internet, as well as the traditional magazines, radio, television and newspapers.  While the vast amount of scholarly information now available does stretch the resources and imaginations of information professionals, the general public seldom has interest in or direct access to such information.  So many of us turn to Google, and are satisfied with whatever answer we find that seems vaguely relevant amongst the first 10 or so hits.  But the biggest ‘information’ explosion has come from every Joe Blow now thinking he knows something worth sharing.  Or even, knowing that they have nothing of interest to share, but sharing it anyway.  This disease appears to be contagious, gathering up common citizens, students, retirees, the unemployed, as well as people who should know better, such as journalists.  In the frenzy of making their digital mark, an awful lot is being badly said about nothing at all.  And this is what will, in all probability, appear in those first 10 hits.

This presents a real challenge to information professionals.  Critical thinking skills are seriously in decline, and many individuals seem to be unable to distinguish between ‘content’ that is being marketed, and reliable ‘information’. Citizens of the world, most of whom are able to vote, are being sucked into a vortex of ignorance and stupidity – in this, the ‘Information Age’.  If this continues, the meaning of ‘cultural memory institutions’ will evaporate, as their contents will simply not be understood, or worse, regarded as irrelevant to daily life.  All of those ideas which our forebears had, and recorded, that have shaped how we live today, will be invisible, as good as useless.

It’s not just ‘access’ that we should be concerned with – that”s easy enough, and becoming easier as information objects (‘documents’) are being digitised and networked.  And it’s  ‘reading’ either.  We shouldn’t be asking what people read.  We should try to understand  what our users understand and learn from what they read, and become teachers of critical literacy.

 

What information people have to do with learning

University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni Sch...

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As you may have noticed (or not, as the case may be), I haven’t written here for a while.  I’ve been meeting a publishing deadline for a new book, which has been an exciting project (for me, anyway).  This is a bit of a draft chapter on scoping out the role of education.  I am writing about how best to educate information professionals for the digital age: the whole question of tertiary education is, at the moment, quite fraught anyway, as any of you so involved may be aware.

I’d welcome your thoughts on this.  Here beginneth the text for today:

Teaching and learning

As humans, we are engaged in teaching and learning from birth to death.  We learn from living – from every experience we have – and no experience is ever wasted.  Learning processes are affected by sensory input, physical sensations of energy, fatigue, pain, emotions, spiritual insights, and flashes of creativity.  Knowledge is created from individual experience and vicariously, from the experiences of others, which are shared in a multitude of ways: directly in face-to-face conversations, through reading what others have written or recorded (in books or email, where communication is asynchronous) or through the mediation of technologies such as television or radio, or chatrooms, which may be synchronous.  For centuries, a distinction has been made between such everyday learning, and ‘formal’ learning which takes place at certain times and venues, where there are clear and different roles for teacher and learner.  The teacher is ‘somebody who knows’, and the learner is the person who lacks knowledge.  (The learner, like the information user, is constructed in a deficiency model).  The role of the teacher is multifaceted: s/he must socialise learners, training them to work respectfully with others, as well as conveying content and instilling in them the ability and the skill to learn how to learn.

 

With regard to students in a first professional degree in information work in the 21st century, however, the model of a teacher in front of a classroom of children is not the best one that can be emulated.  All information students, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, are adults.  They live in a highly networked, digital information environment, one in which globalisation is present in many spheres, as are many problems – poverty and climate change amongst them.  These students, as adults, already have a considerable amount of knowledge, gained formally and informally.  The leitmotif of contemporary discourse is postmodernism, which places an emphasis and responsibility on individuals to attempt to make sense of the world we live in (a task in which information workers can assist).  It stands to reason, therefore, that the ways in which the discipline/profession is taught is at least as important as what is taught.

 

There are a number of components that will affect knowledge creation or the learning process.  These include the personality, competencies and interests of the individual (and the teacher), as well as previous experiences and his/her cultural context, the space in which the exercise takes place, the complexity of the content, the time available, as well as many other factors.  The teaching and assessment methods employed are usually predicated upon the epistemological approach to the content as well as to learning theory.  Apart from content, the educational programme needs to be built on an intellectual framework or structure for the discipline/profession, to demonstrate clarity regarding its goals and responsibilities, and to provide clarity on the chief concepts within the theoretical framework.  In addition, teaching techniques should encourage the development of the skills mentioned previously – such as working in teams, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity and the like.  Assessment and evaluation should also be aligned with the teaching philosophy.

 

In this chapter, then, there is a brief review of framing epistemologies that are considered suitable for education for digital librarians, and the three predominant models of teaching/learning that are most common.  The argument is made that a constructivist methodology supporting the heutagogical model (which resonates with critical pedagogy) is probably the most suitable, and can be used for the design of course experience and student assessment and evaluation.  While there is a healthy body of literature on teaching and learning, educational theory and adult learning, in particular, no attempt is made here to summarise or critique it.

Use of ICTs in education

It is not original to note that the use of ICTs has already changed formal and informal education, but their use is still embryonic, and a great deal of research is being currently undertaken with regard to online learning, also known as elearning or Web 2.0 education.  Specifically, these terms designate a physical distance between the teacher, the documents referred to and the students – and between the students as well.  Networking enables conversation, remote access to documents and creation and distribution of other documents.  Elearning exploits audio-visual media as well as text, synchronous and asynchronous communication, and the mediating technologies can be mobile, such as smartphones and tablets.  This has given rise to renewed emphasis on making educational resources ‘open’, that is, freely available on the internet, and one of the first universities to do this was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2002, with its OpenCourseWare project (see, for example, the portal at InfoCoBuild [online] http://www.infocobuild.com/education/education.html).  Alongside these developments, there has been increasing interest in the idea of open access materials in publishing generally, with a focus on educational resources, currently spearheaded by Wayne Mackintosh of Otago Polytechnic, New Zealand with the Open Education Resource (OER) Foundation ([Online] http://wikieducator.org/OERF:Home) and the WikiEducator ([online] http://wikieducator.org/Main_Page).  This counteracts to a certain extent the extraordinary rise in for-profit online education, to which Daniel (2011) refers, and which points to the increasing commodification and commercialisation of higher education, in particular.  The OER venture, if successful, will also go some way to assist in providing access to quality tertiary education and research in Majority World countries.

 

Amongst all the technological changes, perhaps the most noteworthy characteristic is the relatively easy and cheap access to information resources, which has blurred the distinctions between who has knowledge, who shares knowledge, and the ways in which individuals create their own knowledges.  There is little point in memorising a great deal if access is so easy (Berg, Berquam and Christoph, 2007).  University students form only a section of internet users who can all control online content delivery, create information to share with others (via blogs, wikis, FaceBook notes, websites and mashups) and create knowledge themselves (e.g. Klamma, Cao and Spaniol, 2004; Lenhart and Madden, 2005).  Commenting, communicating, contributing and collaborating are activities that students – and many others – engage with every day.  Furthermore, education is only one area in which rapid change is taking place, and a major challenge facing higher education now is preparing students for a different future.  Mobility, flexibility, lifelong learning and job-readiness must all be considered, to encourage the development of people who can cope with uncertainty and change.

Social responsibilities of higher education

It comes as no surprise that under present circumstances, institutions of higher education are increasingly called upon to recognise their social responsibilities, even, and perhaps especially, while there is an ongoing trend towards the corporatisation of the university.  In 1997, Saul, in his book Unconscious civilisation, suggested that the population at large prefers to believe in a fantasy world created and perpetuated by a corporatist ideology, rather than addressing the many issues raised by economic rationalism.  He believes that, in spite of increased access to knowledge and education, the struggle for individual freedom and democracy is being lost while we succumb to “the darker side within us and within our society” (Saul, 1997, p. 36), characterised by greed and selfishness.  In 2009, a UNESCO Conference on Higher Education accentuated the contribution that higher education makes to the eradication of poverty and progress towards sustainable development goals.  Higher education institutions should both respond to and anticipate societal needs.  Universities must, UNESCO asserts,

 

advance our understanding of multifaceted issues, which involve social, economic, scientific and cultural dimensions and our ability to respond to them.  [Higher education] should lead society in generating global knowledge to address global challenges… Higher education must not only give solid skills for the present and future world but must also contribute to the education of ethical citizens committed to the construction of peace, the defense of human rights and the values of democracy (UNESCO, 2009, pp. 2-3).

 

Even while there is talk of a ‘knowledge economy’ and a ‘learning society’, the means must be found to realise the anticipated positive outcomes, and this highlights the role that digital librarians can play.  Hutchins (1970) was an early proponent of the idea of the ‘learning’ society, after considering the model of classical Athens.  At that time in Athens, he noted, education was not separated from the rest of daily activities but becoming educated was a societal aim: society educated the individual.  “The Athenian was educated by culture” (Hutchins, 1970, p. 133) facilitated by slavery, which freed citizens from the more mundane chores of life.  Hutchins believed that modern machinery – and now ICTs – have taken the place of slaves and can likewise permit this in contemporary life:

 

The two essential facts are… the increasing proportion of free time and the rapidity of change.  The latter requires continuous education; the former makes it possible (Hutchins, 1970, p. 130).

 

Schön, whose work has been referred to previously in connection with professionalism, is considered by Ranson (1998, p. 2) to be “the great theorist of the learning society”.  Schön is another scholar who has noted the turbulence of the modern age and the loss of the ‘stable state’, which convinced people of the unchangeability or constancy of life, or at least the “belief that we can attain such a constancy” (Schon, 1973, p. 9).  Technology is disruptive, however, and has threatened the ‘stable state’, so even while a desire exists to remain the same, there is a continuous process of transformation which demands proficiency at learning (Schön, 1973, p. 26).

 

Schön was particularly concerned with ‘professional’ learning, and as demonstrated in his work The reflective practitioner (1983), he associated the problem firmly with the rise of what he calls ‘technical-rationality’.  ‘Technical rationality’ is described by Usher et al. (1997, p. 143) as “a positivist epistemology of practice… the dominant paradigm which has failed to resolve the dilemma of rigour versus relevance confronting professionals”.  Schön’s reaction to this was the development of the notions of ‘reflection-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action’, which respectively deal with considering what a person already knows and his/her attitudes towards a problem in order to understand it, and considering the phenomenon after the event (Schön, 1983, p. 68).  It is tempting to note the phronesis in Schön’s thinking.

Logo used by Wikileaks

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http://amplify.com/u/arvz2 You’ve heard of WikiLeaks. Now, there’s UniLeaks. http://amplify.com/u/brvzc

Wallwisher

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

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Now here’s something easy that could be fun and productive!  I have started a Wallwisher at http://www.wallwisher.com/wall/digitalcollaboration.  If you visit this site, you will have the opportunity to add your ‘post-it’ idea, and comment on those that are already there. Enjoy! Sue

A little cross-fertilization

Open Access logo, converted into svg, designed...

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Today I decided to do a little cross-pollination from the FaceBook group of the same name (Digital Collaboration) which, of course, you are welcome to join.

There, I asked if you could list the issues that you think you should know something about in order to be a successful 21st century information professional. So far, the suggestions have been:

OPEN ACCESS/OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

Australian Policy Online (apo.org.au) Briefing paper on impact of open access outside European universities. http://www.apo.org.au/research/briefing-paper-impact-open-access-outside-european-universities

Legal aspects of Open Access in Australia: http://www.oaklaw.qut.edu.au/

Fitzgerald, Anne (2009).  Open access policies, practices and licensing: a review of the literature in Australia and selected jursidictions.  (pdf available here).  http://eprints.qut.edu.au/28026/

Academic publishing in Europe. http://www.ape2011.eu/

Open access: Europe’s secret weapon? http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=158534

Directory of Open Access Journals http://www.doaj.org/doaj?func=newTitles (courtesy of Lund University).

Hylén, Jan (2007)Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources. Paris, France: OECD 10.1787/9789264032125-en

“Open educational resources programme – phase 1” JISC 2009

“Open educational resources programme – phase 2. JISC. 2010.

WSIS Platform of Communities.  http://www.wsis-community.org/pg/groups/14358/open-educational-resources-oer/

University of Geneva. CERN Workshop on innovations in Scholarly Communication.  22-24 June 2011.  http://indico.cern.ch/conferenceDisplay.py?confId=103325

People’s Open Access Education.  http://www.peoples-uni.org/

OECD. Giving knowledge for free.  http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/giving-knowledge-for-free_9789264032125-en

OER Commons.  http://www.oercommons.org/

I HAVE EMPHASISED THIS SECTION I suppose because it serves to illustrate the extent to which we (the people) – knowledge users and creators – live in a virtual, digital, information environment.  My apologies if you think I have gone a bit overboard.  What is our role in such an environment?  Do we become guides and mentors? Comments?

DIGITAL PRESERVATION

National Library of Australia. http://www.nla.gov.au/preserve/digipres/

Digital preservation e-forum. http://neflin2.blogspot.com/2011/01/digital-preservation-e-forum.html

Digital Preservation Coalition.  http://www.dpconline.org/

Alliance for Permanent Access.  http://www.alliancepermanentaccess.org/events/event-payments

JISC Beginner’s guide to digital preservation. 2011.   http://www.alliancepermanentaccess.org/events/event-payments

CREATIVE COMMONS

http://wiki.creativecommons.org/Global_Meeting_2011

Critical information literacy (Not only for library users – records managers and archivists would also know that their users may well need some assistance in this area).

Primary author here is James Elborg.

Association of College and Research Libraries. 2006. http://acrlblog.org/2006/03/21/making-information-literacy-critical/

Information Literacy Thinking Group.  http://infotheory.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2011/02/09/2011-lacuny-instruction-spring-event/

Swanson, Troy.  2004.  A radical step: implementing a critical information literacy model.  http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/portal_libraries_and_the_academy/summary/v004/4.2swanson.html

Archive fever: interations on identity and knowledge in an age of accelerated human information interaction. (interesting blog).  http://www.archivefever.com/2011_01_01_archive.html

Viadhyanathan, Siva. Critical information studies: a bibliographic manifesto.  http://www.sivacracy.net/archives/002930.html. (I really like this).  You could also take a look at

Pawley, Christine.  2003. Information literacy: a contradictory coupling. Library Quarterly, Vol. (4): pp. 422-452.

INFORMATION VISUALISATION

15th International Conference on Information Visualisation (in London).  http://www.wikicfp.com/cfp/servlet/event.showcfp?eventid=12052&copyownerid=17187

Some exampleshttp://www.flickr.com/groups/datavisualization/pool/

And some morehttp://www.designer-daily.com/information-is-beautiful-30-examples-of-creative-infography-5538

I love the way these guys transform data into something easily understandable:  Information is beautiful. http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/

The state of information visualisation 2011.  http://eagereyes.org/blog/2011/state-of-infovis-2011

AT &T Labs Research Information Visualisation.  http://www.research.att.com/groups/infovis/ (And they’re looking for staff!!)

Bertini, Enrico.  I fell in love with data [blog].  Here he lists the most important papers to read on information visualisation. http://fellinlovewithdata.com/guides/7-classic-foundational-vis-papers and more useful stuff at http://infosthetics.com/archives/author/enrico_bertini/

MARKETING

There is a journal devoted to this topic:Marketing library services. http://www.infotoday.com/mls/jan11/index.shtml as well as a track at the upcoming ‘Computers in Libraries‘ Conference (March, Washington DC): http://www.infotoday.com/cil2011/day.asp?day=Monday#TrackD.

Dempsey, Kathy. 2009.  The accidental library marketer.  Medford, NJ: Information Today Inc. is a recent book on this topic.  A book review of this item appears at http://www.infotoday.com/mls/jan11/Book-Review-The-Accidental-Library-Marketer.shtml, explaining why this is important for librarians.

Ideas for marketing can be found at the blog New marketing trends: marketing ideas for non-profits and libraries. http://themwordblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/2011-john-cotton-dana-library-public.html

Marketing in 2011. http://www.margieclayman.com/ten-questions-and-answers-about-2011-marketing

Many of you will be aware of the IFLA Marketing Award: http://www.ifla.org/management-and-marketing/marketing-award

THE DIGITAL USER

This is a useful and recent starting point: Digital library futures: user perspectives and institutional strategies.  2010.  Edited by Ingeborg Verheul, Anna Maria Tammaro & Steve Witt.  Berlin/Munich: De Gruyter Saur.

Enhancing user interactions in digital libraries is a useful blog, with plenty of examples as well.  http://boonious.typepad.com/ux2/2011/01/index.html

CROWD SOURCING AND MASH-UPS

‘Crowdsourcing’ is sometimes used as a synonym for ‘outsourcing’.  In the information world, it means getting a range of opinions and ideas from which to choose – hopefully this choice means you will discern the best possible information.

Interesting sites and software can be found at this blog: Readwriteweb.  http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/crowdsourcing_million_heads.php

Crowdsourcing in action can be experienced at this blog:  http://crowdsourcing.typepad.com/

This leads naturally into the next topic:

SEMANTIC WEB

The Semantic Web continues to develop. Some latest news: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/parc_releases_new_semantic_technology_in_form_of_an_outlook_plugin.php

There is, in fact, a semantic web association (there had to be, I suppose): http://iswc.semanticweb.org/

A guide to the top recent software for the semantic web:  http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/top_10_semantic_web_products_of_2010.php and http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/semantic-web/

There are a couple of conferences coming up on the topic, too (aren’t there always?  In fact, who has the time and money to attend all of these conferences?????)

The 10th International Conference on the semantic web is being held in Germany this year: http://iswc2011.semanticweb.org/

There is, interestingly enough, a call for papers on the topic of semantic web and collaboration (through social networking).  Check it out: http://www.wikicfp.com/cfp/servlet/event.showcfp?eventid=11843&copyownerid=9889

Combining with information visualisation, there is a conference in Palo Alto on Visual interfaces to the social and semantic web, but as it’s this Sunday, I don’t suppose many of you will be able to go, even if you really wanted to! http://www.smart-ui.org/events/vissw2011/

In Europe – Crete, Greece, to be precise – the EU is holding a conference on the Extended Semantic Web. http://www.future-internet.eu/events/eventview/article/eswc2011-the-8th-extended-semantic-web-conference.html

CLOUDWORKS

Cloud computing predictions for 2011.  http://www.computerworlduk.com/in-depth/cloud-computing/3253266/cloud-computing-2011-predictions/http://www.cio.com/article/645763/Cloud_Computing_2011_Predictionshttp://www.cloudtweaks.com/2010/11/2011-cloud-computing-predictions/http://searchcloudcomputing.techtarget.com/feature/Cloud-computing-in-2011-Whats-on-tap;

ACM Symposium on Cloud computinghttp://socc2011.gsd.inesc-id.pt/


One other link that some of you may be interested in is the South African framework for digital resources, available at: http://digi.nrf.ac.za/publ/Managing%20Digital%20Collections.pdf

Underneath each of these topics, I have inserted linked to some of the seminal sites in the respective area.

TWO QUESTIONS:

What other topics are important to you and should be discussed here?

Would you like to contribute a paragraph or two on why you find this essential/intriguing/important or whatever?

This is long.  That’s what happens when information professionals get going.  We know there’s so much out there.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Sue