Friday, 24 December 2010

End of 2010 round up on the literacy-digital-university front - 2

In a reply to a message I sent to the other Lidu 'core group' people in which I said that I thought the focus of our 4th and last meeting next April should be the Digital University (on the basis that we've been talking a lot about literacies and technologies but not much about what the DU actually means) Helen Beetham sent us a link to this site called 'Hacking the Academy' which claims to be a book 'crowdsourced' from the blogs of a number of writers concerned with digital matters in academic settings.

I've reproduced the image of the front page below (on the assumption that I'm allowed to - I'll take it away immediately if anybody objects) because I think it's interesting how exactly like a book they have made it appear. Perhaps to give us academics a sense of security, in the face of some of the upsetting opinions that are contained within!

The only bit I've read properly so far, is the section on digital scholarship, because I happen to be involved in doing some research on this topic. I've got every intention of reading the rest, though, as it all looks very thought provoking, and, as Helen observed, is as likely to undermine as to inform our ideas of what the Digital University might actually look like, when it arrives.
I can't resist observing, too, that just as this looks pretty much like a boring old print collection, so the claim that it has been 'crowdsourced ' might also be a slightly glamorous way of describing the familiar process of putting together contributions from a number of relatively well-known commentators in a field, most of whom have well-deserved reputations as experts. Hardly the wisdom of the crowd, eh?

Doing it in a week is pretty impressive though.


Thursday, 23 December 2010

End of 2010 round-up on the literacy-digital-university front - 1

These two pictures don't say much for my digital camera skills (taken with my HTC phone in fact). But they illustrate some thoughts I've been having about the 'digital university' aspect of LIDU's focus.
They are from two seminars I went to in November - the first was an 'ESRC Educational Futures' seminar called Ethical Challenges at the London Knowledge Lab, and the second was a BAAL seminar on multimodality held at the Open University.

Seminars of this kind are very much a traditional 'university' literacy event and both were conducted in a very traditional university kind of way, with presentations from emminent speakers to an audience, questions, and some small group or 'breakout' sessions. Both of them had digital communication at the heart of what was being discussed, and in the BAAL case Literacy was an explicit concern. Keri Facer's talk at the OU was entitled (in case it's too blurred to read above) 'What Futures for Literacy? Education, Technology and Social Change.

These events made me think about the liklihood of this kind of academic get-together ever being substantially transformed by available new communciations. The pictures show that the technologies change (although, interestingly, whilst - sorry, can't remember who this is - is using an old medium, the flipchart, to support a relatively new practice for academics - breakout groups reporting back; Keri Facer is using a new technology, digital projection, to enhance an old practice, a lecture). However, the essential, personal, located, day-off-for, travelled-to, free-lunchedness of the occasions, seemed so definitive of the events as university literacy events, that I couldn't imagine a time when we wouldn't be doing this, whatever the online environment might offer by way of a cheaper alternative.

I did attend an example of the cheap online alternative a bit later when I signed up for an online seminar on 'Google apps as an eportfolio solution'. This was run by Google apps for education and basically had Gayle Ring from Clemson University and some Google bods extolling the virtues of Google Sites for building student portfolios. The event can't really be compared with the whole-day research seminars mentioned above, but it was rather striking how unengaging it was -- there was no interaction at all amongst the audience (which probably numbered hundreds of people across the US) and the speaker could only be questioned by typing into a chat box, clicking send, and hoping that the Google event conveners would pick your question to be answered.

Online conferences don't have to be like that of course, my colleague Linda Wilks and Martin Weller ran one at the OU last summer on Learning in an Open World in which they used Elluminate to enable smaller group interaction and a greater level of engagement. As a cheaper alternative to a face-to-face day,though, I'm not sure how it rated. I suspect not a lot cheaper when you take into account the time spent setting up and managing it -- although of course there was no travel or free lunches to be paid for!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Summary of seminar themes - towards a research agenda for Literacy in the Digital University (long post!)

This is a summary of the 'keynote' talks, discussants' comments, feedback forms, and subsequent discussion on this blog, from the three LIDU seminars to date. I'm offering it as a basis on which we might start to discuss a future research agenda, in advance of the last seminar in Lancaster on April 8 at which we hope to make some concrete plans.

There is much missing from this summary, inevitably. Particularly from the discussions that went on in the parallel sessions. Most of these sessions are recorded on the LIDU website but not always very audibly. If anyone remembers points made or questions raised in these discussions, that should be included in this summary please post a comment here to that effect.

Similarly if any of the authors of the talks summarised below want to amend or correct any of my interpretations -- be my guest ... (and any innaccuracies are likely to be Dragon's!)

Seminar one (Edinburgh) October 16 2009:

Academic Literacies in the Digital University (Mary L & Robin)
Technologies have the potential to disrupt some of the conventional literacy practices of the Academy, but these continue to be dominated by a a traditional model of academic written discourse. In order to understand the nature of emerging practices of scholarship, we need to compare texts produced under different conditions and for different purposes.

Uncanny Digital Literacies (Sian)
Online communication destabilises classrooms, producing disorienting and disquieting effects on the participants by loosening the connection between the bodily and the digital self. A pedagogy which 'revel[s] in the ontological mixups and volatile literacy orientations' of networked digital media, raises problematic issues relating to the agency of individual students, questions of assessment, and the ethics of deliberately embracing chaos.

Discussant (Chris Jones)
...unease with terms like 'literacy' and 'text' ... what are we talking about? Also, digital and networked are not the same thing -  literacy has to do with people's capacity to deal with technologies - digital technologies have a capacity to 'act back' - also network effects... composite forms.. where is the self? - persons and institutions becoming fragmented through technologies

Discussant (Gunther Kress):  
This has been a discussion from one particular cultural viewpoint (Anglo/American). How do other cultures discuss these issues? What kinds of ideologies are driving the 'top-down' (i.e: sociocultural) approach to these questions? Should we name it as the 'university of digital age' or the 'university of the neo-liberal capitalist age'?  ...Too much freight on the term 'literacy' - losing its usefulness as a tool to prize open the questions we are interested in? ... Prefer the term 'knowledge practices'. ...Pedagogy means social relations in the classroom - related to rhetoric - but what sort of rhetoric can you have when you don't know the audience? We can't always transport existing ideas to a new site. ... The issue of pace - the pace of technical change is not the pace of institutional change (although institutions feel obliged to try and mirror it) - also not the pace of human evolutionary change. How do we adapt ourselves to pace - should we attempt to simply describe passing phenomena, rather than trying to analyse them in depth? 


Subsequent discussion in this blog:

LIT meets TEL (Robin)
... challenging the association of literacy with individual competence -- not much of the discussion drew on a theoretical perspective on literacy -- the term gets used as a descriptor of technical practices -- LIT people need to shift TEL people away from this view of the concept -- we need to talk about 'relations' that shape meaning-making: power, identity etc.

... literacy already comprehensively theorised within a very particular domain -- prefer to talk about 'knowledge practices' in particular situations -- technology is only 'the point' as long as you are an outsider to technical practices -- to insiders the online and the 'real' exist in parallel -- the technology only becomes visible when it doesn't work. We need to surface and explore and negotiate social practices around technologies.

Thoughts from the first seminar (Mary H)
...we need to take up the challenge to think about multimodality and how it operates within the academy -- literacy studies people need to better understand how reading and writing are changing, not just in terms of practices but also academic and scholarly values -- technologies people need to better understand the expectations practices and associated identities that staff and students bring to new technological practices in the academy -- research techniques of microanalysis of practices and events from literacy studies should be of use

More thoughts: Some Ontological Issues (Mary H)
...How do new technologies change the nature and boundaries of what we have in the past called “the text” -- Do we need some new language terms to describe what we are doing in a virtual worl? -- are approaches from Science and Technology Studies, including Actor Network Theory, helpful in bridging our understandings of literacy and digital worlds? -- it would be good to look across different genres and see how they are expressed as the same or different in print and digital environments


If Literacy is social practice why do we need to talk about Texts? (Robin)
...how much we don't know about 'Net' communities, as opposed to 'Academy' ones, and how much we don't know about the potential impact of 'Net' cultures of knowledge on the historical mission of universities to educate in a broad, critical and ideologically-aware sense -- practices in the university are uniquely defined in terms of texts -- [but] as practice-oriented communication becomes more mutimodal and time-shifted and otherwise dispersed won't the notion of text as a defining characteristic of university practice become less and less relevant?

'Literacies and Technologies' or 'Why I think we need to keep talking' (Mary L)
...The commonality between our findings [research drawing on Bernstein/notion of boundaries, structure and agency/actor network theory/activity theory, academic literacies/multi-modal theory] is in the fact that we all highlight the significance of the institution in framing and understanding students practices around the use of technologies in learning contexts.

Sian Bayne's uncanny talk at the Edinburgh seminar (Robin)
...issues are raised here about the kinds of social action that a lifestream and its re-making of identities might take part in -- 'virtual ethnographies' of Internet communities ... are the scholarly and informal blended together here?
Comment (Sian): I'm not really trying to construct the online as simply 'spooky' ...I'm really looking for a way almost of formalising - or at least theorising - models of course design which engage with uncanny principles [time, presence and embodiment]

Seminar two (Glasgow) March 31 2010

Beyond competence: Digital literacies as knowledge practices, and implications for learner development (Helen, Allison, Lou)
...Efforts are being made to support learners' ICT skills ... are rarely integrated with the development of other capabilities critical to higher learning -- we aim to investigate how learners are developing literacies for learning and meeting their learning goals at a time when valued knowledge is predominantly communicated in digital form -- how are digital tools changing the nature of knowledge practice in specific disciplines and professions? Our core values and epistemologies changing or being expressed in new ways? How are these changes explored with learners, and how are staff committed to such exploration being rewarded by the Academy?

Crossing boundaries: literacy practices in formal and informal contexts in FE and HE (Mary H, David, Candice)
Literacy practices of staff and students as part of a bigger institutional shaping in the changing post-school sector -- how the literacy practices of academic staff are adapting to major change in the culture and infrastructure of the university sector -- 'sense of identity' as an overarching aspect in the configuration of literacy practices in the different domains of people's lives -- -- technologies as acting to dissolve boundaries of time and space ... sometimes welcomed sometimes resisted by users -- practices in informal contexts do not migrate in any simple way into educational settings even when technology is in place to facilitate this -- literacy studies approach needed to untangle elements of social practice 'boundaries' that differentiate home life from work.

Discussant (Alison MacKenzie)
...Boundaries between Information Literacy and other literacies are breaking down, but professional boundaries within the institution haven't adapted - focus on development rather than deficit needed...

Discussant (Caroline Haythornthwaite)
...What makes people have a 'good collaboration'?  Socio-technical systems as a way of understanding situated knowledge practices - changes in what is acceptable as an academic 'product' - what do we need to teach about how to be participatory ('group literate') citizens? Who is the audience (student, teacher, employer, university admin?) - haven't brought up the issue of the content of technology-enhanced learning.. bio-sciences...computational visualisations... data mining ... literacy around understanding of representations...

Subsequent discussion in this blog:

The Glasgow plenary - a microcosm of the question? (Robin)
'Digital literacy' is beginning to lose its meaning, as applied to an increasingly broad range of learner capabilities and activities and institutional competences and practices -- but literacy has a precise meaning for the Lancaster product (characterised by a framework of attributes such as audience, purpose, mode, technology etc) and a precise application for the GCU project (aligned with actions for developing lifelong learners: authentic tasks and contexts, community practices of meaning making, knowledge practices as resources for learning etc) -- one a disciplinary, the other a practice perspective on literacy - a conversation between people who think they know how practices 'work' and people who think they know what practices are 'needed'...


From the feedback forms for seminars one and two:

1. Focus at institutional and workplace level:

How can an awareness of digital literacies, particularly issues of power, subversion etc., engage with much narrower, technicist, university agendas?

How do universities respond, in terms of assessment frameworks, regulations etc., to new text types and literacy practices?

Research into ‘authentic’ workplace practices, i.e: looking at literacies in real workplace compared to courses preparing for those workplaces.

2. Focus on academics & practitioners in higher and further education:

What kinds of digital environment do practitioners create and use? How do particular toolsets influence or reflect work practices, attitudes and beliefs?

Should digital literacies be the aim of professional development courses (e.g. PG certs) for new academic staff?

What is it to be a digital scholar? What makes a ‘successful’ ‘academic’ blog, for example? Will a blog ever have the same status as a paper in a reviewed journal?

3. Focus on learners and learning:

Production, assessment and practices in collaborative learning – how to consider e-discussions, collaborative writing projects (wikis), in educational contexts, or certification of what is learned/produced by whom?

Exploring notion of audience with literacy and technology. E.g: the public multiple audiences for students’ work implied by an ‘exhibition’ as opposed to essay or logbook.

Understanding the balance between context-specific & cross-context literacy development.

Assessment frameworks for digital assignments in HE, notions of the ‘essay’, and what counts as ‘criticality’ in digital writing?

‘Ownership’ of the goals of learning and assessment criteria.

Visuality and the assessment of multimodal texts.

4. General research issues:

Socio-technical practices – what are they, how are they learned, what group, and group-use-of-technology practices need to be learned for collaborative, participatory practices?

Further deconstructing the ‘digital native’.


Seminar three (Open University) October 14/15 2010 

we need empirical examinations of the extent to which different people embrace various affordances of digital media -- who is participating, who is not ... implications for the democratising potential of new tools and services -- in US colleges, privileged, male, white and Asian American students know more about the Internet, are more confident and take part in more participatory activities...

...Exploring the insights of critical post-humanism as a way of thinking through the new literacy modes -- rethinking educational purpose as 'a gathering of the human and nonhuman to establish matters of concern'-- rethinking literacy in terms of disaggregation, reaggregation and gathering - reflexively and explicitly engaging with fragmentation...

... challenges to the description and analysis of practices and associated texts and technologies which constitute data -- the need for a nuanced research framework for understanding meaning making in contexts of integrated textual and technological practice -- actor network theory as a perspective in which tools/applications and literacy practices are not distinguished...

... eliciting, capturing and problematising the student perspective on learning -- how the dynamic between personally and institutionally owned technologies is changing research and learning relationships -- an 'anthropology' of the student experience...

... textually-mediated online spaces and their users -- text-making practices of online participants -- 'ways in which people choose and transform resources for representing meanings in the form of texts for different purposes' -- turning the research site into the research tools -- need for a discourse-centred online ethnography examining texts across participants and within individual participants' practices...

...methodological issues of access, shifting texts, ethics of public online data, collaboration, digitally-based research tools -- specific discourses of learning within new vernacular writing practices -- domains of social activity online -- experience of changing technologies across the lifespan -- intergenerational and cross-cultural sponsors of learning -- material factors affecting learning and take-up of technologies for communication -- technology as a method for investigating literacy practices -- tboundaries between formal and informal literacy and learning

... Impact of digital communication on practices of scholarship in research and teaching in higher education -- disciplines, institutional missions, digital tools and applications, 'open' knowledge-sharing practices -- combining text/textual practices and socio-technical interaction frameworks to investigate functions of the academic university in the digital age

Discussant (Carey Jewitt)
The papers in this seminar have focused on: getting at hidden practices, uncovering, differentiation of users and practices, making visible forms of practice/the digital gaze, reality checks, debunking myths, invisible frameworks of sociotechnical designers -- current research fails to capture nuances of situated digital literacy moments/events/practices -- research methodologies need to be more flexible, to move beyond the snapshot, to make connections across existing binaries,to get at complexity and process, to reimagine time and space, to better understand both the search subjects and us as researchers

Subsequent discussion in this blog:

...the problem terms 'literacy' and 'technology' are being absorbed into shared notions of practice and learning in digital environments

...she is finding ways to mine the responses of hundreds of informants, and if these studies can be satisfactorily replicated in other countries and cultures (which she says they have) I would think this is a really valuable 'other' dimension to the qualitative description of the practices of situated individuals.

Her association of 'text' with 'writing' is part of her methodological approach - writing is also data for a linguist - but of course there are others who might use the term in a wider sense, to include other modalities too. Nevertheless, I for one am completely convinced that a 'literacies' approach to learning with technology is always going to have at least one eye on the written word, as it is so often the 'bottom line' where social action grounds out (especially in formal education and scholarly practice: assessments, evaluations, appraisals, arguments, evidence, reflection, etc.).

she picked up on, and re-emphasised, the necessity for us as researchers to be reflexive - to put ourselves into the literacies frame and interrogate our own practices, across media and across time. Research in this field is a boundary-crossing activity [as MaryH and David have demonstrated in their workshops].

From the feedback forms for seminar three:


implications (on the ground, in schools and unis) of digital capital and uneven distribution of digital skill?
what is the relationship between the systematic integration of skills into the curriculum, and the choices that students (and their teachers) make about their academic practices?
a clear conceptual map or model of what we have been discussing in these seminars?
explore the overlaps with research in the Information Literacies domain?
interaction between students online texts and traditional assessed texts -- innovative assignment types, e.g.: assessing Powerpoints, blogs, websites?
comparative international work -- can findings from qualitative studies inform instruments and measures for quantitative studies?
alignment of research methodologies?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Carey Jewitt's summary for Seminar 3

Carey graphically demonstrated the emergence of  shared concepts central to our discussions, through the use of a Wordle cloud generated from the abstracts of the all the sessions. She showed that the  'literacy v technology' dichotomy has given way to a common focus on practices, on learning, and on students.

One key issue that she surfaced (see the summary on the LIDU website for her slides), was the fact that most of the studies that people have been talking about during the seminar were looking below the radar of existing research (ie: focused on 'hidden' practices, the debunking of myths, uncovering phenomena etc.). [This has important implications for a future research agenda in this field - if we want funding we probably need to connect at some point with recognised agendas in both literacy and technology studies. Hopefully these seminars are helping us to see what these agendas are].

Carey analysed in some depth the 'alignment of methodologies' that is necessary to capture to capture 'the rich nuance of people’s situated digital literacy moments/events/practices'. She noted the importance of 
re-articulating approaches to researching textual practices in the context of the proliferation of multimodal digital resources, and the emergence of tensions (productive, but still tense!) between the 'creative appropriation' of these resources by learners, and on-going practices associated with teaching and assessment.

She drew our attention to the need to 'look beyond the snapshot', that is, to work with transition over time - between and across institutions, technologies and spaces. Working towards a better understanding of what the conceptual work of  ‘looking over time at change’ is focused on.

And she picked up on, and re-emphasised, the necessity for us as researchers to be reflexive - to put ourselves into the literacies frame and interrogate our own practices, across media and across time. Research in this field is a boundary-crossing activity [as MaryH and David have demonstrated in their workshops].

The Literacies of Funding our Future

Traditional literacy




Digital Literacy






Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Carmen Lee's talk at Seminar 3

Slides and recordings from Carmen's talk are on the website at: http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/lidu/p4_3.shtml (Friday 10.20 in the timetable). The Olympus recorder was feeling keen that morning and caught the whole session, including the questions afterwards, so it's all there.

I've divided the recording up into 3 sections - one with Carmen's discussion of the methodological background to her research, one with her description of her studies of Hong Kong students' textual practices with Instant Messaging and Facebook status updates, and one with the audience's questions and her replies.

Carmen revealed herself as a reader of this blog when she quoted an earlier discussion we had on why talk about texts (that post actually got 3 comments - a record!) - she answered the question herself by pointing to the ubiquity of writing online and the way it is implicated in in almost all interaction. Her association of 'text' with 'writing' is part of her methodological approach - writing is also data for a linguist - but of course there are others who might use the term in a wider sense, to include other modalities too. Nevertheless, I for one am completely convinced that a 'literacies' approach to learning with technology is always going to have at least one eye on the written word, as it is so often the 'bottom line' where social action grounds out (especially in formal education and scholarly practice: assessments, evaluations, appraisals, arguments, evidence, reflection, etc.).

Eventually she described herself as doing 'discourse-centred online ethnography' which allows for all sorts of non-textual (in the writing sense) meaning-making as well. This was effectively evidenced by some of her examples of Chinese-speaking students' facebook updates, and her account of the process of 'turning her research sites into research tools' by progressively engaging participants in reflection on their own practices.

During the subsequent question-and-answer session, Carmen's responsive methodology led some of the audience to question how far participants in this kind of online ethnography can be said to be 'informed' in what they consent to revealing for research purpose. This issue had come up the day before in Sally Baker's talk about doing research using Facebook too. Is the 'tell all' ethos of social networking an adequate ethical justification for reporting anything that participants write or do?

Personally I felt quite comfortable with this, as with all of Carmen's ideas in this talk - it seemed to me pretty paradigmatic of qualitative, ethnographic, literacies research. Principled, thoughtful, and respectful of informants, especially if they are students (with the 'structural' relationship to the academic researcher that this often implies). It is true that Facebook participants might not have much idea of is going to be done with their words and their identities later, in the name of research, but that must be the case with most informants in ethnographic studies. In the end they, and we, trust the researcher to be like Carmen.

I felt hoist by my own petard when, just as I was looking forward to her telling us what kinds of variation in individual practice she had uncovered, she announced that she wouldn't be talking about findings as this was a methodology seminar. That had been my own insistence (vindicated too I reckon by the quality of all the presentations) - but a peek at what she found would have been nice.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Eszter Hargittai's talk at Seminar 3

Eszter's slides and audio recording are now on the Lidu website at http://www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects/lidu/p4_3.shtml - sadly the audio is incomplete, as the recorder cut out inexplicably with 10 mins still to go. It did that with almost all the talks, in some cases (eg: mine) deciding to stop after just 5 mins (maybe it had heard enough). I've summarised the last part of Eszter's talk below, plus a couple of the questions from the audience.

Eszter's focus was on what she is calling the internet skills of US college students. By this she means what they know about it and what they can do with a computer connected to it. Her interest is to establish whether differences in levels of skill between people are random, or due to some systematic factor like gender, social background etc. (She has a nice graphic illustrating the cycle of skills->types of use->academic achievement ->life chances etc.)

The audio of her talk is split into two sections - about 15 minutes on her methodology, and then 10 on her findings. Under methodology she discusses issues such as the 'digital data paradox' (the Google fallacy: data about internet uses = data about users), and the realities of finding out what the 'wired generation' (95% of her student informants had access to the internet at home during their high school years, and they spend an average of 17 hours weekly on it not counting email, chat and Skype-type communications) can actually do. Eszter used observations, pen & paper surveys and interviews to rate informants' understanding of a range of internet terms ('download', 'bookmark', 'jpeg', 'Bcc', 'RSS' etc.) and their ability to carry out the procedures that these terms describe.

(I caught myself out wondering if I really do know what 'Bcc' does, even though I know what it means. I don't think I ever use it. I wonder if this affects my life chances?)

Under findings she provides some interesting (though not always surprising, if we think about it)data, for example:

  • Women consistently rate their skill levels lower than men do (there is no research domain, Eszter says, where this is not the case)..
  • ..however, where self-rating is equivalent between men and women, so are actual skill levels
  • There is a large skill/knowledge differential between Female/Hispanic students and Male/Asian ones
  • There is a differential between skill levels of students whose parents' education stopped at high school and those whose parents have college degrees
  • Most-used sites are Facebook, Youtube, wikipedia - only 18% use Twitter, correlating highly with interest in celebrities
  • Men upload content more
  • Women change their privacy setting more
  • 63% don't use mobile phones to access the internet (possibly because it's quite expensive and they all have laptops)
  • Some think that if Google found it it must be true
  • 25% don't engage with web 2.0-type activity at all
Eszter's conclusion is that there is non-random variation in skill level and that this may be indicative of 'digital inequalities' that should be addressed through education.

The audience threw a number of questions at her, particularly around the relation between her concept of 'skill' and the uses to which it is put, and the notion of 'practices' and the skills which they engender. She is clear about the methodological difference, but I sensed that some of the more social-literacies inclined people were not totally convinced that she is coming at this from the right direction!

For myself, I found her approach, her data, and her whole presentation convincing - she is finding ways to mine the responses of hundreds of informants, and if these studies can be satisfactorily replicated in other countries and cultures (which she says they have) I would think this is a really valuable 'other' dimension to the qualitative description of the practices of situated individuals. I wouldn't trust an educational policy-maker with this perspective alone, mind you - that 25% of non-engaged students might be doing something even more interesting while the others are online!

Monday, 18 October 2010

3rd Seminar report

Personally, I thought this seminar was brilliant! Two days of high-quality presentations and stimulating discussion, interleaved with some excellent cakes.

[This will be a quick descriptive report, there is a lot of comment and reflection to be done over the next couple of weeks while we put audio clips and presentation slides up on the website.]

The strategy of having two quite different international guest speakers, one on each day, worked a treat. Eszter Hargittai began the proceedings with a 'reality check' on US college students online skills and activities.

Eszter's presentation of her large-scale survey-based studies contained a number of nuggets of information that caused a frisson or two in the audience -- that male students are far more likely to overrate their skills levels than females, for example, or that males create and upload more content, but females spend more time changing their Facebook privacy settings. And most surprising, that only 18% of 2009's respondents were twitter users, or that 63% do NOT use their mobile phones to access the internet.


In contrast to Eszter's statistics, Carmen Lee's talk on the second day gave us what she called a 'discourse-centred online ethnography', looking at Hong Kong students' use of micro-blogging features in Facebook.

Many of us were particularly intrigued by Carmen's examples of student online texts which mixed English words with Chinese ideograms and phonetically-spelt Cantonese exclamations. The subsequent discussion raised the issue of anonymity (or otherwise) for informants in this kind of research, an issue relevant to the presentations of several other speakers.

In and around the presentations of these two international guests, the LIDU core seminar group fitted talks and workshops covering a wide range of topics, none of which could fail to engross anyone who has ever stopped to think about the actual literacy demands of engagement in online practices, from putting your homework up on Flickr to blogging your scholarly reputation.
Sian Bayne's meditation on distance education as a 'post-human' human-technology symbiosis was later illustrated by Jen Ross and herself with some impressive examples of their own MA students' virtual 'lifestreams' assembled from a variety of feeds over the course of their study. Lynn Coleman's and Sally Baker's joint discussion of the use of the digital as both object and artefact for research kept the focus firmly on methodology -- the theme of the seminar. Mary Lea gave an account of the pedagogical 'sandwich' in which unpacked and little-researched students' practices with technologies are the filling between layers of text-based task and assessment. Rhona Sharpe reported on research into learners experiences, demanding more reliable and usable methodologies to involve practitioners and students in data collection that captures and retains the learner's voice. David Barton, Mary Hamilton and Candice Satchwell, discussed and demonstrated Flickr as a learning environment, the possibilities inherent in collaborative research methodologies in which informants and researchers make collective decisions at all stages of the process, and the highly engaging online exchanges of children (and some of their parents) during a climate change project. Helen Beetham and Allison Littlejohn cajoled workshop participants into some meaningful reflexivity about aims and outcomes in digital literacy research, and I raised the spectre of the 'digital scholar' and the breaking down of the walls of the Academy!

In between all this we talked a blue streak, and I had the feeling that the whole topic was really beginning to open up, and to overcome some of the difficulties in communication between 'language' and 'technology' people, that we had found in previous seminars. This was confirmed by Carrie Jewett, who spent some of her preparation time as discussant, when she wasn't enthusiastically contributing to the discussion itself, compiling a 'wordle' out of the abstracts of the seminar talks.

This demonstrated vividly how research had come to the fore, and the problem terms 'literacy' and 'technology' were being absorbed into shared notions of practice and learning in digital environments.

The discussion that followed Carey's plenary session will be the subject of a subsequent post all to itself. In the meantime, here is a caption competition: who is saying what to whom in this snapshot of Jenn, Sian and myself sharing a post-human moment?














Monday, 27 September 2010

Post graduate e-forum on academic writing and text production

A new online discussion forum for postgraduate students working in the areas of academic writing, text production, literacies and ethnography, has been launched by the academic literacies group at The Open University.

The forum is a development of online discussions held around the one-day seminar Ethnographies of Academic Writing in a Global Context organized by Theresa Lillis on 16 July 2010 at the Open University. To make this forum work over the longer term and continue the fruitful discussions amongst post graduate students a new “re-launched” forum has been initiated. The new forum is called the Post graduate e-forum on academic writing and text production and will focus on exploring ethnographic and contextual approaches to academic literacies within the global context of higher education.

Post graduate students working in the broad areas of academic writing, text production, literacies and ethnography who are interested in participating in this forum should send an e-mail to the current forum moderators Lynn Coleman and Jackie Tuck l.coleman@open.ac.uk and j.tuck@open.ac.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The 'Digital Turn' in the NLS

[I'm experimenting with a new practice -- blogging my response to an article as I read it, using the Dragon speech recognition software].

The article is by Kathy Ann Mills in the Review of Educational Research June 2010. It's called 'A Review of the Digital Turn in the New Literacy Studies and I'm particularly interested in it for two reasons: one because it's relevant to our ongoing discussions in the LIDU seminar series and in this blog, and two because I'm still waiting for referees’ comments on my own review 'Literacy, Literacies and the Digital in Higher Education' which I submitted to Teaching in Higher Education last March, and I'm anxious in case Kathy Ann turns out to have said everything already. Thus am I motivated by the pure and disinterested search for knowledge.

[Dragon note: I’ve moved from my nice comfortable armchair back to the office chair, so as to be able to make keyboard corrections manually when Dragon slips up and refuses to recognise commands dictated to my extension wall-mounted monitor]

This article focuses on literature which is explicitly associated with the New Literacy Studies -- work that introduced the concept of 'literacy practices' to replace earlier notions of cognitive competence as an explanation for peoples’ communicative behaviour in text. Literacy practices can only be understood in relation to the particular social groups that value them, thus scotching the idea that literacy 'skill' is something that, once gained, can be switched from context or context unproblematically. So far so good.

There is a lot of literature referenced in this article, about 176 citations. (I've only got 51 in mine, but, mind you, I'm only talking about higher education, Kathy Ann's field takes in the whole of the compulsory education sector as well. Still, I have to admit she has done a much more thorough job than me, of warranting her claims by showing that she has considered everything written that is relevant to the subject -- describing her search processes, search terms, search engines used, etc. A typically rigourous Educational Research approach). I won't try to report on everything she says, just pick out a couple of points that make this a really worthwhile read for anyone interested in the relation between literacy and technology, and then have a very minor grump about extensive referencing as an academic literacy practice that doesn't always do what it says on the tin.

One of the interesting things that came through to me from this review, is the way that the focus of 'literacy' thinking in education has begun to move, influenced by multimodal practices, away from the idea of written text as being a single mode. Mills points out that in virtually all the empirical research she reviews, 'participants engage with the written word in the process or product of their textual engagements, while frequently drawing on other modes and conventions' (Page 249), going on to refer to research done in Brazil that shows students using written forms such as dialogue and song lyrics, in two languages, as an integral part of multimodal presentations.

Opening up the space of possibilities for writing as part of a multimodal semiotic system raises questions about the value accorded to more colloquial, informal, and personally expressive forms of writing in institutional contexts of learning. Mills says, tantalisingly, 'there is surprisingly little evidence of any resistance to official literacies in the digital strand of this [new literacy studies] tradition’ (page 252). This surprised me a bit, because Lankshear and Knobel’s work (to name but two) is full of references to 'alternative' and 'resistant' youth literacy practices. It was them that tempted me (in my own review) to characterise media literacy research focused on schools as significantly anti-establishment as far as official literacies are concerned, and to contrast this with higher education where media literacy research has yet to get any proper foothold at all.

Mills refers us to the Digital youth network research (2009) large-scale studies of African American youth in sixth to eighth grades. These found, tellingly, that 'in formal settings, the most powerful examples of digital literacy programs were based on learner rather than teacher interests ... [with] ... unstructured experimentation with new media, rather than ... direct instruction from authority figures’ (page 253). She goes on to relate this to research around authoritative knowledge, mentioning studies that highlight 'the destabilising of traditional loci of authoritative knowledge and expertise’ and the new centrality of 'peer collaboration, mentoring, and voluntary support to members of online communities'. (Which, I must say, is very much what proponents of eLearning have been claiming for a couple of decades now, without that much evidence of significant changes happening in knowledge practices in higher education).

[Dragon note: rather than save time by trying to use Dragon to blog-as-I-read, I'm finding that this is taking just as long, if not longer, as it would if I just read and made notes, and then wrote it up in the conventional way. I'm only halfway through and this post is already far too long. I clearly need to be more disciplined in deciding what to comment on. This is not Dragon's fault I hasten to say, it's doing its best to adapt to me I must try to adapt better to it.]

If I've got time (and when I get back from my holiday) I might carry on discussing this review, as it's excellent, and I recommend it. However, before I finish here, I want to note something about all those references. This article makes an implicit claim for comprehensive coverage of its subject by searching for, and listing, as many other articles as it can find using keywords searches such as '(literacy Or reading Or writing) And (sociocultural Or social practice) And (digital Or techno* or comput* Or multimedia)' (page 247). What results is an invaluable list of references that enables the reader to scan titles for topics of interest without having to do their own search. What I find a little bit more spurious (and this is not just about what this author has done, but about academic practice in general) is the explicit grouping together of particular citations to suggest common approaches, themes, even research movements. I was pleased to see two references to my own work there (don't we always look for these first!), But I was puzzled by what Kathy Ann had given one of them as an example of: I've never written anything about ‘online chat’ as far as I can remember. I know that it's easy to forget who said what when you're referencing a whole load of sources, but it does make me wonder how many of the other citations might actually not be particularly relevant to the point being made.

Does it matter? Not if you like your academic rigour with a tiny grain of salt.

Friday, 20 August 2010

The 'literacy problem'

Have just read something entitled 'New Literacies' on the ALT wiki http://wiki.alt.ac.uk/index.php/New_Literacies I found the posting rather frustrating with regard to its cursory use of bodies of work which have been grappling with the issue of literacy as a social and cultural practice, across a range of mediated contexts, for the last thirty years.

The author, whose name I had to dig around for but finally found, seems to be setting out to discuss what he refers to as ‘the literacy problem’. He draws on an eclectic range of literature, some of which is referenced at the end of the posting and some of which is not. Secondary sources figure pretty strongly. What causes me the most irritation is the way in which someone claims to be writing about New Literacies, throws in many of the dominant writers in the New Literacy Studies (NLS) field, Street, Gee, Barton but also manages to misrepresent some fundamental principles of this field of enquiry and how it has evolved and developed as a critical lens on practice in specific cultural contexs, including new media and technological contexts. Also there is no acknowledgement that literacies theorists have always been aware of technologies in relation to literacy practices. The author claims that new literacies researchers “never studied literacy directly but only through the lens of organizations, institution and groups”. I am left wondering what he has actually read of the work he refers to. There are serious omissions, too, for example, no reference to the 2001 vol 4 & 5 special editions of Language and Education on New Directions in Literacy research, Kress’s Page to Screen, or Carey Jewitt’s work on multimodality. Throughout much of the posting the word literacy seems to me to be a kind of shorthand for anything to do with skill or competence. In fact, a quick web search of my own yesterday evening reinforced this, with links to
Agricultural literacyAliteracy • • Computer literacyCultural literacy • • Diaspora literacyEcological literacyElectracyFinancial literacyHealth literacyInformation literacyInformation and media literacy • • Mental health literacyMental literacyMultimedia literacy • • Racial literacyScientific literacyStatistical literacyTechnacy • • Visual literacy not to mention, emotional literacy - environmental literacy - political literacy- physical literacy........

So where do I go from here if I want to be able to think and write critically about literacies in a digital world? I remember Brian Street some years back critiquing the association of literacies with particular categories. His position was that terms such as ‘computer literacy’ were misleading since they suggested something unitary, whereas literacy always involves different uses of literacy in different contexts. At the time I wasn’t sure how far I agreed with this and still felt comfortable about using the term ‘digital literacies’. I believed that in associating digital with the plural literacies we were embedding the notion of literacy practices as primarily socially situated and contextual. I am no longer convinced that the term is doing this job. I want to continue to find a way of signalling my interest in exploring meaning making in a digital world and foregrounding the critical contested nature of literacies and literacy practices which the long history of NLS and by association, Academic Literacies, buys us. Since the LiDU seminar series started, I have been increasingly concerned that the ubiquitious use of the term digital literacies no longer carries these connotations for me and this ALT posting reinforces my disquiet. I find myself searching around as to where to go from here. I’m moving further and further away from using the term ‘digital literacies’. Literacies in a digital world is working better for me right now and, with regard to my own work, academic literacies in a digital world/context/age seems to conjure up where I am located, with my interests in meaning making through participation in textual and technological practices.
I am hoping that with our 2 day event in October, focusing on methodological issues, we will be able to explore this further.
Mary

Third seminar in the series coming soon!

The third seminar in the series, entitled 'Methodologies for Research in Literacy and Learning in Digital Contexts', will be held at the Open University on October 14th and 15th.

The programme is still being finalised -- as well as presentations and discussions led by the core members of the seminar group (David Barton, Mary Hamilton, Candice Satchwell, Helen Beetham, Allison Littlejohn, Lou McGill, Sian Bayne, Mary Lea, Chris Jones, Robin Goodfellow) it will include talks from two international invited speakers: Eszter Hargittai from Northwestern University in the USA, and Carmen Lee from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a plenary discussion led by Carey Jewitt from the Institute of Education.

Eszter has recently had an interview about her book 'Research Confidential' published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Carmen was an invited speaker at the 17th International conference on learning in Hong Kong this year. Carey is well-known internationally for her work on multimodality and education.

The previous two seminars (Edinburgh last October, Glasgow Caledonian in March) raised a number of key questions for future research on 'literacies of the digital' and 'learning in the digital age'. Some of these issues are summarised here on the Lidu blog, for example:

Socio-technical practices – what are they, how are they learned, what group, and group-use-of-technology practices need to be learned for collaborative, participatory practices?

How do universities respond, in terms of assessment frameworks, regulations etc., to new text types and literacy practices?

What is it to be a digital scholar? What makes a ‘successful’ ‘academic’ blog, for example? Will a blog ever have the same status as a paper in a reviewed journal?


The October seminar is focusing on the kinds of research methodologies, survey-based, qualitative, ethnographic, reflexive etc. that we need to inform the exploration of questions like these.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Ethnographies of academic writing seminar

This was a seminar held at the Open University on July 16, coordinated and led by Theresa Lillis. The full name of the event was 'Ethnographies of Academic Writing in a Global Context: the politics of style'. Theresa is running a longitudinal research project called Professional Academic Writing in a Global Context (funded by ESRC) looking at practices in writing for publication in English-language journals by non-native-English-speaking scholars - the seminar topic was based on ideas derived from this, particularly ideas around what is at stake in academic text production in global contexts, and how an ethnographic approach can help us to understand the significance attached to 'style'. See the outline programme.

Highlights that stuck in my mind were: Ana Moreno's fascinating exploration of the different ways that English and Spanish academics express critical comments in book reviews; Constant Leung and Brian Street's interesting discussion of methodological issues involved in using multiple and multimodal sources of data about students writing, which never quite crossed the line to talking about students' own multimodal text production; Lucia Thesen's critical but ever so understated observations on the way that an academic literacies/ethnographic perspective can itself be problematic for research carried out in Africa, in its orientalising effect (my word not hers) representing local contexts, strange data, and problematic theorisation etc.; Mary Scott's informal discussion of 'ethnopoetics' informed by striking examples of extracts from student essays transformed stylistically by being presented as poems.

As is often the case with mainstream writing-focused events (as with WDHE 2010, reported on in an earlier post), I was a bit frustrated with the continuing scarcity of work that uses the theoretical and methodological insights from this field to examine emerging media-intensive practices in both actual and virtual contexts of writing. If applied linguists would pay a bit more attention to learning technologies, I tell myself, it might be easier to get learning technologists to think seriously about students' writing.

In my own presentation to the seminar I talked about a bit of desktop research I've been doing into the meaning of the term 'scholarship' as applied to academic blogging. Starting with the premise that all scholarship must be discipline-related (which seems true to me, although some people may want to dispute it), I sought to characterise some academic blogs that I found through Technorati, Scienceblogs, and other sources, as to whether or not they conformed to conventions of writing 'typical' for their disciplines. I used Bazerman's 1981 paper 'What Written Knowledge Does' as a model. Bazerman looked at canonical research articles in the fields of molecular biology, sociology of science, and literary criticism, and distinguished them according to how they treated the assumed 'fixity' of the knowledge they were dealing with, how they engaged with the literature of the field, how they positioned their assumed readership, and how the authors represented themselves. I applied his criteria to selected postings from academic bloggers in the same 3 fields, namely: Pharyngula (PZ Myers), Understanding Society (D Little), and DG Myers' blog on literary criticism.

I'm still writing up this paper for conventional publication (not entirely a digital scholar as yet) so I won't go into any more detail here. Suffice it to say, that the three posts I mentioned above do reproduce Bazerman's features of typicality for their disciplines to an interesting degree. Interesting to me that is -- I sensed that the seminar audience found it quite interesting, but were not convinced it had much to do with ethnography, nor with the real business of academic writing.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Writing Development in Higher Education conference

The 13th WDHE conference was hosted by what used to be called the WriteNow CETL (when we still had 'settles').

I've been to the last five of these conferences and as usual I quite enjoyed this one, although I was a bit less engaged this time because of competing commitments (like the SCONUL meeting), the need to travel down to London from Milton Keynes each day, and most pertinently because I felt that many of the same discussions were being had over again. It's significant that the issue of how to get writing more centrally onto the agendas of disciplinary teaching and student support never seems to get any less pressing. From my own point of view, as well, the continuing marginality of new media issues in the context of student writing is a bit depressing. I've had a personal agenda for a few years now of trying to get writing in online contexts recognised as a central part of the student writing experience at university, but I still found only a handful of presentations at this conference that had a digital dimension.

The ones I attended included Trevor Day's presentation about designing an online writing support resource at the University of Bath, Maria Jersky from LaGuardia U. on promoting multilingual writers self-efficacy using Web 2.0, Florence Dujardin on student voice and social bookmarking at Sheffield Hallam, and the keynote by Andrea Lunsford from Stanford U. who was ostensibly talking about a longitudinal study of student writing practices, but in fact spent most of her time eulogising three of her favourites who were doing remarkable things with websites, as well as probably getting A's in their essays.

My own presentation was about a little project that I'm involved in at the OU and AUT University in Auckland, trying to create an open access resource for academic writing support online that can be contextualised by teachers and students to their own tasks in hand. The project is called Contextualising Online Writing Support which means that I could use little cartoons of cows on my slides.

The high point of the conference for me was, as last time in Glasgow, catching up with Claire Aitchison from the University of Western Australia who is doing some very interesting work into the writing practices of postgraduate students, and is, as I found out, a fellow Dragon user ...

... Claire is actually much more experienced with this beast than me having been at it for two years but she still jumped up and down in gleeful recognition of my problems -- trying to get it to learn that 'Hi’ at the beginning of an e-mail should never be spelt 'high'; trying to correct its default assumption that everything I'm writing is at heart a business letter, so that its knee-jerk interpretation of a name like 'Annette Byrne' is 'net earnings'; getting over all the glitches it seems to cause with other programs including stopping the computer from shutting down by refusing to end its recording function. We agreed that the goal of speak-writing was a worthy one and much better for our eventual fluency, but that there should be a dragon users anonymous group giving each other support and therapy while we were trying to get there.

SCONUL information literacy study

I had an unexpected invitation to attend a meeting of the Society of College, National and University Libraries Association (SCONUL) to discuss ideas for a large scale study of the impact of information literacy programs in higher education. I thought at first that the invite had come through Alison Mackenzie, who I invited to our second lidu seminar in Glasgow last March, but it turned out that Cathie Jackson who was organising the meeting for SCONUL had been googling around looking for people who might be interested, and found us.

The meeting clashed with the first afternoon of the writing development in higher education conference I was booked to go to (more of that in my next post) but I was intrigued enough to want to attend. They'd sent out a proposal for a study that had been written by Ralph Catts from the University of Stirling (here is an example of his work on information literacy indicators), which I found challenging on a number of fronts, not least because it draws on a highly empirical/experimental tradition of educational research which I had not previously thought appropriate to the study of literacy. Information literacy, of course, develops from information skills, traditionally the province of libraries and historically considered to be testable via a pre-test -- intervention -- posttest model.

After a preliminary discussion with a colleague in the OU library I went to the meeting with the idea that the OU could definitely contribute to the more qualitative case study aspects of the proposal. In the event, two of the other preliminary speakers also expressed concerns about the theoretical and methodological feasibility of determining the contribution to learning, or student attitude, or retention, of information literacy programs. Not to mention determining what constitutes an information literacy intervention in the first place. Ralph himself was completely open to discussion along those lines and the afternoon was very productive.

My own introduction drew attention to the experience of writing centres in the USA who found their funding cut by their universities when 'impact' studies proved inconclusive. For some managers no evidence of value clearly equals no value. I also talked about the work of our lidu partners in the 'Learning Literacies in the Digital Age' project with regard to information literacy and the way it tends to be supported in UK colleges and universities (by central support services like libraries, as opposed to academic and media literacies pretend to be located within the subject curriculum).

In the general discussion, there was some support for the idea that the impact of information literacy might be more easily measured in terms of its influence on the input to student learning, including on academic practice, rather than directly on learning outcomes. We also discussed possible sources for funding for a study, including JISC, the EU framework seven, and a possible ESRC seminar series. It was left with Alison and Cathie and Ralph to summarise what we had been talking about and to propose an onward strategy for developing a study and a bid for funding.

We will definitely be re-inviting SCONUL c olleagues to the OU lidu seminar in October, where Esther Hargittai's large-scale research on information literacy skills will be of interest to them.

Catching up -- more problematic E-literacy practices

I suspect it's not good blogging practice to save up one's ideas for posts over a three-week period and then send them all at once. If there are casual readers who have dropped in from time to time and found nothing more, they have probably already concluded that the blog is defunct. And anyone who's actually got a feed from the blog suddenly gets a whole bunch of messages arriving at the same time and probably hasn't got time to read them properly.

However, unless you are an experienced diariser it's quite difficult to keep up a regular output of comment. When you are continually inundated with e-mails, proposals, forms to be filled in, reports and papers to be written and read, and other reading and writing tasks that don't seem to get any less as the university gets more digital, then time not spent committing your words to the ether seems precious.

But, of course, there are dozens of very busy and very successful academics and other university professionals keeping very regular and very informative blogs. I'm currently exploring some of them for a talk I'm preparing on 'the rise of the academic blogger' at a seminar on academic literacies and ethnography at the open University on July 16. My idea is to take a few of their posts and see if they display any of the characteristics of written knowledge in their disciplines that writers like Bazerman and Hyland have identified.

In the meantime, on the assumption that it's only me that's reading these posts anyway, I'm just going to go ahead and send all the ones I've been mentally composing the last three weeks at the same time!

The first is another reflection on the problematics of new literacy practices brought into education from the wider world of the Internet - it occurred to me while I was updating the online study material for the OU course I work on, 'the elearning professional'. For the last three years we've included a link to a site belonging to an American university which was a field leader in ePortfolio practice. The link was to a page on Reflection- advice to students on writing reflectively in their ePortfolios, the value of it, how to do it etc. When I was checking the link recently I found it had disappeared. Not only that, the whole site about the university's ePortfolio system had been subsumed by a new site promoting individual student blogs. This is interesting enough in itself, as it bears out the intuition I'd already had that the complex monolithic ePortfolio system that was all the rage couple of years ago would find itself 'un-bundled' (to use a current buzzword) into its component parts: systems for storing, reflecting, showcasing etc.

But even more interesting was to find a video on the bit of the website that is about using the reflective blog element of the ePortfolio, flagged as 'an example of using the reflective blog element to establish yourself as a leading thinker in your field'.

How the noble art of reflection is fallen! From self-knowledge to self-promotion.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The Dragon's claws of clay

I've found the catch with my friendly dragon speech recognition software -- it doesn't work properly on the extension monitor that I have plugged into my laptop at home.

It recognises dictation more or less okay, but it doesn't carry out menu commands properly. I say 'Edit' and the appropriate menu tab flashes but nothing happens. I say 'Page down' and it just stares back at me inscrutably.

I had a very long and very pleasant telephone conversation about it with a young man (well he sounded young) called Guillermo from Nuance, the supplier. Guillermo had never heard of this problem before and had to go away and talk to his supervisor. A couple of days later I got an e-mail informing me, shamefacedly, that 'this is a known issue of the program and there is no solution or a way to workaround it and it will be fixed in future versions of Dragon'.

So my brilliant idea of having a large wall mounted monitor that I can write on from my armchair stumbles over a lame dragon.

Nothing Is Perfect -- even in the digital age

Monday, 7 June 2010

Auditing our scholarly outputs

I was at a meeting today where OU colleagues were discussing a proposed 'audit of scholarly outputs' to be carried out in our university towards the end of the year.

We are evidently serious about this scholarship business. The purpose is to build on our institutional experience of evaluating the outputs of individual researchers in the last RAE, to develop a way of identifying indicators of excellence in scholarly work which is not necessarily 'REF-able'. This would be to our benefit in terms of professional development (possible promotion based on it) and to the University's in that it would bring this, normally hidden, excellent work to the public gaze. The OU would like to be a sector leader in this enterprise., although we have apparently already been beaten to it in the production of statements of scholarly excellence by UCL .

We had a very interesting discussion about the kinds of things that individual academics might include in a submission that detailed their scholarly outputs (or outcomes -- another interesting discussion) over a four or five-year period. Suggestions included the kinds of contribution that people routinely make to the outputs (or outcomes) of others: critical reading, mentoring, organising reading groups and seminars, chairing meetings, reviewing, lending each other books. They also included digital activities of sometimes more doubtful scholarly provenance: blogging about one's personal research interests, contributions to e-mail lists, uploading mediocre work to institutional repositories etc.

Perhaps equally interesting were the suggestions for activities that might not be regarded as scholarship: ordinary teaching (as opposed to, for example, developing new curriculum areas), external examining, writing teaching material (unless it contains more than 60% 'new' knowledge), research administration!

To my mind, it is no surprise that the sample headings for such an audit that we were given to discuss were very strongly oriented towards what we already know as research. Scholarship in the literature is strongly associated with research in established disciplines. However, if this exercise is to throw any light on the role of the scholar in the knowledge age, then I think we have to move out of the familiar zone of research, research excellence, the RAE/REF etc, and think about the ways that teaching, and the production of teaching materials, and the development of pedagogies, are also scholarship, and their authors scholars.