Cyborg Reflections : Digital Literacy

I have been meaning to blog the last of my notes from the ITC and the Humanities Summer School and in order to keep this blog ticking through the sunny weeks of the July summer break I thought to contribute some now.
Morton Sorby is a Section Leader in the Network for IT-Research and Competence in Education (ITU), Faculty of Education, at the University of Oslo. The background reading for this presentation was the online paper Identity and Learning in Cyberspace.

Sorby began by back grounding his ideology with the provocative but framing statements that we can look at “educational institutions as museums of cultural heritage” and we are just now embarking on “the huge project of digital literacy”. Accordingly he concedes that it is difficult to see change in the institutional systems of education as it is one based on tradition. The classification of “cyborg” in this context is one heavy with nostalgia.
Points discussed by Sorby:

* Educator as Luddite –
A failure to take an account of IT both on an individual and organisational level. There is a new generation growing up now with “cyborg minds” and in light of this education as museum must be overcome.

* Digital Literacies –
In this case this is not just literacy in the sense of ability to communicate through text but an entire system of knowledge. “Truth” is less meaningful in this context and knowledge creation is more emphasized.

*Digital Culture for Learning –
Digital literacy/competence or “Digital Bildung” (a key concept to Sorby’s approach defined in his online text “Digital Competence: From IT Skills to Digital Bildung” as to:

“a) understand the computer as an information computation and communicating device; b) use the computer in the study of the other basics and for personal and work-related purposes; and c) understand the world of computers, electronics, and related technologies”

Sorby was most particular about the term ‘Digital Bildung‘ believing that the German term carried much more of his vision of integration of ITC in education than similar terms in English or even the Scandinavian languages. In regard to the debate over the role of books in this new pedagogy Sorby stated that historically technology is perceived as a threat until it is absorbed into the culture. In oral cultures writing was met with scepticism as unnatural and Plato wrote of it as being able to weaken memory.

And now on to the main part of Sorby’s presentation.

Education, Culture and Technology:

Treated separately.

The modern concept of Education as Bildung developed around 1800. Jerome S Bruner is cited by Sorby as an educational theorist being concerned with the individual as their own artist, historian, scientist and navigator.Rousseau warns against children’s access to maps [and rather urges them make their own – Ed]. Sorby described maps as prostheses and reads Rousseau as arguing that oral cultures respond best “to the human root and writing then is a modernity problem”.The Principles of New Media as described by Lev Manovich (2001)identify the centrality of digital code in such media. The “New Media Object” can be described formally (mathematically)and the image of such can be described using a mathematical function.

The Future has Already Happened. “The year 2000 will not take place” Baudrillard “What are you Doing after the Orgy”. In the work of Baudrillard we are passed history and instead we live in hyperreality.

In these two approaches we can see digital media as mental prosthesis (Cyborg) or digital media as producing mental cripples (Baudrillard). Freud “Das Unbehagen in der Kultur” [Civilization and its Discontents] (1930) outlined the price of civilization as discipline, sublimation, and repression of desire. The Freudian prosthesis is technology as prosthesis to improve the organs of the body; Man as prosthetic god.

Sorby went on to speak of Gregory Bateson’s analogy of the blind man’s cane whereby with the cyborg the “mind as the mental or the psyche is an aggregate of the parts which interact”. This acknowledges that prosthesis can be a creative opener but also a blind closure. In this respect it is necessary to look at the conceptualisation of thesis, antithesis, synthesis and prosthesis. Such a critique of modernity became a romantic quest

Cyborg – Man is already wrapped in prostheses according to Haraway. Here Sorby breaks from Baudrillard in believing we have broken through dystopia and emerged on the other side; “Metaphoric meaning does not lie in one system of references or another but in the interaction between them.”

Sorby cited here Nisbet’s 1969 text “Social Change and History; Aspects of the Western Theory of Development” and Derrida concept that we are passengers.

The detourment film Read My Lips was given by Solby as an example of digitally literate use of new media technology in order to communicate an idea/s. Wim Veen’s concept of Homo Zappiens is highly relevant to Sorby’s digital bildung. “Screenagers develop while scanning computer screens and zapping TV channels”. Cyberkids are different, they use different parts of the brain. Those parts most concerned with visual, textual, sound and film media combined.

There is no present clear international frame of reference in regards digital literacy. Sorby stated that such a frame of reference should include fundamental ITC skills: text, spreadsheets, presentation software and internet. However, when considering the concept of digital competence “skills are a very narrow perspective and digital bildung is more than just skills.”

Bildung is a reconstructive project and a concept of how we use ICT in a progression from skills to digital literacy. Gilster’s 1997 book Digital Literacy and the online text “Digital Transformation : A Framework for ITC Literacy” In the critique of digital literacies criteria suggested by Sorby, based upon these sources should include: Access, Management, Integration, Evaluation, and Creation. The weakness in these texts is the lack of emphasis on innovation, problem solving and collaboration. These are taken up in conjunction with digital competence and digital bildung.

Sorby’s own definition of a cyborg was given as an “interactive e-citizen in a global information society”. Gee’s “What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy” (2003) and the educational collaborative environment Mission Queen Maud Land (2002) are two examples of the application of Sorby’s definition of cyborg in the context of digital literacy and competency.

The role of the teacher within digital literacy is clearly interdisciplinary whereby they realize the potential of different learning models and work in an inspirational, supportive, knowledgeable and critical manner. A cyborg with a digital bildung each creates their own version of the world as their own artist, own scientist, own historian and own navigator and the interactivity of the media stands against passive consumption of information.

The short discussion which followed Sorby’s presentation included: Cyborg blog as a means of mapping the layers of the knowledge system along the spectrum between “Fact” and “Culture”: Factual – Reflexive – Systematic – Cultural. Lars Qvortup as a developer of different learning strategies and the use of ITC directly in the curriculum.

There was a workshop with Morton Sorby after lunch which centred on how change can be manifest. It was generally acknowledged (much by Sorby himself) that the newness of much of this knowledge has made concrete strategies and frames of reference almost non-existent. the vital importance of the project is however crystal clear. In the words of Solby it is whereby we “allow the users to create the vehicle as well as how to drive”.

More from the ITC and the Humanities Summer School soon…….