changing nature of literacy

Before disappearing from this space for the christmas break, I was just reading a few of the other course participants’ blog posts and this one by Chris made me smile… and then I found myself rethinking what I’ve been thinking for a very long time (well who ever stops thinking what they already know, right? we just add to the mix, we never ‘move on’ – everything important we already learned by the age of 5…), but anyway, ‘literacy’ has been my pet theme since I did a research project on it in an earlier life, and I was taken, back then when I first got deeply into higher ed, with two fields at once – medieval book culture and Halliday’s sophisticated and fascinating theory of language (that just made ‘language’ per se so much more interesting than anything we were ever told about it in school)…. and I’ve remained interested in both ever since.

What I wrote my thesis about way back then was an amusing and extraordinary phenomenon in early 14th English manuscripts, such as the splendiferous Luttrell Psalter….

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where the marginal imagery started to really take off and occupy more and more of the page ‘real estate’… and where that imagery became hilariously bawdy and bizarre (from a 20th century perspective on reading medieval illuminated manuscripts, as filtered by a century of construing book painting in terms of a particular set of ‘fine arts’ discourses)…

anyways, I’m finding now that whatever I see here in our shared MOOCdom, I can’t help but interpret through the filters already implanted in my mind from those earlier educational explorations, which left far more than a trace – they’re my framework. So when I read Chris’ post, thoughts about the pertinent analogy there were quickly overtaken by my usual set of thoughts, stemming from Halliday‘s lovely way of describing three simultaneous operations of language development – how the individual’s language repertoire grows and changes through their life, how a language as a whole, in the collective mind, changes over the centuries, and how any particular text unfolds and its context and meaning changes with each new word and sentence.

I guess I’ve just been ‘trained’ to (well, I like to) take a very long term view of change – I’m just not caught up in the current wave of hype about how the digital environment ‘changes everything’ or forces us to ‘rethink everything’… it modifies things very significantly, sure, but I don’t see a technology (or suite of new technological developments) completely changing the whole game.

I just find it more interesting I guess to look a long way back, and forward, to make sense of what’s happening here and now… what’s fantastic about this digital environment from my point of view is that we can so quickly and easily observe so much of what is going on in all three dimensions or ‘scales’ of operation – the production of each new text being contributed and read; personal development as new media are experimented with and mastered; and collective cultural development as this digital literacy phenomenon emerges and grows rapidly…

I’m just seeing what’s going on in terms of changing opportunities and media for literacy, and literacy (digital or otherwise) as usual, as just part of what we do with language – a major part of what we learn to do in this lovely little bit of life we enjoy for such a brief moment 🙂

pacem et concordiam ad omnes

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