— Renée Hann (@rennhann) February 13, 2017
In her paper, ‘Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation’, Bonnie Stewart (2013) proposes that:
even if many models of MOOC reflect attempts by elite gatekeeping institutions and corporate interests to maintain control, market dominance, and the right to determine what counts as knowledge (Stewart, 2012), MOOCs may none the less serve as a Trojan horse for the sociocultural development of participatory perspectives and literacies (p. 229).
Stewart’s point is that even if a MOOC (or xMOOC) holds a view of scale that emphasizes return on investment through the number of course completers and privileges notions of information delivery/transmission over communication (p. 231), if there is a capacity for networking through some kind of chat system with user profiles, users can generate their own networks which enable and foster the development of participatory cultures with the ethos of new literacies (p. 229). For Stewart, it is this ability for learners to take control over their own learning, and to be involved as producers of knowledge within MOOCs (or indeed, through any networked learning) which makes digital education potentially transformational. Community culture is key, with the Internet viewed ‘not as a technology but as a medium of human engagement’ (p. 231).
It’s noteworthy that this participatory, community driven culture is absent from the 1958 prediction, and continues to be absent in many technology driven education ‘solutions’ marketed commercially. However, it the idea that access to participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006) is the opportunity offered to education through technology also raises some questions for me. Stewart suggests that MOOCs can help to proliferate the ethos of new literacies by exposing learners to participatory learning (p. 232) – which I don’t doubt – but how are these new literacies developed? Merely through exposure and practice? Learning involves both practice and reflection (see, for example, Downes, 2017 in Connectivism and Learning MOOC), and without an awareness of what it means to be literate (i.e. new literacies literate), I wonder how this reflection is fostered.
It could be that in this thinking I am just trapped in a cycle of thinking about literacies as threshold-based skills which need to be developed rather than as social practices (Stewart addresses this on p. 232 of the same paper), but I worry that more than exposure to new literacy practices such as generating, remixing and repurposing knowledge (new and existing) is required to create the condition of (new) literacy. Perhaps my fears are unfounded, and such literacies develop through acculturation into social practices.. but nonetheless such fears bear thinking about.