We seem to have trouble with critical thinking. And our political system doesn’t help. Barack Obama
The questions framing this conference are questions all students – and all citizens – should be asking of the digital technologies offered for their use.
• In whose interests?
• With what costs, risks and implications (in the longer term, in the wider view)?
The project to define new literacies and capabilities of the ‘digital’ has often claimed to value critical questions of this kind. The intersection of ‘digital’ and ‘critical’ ways of knowing has been a productive one for theorists (see e.g. Pangrazio 2016 for a useful review). Some have applied the critical apparatus of media studies to the new digital landscape (e.g. Buckingham 2007, Grizzle et al. 2013). Others have analysed relations of power in a networked society, building on critical theory as a foundation (Feenberg 1999, 2002; Fuchs 2016; Greaves 2015; Jandric & Giroux 2015). Around the turn of the century the New Media Consortium turned instead towards practices of design, emphasising the forward impulse of production over the ‘backwards’ desire to diagnose and critique (Kress 1997, 2010; Cope and Kalantzis 2000).
Digital literacy has also been seen as an aspect of citizenship and therefore as socially and politically engaged. Douglas Kellner (2001) felt that ‘new technologies and new literacies [could] contribute to producing a more egalitarian and democratic society’; four years later he co-authored an influential paper that demanded the teaching of ‘multiple critical techno-literacies’ for civic participation (Kahn & Kellner, 2005). Others have been more pessimistic about the democratic potential of digital technologies, focusing instead on the risks inherent in big data, surveillance, lack of privacy, social fragmentation and precarity (e.g. Emejulu & McGregor 2017, Fry 2014).
These theoretical developments, exciting as they are, tend to be nurtured in different parts of the academy to those where educational policies and practices are enacted that might support the development of students as critical subjects. How in practice is critical digital literacy developed and assessed? Is it a matter of technical repertoire, of reflexive awareness, of production (vs consumption), of open (vs closed) forms of practice, or of the power of the digital solutions that students arrive at? If – as this list implies – the recognition of ‘critical’ digital practice depends on existing disciplinary values, does it make any sense to talk about digital modes of critique as new and distinctive at all?
A recent review of digital literacy frameworks for policy and practice (Brown 2017) used a simple benchmark: do they include the term ‘critical’ among the capabilities they prescribe? Many pass the test. The EU’s ongoing programme of digital citizenship education includes ‘critical’ approaches as core (Redecker & Punie 2017). UNESCO’s recent (UNESCO 2017) review similarly brings ‘criticality’ into focus. Jisc’s framework has ‘critical consumption’ of as one of its six core disciplines (Beetham 2015). But naming criticality is not the same as developing a critique, and developing a critique is not the same as opening up spaces for critiques of diverse kinds to emerge – actively supporting students’ critical engagements with, through and about digital technologies.
This open discussion will explore how we recognise, respond to and nurture students’ emerging critiques of the digital.
The session will begin with a number of open questions, also shared online: how do we recognise critical digital awareness when we meet it? What examples are with us? What do they tell us about the varieties of criticality that can emerge in digital spaces, and about the constraints?
A number of framing ideas will be offered, depending on the emerging conversation, but likely to include:
• Student as critical reader/user. Focus on critical media, information and data literacies, and evaluation as critique.
• Student as digital maker. Focus on digital design and making, identity work, production and co-production, and immanent critique.
• Student as social scientist. Focus on power/knowledge in the digital economy, data politics, developing theory/knowledge ‘against the grain’ of tools designed for use, and critique as consciousness (after Freire).
• Student as activitist. Focus on contexts, conflicts, critical pedagogies, and praxis.
Working groups will develop examples within the emerging framework for further development and dissemination after the session.
The facilitator will also present findings from an analysis of 80,000 student comments, drawn from a 2018 survey into students’ digital experiences in the UK and Australia/New Zealand (n=58k responses). Many show students engaging with the conditions of their own digital learning in a critical fashion. A smaller number show deep reflection on the nature of digital learning, in which different critical agendas can be traced. Other real-world examples of critical digital practice will be offered, alongside those generated in the session, and written up for distribution afterwards.
Buckingham, D. (2007) Digital Media Literacies:Rethinking Media Education in the Age of the Internet.
Emejulu, A. & McGregor, C. (2017). Towards a radical digital citizenship for digital education. Critical Studies in Education.
Feenberg, A. (1999). Questioning technology. London: Routledge.
Feenberg, A. (2002). Transforming technology: A critical theory revisited. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fry, K. (2014). What Are We Really Teaching?: Outline for an Activist Media Literacy Education. In De Abreu B.S. & Mihailidis, P. (2014) Media Literacy Education in Action: Theoretical and Pedagogical Perspectives. Routledge.
Fuchs, C. (2011). Foundations of critical media and information studies. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Fuchs, C. (2016). Critical Theory of Communication: New Readings of Lukács, Adorno, Marcuse, Honneth and Habermas in the Age of the Internet. London: University of Westminster Press.
Greaves, M. (2015) The Rethinking of Technology in Class Struggle: Communicative Affirmation and Foreclosure Politics, Rethinking Marxism, 27:2, 195-211
Grizzle, A., Moore, P., Dezuanni, M., Asthana, S., Wilson, C., Banda, F. and Onumah, C. (2013). Media and Information Literacy: Policy and Strategy Guidelines. Paris, UNESCO.
Jandric, P. & Giroux, H. (2015) Critical pedagogy and and for the age of digital media: Pedagogy of the precariat. Counter Punch, Weekend Edition June 12-14, 2015
Kellner, D (1998), ‘Multiple Literacies and Critical Pedagogy in a Multicultural Society’, Educational Theory 48(1), 103–122.
Kellner, D. (2001) New Technologies/New Literacies: Reconstructing Education for the New Millennium. International Journal of Technology and Design Education (2001) 11: 67.
Pangrazio, L. 2016. Reconceptualising critical digital literacy. Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education, Vol. 37, No. 2, pp. 163-174.
Raedecker, C. & Punie, Y. (2017) European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators. Seville: Joint Research Centre. Available online: http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC107466/pdf_digcomedu_a4_final.pdf
hbeetham posted an update in the session Trouble with critical: reframing critical digital literacies as real-world interventions [O-161] 2 weeks, 2 days ago
There’s now a blog post https://digitalthinking.org.uk/2019/04/05/critical-digital-literacy-at-oer19/ associated with this Open Space. Please don’t feel you have to read it to participate 🙂