Thursday, June 12, 2008

Workplace Literacy

Tēnā koutou katoa – Greetings to you all
Sign on the door
Lynne Truss would love this one. The above picture of a notice is implicit (more about that later).

A few days ago I was fascinated by a series of posts on workplace literacy, notably by Tony Karrer and another by Michele Martin.

I suggested in a comment on Michele’s post that there was a real danger of the invention of ‘digital’ bourgeoisie - an artificial set of digital protocols and practices that is more likely to exclude than include those who are not 'in the know’.

My point was that it has taken around 4000 years of human existence for reading and writing to get to where they’re at today. Perhaps we should first reflect on the practices associated with workplace literacy (never mind the digital bit) over the last 100 years or so before diving into looking at changing people’s attitude/skill/awareness on this one.

Michele made a good point “that if we don’t begin engaging in discussions like this about the skills that are needed and ways to develop and use those skills, we’re going to be in a world of hurt. I’m not sure that we can afford to take 100 years to figure things out.” Her worry “is that we won’t do that and we’ll end up behind the 8-ball!”

I must admit that I agree with her, but I feel that we are behind the 8-ball already.

Tony supported Michele suggesting that workplace literacy should be opened to the early majority “not by dictating, but by suggesting what the opportunities are. Studies of PIM show that this is all highly personal (at least subjectively).”

While I agree in part with what Michele and Tony are saying, I don’t agree with the moving-right-along attitude to progress for it rarely actually establishes true progress. It simply moves on to ground that’s new to some.

I’m also aware that it is a postmodern trend to discard history - it’s rarely looked back on for its usefulness. Yesterday is history in some postmodern arenas.
If we were to follow to its logical conclusion what Jacques Derrida was saying, we would be scrapping the very idea of writing - anything, digital or otherwise. Derrida was a dyed-in-the-wool postmodernist.

Society should be just as capable of learning from its mistakes as a young pianist new to the piano. Perhaps the reason society has learnt so little from its past mistakes is because of a reluctance to stop, study and think about the implications of past mistakes in terms of what can be learnt from them.

The moving-right-along now-faster-than-ever attitude was used in Physics for the last 75 years while Niel Bohr’s theories and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle marked time as Science attempted to pursue logically related avenues. We now believe that Bohr and Heisenberg were wrong in their fundamental assumptions, but only because no-one dared to look back - for nearly a century! The silencing voice of authority.

Sign on the door
Derek Wenmoth very recently posted photographs of the notices that were displayed by the venue hosts to identify the room used at a working group convened by the New Zealand Ministry of Education focusing on Multiple Literacies. The Day 1 notice heads this posting and the corrected sign that appeared on Day 2 is shown directly above.

Derek points out that “the sign serves as a useful reminder that we mustn't forget the conventions of traditional writing!!!!! (The thing that makes the sign doubly amusing is that it is printed on paper and taped to the front of an LCD screen which is normally used to display notices like this.”

Derek states my point exactly.
His observations bear out what I say about the implications of past mistakes.

Let’s get back to the drawing board, or in this case, the Board Room!

Ka kite anō – Catch ya later


Tony Karrer said...

I don't get it. You say "I feel that we are behind the 8-ball already." ... so, we wait and study? We've study a lot of this already in areas like PIM. There's a lot people can do that will help them that's known to researchers. Sure, we don't know it all, but waiting is not a good choice either. Yes, we will be wrong about some things.

If I think back to my education vs. my kids education - I'm glad they didn't say - nah, let's not educate Tony - we should wait until we know more about what's the best way.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia Ora Tony!

I’m sad that you don’t get the point. I’ll try to explain my post. Blogging is still quite new to me, you know. I’ve still a lot to learn.

I am not against the idea of looking at workplace literacy at all. Neither am I saying we should wait and see. The whole reason for me posting the notice as I did was entirely to make the point that there IS a need for workplace literacy to improve, and it’s this that should be worked on.

If I can use a metaphor here, and I think I can, the NASA Challenger mission had real issues at the end of last century largely through management problems but continued on its progress until disaster gave a heads up in 2003. NASA had to go back to the drawing board and do a bit of rethinking on how it progresses.

I have a lot of respect for NASA. I believe they are now addressing the issues that should have been addresses prior to 1986 – way back Tony!

I don’t have all the solutions – I admit that, else I’d be a millionaire today. But I do believe that what I’m observing, along a broad front, is society forcing progress before development. Technology is advancing at a terrific rate, sure, and society is pursuing it willy-nilly – I believe this.

But I also believe that in many ways we are chasing it rather than taking time to really reflect on what’s happening here so that strategies can evolve for addressing issues. Frankly, I think we are still grappling with literacy issues at the reading and writing stage – forget the digital bit.

Ka kite

Michele Martin said...

Ken, if I hear you right, what I think you're expressing is some concern that we're moving too quickly into thinking about "digital literacy" while not addressing the more fundamental literacies (such as reading and writing). Is that accurate?

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia Ora Michele!

I'd say you got it in one!

I'm not a curmudgeon. I'm a teacher/trainer/educator. I'm well aware of the societal need for 'education', and I'd include myself in that group need. The needs are everywhere.

But Web 2.0 and all its paraphernalia are just forming. Who would have guessed even 10 years ago where we would be today with all this? It's exciting! But it's still changing. For me that's even more exciting.

Just 25 years ago recording technology fast forwarded to cassette tapes. They were top of the range. Where are they now? Even CDs have moved on by light years. My daughter, bless her cotton socks, downloads audio files to her I-pod. Forget CDs she says!

You recall my post on the QWERTY legacy? My hunch is that by the time you get your literacy program underway sufficient to see some improvements to workplace (digital) literacy, it will be outmoded and not required, like the typewriter was in the late 80's.

Ka kite