VIRAK 2017: Day 2 Keynote

[Day 1 blog posts: panel&keynote + parallell sessions]

IMG_6608As previously stated, I hardly ever have great expectations to keynotes, but I had the great pleasure of hearing Tara Brabazon at a keynote for LILAC (my favourite conference!), and I have been in awe ever since. I have used some of her books, too, particularly “The university of Google”. I highly recommend it. I have also followed her vlogs for PhD candidates, and there is something in there for everyone – not just PhD students.

So – in this case I had very high expectations, and I was not disappointed. Recording from the keynote is available here. Brabazon has mastered the art of combining form and content, she always has something interesting to say, and she does it like a rockstar. You cannot help but pay attention. 🙂 So anyway – these are some notes from the keynote:

Keynote: Tara Brabazon “Why I don`t “do” digital literacies”

“Let`s think about the worst users of digitization”, Brabazon said. Governing via Twitter (Tweet from Trump), dumping boyfriend via text message (slide showing text exchange) and posting pictures on revenge porn sites, for instance. Do these actions come from poor digital literacy “or are they caused by foolishness, ignorance and self-absorption?”, she asked rhetorically with a smile.

Brabazon wanted to bring back some old ideas and old media in her keynote, and encouraged us to recycle some of them.

She started with talking about Harold Innis, a Canadian, who became interested in communication systems. He talked about “bias” in communication systems. The term “bias” was not used politically, but as a synonym for “emphasis”. Bias of communication for him was about emphasising particular modes of thinking. The medium has its own modes. Innis was interested in how space-based media (visual) and time based media (auditive) could be combined. We know that most of our current media favours the eye – they are very visually oriented. Brabazon thought Innis would have been worried by the Internet, but interested in podcasts as a way of integrating the auditive in the visual. We need a better balance between time and space.

Media literacy is a term used too connect media studies, cultural studies and educational studies, but there has been little emphasis on how formal education help develop media literacy. There is an assumtion, said Brabazon, that we learn from the media by simply using it..

Brabazon continued with an olden-goldie: Jean Baudrillard. His book Simulacra and Simulation “plays with knowledge”, Brabazon said. Baudrillard presented three levels of “reality”: Real – Represented – Simulacrum. When an event or action takes place, it almost immediately disconnects from its context, and is represented and then re-represented (simulacrum). We are therefore not living in reality, but in other people`s representation. We spend more and more time in the Simulacrum, Brabazon said, and used The Kardashians as an example.


Simulacrum and Simulation – slide from keynote

The Internet provides easy access to quick information, but the interpretation is up to us. Underfunding of libraries, librarians, education and teachers have real consequences, and we are seeing them unfold every day.

Mary Macken-Horarik`s information literacy model was the next up in Brabazons keynote. Macken-Horariks model shows four categories of literacy, and there is a flow between “everyday”, “applied”, “theoretical” and “reflexive”. We move between the categories, but to be able to do that we need interventions from librarians or teachers.  “How do we know what we do not know?” We need help to move up, so that we dont get stuck in the “applied” category.  Another of Macken-Horarik kay points was that students cannot learn to read and critique what they read at the same time. Something has to be learned before it can be critiqued. Macken-Horarik doesn`t really address how we get people to move between these categories, and Brabazon asked “How do we create the capacity to move between literacy models?”.


Mary Macken-Horarik`s literacy model – slide from keynote

Brabazon gave us an example. In 2008 she was teaching a class where the students had such diverse backgrounds (language, geography, age) that she could not assume that they had a common understanding of literacy, and she had to get them “up to speed” in a single module. She decided to make them do an annotated bibliography with a variety of different sources. They had to include at least one podcast, one advertisement, two scholarly monographs etc. This can be a very useful tool to combine content and form, Brabazon said. Content in context.

Skjermbilde 2017-06-16 kl. 14.28.35

part of Brabazon`s slide – from recording


We have to make a matrix of information literacy and media literacy. We have to make them come together, because they will not do it by themselves. “There are incredible opportunities that all of us can front in this new information environment”, Brabazon said. Print-on-demand publishing, podcasts, and online journals.

Digitization can create citizenship, but you need broadband, money and information literacy. You need all three, because access does not provide knowledge, access does not provide literacy. “It`s never been easier to move information between platforms, but just because it is possible, doesn`t mean that it should”.

Teaching and learning is not meant to make a profit. And how do you decide what platform to use? When do you send a text message, when do you tweet, when do you make a call?

Multimodality combines pieces of information literacy and media literacy. Brabazon has made a model to illustrate the relationship between them. (I don`t have a copy of it, but I hope that her slides will be available at the VIRAK 2017 website some time soon.) Multimodality is one of the most important concepts in this age.  Social media and online communities can easily become echo chambers where we follow and like only people who have the same views and opinions as ourselves, and we become shocked when we suddenly encounter people with different world views than ourselves. Engaging ourselves with other groups and media has an effect in “correcting” our world views.

There is an “anti-research” tendency in society now, and people are suspicious towards academics. We need to use visual means in addition to the traditional to reach out to the population outside higher education. Images have a power to persuade.

Digital natives was wrong in 2001, and it is completely ridiculous to think now that younger people have other literacies, said Brabazon. I couldn`t agree more.

Multimodality is something that should be introduced for first-year students, as a foundation to learn course content and skills. But this also means that teachers need a solid pedagogic background as well as the subject specific knowledge they have.

It was a keynote that encouraged further reading on the theories that were “revived”, and a keynote that inspired to think more thoroughly on how we can help students think more deeply on their digital presence and critical thinking. I got a real boost, too, and I can`t wait to hear more from Brabazon later. I highly recommend her vlogs on YouTube (Vlog 1) as well as her books. I have only used “The University of Google”, as I said, but I also want to have a look at some of the others.

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