I made it to week 6 of the PLENK 2010 course and this is my 6th blog reflection.  I feel like I have gained a great deal from this course and the issues it has raised and required me to reflect on.  Much of my blog posting this far drew on writings I had constructed for my masters coursework, and it was nice to be able to recompile and share them on my blog.

This week we looked at media literacy, which has prompted me to explore what people have been saying about what we should be teaching at schools.  Should we be teaching students that they need to remember hard facts?  Or should we teaching them how to find information using modern information and communication technology where and when it is needed?  Furthermore how can we teach them to identify high quality information?

I feel quite privileged to have studied information systems management in my undergraduate degree.  My studies there taught me how to use the tools of modern society in the business world.  The program combined the scientific concepts of accounting, finance, and human resources (and more) to modern information technology systems which facilitate the most effective way for coordinating these business systems.  This put me in a good position as a user of modern tools and ways to apply them.  Effective learning should not only exist ‘inside’ the person but in their ability to use a particular set of tools in productive ways for particular purposes (Saljo, 1999).  This also means that students need to learn how to scrutinize tools and artefacts to ensure they are appropriate for any given situation.

Critical Literacy

From my vantage point specifically in higher education, I generally assume that students enter higher education with a certain degree of critical thinking ability.

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skilfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

Michael Scriven & Richard Paul

Critical thinking is the ability of a student to scrutinize and organize resources in such a way that they can formulate and defend an argument or justify an action.   Critical thinking should enable a student to take a position behind arguments or methods that have been made and consider alternatives from multiple perspectives.

What should we be learning?

Coming from a socio-cultural perspective on learning, I wanted to include this wonderful quote from Roger Saljo’s seminal piece “Learning as the Use of Tools”:

The sociocultural view of human learning is the conscious attempt to avoid seeing knowledge either as purely mental (idealist/rationalist tradition) or as physical and independent of human activities (realist perspective) … a sociocultural view builds on the assumption that learning has to do with how people appropriate and master tools for thinking and acting that exist in a given culture or society.

Wertsch quoted in Saljo, 1999

So what we should be teaching and learning is constantly changing in line with the tools available to a given culture.  Students need to use the tools of today to be best prepared to innovate for tomorrow.

Critical thinking was likely a simpler thing to teach before the dawn of the information age.  The advent of the printing press changed not only the way we learn but also what was considered important for students to learn; i.e. from memorisation of texts to organizing and structuring texts (Saljo, 1999). Life in the information age again changes what’s considered important for knowledgeable people and the tools they have available to make sense of the world.

Scholarly texts were easier to identify in the age of print   Nowadays students are inundated with texts from all over the web.

The locus of responsibility for determining the accuracy of texts shifted from the publisher to the reader when one of the functions of libraries shifted to search engines.

Robin Good, Howard Rheingold

Rich resources such as Wikipedia are constantly under scrutiny because of the collaborative nature in which they are created.  While Wikipedia articles potentially can contain excellent information, one needs to know how to scrutinize the text for bias, validity, and completeness.

There is a good argument for a focus on media literacies in schools.

Media literacy is the notion that learning how to use new media technologies, online collaboration tools, personal publishing and live video streaming gear is not just about being cool and hip but it is a set of fundamental skills every young person should be equipped with to be able to navigate the digital realities increasingly surrounding us.

Robin Good, Howard Rheingold

Students need to be able to construct meaning from the world around them.  In the information age Google can provide answers almost ubiquitously, from web, to mobile web, to embedded web.  What a person does with that answer is another question.  How do they make meaning from the million results displayed by Google from a web search?

I like the idea of students constructing texts and other forms of rich media to demonstrate and think through what they have experienced.  Downes says “when people construct artifacts they are constructing media with which to think”.  If this media is shared in an open ecology such as a PLE, more conversations can take place around what a student has learned, and how that lends itself to ‘meaning making’ for other students.


Downes, S. (2009). Speaking in Lolcats, Take 2.  Presentation November 24, 2009. Delivered to ECI 381 (Alec Couros), Online to Saskatchewan via Elluminate.  http://www.downes.ca/presentation/233

Good, R. & Rheingold, H. (2007). New Media Literacy In Education: Learning Media Use While Developing Critical Thinking Skills. http://www.masternewmedia.org/learning_educational_technologies/media-literacy/new-media-literacy-critical-thinking-Howard-Rheingold-20071019.htm#ixzz12ot4iHL1

Säljö, R. (1999). Learning as the use of tools. In: K Littleton, P Light (ed); Learning with computers: analysing productive interaction. Routledge


CC BY 4.0 Using PLE/Ns effectively: skills, mindsets, and critical literacies by Michael Paskevicius is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.