Are we web literate?

My shall we blog? post has generated some interest and response.  Significantly, it generated a lot of old fashioned, real (i.e. not virtual) face to face discussion at the Research Nurture Groups conference held in Education today.  Colleagues wanted to know things such as “is it just another thing to do after e-mail?”   Well, is it?  More to the point, I have been operating a policy of “if it’s not on the web, it doesn’t exist” for some time now.  Yet I am constantly asked for information that I have taken considerable trouble to make available, in definitive format, on the web.  Answering such queries takes time that could have gone on bid writing or publishing.  Putting the stuff on the web in the first place certainly does.  So is it rude to say “look on the website?”    And are we aging academics still, in reality, living in a pre-web world?  Is our collective academic identity, our instinctive where to look, still non-web based?  I seriously think we ned to address these questions if I am to look people in the eye and say, “yes, blog.”

3 thoughts on “Are we web literate?

  1. To answer a question with a question: is it blogging to post a reply to a blog? If it is, then this is my first ever blog. If not, then this is one ageing (make that aged) academic who has not yet ventured into the blogosphere as anything other than a reader of other people’s musings (and are people who do that still called ‘lurkers’ in the bizarre language of the net?).

    So, am I web literate? I’m certainly not web-fluent; nor do I choose to maintain personal or professional relationships via social networks. Maybe I’m deluding myself but I do seem still to have friends and to be able to stay in touch with both them and my professional contacts around the globe without feeling the need to have a presence on Facebook or similar sites.

    However, I do use e-mail quite a lot for these purposes; that’s probably ‘Janet and John’ level web literacy, I realise…

    But am I , in Martin’s phrase, living in a pre-web world? I don’t think so. If my ‘instincts’ still take me to the printed word, my trained response now is to expect to seek, interrogate and post information on websites. So data storage and retrieval makes perfectly good sense and I try to develop the skills needed for these purposes.

    And so to blogging. If we are in constant touch through sharing information via the net, why not the sharing of ideas and reflections? I’ve not done it yet (unless this counts) but it seems to make sense and I’m certainly willing to give it a try. Who knows, I might even make it to ‘Janet and John go blogging’ as my quest to be a web literate aged academic goes on…

  2. Hmmm, when you ask whether we are web-literate, Martin, do you refer to literacy in terms of the ability to read and write or in terms of being literate in a particular field? I think the distinction is crucial as the ability to blog might not make the result worthwhile. For me, the purpose of blogging is that it enables joint, and peer-reviewed, thinking and articulation. Thus I would describe it as a useful tool for all academics; one that might enable them to venture out from their internal worlds……

  3. These questions raise many others, not least of all what we mean by the concept of a ‘pre-web world’. It would seem to me that we are now fairly comfortable in the Web 1.0 world. As Rob says, it is probably the case that most academics now do turn to the web for sources of information and so forth. In many ways it would seem that we are living in its world. We use the web because the benefits are clear. In learning to be web literate we undertake a quick cost benefit analysis. If the payback is good, the effort is worth it. We manage a whole range of other technologies in our lives, each with its own challenges, but on the whole, we learn to use that new phone (or whatever) because we need or want to.
    However, in terms of blogging, and other Web 2.0 type applications, I believe the challenge is as much philosophical as technical. How, for example do we respond to citation from Wikipedia in an academic piece?
    I haven’t quite resolved that one myself yet – as someone who strongly believes in the principles of Web 2.0 technology, where the “architecture of participation” encourages us to add value to the application as we use it, it seems anomalous to contribute to the generation of knowledge, and yet reject the authority of that knowledge. it also seems anomalous to laud the potential of wikis and the like in generating shared knowledge, and yet in some way feel that the doing of this is somehow a trivial pursuit. Perhaps it’s the anomalies rather than the technology itself that we need to explore? It seems to me that in doing so, we would raise questions such as “what constitutes knowledge?” “who owns knowledge?” “what are the power implications of opening up the generation and owning of knowledge through mechanisms like wiki?” “what are the social implications?”…There is, of course an overarching one; “what are the ethics of living in this type of epistemic world?”

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