A Structure/System relationship in examining components of Digital Literacy, Pt. 2

Posted on Feb 13, 2010

Further reading into Anthony Wilden’s Nature and Culture – The Emergence of Symbolic and Imaginary Exchange, System and Structure – Essays in Communication and Exchange, Anthony Wilden, Tavistock Publications, 1972, have offered some terms I thought might be useful.

I had described previously an instrument for measuring a resonance value to a particular skill for use in assessing Digital Literacy. I struggled with the use of the word “resonance” in this project because it doesn’t really describe anything more than a perception. This is of no use to the instrument. (On a side note, the reason I chose resonance was from a letter may father wrote to me back in 1982 while I was in undergraduate university. He described how he had dated a woman for a while, but he felt he had to break it off because, as he said, “I felt she lacked sufficient inner resonance.” Somehow, I thought a “love interest” measurement would be a good description since what is love anyway if it isn’t resonant? Might we also say this about learning? More on that at another time.)

The terms below, I thought, would be useful in describing the expression of a user’s experience of operating on a network learning environment. I am also developing an ISD model that attempts to describe the effect of the network setting itself on “coloring” information from the learner’s perspective within a distance learning situation. From an Instructional Design perspective, I hope that recognition of this phenomenon would be accounted for “upstream” in the cascade of design and development of instruction so that the delivery of information may be composed with less ambiguity and detachment.

Wilden demonstrates that an entity in a system may take on several roles, but those roles are qualified in different ways (these are only two of four – the others being Symbolic Value and Imaginary Value. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around those yet. Working on it). For example:

Use Value is a term to describe the immutable matter and energy of an entity in a system. For example, in human populations, “male” and “female” relate to each other in exchanges of matter and energy, such as what happens within “ensembles of procreative units”. “Male” and “female” is expressed as a difference, and is thus an analog relationship.

Exchange Value is a more contextual term that is used to describe meaning and signification, such as “brother/sister” (one may be simultaneously male, brother, cousin, etc.). For example, when a man marries a woman (who has a brother), the man is marrying a “woman”, not a “sister”, and even as his wife, the woman still remains a sister. The Exchange Value changes in one context (husband/wife), but not in the other (brother/sister). These labels are not just differences, they are digital disticntions, or information.

Use Value does not change, and is expressed as a relation. Exchange Value is contrived and arbitrary, and is expressed as information.

The value of these concepts to an assessment instrument may come into play when attempting to place a value on a digital literacy skill as being either a difference or a distinction. For example, is the skill, “Create a blog on Blogger” describable as Use Value or Exchange Value? In the formation of a network identity, does the creator establish “matter-energy” that is immutable, or are they creating a distinction of their corporeal matter/energy? In the Connectionist universe, does this even matter? How close does the “real” and the “virtual” have to be to be considered non-negotiable, like “male” and “female”? Or is this argument moot on some more root-level metaphysical argument

This phenomenon is not unique to the present day digital environment. There have been numerous “noms de plume” who have achieved success in the literary sphere, though would we actually teach students of writing to form alternate identities as a foundation component of authorship? Today, in light of the frictionless opportunity for persons to create multiple “travaillenoms de login” (good God, what was that! That’s my Junior High School French translation that means, roughly, “work-name for logging in”), are we overlooking an opportunity to recognize and teach online identity as a (virtually) immutable Use Value, rather than simply as an Exchange Value? As I stated above, Use Value may be put to use in both Use and Exchange transactions, though Exchange Value is arbitrary.

Second, in the development of an ISD model that accounts for the effect of the network on information, we may find that a member’s Use Value to be an applicably functional component to the overall benefit of the collection of all members. This ecological concept would operate in the same way that sports team managers attempt to balance a mixture of athletic skills towards meeting a philosophic formula of power, speed, defense versus offense orientation, contextual factors such as stadium dimensions or weather conditions, etc. Except we don’t have ways to measure Use Value in a connected, engaged, purposeful learning environment.

For example, in the current academic environment of my ISD class, all students are required to join and operate a combination of network applications and affiliate them in ways that streamline the transfer of individual work (energy) towards collective benefit. As a group, however, our association is based on arbitrary criteria (we enrolled in a class to learn Instructional Design, not to master the Personal Learning Environment, nor compete against other groups attempting to achieve the same goals as us, nor to achieve an explicit collective goal through teamwork, task assignments, sub-objectives, etc., although my professor may legitimately disagree with that.). We may as well be trying to beat the Russian hockey team in Vancouver than attempting to achieve collective learning goals. There aren’t any learning goals in the PLE, or else perhaps the collection of us as enrollees would be based on criteria towards achieving a balance mixture of skills for the PLE! As it is, the collection exists for the sake of the collection. It’s like putting toll booths on the highway to collect money to maintain the tollbooths. (This is another reason why I think the PLE component of this class belongs in Orientation, and not in Instructional Design curricula. The collection of resources via PLE should be self-forming, not prescribed).

OK, I’m sure I’m missing something more important, like the value of the network in future work, and so on, but that is taking me away from my main ideas here.

I feel as though Use Value and Exchange Value, as touchstones for skills identification might be useful in both digital literacy assessment and in the design of instructional systems.

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