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The rise and rise of literacies


A new journal article by CODE fellow David Baume tries to make sense of increasing attention being paid to a growing range of different literacies in Higher Education. Some of these literacies describe academic skills – for example, information literacy or assessment literacy. Others are more concerned with particular disciplines – environmental literacy, even numerical literacy (aka numeracy). Careers literacy looks beyond education. Why this rise in attention to literacies?  

David suggests that, whatever else they are, literacies are capabilities; things that people can, and indeed do, do. Much academic learning, by contrast, is often described as the learning of knowledge. And some educational processes – teaching/telling, and closed book assessment – reinforce this view of subjects as, primarily, fields of knowledge. The rise of literacies, David suggests, may be in part an attempt to recapture in Higher Education an important part of learning to do – of course, do critically, thoughtfully, and in an evidence-informed way. Disciplines as fields of scholarly and professional practice, perhaps. The growing ease of access to information, and the rapid turnover of (valid, current, useful) knowledge, support this change in emphasis. Of course knowledge still has its many uses. But perhaps the attention to literacy is putting knowledge back into its place, as facilitator and prompt for, and consequence of, action; not as a primary goal of education.

'Literacies' are not adjuncts to disciplines. They are parts of the disciplines.

David argues that literacies may be best learned in their disciplinary context, their learning supported by discipline and literacy experts working together.

This article was developed from a small CODE-funded project on information literacies. Collaborators and sponsorship are acknowledged in the article.