I’ve been invited to speak at this conference next week — The Written Word: Writing, Publishing, and Communication in Higher Education — organised by the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at NUI Galway. There’s quite an eclectic line-up of speakers with backgrounds in popular science writing, education, and broadcasting, so I’m delighted to be included.
I will blog about it later, but in the meantime I’ll tease you with the abstract. Ironically, given the conference theme, it’s a bit, well, wordy…
Literacy in the 21st Century: Word, web, woo
Despite always having a role in disseminating knowledge to wider society as well as to their own students, universities have nonetheless long been seen as ivory towers. However, as the 21st century progresses, the boundaries between the university realm and wider society are becoming increasingly porous. The modern world has become academically ‘secular’, and the elevation of notions like citizen journalism, evidence-based policy, user-generated content, and the democratization of knowledge presents several challenges to the pedagogical assumptions and approaches traditionally employed in university education.
One consequence of the rapid increase in daily global information flow is the ease with which mis-information can spread, exposing audiences to various kinds of exploitation (including commercial scams and pseudoscientific quackery, commonly referred to as ‘woo’). Sometimes it can look like the world is becoming immersed in mumbo jumbo. However, the irony is that misinformation can often be pedagogically helpful for placing the merits of information in context. Thus, I will argue that the mumbo-jumbo milieu actually presents many useful opportunities for university education; ones that benefit not only students themselves, but also the wider community and the world at large.
By embedding educational activities in the same technological platforms in which students – and citizens – live much of their mental lives, it can be possible to collaborate with students in developing new perspectives and skills of analysis, while recruiting them as fellow ambassadors for knowledge. I will draw on examples of course-work in social and natural science domains which show how misinformation can actually be critical in contextualising information itself, while highlighting the content of knowledge and the nature of its production.
Phew! I knew I was going on a bit when I had to break the abstract into paragraphs. Hmmm. Maybe I should sign up for one of the conference workshops…
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.