preface to the metaliteracy mooc

Earlier in the year, I wrote about a workshop I attended that introduced participants to the metaliteracy framework. At the time, they had also announced a Metaliteracy MOOC that would take place in the fall. How quickly the time passes!

I have enrolled in this course and joined a study group with some of my colleagues, but one of the things they recommend is engage in the course by participating via blog. Since the research log part of my site has fallen by the wayside (as drafts accumulate in my dashboard), I thought this would be a good time to revive it.

The readings for Topic 1, which runs from September 2-15, include the following:

Mackey, T. P., and T. E. Jacobson. (2011). Reframing information literacy as a metaliteracy. College & Research Libraries,72(1), 62-78. Retrieved from

Mackey, T. P. (2011). Transparency as a catalyst for interaction and participation in open learning environments. First Monday, 16(10). Retrieved from

I’ve written at length about the first reading—both my initial reactions and updated understandings. My conclusion at the time was that categorizing objectives by learning domain was overkill when integration of technology already presented some challenging issues.

At the same time, I thought that from a design perspective, already-mapped learning domains are very helpful. In fact, I’ve been slowly integrating metaliteracy objectives into the credit courses we teach. Despite any misgivings I had, I was convinced enough. 

I look forward to jumping back into the theoretical foundation though because—yes, I know how this sounds—I haven’t thought deeply about its underlying concepts since May. With an hour to go before the first session (at the start of writing this), here I begin, with a bit of a rushed beginning.

And by rushed, I mean I took some very quick notes as I read the second article over lunch. I’ll have to revisit this later since my explanation here isn’t going to be nuanced. But the reading is essentially an argument for transparent technologies used for teaching and learning. What does transparent mean? Well, Mackey (2011) defines a set of seven characteristics (with open education exemplars of each in the article):

  • Flexibility – friendly user-interface
  • Interactivity – varied functionality when it comes to searching, sharing,  communicating, collaboration, etc.
  • Fluidity – ability in interface to go beyond “traditional boundaries”, for instance, by sharing via social media or blogging
  • Visualization – exactly what it sounds like; visual content and views
  • Collaboration – the actual space for dialogue that affords collaboration and sharing
  • Production – the ability to create or contribute content; wikis definitely offer this
  • Publishing & distribution – exactly what it sounds like!

One of the primary bases he uses for the argument is an interesting theory of communication systems by Yochai Benkler and extended by Lawrence Lessig that describes three essential layers:

  • Physical – technological infrastructure, which now includes mobile devices; this sounds like hardware to me!
  • Content – Lessig calls this “the actual stuff that gets said…”  In communication theory, this would be the message.
  • Logical – this is the “code layer” that includes the tools and resources enabling communication – software / applications?

I need more time to process, but in my own courses, I’m increasingly trying to incorporate the “physical” aspect of digital communications into the course. Understanding the way things work makes the computer seem less like a magic box that intimidates users to a tool that they are empowered to use.

Alright, and I’m out of time! Will report on the first session later.

4 thoughts on “preface to the metaliteracy mooc

  1. Tom Mackey says:

    Thank you for taking the time to think through these issues and for joining the MOOC. Although you mention that this was done in a rush your ideas cut to the point in a thoughtful way. Thank you for mentioning the “transparency” article as well as the one on metaliteracy. You summarize the key points very well. I’m intrigued by what you mean by incorporating the physical aspect of digital communications into your courses. I agree that when we understand how things work, the technologies “seem less like magic” because we demystify the process and the protocols. In many ways “transparent design” accomplishes this because we are enabling and encouraging ways to be more open in these environments. This leads to better communication and collaboration and less focus on the technology itself, although I do think the technologies matter and impact how we create and share ideas.

    1. bdleaf says:

      Thanks for the comment, Tom! It’s good to know that I’m somewhat keyed into what was intended in the reading. To respond to your question, I think my phrasing was a little awkward. What I meant by “incorporating the physical aspect” was that I believe a more advanced understanding of information technology is necessary in general education (right now, I think Google’s 20 Things is the very least of what people should know and CompTIA A+ Certification content could perhaps become a future standard). How far that goes is something I’m still trying to negotiate, and I wasn’t quite sure how far this idea of transparency extended into those realms.

  2. Donna Witek says:

    I think there’s a very interesting but important tension in what Tom said in his comment above re: the effects of transparent design. On the one hand, bringing deliberate attention to all three of Benkler’s layers (physical, logical, and content) makes each layer opaque, but in a good way: we can “see” how the code affects the display, for instance, if we have a working knowledge of how code works. And by “seeing” this we understand better how the two layers function in relation to one another, when they function well. On the other hand, Tom notes that transparent design “leads to better communication and collaboration and less focus on the technology itself”. I teach Facebook-as-rhetorical-tool to students with a colleague of mine; one of our main objectives is to get the students to really “see” the tool they are using to communicate with: what functions does Facebook give them to work with, and what does the site leave out, and what does it mean (about the values of the company, the culture the site is creating) that you CAN do X but not Y within the parameters of the site design? Granted, my colleague and I do a lot more than this, and we aren’t even discussing code exactly since we have no background in it 🙂 But we are discussing interface, and we do want students to learn to really “see” the tools they are using on social media (or elsewhere) and to critically analyze them *as* they use them. In a sense this is the opposite of transparent design? Or is it transparent design because the skrim of automated (mindless?) motion (by users) through the system is being lifted so they can see the gears underneath and take steps towards using it deliberately and with purpose (which then can lead to the always fun “hack the system to make it do what you want it to” even if that function wasn’t originally built into it–I do this with Facebook all the time, and Gmail–we all do I’m sure 🙂 ). This comment got long (lol) but I’d love to hear Tom address this tension I’m describing, especially as it relates to metaliteracy (i.e., the more aware we are of the three layers and how they work, the more deliberately we can take advantage of each to accomplish our purpose).

    And I, too, am interested in hearing more from Brian about how he brings attention to the physical layer in his instruction. My head is so often in the content and logical layers (even without the formal coding background) that physical often falls to the wayside in instruction for me. But just today I was demonstrating some basic library tools in an IL session to freshmen, and I opened an eBook through our catalog, and a student raised his hand to ask if that meant they could download eBooks onto their iPads and Kindles. … Of course, our eBook collection is through eBrary and thus super proprietary so the pained answer I had to give was, basically, no, unless you download their proprietary eBook reader, etc etc etc…but yea, students are in many ways more in tune with the physical layer than I am (through their devices, etc.), and it was a good reality check for me. /long comment

    1. bdleaf says:

      First, that Facebook discussion sounds fascinating. Dissecting its design must make for some interesting conversations! To your question of whether this might be the *opposite* of transparent design, I would think that this calls even more attention to it as you transform it into a learning environment to your student. But it also seems like it serves more as a fishbowl. It’s a virtual information ground in which informal learning is afforded (although I’m not sure FB would market it this way!). Would also love to hear Tom’s thoughts on this.

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