Critical Literacies Online Course

Stephen Downes and Rita Kop are running an online course on  Critical Literacies ( CritLit2010 ). This appears to be partly an experiment in the open-format self-defining student-driven connectivist type of course pioneered over the past couple of years by Downes and George Siemens.

The main focus of the curent course apears to be identifying and discussing a number of basic skills needed to be effective in the modern world. (I say "appears to be" only because I guess it's in the nature of such a course that the emphasis evolves according to the needs and actions of the participants.)

In its first week the course focused on the topic of 'Cognition' and the readings dealt with some ideas related to 'Critical Thinking', including its history and struggle towards recognition as an actual independent discipline, as well as some items which should perhaps be included in any Critical Thinking program - namely a look at the process of peer review and various faulty but persistent patterns of mind that can confound our critical faculty (and which are promoted as tools of  "persuasion" in one of the readings - which I expect is being presented to us as a cautionary tale).

In this second week the theme is 'Change' - both how to describe it and how to deal with it.  Stephen's introductory blog posting deals mainly with how we describe change and in fact it would (with some minor edits) be the basis of a good motivational piece for the introduction to a calculus course, and the other proposed readings deal with various skills needed to deal with change - such as the concept of 'capacity building'

Stephen's piece in particular makes me wonder about those who are inclined to regret the dominant role of calculus in the undergraduate mathematics curriculum.  For although there are undoubtedly many other important themes in mathematics I do believe that an understanding of the language and concepts of calculus is so important for anyone who wants to have anything useful to say about many of the issues that face us today to public life that it deserves to be listed as a Critical Literacy in its own right.

In fact I think this last point is important enough for me to say it again.

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