<span class='p-name'>Grokkability, Ontology, and the Nomological Network</span>

Grokkability, Ontology, and the Nomological Network

TL;DR Version: IMHO, if you really want to grok what is happening with the web literacy work, it's nice to review the topographical maps and images, but the real value is diving deep into one of the competencies & developing your own learning pathways.

Over the last couple of weeks on the Web Literacy community calls we’ve been trying to decide where to head next. Specifically, in the last community call, we had a great discussion about the “naming of things” as it applies to this work with the web literacy map. In the call, Marc Lesser shared a post from Clay Shirky that discussed why ontology is overrated. Doug Belshaw has a much better overview of the nuance of the discussion which I suggest that you read. While you’re off reading other posts…I’d also suggest this one from Doug that was posted on the DML Central blog. It will help provide context for all of this.

In the discussion we were trying to figure out what next to do with the web literacy work…and what graphical representation (i.e., the map) works best to help people think about this work. As pointed out in the Shirky post, and highlighted by Marc, ontology is probably confusing and overrated thanks to the Internet and other communication technologies. I’d like to take it a step further and suggest that it’s antithetical to the grokkability that we supposedly want in these literacies.


Some Definitions

Clay Shirky included some great definitions for ontology in his post, and I’m going to pull them over here:

I need to provide some quick definitions, starting with ontology. It is a rich irony that the word “ontology”, which has to do with making clear and explicit statements about entities in a particular domain, has so many conflicting definitions. I’ll offer two general ones.

The main thread of ontology in the philosophical sense is the study of entities and their relations. The question ontology asks is: What kinds of things exist or can exist in the world, and what manner of relations can those things have to each other? Ontology is less concerned with what is than with what is possible.

The knowledge management and AI communities have a related definition — they’ve taken the word “ontology” and applied it more directly to their problem. The sense of ontology there is something like “an explicit specification of a conceptualization.”

The common thread between the two definitions is essence, “Is-ness.” In a particular domain, what kinds of things can we say exist in that domain, and how can we say those things relate to each other?

For grok, or grokkability, I’ll pull from Doug’s materials for the recent talk at LRA:

The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as, ‘to understand intuitively or by empathy; to establish rapport with.’ The Urban Dictionary, meanwhile, defines it as, ‘literally meaning ‘to drink’ but taken to mean ‘understanding.’

Bringing It Together

In working with the web literacy standards, and now the map, I’ve had the privilege of seeing it grow and evolve over time. As detailed in the recent webinar with Connected Learning TV, I think we need more voices and work with the web literacy map, but I think we’re getting there. I do have to say that I’ve always had challenges with the use of the word “map” to describe the web literacy work.

For this post, I think that there is a fundamental challenge, or disconnect that occurs if we really want to grok something and we concern ourselves with maps, graphical representations, or ontology. In my opinion the web literacy work is comprehensive, but not complete. What we need now is to run the competencies in the wild, test it in classrooms, develop badges and badge pathways, etc. I want to see what people really think about it. I want to obtain feedback as individuals and communities try to grok the web literacy competencies in their worlds.

The problem is that developing a rigid ontology and graphical representations provide an indication of what one person, or one group thinks of the overarching structure of the skills and competencies. I believe maps, graphics, and other ontological devices are a good starting point. In my statistics classes we discussed the nomological map as we studied constructs and developed instruments and assessments. The nomological map is a representation of concepts or constructs under consideration. It’s basically a topographical overview, or “lay of the land.”



As people begin to consider the web literacy work, it is important to show them the map, and the beautiful graphics we have of the map. I think the initial graphic of the Web Literacy Map 1.1 is clear, concise, and draws your eyes in.


After that, I urge people to drop the map, and dig in to the real meaning in the web literacy work. I think you should dig in and consider some of the learning pathways (and develop your own). I think you should dive in and check out the incredible learning pathways spreadsheet that Laura Hilliger put together. Perhaps the best course of action is to visit the Webmaker resources page and immediately drill down into the competencies, see what they involve, submit a resource check out or submit a make, and possibly earn a badge.

I think that if you really want to grok, or internalize what is happening with the web literacy work, the real value is digging deep into one of the competencies and seeing what value it has in your world. It’s nice to review the topographical maps and images, but I would suggest diving deep into one of the competencies and developing your own learning pathways. Furthermore, work collaboratively with students and colleagues to understand what these web literacies mean for you.



Top image CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Alex Loach

Middle image CC BY-NC 2.0 Rachel

Bottom image CC BY 2.0 Bill Ward

3 Comments Grokkability, Ontology, and the Nomological Network

  1. Pingback: Tenke, #Teachtheweb, and Two Questions – INTERTEXTrEVOLUTION

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