Digital fluency remains on the lips of many educators and leaders around the country at the moment. TKI suggests ‘A digitally fluent person can decide when to use specific digital technologies to achieve their desired outcome. They can articulate why the tools they are using will provide their desired outcome.’ (TKI) But isn’t it a little more than that? I would argue that a digitally fluent person also understands who the learning audience is and, as a result, how to create the most impact. Beyond that, it’s an understanding of where to publish to reach an audience.
“Digital tools make it easier than ever for our student creators to share their work with the world beyond the classroom. When I share how to use my favourite tools, I always come back to the why and the who. Why are we asking students to create a video, design a webpage, record a tutorial? And who is going to see their work?” (Burns 2015)
It all gets a little confusing as the original defining parameters and elements grow. If we include everything suggested, it could be something like:
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So, are we there? What about the interaction and understanding of models like Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model? I suppose it could be argued that in incorporating SAMR into thinking, you show a clear understanding of both why and who digital technology can support.
Isolation or interaction?
Much of the challenge remains around how we view the terminology we use. Looking specifically at the terms technology, literacy, and fluency, we could view them as a ladder. For many years the SAMR model presented as a ladder has been a successful metaphor and model used in schools. Teachers understand that reaching Redefinition will transform student learning. If we apply this to technology, literacy, and fluency, we start with technology, we step into an understanding of literacy, and finally, we reach fluency. Like any ladder analogy, we accept that no one is a superhero, and no one is able to fly straight to the top. However, what about when you finally make it to the top? If technology changes, are you still at the top or do you have to start climbing again?
Looking at the three terms with an interdependent lens, they may perhaps look something like the graphic (left). I believe they interweave, interlink, and must not be viewed without knowledge and understanding of the others. In much the same way as all must be experienced to reach the top of a ladder, the difference here is that we understand things from a cyclical perspective. ‘Digital technologies’ remains the what. It’s the thing we can point at and touch. In order to use it successfully, we need to understand how it works and how they could be implemented in teaching and learning. We need to be literate. For true success, though, we must be discerning. The splatter gun of ideas and short-lived experimentation must be limited to a phase and cannot become a habit. Therefore, we must know why we use the tools we do and never lose sight of the impact we desire it to have. We aim to be fluent. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope the clearest element here is that we cannot see the device, its function and its ability to transform learning in isolation. We need to understand all to truly leverage the power technology can bring.
What does a digitally fluent teacher look like?
If I use my graphic above to illustrate my thought process behind my answer to this, it’s as follows. I know what technology is out there and that my students have access to. I have a clear understanding of how to use it and apply it to my teaching and learning practice. And finally, I understand and can justify why I feel it will improve my student learning and outcomes. Right? Maybe…
The challenge we face is that technology is ever changing. Digital Fluency isn’t like your driver’s license. With that, you learn to drive, you sit the test, you are awarded your license, and that’s it. As long as you don’t commit infringements and stay within the guidelines of the Road Code, there’s no need to re-sit your test on a regular basis or reapply for your license. Why? Because the car hasn’t really changed in its functionality or primary operability in the last 50 years. Please don’t misunderstand me, technological advancement and changes to propulsion efficiency and method, comforts, accessories, and safety have been tremendous. But the actual process of driving hasn’t changed. Seat belt on, engine on, into gear (with or without a clutch), mirror, signal, check, manoeuvre.
On the other hand, look at mobile digital technology. The cell phone has evolved hugely. Those who could confidently tap the number into the portable cellular phones of the 1980s have had to learn all the functions of the modern smartphone. Even the name has changed. Whereas an early cell phone could simply make calls, now their feature lists are enormous. A cell phone now, put simply, does more.
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that the simple laptop hasn’t changed much. But, stop for a moment and just think about what you can do with a $300 Chromebook that your Satellite Pro of the 1990s couldn’t. It video calls, it hooks up to the internet (without a dongle or cable!), it has no need to read CDs or DVDs. Its hard disk drive (HDD) is capable of storing endless multimedia that will wirelessly stream to no end of other devices and can be updated from even more. Unlike the phone, a modern laptop may still share physical appearance features with its ancestors, in much the same way as I have my family’s rather large nose, but the way they operate, and their user interfaces are extremely different.
Coming back to the original point of achieving Digital Fluency, we need to continue to reflect on the ever-changing devices within the technological world, their functionality, and work out whether they will add genuine value and enrichment to the lives and learning of our students. A digitally fluent teacher is simply one who understands what resources are available to them, how they operate and why they might use them. They are able to adapt, learn, and evolve in order to keep their what and how current, and ensuring their why meets the needs of their students. And so, I touch very lightly on the new Digital Technology and Hangarau Matihiko learning areas of the New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa. If, in my opinion, remaining fluent requires us to learn and adapt to the changing face of digital technology, why not learn alongside our learners? Why not explore wider concepts and computational thinking next to our five-year-olds? Or perhaps APIs and design principals with our high schoolers?
The bigger picture
Through digital enablement, the act of preparing and enabling students through the use of digital devices to function in a more digitally motivated age, we have the opportunity to blend the old with the new.
Many of our strongly held values and the Key Competencies haven’t changed, but our context has. We need to incorporate the values and behaviours that have guided our students successfully for many years with the new skills associated with a truly global, digital citizen. Our learners will continue to need support in developing resilience, empathy, kindness, respect, and determination. But what do these elements look like in the digital world?
As access to technology as part of learning becomes an expectation of many students across New Zealand, the behaviours and guidance our students need to navigate the unknown world they’re heading for are needed more now than ever. Alongside teaching our junior primary learners why they need to keep their hands to themselves in the playground, we need to be teaching them the importance of (metaphorically) keeping them to themselves online, not lashing out in anger. As we model clear communication and language to share our learning journeys, we must ask what the same communication might look like in an email or online forum. How can we teach these in the real world without modelling and teaching them in the digital world — the one they are potentially going to spend even more time in than us?
In the lives of today’s learners, digital is the norm. If we’re not teaching the digital generation of learners we are presented with, then just who are we teaching?
I would love to know your thoughts on this. Add your comments below.
- CORE’s Ten Trends in education
- Digital Technology and Hangarau Matihiko resources: Kia Takatū ā-Matihiko
- TKI Digital fluency
(n.d.). Digital fluency / Teaching / enabling e-Learning – enabling eLearning. Retrieved July 4, 2018, from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Teaching/Digital-fluency
(2016, November 15). The Value of an Authentic Audience | Edutopia. Retrieved July 4, 2018, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/value-of-authentic-audience-monica-burns
Photo of girls using technology by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash (Copyright free)
Ladder by anarate on Pixabay under CC0
1980s cell phone by Redrum0486 on Wikimedia under CC BY-SA 3.0
1990s cell phones by Marus on Wikimedia in the Public Domain
Early smartphone by Oldmobil on Wikipedia under CC BY-SA 3.0
The iOS family pile by Blake Patterson on Wikimedia under CC 2.0
SAMR by Leflerd on Wikimedia under CC BY-SA 4.0