Category Archives: Multi literacies

Our digital aspiration?

Digital Citizenship 3

Computers (aka digital technologies) have been in our classrooms and schools for four decades now – almost as long as I’ve been an educator – yet still we’re trying to find a way of describing or explaining what the contribution is of these devices to the education of our young.

As the use of digital technologies has become more pervasive, the focus of attention has shifted to questions about the measurement of this impact – both in terms of the contribution of digital technologies to learning, and in terms of the qualities and we deem to be desirable in the users of these technologies, those who will live their lives in an increasingly digital world.

When I started working with computers with learners, the focus of attention seemed to be predominantly on teaching the skills associated with their use – how to open files, save files, cut-and-paste etc. These foundational skills are still regarded as important, and in the 1980s there was a big demand for courses with this focus. Nowadays it’s questionable just how much of this needs to be ‘taught’ explicitly vs. learned in the process of using. Many schools are using some form of ‘computer drivers license’ or ‘digital passport’ to provide explicit expectations of students in terms of their digital proficiency, but how these are learned and demonstrated is left to the students.

The OECD suggests that governments should make efforts to identify and conceptualise the required set of skills and competences, and then incorporate them into educational standards and, in response to this suggestion, there are several national projects working on defining national standards.

More recently there’s been a shift to talking about digital literacy. Simply put, digital literacy represents a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment. The power of literacy in this context lies not merely in the ability to use the various tools and applications, but rather in an individual's capacity to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. This includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments.

It’s a bit like learning to read and write. While building a vocabulary of words and being able to represent them in written form are pre-requisite skills, becoming fully literate involves a much wider and more complex range of abilities – engaging with text, extracting meaning, synthesizing, analyzing etc.

Developing digital proficiency and becoming digitally literate can, to a significant degree, be achieved by an individual. They are important, indeed essential qualities and characteristics for an individual to possess if they are to lead productive and satisfying lives in the digital world.

Yet to be fully functional in the digital world requires more than this. It builds on the awareness of being part of something bigger than one’s self, and of the need to temper one’s individual use (or misuse) of digital technologies with the responsibilities that emerge from understanding the impact of our own behaviors on others. It requires a sense of ‘citizenship’, and the rights and responsibilities associated with that.

InfoProcessIn thinking about this I was reminded of a diagram explaining the information age that I first drew up for classes of initial teacher educators I was teaching back in the early 1990s. It’s not an original idea, and versions of this sort of thinking have appeared in all sorts of forms over the past decade or so.

The diagram begins with data at the bottom – the building blocks of all information. When gathered with purpose the data becomes information. When used in context, the information becomes knowledge (some have added ‘understanding’ here). But when knowledge is consistently applied and becomes embedded in action, it becomes wisdom.

I see the discussion about digital literacy developing in the same way. The building blocks (data and information) of the digital world are the skills and competencies we develop that make use digitally proficient. Applying those in our daily context makes us digitally literate. But developing the wisdom associated with being respectful, keeping ourselves and others safe and being productive in the digital world is what characterizes us as citizens.

I’ve attempted to capture this thinking in the diagram at the top of this post. The challenge I want to post is, should ‘digital literacy’ be our aspiration for the young people in our schools? Sure, being digitally literate will likely provide them with greater opportunities for employment and success in life, but shouldn’t we aspire to see that success and participation operate at a much higher level than simply what benefits the individual?

As our thinking at both school and national level continues to develop, I vote for an emphasis on nurturing our young people with the competencies required to demonstrate qualities of citizenship in a digital world. 

Why digital literacy is so important

I'm currently contributing to a reference group that is working on developing a strategic document around the development of digital literacy for all NZ students, as an embedded and fully integrated disposition required to function effectively as a learner and a citizen in the third millennium. 

Like similar groups that are tackling this issue – from school staffs through to governments and NGOs – there's a continuum of things to address,  from a focus on the ability to use digital technologies effectively (skills)  through to the issues around responsible use and safety etc. (citizenship). 

A couple of months ago, the PEW Research Centre published a report titled "Teens and Technology in 2013" in which they explored technology use among 802 youth ages 12-17 and their parents. The slideshow above was created by Kristin Purcel to present the key findings of this report , and outlines 10 important facts we should know about today's teens.

  1. Among Teens 12-17, social network site growth has slowed particularly Facebook, but Twitter use is growing rapidly.
  2. Today's teens are sharing more personal information online than teens have in the past
  3. Today's teens do care about online privacy
  4. Today's teens do take active steps to manage their online reputations
  5. Parents of teens are very aware that online content can impact their teens' lives
  6. Most teens educational environment include the use of at least some digital technologies
  7. The internet has fundamentally altered how teens do research, but not necessarily for the worse
  8. Digital tools can benefit kids' writing skills and abilities according to teachers.
  9. Teachers are divided as to whether "digital natives" are all that unique.
  10. A digital divide persists in the area of educational and technology

As educators we have a responsibility to explore how these sorts of findings are relevant in our context, and to consider how we must respond if we're to make our educational offerings relevant to today's learners. Further, we have a responsibility to ensure that both what we are teaching and how we are teaching it is modelling the sorts of knowledge and behaviours that will prepare our young people to live as confident, capable and connected learners in their future lives and careers. 

Information Literacy development

I've just been browsing a report recently published by Ofcom titled "Children and parents: Media use and attitudes report." [PDF]. Much of my work in schools and with teachers involves discussions about the sorts of skills and dispositions young people need to be considered 'literate' in an increasingly digital world. The research carried out by Ofcom reveals some useful data to help inform how schools think about a response, including…

  • an increase since 2010 in the number of children aged between 5-15 who have a PC or a laptop
  • an increase from 93% from 88% of children aged between 12-15 year olds use the Internet from home
  • children say that they would likely to miss their mobile or the Internet rather than TV
  • 33% believe that the information on a website must be truthful
  • only 23% of parents are concerned with what their kids see on the Internet
  • 49% of parents state that their children know more than them
  • 88% of the kids feel confident and know how to stay safe on the Internet

A quick scan down this list reveals some key areas of potential 'disconnect' between what many adults (incl. teachers) and students think is the case, and what is reality. Of particular note is the final statistic, revealing a very high percentage of young people who consider themselves to be responsible and safe online. The questions raised for me are; "who is helping our kids navigate this complex world of the WWW?, How are they learning to feel confident and safe?" As a parent of school-aged students I'm not convinced this would be accurate in practice (- which is why I spend time with them talking about and modelling responsible online behaviour). 

Understanding digital literacy is a complex issue, largely because of the way the thinking about it is evolving. There's certainly no shortage of useful links and article son the topic online.

These, and the many other posts and reports, convince me that all schools need to be placing a high priority on developing programmes addressing the information literacy needs of students. Failure to do so will be as significant in their lives as if my teachers had failed to ensure I could read and write when I went through school. 

YouTube and digital citizenship

The use of YouTube by students is a hot topic in many schools I visit and work in. I am the parent of a couple of young people still at school who regularly use YouTube clips as a source of entertainment, information and education (my son taught himself how to program in JAVA last Christmas from viewing YouTube clips). I am all too aware of the vaguaries of what can be accessed and viewed, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and speak with them regularly about appropriate viewing behaviour etc. – all part of being responsible as a parent in helping them develop as digital citizens, (as opposed to instigating a ban on such behaviour, for instance).

Concerns about what can be viewed on YouTube are not mine alone, of course. I am confronted by similar questions in most schools I visit and in discussions with other parents. The message is obviously something that the good folks at Google Education have taken on board, where they have devised an interactive curriculum aimed at supporting teachers of secondary students (approximately ages 13-17). The curriculum helps educate students on topics including:

  • YouTube’s policies
  • How to report content on YouTube
  • How to protect their privacy online
  • How to be responsible YouTube community members
  • How to be responsible digital citizens

These cyber citizenship video lessons complement a range of other resources produced by the team at Google Education, aimed at promoting responsible use and behaviour online. 

They'd be a useful resource to be used in conjunction with the Digital Citizenship Guidelines for Teachers developed collaboratively by a group of NZ educators and made available on WikiEducator.

Reading for pleasure

I'm about to take three week's leave and travel with my wife to the US, and in preparation, I've been choosing some novels to take with me to read. Reading for pleasure is one of those activities that can easily be 'lost' in the competition for time to keep abreast of all of the professional reading that comes across my desk, plus, of course, the interminable barrage of emails that require reading and dealing with each day. Yet while reading all of that sort of thing may be intellectually stimulating and professionally engaging, nothing beats the sheer enjoyment of sitting with a good novel and reading purely for pleasure – to get lost on the plot of a gripping thriller, or carried away with the imaginations of an historial novel etc. 

In the modern world, of course, there's more competing with reading for pleasure in the lives of our children than simply reading texts and emails – their lives are full of TV, computer games and other forms of 'quick fix' communications – yet even for them, a good book can be extremely engaging. 

So it was with interest tonight that I came across this briefing note from the Department of Education in the UK, titled  Encouraging reading for pleasure: What the research says on reading for pleasure

The first section of the briefing note highlights research evidence on reading for pleasure from domestic and international literature; exploring evidence on the trends and benefits of independent reading amongst both primary and secondaryaged children, as well as why children read.  The second section of this briefing covers the evidence on what works in terms of promoting reading for pleasure.

Some highlights from the paper:

What are the benefits of reading for pleasure?

  • Children who say they enjoy reading for pleasure are more likely to score well on reading assessments compared to pupils who said they enjoyed reading less
  • There is some evidence to show that reading for pleasure is a more important determinant of children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status
  • It can have a positive impact on pupils’ emotional and social behaviour It can have a positive impact on text comprehension and grammar.

What works in improving independent reading?

  • An important factor in developing reading for pleasure is providing choice – choice and interest are highly related
  • Parents and the home environment are essential to the early teaching of reading and fostering a love of reading; children are more likely to continue to be readers in homes where books and reading are valued
  • Reading for pleasure is strongly influenced by relationships between teachers and children, and children and families.

No particular surprises here for those who have been involved in teaching reading for a while – but a very useful paper to support teachers and schools that may be considering bringing back the good old 'silent reading' period in class, or promoting reading for pleasure as a key part of their reading programme. 

The full paper can be accessed as a PDF file here

Multi-tasking vs Self Control

We live in a world of instant gratification, exemplified in the oline world with a growing obsession with attending to the demands of email notifications, instant messaging and 'tweets' etc., illustrated well when we think of the friend who cuts you off mid-sentence because their mobile phone beeps with a notification of another message being received. 

There's been much written in recent years about the emergence of the Net Gen learner, and the assertions made about their ability to multi-task, including claims that those with this ability can be more productive. But similarly, there is a lot of doubt being cast around whether this is, in fact, the case, and whether multi-tasking has a negative effect on how we live. 

A recent EdWeek article titled Studies on Multitasking Highlight Value of Self-Control makes this conclusion:

The pervasiveness of technology and social media, coupled with a fear of missing out on something important, has led students to pay "continuous partial attention" to everything, but has resulted in their having difficulty concentrating deeply on anything.

I'd have to say that, from my experience, this rings very true for me. I see this playing out in a number of circumstances in my professional life, for example,

  • At conferences where a Twitter back-channel is being used – very successfully by some who are using it to productively record notes about what they're listening to and then use the hash tags later to review what the community has collectively recorded – and poorly by others who become so caught up in the moment of the back-channel conversations that they lose connection with the speaker. 
  • In face-to-face meetings where some will prefer to have their laptop open to record notes and look up information as the meeting progresses – but then become distracted responding to the relentless emails and twitter feeds that come through on the automatic notifications, and then end up placing a post on their facebook account when the discussion becomes 'boring'. 
  • In classroom inquiry activities, when students begin by looking up material related to what they are searching for, but end up following embedded hypertext links to the extent that they end up completely distracted and 'off-task'. 

Of course, none of the original uses of the technology listed above is inherently bad, but in each case, the differentiating factor is the extent to which self-control is exercised.

This thinking was reinforced for me when I cam across the cool video at the top of this post of a New York City teacher explaining how he uses the 'Marshmallow Test' to teach self-control in his classroom.

So the key thought for me is, the importance of teaching self-control within the framework of experiences we provide for students. This shouldn't be too much of an ask, after all, it fits well within the concept of managing self which is identified as one of the key competencies in the NZ curriculum.



More on Inanimate Alice

I always like finding examples of classroom work that is soundly pedagogically based, is future-focused and involves the use of ICTs in authentic and appropriate ways. I blogged a couple of years ago about Inanimate Alice, the story  story of Alice, growing up in the early years of the 21st century. It uses a combination of text, sound, images, and games as Alice takes us on a journey through her life from the age of eight through to her twenties.

This morning I received an email pointing me to some of the work being done by teachers with this story. In New Zealand Inanimate Alice has been promoted by the National Library, and they report an active user base of teachers using the resources they provide to support the work students are doing with the story.

Among them is the work that Shaun Wood has developed with his class taking the story of Alice to Samoa, where they have written their own sequence of events, based on their own research – it is a fine effort clearly demonstrating the depth of investigation the story has inspired. The kids appear so keen to work on “what comes next?”

And there’s plenty of support for teaches who are looking for creative and imaginative ways of using this story with students. In the US, Laura Fleming, an elementary school librarian and media specialist in New Jersey,  has taken on the role of “curator of the Inanimate Alice archive”.  Laura has created an Educators tab on Alice’s Facebook page and is building a list of valuable resources there.

Among the resources are two educator packs that I’ve had a chance to browse and I think will be extremely useful for teachers seeking to use Inanimate Alice to teach digital literacy, character development, making connections,  building schema, to teach critical thinking and evaluation, and more!

The first is an pack containing resources and lesson plans, focusing on the development of digital literacy. There are four lesson plans in this resource, addressing:

  1. Connections between story and medium
  2. Linking homodiegetic narration and autobiography with music and sound
  3. Autobiography and multimodality
  4. Exploring character development

Each plan is supported with a collection of student resources ready for use in the classroom.

The second pack contains a further four lesson plans supported by student resources. They cover:

  1. Exploring character development and paragraph structure
  2. Appreciating difference; Aboriginals, oral stories and podcasting
  3. Dealing with life; peer pressure, friends and school
  4. Life skills; focus on transportation

Reading through the plans it is easy to imagine how a range of other ideas could spawn from using this resource. To access these resources you simply need to register to receive a link to download them for free. It would be good to see some more NZ examples uploaded on the facebook page 🙂

Sustainability Film Challenge

With an increasing emphasis on the use of film and media in schools it’s always useful when there’s an opportunity to put those talents to good use as part of a challenge or competition. The NZ National Commission for UNESCO is a project partner in the Outlook for Someday sustainability film challenge for young people aged up to 24 years, making it idea for consideration at the senior secondary or tertiary level.

The challenge is to make a short sustainability related film, in any genre, filmed with any camera and at any length up to a maximum of 5 minutes. Entries can be from individuals, teams, schools, groups of friends etc., so the door is open to all sorts of collaborations.

Full details can be found on the Outlook for Someday website – entries close on 17 September.

Who are the millenials?

I’m always interested in some of the trends and perspectives shared by those who are researching the  characteristics of the emerging generations – amid the positioning and argument, there are areas of agreement that the youngsters of today are growing up in quite a different world to what existed for my generation, and as a consequence, there are likely to be things that differentiate the way they think and act, reflecting a different set of values, expectations and aspirations among this group.

The term ‘millennials‘ (also known as Generation Y) has been coined to broadly describe those who are growing as the young adults as we enter the 21st century – and co-incidentally, includes all 5 five of my children! The infographic posted by Ethan Bloch of Flowtown shown on the left provides a very easy way to access information about the characteristics of this group – and the emerging understandings we have about their demographic from an international perspective. The section on Millennials and technology, including the data on attitudes to technology, and sources of news and information provide an indication of where some of these differences are.

On the same topic, Pew Internet have released a new report titled Millennials will Make Online Sharing in Networks a Lifelong Habit, in which their researchers have interviewed a number of experts who say that the advantages Millennials see in personal disclosure will outweigh their concerns about their privacy. The experts interviewed generally believe that today’s tech-savvy young people, who are known for enthusiastically embracing social networking, will retain their willingness to share personal information online even as they get older and take on more responsibilities. You can read the report here. (PDF download)

Booktalks launched

For someone who spent countless hours many years ago reading A Lion in the Meadow to his daughters it was a real privilege yesterday to host author Margaret Mahy in our Christchurch office. Margaret has agreed to be the patron of an exciting new online project that we’ve been developing in conjunction with the NZ Book Council and the NZ children’s book authors and illustrators organisation. It provides an opportunity to connect students in schools with authors and illustrators for ‘virtual visits’ using skype or other synchronous technologies. The project, called BookTalks, means that authors and illustrators will now be more accessible to NZ students and schools via these online technologies. There are currently over 30 authors and illustrators listed on the site, and others will be added as they express interest.