Tag Archives: skills

Digital Literacy Defined?

Digital Literacies Peacock

Digital Literacies Peacock (Photo credit: *s@lly*)

What does it mean to be digitally literate? And who can actually answer that question today – teachers, administrators, researchers, students? I’m not sure I can do it justice. I think that’s one of my big takeaways from participating in the #etmooc Digital Literacy topic.

I have been busier than I expected these past two weeks so I have not had a chance to follow the Twitter and Google+ dialogues very closely or read many blog posts and I am definitely feeling that lack. The amount of learning and questioning I’m prompted to engage in by participating with the group is a credit to the #etmooc community and I hope I’m able to dive back in more next week. Still, from the archives I listened to and the one session I was able to attend (Howard Rheingold’s Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Participation, Collaboration & Network Know-How) live, I have come to realize that digital literacy or literacies is no simple topic.

In part, this is because there are still disputes about how to define literacy itself and then there is the challenge of trying to define something that is constantly shifting and changing in response to technology developments and cultural shifts. Similar to the use of “21st Century Skills,” at what point do they just become “skills” or “literacies”? Do we need to distinguish between the digital aspects and the analog ones?

Web literacy? (v0.1)

Web literacy? (v0.1) (Photo credit: dougbelshaw)

And then there is the question of whether to differentiate between skills and literacies. As Steve shares so well in this recent post, there are “nuances and emerging aspects of learning [specifically] through digital media.” I agree with the inherently contextual and cultural nature of (digital) literacies and the idea that while certain skills may be transferable between them (e.g., writing an email) the ways in which it is done can depend on the type of literacy used in that context. For example, when writing an email to a friend, young students might use very informal language or text speak but hopefully, when writing to teachers or professors, they code-switch to a more professional tone and different type of text and then they might have to adjust their practice again if they enter the workforce and learn the unique email protocols used there. I know I have found that in certain contexts, the expectation is that everyone at a conference or event will be tweeting and know how to converse in that type of 140 character, shortened URL code while at other conferences, I have to be aware that many people have never even seen a tweet and I need to be literate in other ways of communication to connect with them.

As an educator, what I think is important for me and others to consider is whether our students are cognizant of the different types of digital literacies they already know, of the digital literacies they will need to know, and of the concept of digital literacies as a whole? In reflecting on the past two weeks, I realized that while my schedule was busier I was also a little less motivated to blog/participate because I felt there was less creation work and more analysis of deeper concepts that I needed to do to wrap my head around digital literacies. Honestly, I love to sit back and just think and reflect on ideas but when I’m pressed for time, it becomes a lot more challenging and I definitely felt like digital literacies required … requires … a lot more thought before I feel like I have a true grasp of it.

So, my next project is to consider ways to create in order to better break apart and conceptualize digital literacies and then to consider projects that would be developmentally appropriate for my young students to create so they can begin to learn through this process too. When we were learning and sharing ideas about digital storytelling, I almost couldn’t resist posting multiple times during the week because I was having so much fun creating and learning and I wanted to share that with the #etmooc community. I’d like to find a way for that same level of excitement to be shared around digital literacies so that I can then invite my students into these engaging activities and open up an early dialogue with them about ways they can each define digital literacies for themselves.

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Misadventures in Connected Learning … But That’s Not All!

Before the second week of #etmooc “Connected Learning” slips away, I wanted to write a post reflecting a bit on the prompt: “Is it possible for our classrooms to support this kind of (connected) learning? If so, how?

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by dennisar

I definitely think that our classrooms can support connected learning and that technology can make the “how” much easier and more feasible to facilitate that learning. To me, connected learning involves engaging students in real-world applications of skills and knowledge. One way to do this is by asking students to try and solve problems that people face everyday, such as concerns with the environment (Inspiration from GOOD.is) or building prototypes to help the elderly more easily navigate outdoors (see the FIRST Jr. Robotics Challenge).

I also view connected learning as a motivation to teach my students tools that can empower and enable them to be change agents. With these tools, students can build meaningful connections across different mediums, connections that not only facilitate learning but establish relationships. This means introducing ideas of digital citizenship and cyber safety at very young ages so students can begin using tools that they will likely continue to use as they grow older instead of tools that they will quickly grow out of (e.g., teaching 2nd graders how to conduct safe and effective Google searches versus restricting them to KidRex and allowing kindergarten students to tweet with other kindergarten students in class).

But most importantly, in my opinion, connected learning translates into global connections and collaborations for all students and teachers.

With modern technologies like Skype, Voicethread, Google Translate, Twitter and other (a)synchronous tools, it can be simple and free to connect students, even if their time zones never overlap or they speak different languages. There is no longer a need for expensive web conferencing technologies and with web 2.0 tools, students don’t have to wait weeks for a reply from students in another country. Therefore, it seems to me that we should be scaffolding and encouraging global connections in every classroom, starting with our youngest students. These connections can blossom into meaningful relationships where students can share experiences and learn together about the cultures, perspectives, and knowledge of each community. That feels like true connected learning.

The Global Classroom Project Logo

So what does that look like in the classroom? At my school, I have slowly been working to build some of these local and global connections so students can engage in more connected learning. While we have had some success, we have definitely had a few misadventures as well.

We tried signing up for an Elementary Mystery Skype project created by some  educators who had seen it done with older grades. Three of my teachers signed up, willing to take the risk and do something they had never done before, but although all three were paired with another teacher, none of them heard a response back about setting a date to actually Skype. After following many inspiring #kinderchat teachers, I talked with a kindergarten teacher at my school about having her class join Twitter. We sat down and discussed how it could work, we wrote up a detailed letter to parents, we planned how to introduce it to the students but since their initial Twitter “launch” the class hasn’t been able to get other classes to tweet back. I think the kids are beginning to feel like tweeting means sending a message on the computer and never hearing back. Whether it’s been via Skype, Twitter, or even email, we have found that making that connection with another teacher and class can be much harder than getting the technology or other preparations in order.

1st Graders Excited to Skype with a class in Canada

1st Graders Excited to Skype with a class in Canada

Luckily, we also have some success stories to share. Thanks to the Global Classroom Project database, I was able to connect our Spanish teacher with a class in Spain so her students could Skype in English and Spanish. While moderating a #globalclassroom chat, I connected with another educator who wanted her students to be able to share their experiences of a Quaker meeting. This led to two of our fourth grade classes Skyping with their fourth grade and discussing their religious practices, as well as the similarities and differences in their schools. Comparing lunches and “specials” was a big highlight. Through Twitter, I was also able to set up a Skype session between a Canadian class and one of our first grade classes – our students were shocked to see all of their snow! And in a few weeks, we have a session scheduled with NASA for our youngest students, who are studying space, to hear about “Humans in Space,” one of the offerings in their Digital Learning Network.

So, while the actual “how” of connected learning can certainly be a challenge, I think it is doable. My students have been able to use a range of web 2.0 tools that have enabled them to develop deeper relationships within their individual classes, between their class and other classes at the school, and between our school and other schools. They are becoming more comfortable with the idea of leaving messages through various platforms and receiving comments and messages back from parents or other students after a pause (which can be tough to understand when you’re only 5 or 6). Teachers are beginning to consider ways we can connect with other students and classes in other parts of the world to enrich their units of study and make different topics and concepts more concrete while also more making them more complex. I hope that with time, patience, and perseverance  our connections will continue to grow and with it, the connected learning that we are all able to share.