Monday, 6 February 2012

Linking (digital) Literacies

Recently I've been thinking about a couple of issues that are somewhat interrelated, so thought the best way to clarify my thinking was to blog and try to link the thoughts together...

With the talk of introducing computer science in schools, there has been the argument that we should be developing learners' digital literacy skills either as well as, or instead of, hard programming skills, etc - after all, and as Josie Fraser articulately suggests, Computer Science is not Digital Literacy. Doug Belshaw continues in a similar vein suggesting we 'Resurrect Computer Science, but don't kill off ICT'.

With the talk of Digital Literacy fresh in mind, I revisited Guy Claxton's (2007) article in the British Journal of Educational Studies - 'Expanding young people's capacity to learn'. Claxton suggests 'learning to learn' is a primary aim of education, and quotes the likes of Sir Richard Livingstone (1941) in that;
"The test of successful education is not the amount of knowledge that pupils take away from school, but their appetite to know and their capacity to learn".
Livingstone's premise is inexorably intertwined with Sarah Knight's take on digital literacy - "those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society". Similarly, Steve Wheeler suggests we redesign learning in a digital world, encouraging transferrable skills such as 'adaptability, change management, creative problem solving, collaboration and a range of digital literacies that will enable them (learners) to meet any challenges head on'.

So far, we're all singing from the same hymn sheet, right?

Now, of the various blogs and articles, Helen Beetham's post 'Design or be Designed For' is one of the few to link learners' (digital) literacies with those of the teachers, suggesting it is (or at least should be) an integral aspect of their professionalism. After all, with the talk of developing digital literacies in pupils/students, it must surely require a certain prerequisite of such skills within/of/by the teacher.

What's important here, is that I don't believe these digital literacies should be packaged into Computer Science or ICT classes alone, but rather embedded as 'epistemic culture change', i.e. discussed, understood, and systemically strengthened (or infused) throughout the education system, and as an integral part of all subjects.

So exactly what skills/competencies (or whatever other word one might apply) would be required on the part of all teaching staff then?

My thoughts on this took me back to the controversial debate that won Edublog'a Most Influential post of 2007 by Karl Fisch - Is it ok to be a technologically illiterate teacher? Fisch hits the nail on the head by suggesting;
In order to teach it, we have to do it. How can we teach this to kids, how can we model it, if we aren’t literate ourselves? You need to experience this, you need to explore right along with your students. You need to experience the tools they’ll be using in the 21st century, developing your own networks in parallel with your students. You need to demonstrate continual learning, lifelong learning – for your students, or you will continue to teach your students how to be successful in an age that no longer exists.
Indeed there is something very 'Ken Robinson' about this statement, but nevertheless on point. Given that roughly 90% of UK jobs require some IT competency, teachers should not only be 'digitally literate' (whatever that may mean), but also practice effective use of technology in their teaching.

So what should all teachers 'know'? What should all teachers be able to 'do'? And do you agree with Fisch's most controversial statement;
'If a teacher today is not technologically literate - and is unwilling to make the effort to learn more - it's equivalent to a teacher 30 years ago who didn't know how to read and write'.
Answers on a postcard (or in the comments to the post)...

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  1. Quite! Digital literacy is one slippery buzz term. I'd extend Steve Wheeler's 'adaptability, change management, creative problem solving [and] collaboration' to include sourcing and evaluating information, understanding how one is acted upon by design online, seeing through marketing techniques and being able to make informed decisions about personal use of time online, device and package purchasing and online social interaction. If we're not careful though, "digital literacy" may filter down to practice as merely knowing which buttons to press to make a nice Glogster. Bit of an opportunity wasted...

    Fisch may not be taking into account that many teachers have personal and professional circumstances which seriously circumscribe their ability to invest the time/energy/money we may have invested in all this. There's precious little support available for those teachers who, for whatever reason, have been left behind. If we can't even agree on what digital literacy actually is, how can we expect newbies to magically acquire it?

  2. Hi Carolyn,

    thanks for the comment.
    I think much of the talk of digital literacies, and particularly related to staff, is rhetoric and 'fluffy'. I do agree with much of what is written, including the 'adaptability, change management,' etc, but also interested in what that actually looks like. Specifically what skills should a digitally literate teacher possess?

    These are questions I don't know the answer to, but rather thinking aloud and putting it out there for feedback. My immediate thoughts would be the obvious skills in using VLEs, etc, but extending to searching, finding, selecting, reviewing existing content on the web, and the ability to make a judgement and repurpose that in a context which suits your learners. Perhaps I'm suggesting skills for 'openness'....

  3. This is a nice post to point people towards as it summarises some key articles well. :-)

    Coming from a schools background, this is kind of the 'discrete ICT lessons vs. cross-curricular ICT' debate. Almost everyone's in favour of the latter, but when it's been tried it's almost always spectacularly failed.

    The key words here are investment (in teachers' skills) and priorities. If developing students digital literacies are seen as a priority and - although I shudder to think of the tools - *measured* then it's more likely to happen.

  4. Amen to this post, this is my next goal post, I'm working on developing a strategy on Digital Literacy for teaching staff and this is the very question I asked a couple of weeks back and have come to the conclusion that we need to define DL in the context of what we use and do as well (so VLE's, other web tools) as fill in the 'missing gaps' - that which some of us don't do and therefore may be iliterate. But how do we get teachers to do it? They do need to see its relevance and by doing they are learning too. From which end do we tackle this? So far I'm looking at a mixed approach as teachers can be a mixed bunch, so packaged reusable learning objects, training etc. But what does work unless it a dedicated programme or course?

    1. Hi Doug and Suki,

      thanks for your comments.
      Doug and I exchanged a few comments on Twitter yesterday about investment in skills and priorities - I think this is really difficult to overcome;
      Firstly a lot of training is already in place (certainly in HEIs I've worked) for academic staff - whether that's focussing on VLE type skills or other IT-related stuff (ECDL and the like). Perhaps this training is misdirected? Should we looking more at digital literacies instead? But then who would deliver this 'training' to staff? Learning technologists?
      Secondly, although the training may be there, where does that sit with staff priorities? REF often is more important than teaching itself, so dedicated time for training is difficult, especially as staff are given more and more teaching (across the sector).

      In a previous role I seen one Faculty look to embed skills (I don't know if I'd call it dig. lit. or not though) as part of academic PDR/Appraisals. To be fair I didn't know what to make of that at first, but perhaps that's the only way to get mass uptake?
      Dig. Lit. could be an integral part of PGCE's for a more organic development, but that's likely to take time and do nothing about established academics.

      Another question linked to Fisch's points could be, should we even employ staff who don't have some minimum threshold of skills?

      Just to emphasise, these are all thoughts swirling about rather than me having a dogmatic viewpoint :-)

  5. 'Swirling thoughts' work for me as it is the practicalties of what were trying to achieve here amongst so much already going on (as you have said training, tech elements in PGCertHe etc). Also everyone' staff' are at different levels/stages and points with using technology, its like were untangling what they are already doing and that which could be done better. So I think your point about whether our current 'training' be it VLE's needs to be addressed is valid? More and more staff are requesting how they can embed technology in their teaching, I think we need to crack open that apart from VLE's there is more that they can do but also looking at evaluating how they are currently using the VLE etc. I would like to know what does a Digi Lit professional skill set look like? I was considering the idea of having some form of 'certification' (reminds me of digital badges) that allows staff to 'path' their learning like appraisals (but still not sure) but if were expecting students to be 'Digitally literate' or are so told these are the skills required to participant in this digital world etc why not staff and surely they need to be modelling this behaviour. Priorties and ownership is important here and it may seem to get mass uptake and to signify its importance that some form of recognition is needed. I do believe that it may be thus have to be part of their professional development programme, so appraisal's etc.

    Its difficult too for those of us working in these fields to keep abreast of how to use all the tech and tools now available in these fields, you can't be a master of all.

    apologies for the mangled post, but so many swirling issues!

  6. This is a really interesting post Peter and I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head with the quote from Fisch.

    A couple of things spring to mind in trying to achieve this. As teaching academics we tend to naturally work in silos i.e. we focus on the units that we teach and not on the programmes that our students experience. So the use of technology across the piste is not consistent - no one really knows the baseline either. This isn't a good starting point for skilling up on the digital literacies front as there isn't a good benchmark. If we had a better view of what was going to be done at the level of the programme - i.e. what skills were required by the whole teaching team we would be able to engage at that level and provide more targeted staff development that meets the needs of the academics in the specfic context of their teaching. In other words skill them up in specific skills that they need to teach that programme.

    I was also reminded of an anecdote from a presenter at the recent ePortfolios conference I attended. When being told of the important of an ePortfolio to his employment prospects and continuing professional development a student asked the tutor if he could see theirs, so that he'd know what the ePortfolio of e very experienced person looked like and could get some ideas how they used it. Of course the tutor didn't have one - few do - and he was quite embarrassed. So we need to, I think to take the view, that leading by example is a good startegy for some of this.

    It is as you say a really important area.

    Rod Cullen

  7. Good blog post Pete. Firstly, without causing controversy, for me it can be a frustrating topic. As a Learning Technologist I deal with a lot of staff that don’t have the basic ICT skills that one would expect them to have. In staff development sessions I often find myself 'up skilling' staff at the beginning of the session on basic IT such as searching for a browser on an unfamiliar PC. This takes away valuable time from the session and from other teachers in the session. However, I totally agree with and empathise with Caroline’s point, that many teachers have personal and professional circumstances which seriously circumscribe their ability to invest the time/energy/money we may have invested. I do think that this needs to be recognised and addressed at an institutional level and planned for accordingly, but also going back to what Rod has just posted; programme teams will be far better placed to assess the needs of their teaching teams in relation to specific ‘digital literacy’ skills they might need to be equipped with. So I think that’s quite a good approach. But I would expect new and existing lecturers to have a base line knowledge and ability in ICT which I think really is something that is essential in the 21st century.

    Rod, the comment about the lecturer who didn’t have an ePortfolio to show his students is really quite funny. I can imagine it was very embarrassing for him. As a Learning Technologist, a part time student on the PG Cert and previous (soon to be again) distance learning student on an MSc in TEL, I have a very high expectation of what skills and ability my tutors have and I have taken my time, effort and money elsewhere in the past due to dissatisfaction and when the fee’s increase in September, I sure as hell won’t be afraid to do that again! The more our students pay the more they’ll be expecting and comparing us. And who can blame them for expecting their tutors to be able to use the VLE that they are asking them to look at, or to be able to use the class room technology they are using in lectures.

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  9. Enjoyed this article Pete. You mentioned Ken Robinson, I know this did the rounds a while back but if readers are not aware of the RSA lectures, I still think this is one of the best. Not exactly what is being discussed in this blog, but related, if you use a bit of divergent thinking...