Week 6: Critical Thinking & Information Literacy

Source: Digital Citizenship for 6th Grade Students
The Digital Literacy Adventure

Digital literacy is the adventure I chose for this week because it is the near universal substrate of all the other kinds of media and communication in the Information Age.  Not to mention, the nature of digital communication means that the lines between message and medium can be blurred far more easily than in the analog world, which has significant implications for teaching and learning all the other literacies outlined for the week  — information, news, media, and critical thinking.

Definitions

The most succinct definition of digital literacy I found is from  Purposeful Technology-Constructing Meaning in 21st Century Schools and is defined as “the capability to use digital technology and knowing when and how to use it.”  Yet in light of the other rather troubling readings on the topic, the expanded aspects of digital literacy are vital.  Specifically, the authors note that digital literacy includes “when students are able to engage with multi-media to read and interpret text, sounds and images…when students can  manipulate and evaluate data to construct their own meaning…having knowledge about  how to use technology to construct meaning…in ways that are appropriate to their needseffectively and appropriately to communicate a message.”  The emphases are added and align to some specifics of digital literacy instruction the inclusion of which, I believe, needs to be mandatory in any district curriculum.  Common Sense Media also notes that digital literacy is an aspect of media literacy and that both fall under the broader umbrella of information literacy.  Common Sense specifically designates media from the internet, smartphones, video games, and “other nontraditional sources” as within the realm of digital literacy.  (By the way, Common Sense has many useful resources.  It’s worth exploring from the link above.)

2 Framing Anecdotes

Part of the work I do as a consultant is leadership and instructional coaching through the University of Chicago’s Network For College Success.  We work with Network high schools to implement professional learning rounds that facilitate instructional improvement in a targeted instructional area.  The method for teaching the targeted instructional area is a research-based powerful instructional practice.  One of the powerful practices we support is Reading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College Classrooms, also know more simply as Reading Apprenticeship or RA.  The RA model operates from the belief that all teachers are literacy teachers.  Not reading teachers, but literacy teachers.  It also proceeds from the notion that different disciplines require different literacy skills specific to that discipline.  This makes a world of sense when one considers that the way one reads a novel is very different from reading a science text, which is different from reading a social studies text, is different from reading a math text, is different still from reading an art text.  Each of these content area teachers is the expert in how to read these specialized texts.  Therefore, all teachers have a responsibility to teach the reading, writing, and thinking skills necessary for the text types of their particular disciplines.  So the RA framework is the schema that activated when I read the framing questions for this week’s assignment, “Who is responsible for teaching information literacy?”

Baby’s & Screens                   Photo: Pintrest

When I read the second framing question, “When should it be introduced?” I was reminded of a time when I was at a friend’s home.  We were sitting on the living room sofa, talking.  At some point we realized that his 3 year-old daughter was standing in front of the flat panel TV which was off at the time.  From the corner of my eye I half noticed that she was alternately waving at the television and turning to us, waving at the television and turning to us.  When it registered that she was actually talking to us, we turned our full attention to her.  She was saying, “Broke!  Broke!”  What was happening was that she was swiping the TV screen.  When it did not turn on after several attempts, she turned to us to demonstrate that the TV was broken because that big flat screen didn’t wake up when she moved her hand across it!  My friend and I were blown away by the implications of this moment.  Indeed “[s]tudents learn technology just like they do the spoken language, by doing and today it is not uncommon for a 3 year old to have some basic knowledge regarding how to get on to the computer and load a game” (Purposeful Technology).

Teach Digital Literacy and to Whom?
Digital Literacy Model
Source: MediaSmarts: Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy

Thus, based on my own literacy coaching, the incident with my friend’s daughter, and the readings for this week, my answer to these questions would be “All teachers are responsible for teaching digital literacy to all students and it should start as soon as they enter school!”

Wrestling With the Texts

Mike Caulfield‘s “Yes, Digital Literacy. But Which One?” borders on screed; however, his take on the literacy situation is spot on and aligns with the research-based method of RA.  “One of the problems…with traditional digital literacy programs is that they tend to see digital literacy as a separable skill from domain knowledge….  In reality, most literacies are heavily domain-dependent, and based not on skills, but on a body of knowledge that comes from mindful immersion in a context.”  Caulfield then demonstrates in short order how inadequate tools like RADCAB and CRAAP are to the task of developing a reader’s ability to accurately and reliably evaluate digital media.

CRAAP Click here to take the CRAAP Test! Source: SCAD Libraries

 

The RADCAB literacy sifter; Source: radcab.com

Caulfield’s larger argument also puts me in mind of a subject we studied in LSE500.  Namely

Does it make sense to teach about Leonardo da Vinci, The Last Supper (1498) orally?  Neither should all digital literacy instruction be at the upper levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

that educators have for years misunderstood the notion of learning style.  Our brains make meaning through all our senses.  While research indicates that every learner has a preferred learning mode, it is inaccurate to say that that mode is the “best” way for them to learn all material.  The most effective way for any learner to make meaning is to experience the content in the learning mode best suited for the content not the learner.   In fact, what teachers need to consider is the learning mode best suited for the particular content.  For instance, it makes no sense in an art history class to differentiate lessons for aural learners that privilege verbal interactions over the visual when studying the complex imagery of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper.  Painting is a visual medium and thus is best taught visually.  Since the human brain makes meaning from visual inputs, it is a more efficient and effective way to teach about The Last Supper, even for learners who prefer an aural approach.

Caulfield takes the same approach to Bloom’s Taxonomy and digital literacy.  Yes, in a democratic society citizens need to be critical thinkers.  But all content does not need to be processed at that high a level.  At specific stages of the learning process, some content is most effectively taught at the remembering and understanding levels of the taxonomy.  Remember it.  Understand it.  Apply it.  Move on.  Caulfield effectively argues that digital literacy instruction is in need of this approach.  Do digital citizens need to know how to analyze and evaluate the reliability of a source?  Of course.  And students should have opportunities to practice critical thinking throughout their educational career.  However, in the early stages of developing one’s digital literacy instruction, or with particular kinds of literacy content, basic knowledge is what’s needed first.  For example, it’s important that a digital citizen know that images and videos can be presented out of their original contexts and paired with other information to mislead a reader.  Or that when reading a tweet one must actually click on an embedded link to get to the detailed information the tweet is sharing.  Or that one may have to take a few more steps to do additional, deeper searches to vet the context of a piece of information.  Only after someone knows these basics can that they apply them in more complex and critically thoughtful ways.

Evaluating Information:  The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning is a Stanford study that clearly illustrates how teaching digital literacy exclusively from the top of Bloom’s is failing our students and our society.  The study assessed “civic online reasoning” by collecting and analyzing 7,804 response from students of varied ages and socio-economic backgrounds ranging from inner-city Los Angeles to suburban Minneapolis to Stanford University to public state universities.   Disturbingly, their findings echo Caulfield’s concerns.

"...[T]o a stunning and dismaying consistency...[o]verall, young people's ability to reason about the information in the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak....  [W]hen it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped....  [I]n every case and at every level we were taken aback by students' lack of preparation."

 

This statement and the examples of student work collected for the study are indeed “stunning and dismaying” in their implications.  Yet in light of the the 2016 election, it can’t be a surprise.  I spent much of November with colleagues wrestling with what they felt were our profession’s responsibility for the election outcome.  “If only we had taught media literacy better.”  “We need to teach kids how to be more critical of what they read online.”  “Schools have got to get their hands around fake news and teach our students how to tell it from the real thing.”  These are all paraphrases of statements I heard teachers and administrators saying on November 9th.  As much as I don’t want one more societal ill to be laid at the feet of our profession, I have to say, on several levels I had a hard time disputing their analysis.

Beware the Usual Professional Pitfalls

That said, we will not be served by once again looking for a curricular silver bullet, an instructional quick fix for the paucity of digital literacy in k-12 and collegiate learning.  It’s going to be a generational effort.  And as we get this ball rolling, our profession would be well-served keeping three things in mind to remain positive.  “First and foremost — encourage, request, even demand that teachers in your school district get  EXTENSIVE (not just one workshop) training in the use of technology in the classroom and Digital Citizenship! Teachers are the front line of content delivery, but if teachers are not comfortable and confident with the use of technology, then they will not incorporate its use into their classrooms” (Purposeful Technology).  Second, as Bryan Alexander said in the Teaching and Higher Ed podcast, “There’s a lot of churn.  But …overall we were right.  We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning.  And that’s a good thing.  We didn’t identify a horrible monster.  We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems.  But that’s a major stride forward for the human race.”  And finally, as Alexander continued, “Teachers are hired to be experts and we can’t be expert in everything online.  Therefore they have an extra layer of anxiety to participate in the social world of the web and they’re not the expert.  They’re average users.  And that is very hard and threatening.  That’s why teachers have had a hard time using the web for teaching and learning.”  Yet we have to push through that anxiety and not only take our place in the digital world, but also guide the younger generations to their own critical and constructively participatory place in it as well.  And as we do, let’s keep in mind “There’s too much to master.  No one can master it all.” So “grab one particular corner of it [like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, etc.] and get comfy with it.”  

Conclusion

The internet and the digital domain ceased being curiosities and merely interesting diversions decades ago.  As the cartoon at the top of the post illustrates, concepts of traditional citizenship and digital citizenship are utterly intertwined.  Thus, being a good civic citizen requires one being a good digital citizen also.  Both, therefore, require a sophisticated level of digital literacy where the literate person uses technology to interact with the world in a responsible way (Purposeful Technology).  Given the ubiquity of digital technology globally and the very real and tangible impact the digital world has on the actual world, concepts of digital citizenship cannot be any less important than those of traditional civic citizenship.   Literacy is a crucial component of citizenship — in both the real world and in the digital world.

The authors of Evaluating Information conclude the study’s executive summary with a quote from philosopher Michael Lynch:

"[T]he Internet is 'both the world's best fact-checker and the world's best bias confirmer -- often at the same time.'  Never have we had so much information at our fingertips.  Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed or more ignorant and narrow-minded will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it.  At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish."

 

Indeed, given what’s at stake, if ever there was a clarion call for embedding and infusing digital literacy throughout our curriculum, this is it.


A Coincidental Post Script

Throughout my academic career I have been the lucky beneficiary of strange coincidences connected to my research.  This started all the way back in 8th grade with the dreaded annual science fair dog & pony show project.  Randomly, I had selected “nuclear power” for my project.  One week before the project was due for class and two weeks before the fair, the Three Mile Island accident occurred (and which just 12 days after the release of The China Syndrome!)  So I shouldn’t have been surprised to wake up this morning and open my New York Times to find the above-the-fold-top-right headline, HACKERS USE TOOL TAKEN FROM N.S.A. IN GLOBAL ATTACK.  What an opportunity to talk about digital citizenship, literacy, and safety with our students (and our septua- and octogenarian parents for whom some of us are the 24/7 support desk!)

Week 5: Collaboration and Ed Tech Research 

jp-DIVIDE-2-jumbo
I have held this image of Alejandro Zamora in my mind’s eye since reading this NY Times article in 2012. Credit Drew Kelly for The New York Times

Five years ago, I read an article in The New York Times, “Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era”.  It had such an impact on me professionally that I refer to it even today.  The more I reflect on it, the more I believe it was one of the catalysts that ultimately put me on the path to this master’s program.  It raised an important issue five years ago.  But reading it today it seems a bit of a broad brush.  The research paints a more detailed, nuanced picture of teens’ online activities.  Still, the article surfaces yet one more inequity faced by students from low-income communities and those of us who serve them.  It draws attention to two concerns I have as an educator:  How our most vulnerable students make use of information and communication technology (ICT) and the discrepancy between how many educators use ICT in their professional practice compared to their personal lives and how the latter impacts the former.  It is these interests that influenced my reading choices this week.

…And what a selection of readings they were.  The sources Nicole pointed us to are such an embarrassment of riches, I wish we had longer to pour over the research before having to blog about them.  Needless to say, this week has been a bookmarks a-go-go.  Eventually, though, I narrowed down my choices to:

The elements that stand out to me are the extent to which the dynamics described in the Times article still hold true today, five years on.  The other is the extent to which the differences persist between how teachers use ICT in their personal lives and in their classrooms.

One of the benefits of consulting is that I’ve experienced more ways of “doing school” than I ever could have imagined I would in my career.  And much of what these reports describe hew to what I have experienced first hand.  That is, not surprisingly, “[t]eachers of the lowest income students experience the impact of digital tools in the learning environment differently than teachers whose students are from more affluent households” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”).  Specifically, this means “low income students…[are] ‘behind the curve’ when it comes to effectively using digital tools in the learning process…, teachers of students living in low income households say their school’s use of internet filters has a major impact on their teaching…and…, teachers of lower income students say their school’s rules about classroom cell phone use by students have a major impact on their teaching” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”).  Meanwhile, teachers of students who come from higher socio-economic households do not face the same obstacles to teaching and learning.  In fact, respondents to the the “How Teachers Are Using Technology…” survey report they are likely to face the same conditions stated above only half as often as their counterparts in low-income districts.

What I find so frustrating here is what the conditions described in the survey indicate about adult mindsets and the policies that result from those mindsets.  Both mindsets and policies are grounded in negative assumptions about low-income students and positive assumptions about affluent students.  Namely, that poor (read also black and brown) students don’t know how to use their devices and online services responsibly; therefore they’re not allowed in class and access to the internet must be heavily firewalled.  For children of affluent schools, the converse is assumed.  They can be trusted to use their devices properly and not surf verboten sites, thus they are granted access.  The result is a self-perpetuating cycle that reinforces these inequities when it comes to digital learning.

The Common Sense report, “Connection and Control…”, debunks these negative assumptions about poor black and brown kids.  It is based on 11 case studies of African-American and Latino teens and their parents from households qualifying for free and reduced lunch.  The study complicates the often monolithic block into which all American “youth” are often lumped.  The authors note that mediating factors such as time spent with media, socio-economic differences, the types of devices and media available to low-income youth all influence how they use devices and media and thus the type of user a young person is.  Categories of users include “Light Users”, “Heavy Viewers”, “Gamers and Computer Users”, “Video Gamers only”, “Readers”, and “Social Networkers”.    The authors also nuance the often-cited nine hours average amount of screen time US teens accrue, noting differences by age, income, and race.  According to the study, “Tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) use an average of about six hours’ (5:55) worth of entertainment media daily. Teens from lower-income families spend more time with media than those from higher-income families (10:35 vs. 7:50 of total media use). African-American teens use an average of 11:10 worth of media a day compared with 8:51 among Latinos and 8:27 among whites.”

While the report provides a detailed analysis which offers useful insights into the different ways low-income teens and their families interact with their devices, media, and each other, one set of dynamics is particularly striking.  First, low-income youth, with more access to mobile devices than desk- or laptops, use their devices for what I will call positive “coping” or “survival” applications.  Children who live in high crime neighborhoods use social media to break the isolation imposed by their circumstances to maintain connections with family and friends who live at a distance from them.  They will also use their devices to create distance in close living quarters and when going outside is precluded by neighborhood violence.  As one student articulated a common finding, “[Using media is] fun and it’s definitely a way to keep calm and peaceful [emphasis added] when you don’t feel like doing anything else.”

When it comes to informal learning, teens use their devices and apps as problem-solving tools. In fact, problem-solving is a kind of use we would expect from a sophisticated, tech-literate, 21st century user.  For instance, students with long commutes to school will use transit apps to shorten their travel times.  Others will use YouTube as a sort of tutorial service for just-in-time learning according to their interests — personal grooming, learning new dance moves, and gaming hacks, to name a few.  And among Social Media users, platforms such as Instagram and SnapChat become spaces to try out new personas — a normal stage of development for tweens and teens (“Connection and Control…”).  This contradicts rather poignantly the characterization in the Times article of online behaviors as “time wasting” among low-income teens.

However, the second dynamic I was struck by is a significant difference between low-income teens and their middle- to upper-middle-class peers.  Low income students rarely use their devices to create digital content.  “On any given day, American teens spend 3% of their time on computers, tablets, and smartphones creating content” which the “Connection and Control…” report defines as “writing or creating digital art or music”.  However, low-income teens spend the majority of their time consuming media and online services compared to their wealthier peers.  And whereas middle- and upper-middle-class teens have resources to create digital content at home, when their low-income peers do have the opportunity, it is usually available at school or an after-school program where the devices and applications are accessible to them.

The study notes one exception, which I interpret as a function (and limitation) of the devices low-income students have the most access too.  Low-income teens do “show evidence of creative practices in the digital world, taking photos and altering them with different filters and stickers before putting them on Instagram or pulling images from the internet, often manipulating them, to create their lock and home screens” (“Connection and Control…”).  Here I feel I need to acknowledge a personal bias:  I generally find “mashup art” just shy of plagiarism.  Admittedly, my views on mashups are evolving as I come across more complex examples and recognize it as a kind of expression digital technology makes particularly easy to create and the internet makes very easy to distribute.  Still, I find it a low bar creatively.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that the ability to create content is strongly influenced by access to the tools of creation.  Household income and school budgets are key determiners of such access.

Given the length of this post so far covering only one of my two stated areas of interest, I’ve decided to spare readers some time.  I’ve created a short video compressing a few of my take-aways on teachers’ personal and professional use of ICT.  Enjoy!

 

 

Week 4: Digital Spaces Map

The New Metaphor

The digital spaces work this week was incredibly interesting.  Building my map was a fascinating exercise.  As someone who has made regular use of Prensky’s “immigrant/native” metaphor, I found White’s rethinking of the differences between people’s’ internet use far more nuanced.  In that it more accurately describes the various ways people use the internet by identifying multiple types and contexts for online interactions, it is ultimately a more helpful metaphor as well.  White’s metaphor succeeds through his identification of a continuum of use, which takes the way we talk about online usage out of the realms of generational differences and binary oppositions.  And while it might not completely remove notions of identity based on internet use, the visitor/resident metaphor does allow us to think about online identities without the freighted connotations that terms like “immigrant” and “native” carry.  Describing a continuum of use between the poles of “visitor” and “resident” presents internet usage in terms of dynamic, frictionless, and intentional participation anywhere along that continuum according to a user’s needs or desires in a given moment.  Taking it two-dimensional by adding the “personal/institutional” axis ensures that practically anyone can positively locate themselves in this metaphor.

Surprise!  Surprise!

I love maps.  I love maps of all kinds.  Ancient maps.  Atlases.  Globes.  Curriculum maps.  Mind maps.  And now I have a new one to pour over, the digital spaces map.  This map allowed me to visualize my own cyber contexts, the online tools I use, and the places on the internet where I reside and visit.  And while raising a slight challenge above to notions of identity, this exercise has revealed, in no uncertain terms, aspects of my identity.  I was quite surprised by the extent to which I “live” as a resident of the internet.  As I set out to draft my map, I predicted it to be weighted far more on the visitor side given the hallmark of our visitor-like actions not leaving traces or “footprints” of our having been online.  But it would appear that I leave a few more “tracks” in the cyber-sand than I originally imagined.  For having been born into the old country of Analog, it would appear I have readily embraced my adopted country of The Internet.

My map of internet use. Clearly I am more resident than visitor, and quite surprised by this outcome. Source: D. van Dyke

 

A First Draft

At this point, I would view the first pass at my online usage map as a draft.  (In part, because I would like to create one that is not as “old school” as this is with its paper, Sharpies, and colored pencils.)  In a second draft I’d likely slide everything on the “resident” side a bit more towards the center.  While I am decidedly more resident than I initially suspected, I’m not that far to the right.  Some of the positioning was due to needing to fit everything on the page such that it could all be seen.  I would also like to find a place for search, as White discussed in the video of his own map.

Future Drafts and Uses

I think it would be a very interesting exercise to do as a reflective exercise with a faculty and to do repeatedly over time.  What an interesting tool for reflection:  How does my online use change over time?  Does that change mark some kind of evolution?  How does my online presence map onto phases in my life?  In my instructional practices?  What might it suggest for my professional development?  My role as a coach? How might de-compartmentalization streamline my online presence?  Is de-compartmentalization desirable?  In what areas might compartmentalization benefit my online experiences?  How would I use this with my students and to what ends?  Etc.

To Wrap

Again, this week’s assignments have been mind-blowers in multiple ways.  My thoughts over the past few days keep returning to how in a couple short decades digital technology has so utterly transformed our world.  That realization makes the work of getting our students learning digitally and acting in terms of digital and global citizenship seem more important than ever.  All from a simple map?  Yeah, all from a simple map.

Week 4: Communication and PLN’s

Update:  Six weeks on from this post and Twitter chats have become a go-to component of my PLN.  I’ve attended four other chats in the intervening weeks with another scheduled for today.  I’m finding that when I’m in need of a particular kind of research or just in a curious mood I turn to a scheduled chat or skim related hashtags of past chats.  Some chats are definitely operating at higher levels in terms of depth of thought, extent of conversation, or ideas and resources shared.  However, I’m singularly impressed by the one characteristic common to all of them so far — how welcoming, friendly, and generous the participants are.   Too, I had no idea how many chat groups are out there — not just in education, of which there are dozens.  I’ve even found a couple chats for my husband who works in the hospitality industry and is always looking for new ideas.  He is a Luddite.  But after a couple hours of his peering from the corner of his eye from the other side of the sofa as I chat, I figured I’d see what I could find for him.  When I sent him the links, his response was, “…I’d like to know more….”  Next stop is getting him his own Twitter account!

The New Addiction

I’m officially hooked on Twitter chats.  While I knew these were “a thing”, I was never clear on how exactly to access them.  And I certainly never thought they were as organized as having an official chat list.  Admittedly, I found them rather intimidating to start.  However, our reading from the PLP Network was spot on with “how to”.  A particularly good recommendation is to use TweetDeck — a platform I’ve used in the past for my multiple handles*, but discovered its ultimate usefulness in this chat context.

Using TweetDeck for Twitter chats; Source: Screen cap, D. van Dyke

 

3 Different Experiences

In all, I participated in three chats.  Coincidentally, they provided three different kinds of experiences.  I’m trying not to rate them on a qualitative scale; however, I did find one a more enjoyable, and thus a more worthwhile, experience.  But “enjoyable” and “worthwhile” are according to what works for me in terms of my learning style and learning habits.

Starting with the chat I found most challenging, Digital Citizen Chat (#digcit), was the most rambling and freeform.  Chronologically, it was my second chat which followed a highly organized first experience last week.  So the differences were immediately noticeable.  Right from the start, there were a number of participants who seemed to be looking forward to the chat.

Yet about 15 minutes past the designated start time, there was this exchange between Professor Passafume and Hope Frazier.

From what I could tell, no moderator ever showed up.  So people posted randomly.  While I’m not sure the number of conversation threads were different from other chats, it all seemed vague and scattershot with very little focus.  In all, I didn’t find it a terribly helpful chat given there were more opinions being solicited and shared than useful practices and resources.

Likes from #educoach chat; Source: screen cap, D. van Dyke

The middle-of-the-road experience was the Instructional Coaching Chat (#educoach).  More organized and attended by experienced coaches, #educoach had two moderators and a set of nine questions at the ready.  While the other chats seemed to be attended by several self-identifying pre-service and novice teachers, I felt more in the company of my experiential peers in #educoach.  Unfortunately, there is either an error on the Education Chats schedule or there was some other kind of snafu.  When I showed up 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time — 9pm Central — it had clearly been underway for 50 minutes.  I didn’t feel comfortable crashing in with ten minutes on the clock, so I scrolled and lurked through the conversations and liked the tweets that had thoughts and resources I found useful for my work.  One such resource was a meta-analysis shared by @region13coaches at the very end of the chat.  It was a nice button on the conversation for how the work of instructional coaches has a measurable impact on teacher practice and student outcomes.  I read it and immediately emailed it to the principals of the schools I work with — as research support and encouragement for our work.

Finally, the chat I found to be the most enjoyable experience was, oddly enough, my first.  Last week I decided to preview the Twitter chat experience in anticipation of this week’s assignment.  I didn’t want to troll this one, so I decided to boldly identify myself as the nube I am.  I tend to get anxious with online interactions among strangers.  So participating in this new way among fellow professionals felt risky because I knew there likely were all kinds of rules of etiquette of which I was completely unaware.  But I could not have been more warmly welcomed.  I

My first Twitter chat: Warmly welcomed to #hseduchat; Source: Screen cap, D. vanDyke

wouldn’t say my contributions to the conversation were high-level or even on topic.  They were more about meeting and greeting and getting my feet wet with this new professional learning experience.  Luckily, though, the folks over at #hseduchat were accepting and supportive of my lack of chat experience and encouraged my contributions.  Their behaviors made it more likely that I’d participate in other chat in the future.

This chat was very well-organized, the moderator having sent out the questions in advance, reviewed them all again when the chat started, and gave instructions for how to format responses.  She then released the questions at regular intervals.  In this way the moderator kept tabs on the conversation and kept it rolling.  All these elements fit with my own needs as learner.  It really was the perfect chat for my first attempt.

Final Thoughts

The assignments this week made for highly enjoyable learning (more on the Resident/Visitor map to come).  While I’m not new to Twitter, chats are a revelation.  In my experience Twitter has been a much more positive, uplifting, useful platform than, say, Facebook.  Still, as a professional resource, it always seemed a bit random, even when I used hashtags to track down resources.  But having entire lists of chat schedules, the ideas and suggestions from Nicole’s narrated Prezis, and some chat experiences under my belt, Twitter finally feels like an actual arrow in my professional and ICT quiver.  My exploration now will turn to those chats that are moderated and organized for those times when I’m on the hunt for useable material — actual ideas and resources.  Though I can see hanging out in a chat with no clear facilitator where participants ask and answer random questions, for those times that I’m looking simply to network or have collegial conversation.

It’s become increasingly clear to me that informal learning is an extremely potent type of learning.  Twitter chats hit so many of those buttons — self-directed, just in time, anytime/anywhere, tailorable to a learner’s needs of the moment, learner choice, working with a sense of relaxed and stress-free flow in the learning moment.  I can see how Twitter chats can be a powerful tool for a particular kind of teacher support and professional learning.  With such tools and access, this really is an exciting time to be an educator!

*: I have one professional Twitter account: @commonelements.  I also have two personal Twitter accounts: @oberon60657 for general, personal tweeting.  My husband and I enjoy cruising and try to do at least one sailing a year — despite the outrageous behaviors of many passengers.  I finally couldn’t take that behavior anymore and as an outlet started a separate handle just to tweet out the ridiculous things people say while shipboard.  If you want a laugh, follow me on @some1saidreally.

Week 3: The 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning

As I may have mentioned on some post somewhere, I am developing an interest in how educators’ use of information and communication technology (ICT) in their personal/non-school lives influences their curricular and instructional decisions regarding ICT in their classrooms.  Particularly where high school educators are concerned.  So it made sense that I do a close reading of “Maximizing the Impact:  The pivotal role of technology in 21st century education systems”.

Report Summary

A collaboration between ISTE, SETDA, and P21, the report explores the needs and rationales for ICT inclusion in education in three areas:  proficiency in 21st century skills, innovative teaching and learning, and robust education support systems.

The executive summary clearly lays out the issue and goes on to note that as a nation, the US simply cannot rely on the global standing, economic prosperity, and technological predominance we have enjoyed as a result of the industrial era.  Nations that lead in technology development lead in prosperity.  Therefore, we must prepare students to thrive in the 21st century and thereby take the nation into this digital age.

“Maximizing the Impact” executive summary; Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills

What does this look like?  To start, we must focus on what college and business leaders identify as “21st century skills” and what we now commonly refer to as “the 4 C’s” — communication, collaborations, critical thinking, and  creativity.  These are the how’s of the executive summary — the ways through which we teach content.  This aligns with the other literature assigned this week that points to teaching the 4 C’s in addition to the more traditional 3 R’s.  Importantly, the authors note that it is less useful now for everyone to know about computers, software, coding, etc.  Their ubiquity in our lives means it is more important for everyone to know how to use them as tools for learning, productivity, and creativity.  A common analogy is that in order to do the shopping, shuttle the kids, or take a road trip, everyone need not know how to build, conduct maintenance, or even understand the basic workings of an automobile.  It is sufficient that we know how to drive in order to complete our errands or enjoy an adventure.  It is the same with ICT.

Technology use in Education. Sources: US Dept. of Commerce, Partnership for 21st Century Skills

 

Therefore, students need “more robust education than they are getting today” and this involves a comprehensive inclusion of ICT across the curriculum (p. 2).  As mentioned above, this must entail not just learning about technology, but learning with technology.

With a shared vision of a 21st century education system, the authoring agencies of this report succinctly identify needed outcomes and why they are vital for both students and educators.

A shared vision. Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills

 

The report also included a visually colorful and intriguing graphic of a Framework for 21st Century Learning.  It is eye-catching, but not easy to interpret without some explanation.  Watch the video for an attempted unpacking.

The rest of the paper explores details, gives examples and provides analytical and evaluative questions for educators in a “call to action to integrate technology as a fundamental building block into education” (p.3).  That plan for ICT implementation focuses on the three areas mentioned above:  Using technology comprehensively to develop proficiency in 21st century skills; using technology comprehensively to  support innovative teaching and learning; and using technology comprehensively to create robust education support systems (pp.6, 9, 13).

The Good

Overall, “Maximizing the Impact” presents a useful roadmap for schools to implement ICT-based instruction.  The report makes a strong case for why it is vital we undertake this tech-based approach to teaching and learning.  It presents a thoughtful plan that makes much sense.  Indeed, the collaboration between different organizations with different goals and priorities only bolsters its persuasiveness.  In addition, the P21 web site offers many resources to support the work.

The Flaw

Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) and Somekh (2008) found that a significant challenge to incorporating ICT into classroom instruction is that it destabilizes classroom routines.  And this is, in fact, what we need to happen to transform our classrooms for the digital age.  However, they found that teachers who don’t value ICT negatively impact those who do and then point to the destabilizing effects as reasons to shun technology-based learning.  In a related study, Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich also found that teachers who see positive student outcomes as a result of using ICT instructional practices are more likely to make technology a part of their practice.  Thus, teacher mindsets is a key factor in implementing ICT-based instruction.  They also found where ICT is central to learning, schools had six qualities in common:

  1. They were well equipped for ICT instruction.
  2. Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT.
  3. Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully.
  4. The school provided support.
  5. Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and  troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time.
  6. The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets

Looking at this list, it is hard not to recognize the outsized role professional development must play in making ICT the how of student learning.  Yet in the P21 framework, professional development is sandwiched in between standards and assessment and learning environments.  In the bullet list explanation of the framework graphic “21st century professional development” is the 27th bullet out of 28.  Indeed, in nearly all our optional readings this week, the various authors address professional development almost parenthetically.  And some suggested a mere workshop or two is all that is needed to provide teachers with the understanding necessary to make a seismic pedagogical shift.  Such approaches to PD run contrary to much research that finds one-off professional development neither changes teachers’ mindsets nor practices.  As the Center for Public Education has found, to bring about sustainable change effectively PD must:  be of a significant and ongoing duration; be supported by the administration; allow teachers to actively make meaning of the new material; and not be generalized, but presented for the teacher’s subject and grade-level   (Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability).  When we consider most of our professional learning experiences, how do they hold up to these criteria?  Likely, not too well.  As Tom Murray noted in the Start^EdUp podcast, we’re not going to fix anything by buying “more stuff”. To make the needed shifts we have to hack educator mindsets.

If we must first “win hearts and minds” of teachers and administrators in order to bring lasting instructional change where ICT is a method of instruction, then I believe delivering focused, sustained professional learning differentiated by educator should be prioritized over the development more standards and assessments, new curriculum and instruction, and rejiggered learning environments.  Not that these areas are not important.  They are.  However, spending money and effort on those will mean very little if educators do not understand or have the pedagogical skills to implement ICT practices throughout their buildings.  Once that is in place, the rest will follow, brought about by those who know best how to develop and document them–  namely the teachers, students, and administrators who are engaged in their regular practice.