Three Questions for ALT-C 2010; PLNs, Mobiles & Adaptivity
This post begins by referring to a pre-conference workshop on Digital Literacies and Digital Capabilities and a Symposium on Digital Literacy being held at ALT-C 2010 this week, but then opens out to ask broader questions of what we might get from ALT-C overall this year, which I will then comment on September 12th.
The workshop will focus on the recent work produced variously through JISC which has been drawn from practical learning experiences, and is particularly based on Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharpe’s recent work for JISC on Digital Literacy pilots. I will add observations from the Commentary on Digital Literacies from the Technology-Enhanced Learning TLRP Programme on slideshare. You can look at and download materials for that workshop on the following Cloudworks pages: 4538 for Monday’s workshop and 4293 for the Digital Literacy Pilot materials.
This post will also try to provide some broader contextual issues and questions that I will be taking into ALT-C to guide my participation, and which I will reflect on next week after both listening to the latest developments in Digital Literacy within UK HE Institutions, and engaging with the broader range of concerns emerging from the rich and strange themes of the Conference.
Digital Literacy and Digital Capabilities
The debate about literacies has been evolving rapidly in recent years despite being a subject for action, discussion and educative practice since the cultural fall out after World War One. In my response in the (very good!) TLRP-TEL Commentary on Digital Literacies (.pdf) I argued that literacies were usual presented as a deficit model, as in “ten years in school and they cant read anything other than The Sun.” This implies that even if you had learnt a subject sufficiently well to progress educationally literacy was simply measured as being something to do with being a tabloid newspaper reader. What I find interesting in the current debates, whatever their source and concerns which we will debate in Monday’s workshop and Tuesday’s Symposium, is that the focus is now more on capabilities; literacy is now capable of being presented positively. So I think we are at a tipping point where literacy is no longer being seen as a minimum leaving requirement for failing students but a key attribute of the character of successful students. No longer are you being left to read the newspaper whilst you are unemployed before you get on your bike to seek work, rather you will be supported to develop the skills, experience and confidence necessary to participate in a digital culture and knowledge economy through the expression of your own craft and creativity.
Transitions to the digitally literate Graduate.
Originally education was concerned to produce literate learners, and a key proxy measure of overall economic development nationally throughout the 20th Century, by the OECD say, has been the level of reading literacy within a country. When I first came to London and worked as a bus conductor in 1971 people talked more and read the paper, gradually on the Tube people increasingly took to reading books, whereas now, “on the train” people are talking, discussing, networking, planning, playing & gaming, reading, watching films, writing reports and listening back to their own work as DJs on playlists. Only the illiterate drives a car now, but even they might be listening to OU podcasts. Like Steven Johnson in Everything Bad is Good for You I think the casual literacy of everyday life that we now display in the downtime of travelling to work is something to be celebrated; and incredibly diverse. But if these are the multiple literacies of our free-time what must the skill sets be to succeed in the economies that produce these diverse cultural products?
JISC Projects and Development Frameworks
In her thoughtful presentation to the ELESIG Digital Futures event on Learning Futures and Digital Literacies (on slideshare) Helen Beetham argues that now “learning, living and working are understood to take place in a digital society” such that the digital capabilities required to live in such a world run like a thread through our life as we try to engage with friends, society and work. Her presentation uses material from the excellent “Thriving In The 21st Century” report from the LLiDA project, which is clearly a sine qua non for this discussion. This looks at what the “Learning Literacies” might be for the digital age and presents a Framework of Frameworks capturing how Literacies have been represented in various projects. They then argue for the need of a ‘paradigm shift’ in Digital Literacies with recommendations to JISC which might be implemented in institutions across the HE sector, and which Helen has been working on ever since using the organising device of a Literacies Development Framework (another key resource).
I think that the advent of recommendations concerning Digital Literacy Development Frameworks, Tabetha Newman also recommended them for schools at Shock of The Old 2009, shows that learning technologies, consumer technologies and personal technologies are all now seen as potential educational game-changers; we need to find ways to plan how we might engage with them across the board within institutions. Funded by JISC Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharpe have, this summer, been piloting new Digital Literacy programmes in around 40 institutions to identify new strategies for use and embedding at the institution level. Monday’s pre-conference workshop will be capturing some of the early outcomes from these projects so we can discuss the broader implications for Digital Literacies, and perhaps better make the case for Development Frameworks.
The interesting outcome that the 8 inter-disciplinary research projects in the TLRP-TEL Programme (running until 2012) provide is that they are all producing new educational artefacts, each of which require some fresh skills or process understanding, and in making sense of these we get new, small, research insights to the rolling development of the skills necessary for learning using these new forms of mediation. In the Digital Literacies Commentary David Barton and Julia Gillen suggested that within this programme the development of Digital Literacies could be situated dynamically under four headings;
1) Enhancing cognitive development and assessment practice through curriculum interventions that make use of new affordances of digital technologies.
2) Supporting learning communities to work collaboratively in problem-solving and the co-construction of knowledge.
3) Working collaboratively in multi-disciplinary teams to create useful, practical tools.
4) Increasing authenticity and overcoming access issues.
These four are particularly useful factors to incorporate into Digital Literacy Development Frameworks because they are presented as dynamic qualities. In reviewing the projects from a Digital Literacies perspective I concluded, like Helen and Rhona, that we need a development framework to make sense of this emerging understanding about how learning is mediated by new technologies. However my concern is also with contextualising this learning as well as looking at how we can institutionalise it. From that perspective I was interested in socio-economic, political and cultural issues (also addressed by Helen in her ELESIG presentation). Having set-up the now disbanded Participative Media Literacy Working Group at OFCOM in 2006, and being at the Knowledge Lab with David Buckingham, I was also aware of other debates in the cultural sector we should be aware of in education. A fuller discussion is available in the Response here but suffice to say that I think we also need to look at a broader set of issues to contextualise Digital Literacy, which includes critical thinking, digital inclusion (and internet safety), whilst situating these concerns in a participatory culture empowered with the rights of digital citizenship. However I think that the ‘evolving agenda’ of Helen Beetham’s and Rhona Sharpe’s work for JISC and the work emerging from TLRP-TEL both overlap at the point of the institution, and this is best captured in a Development Framework; arguably with the purpose of identifying the skills needed by new graduates. With another hat on I would argue that institutional Development Frameworks can also be about how you develop ‘adaptive institutions,’ the concern of Nigel Ecclesfield and myself with the “Architecture of Participation,’ something also called for by Thomas D Cochrane at the end of his current ALT-J paper on ‘Exploring mobile learning success factors.’
In the TLRP-TEL Digital Literacy publication David Barton and Julia Gillen offer the wonderfully subtle definition of digital literacy as making ‘traceable meanings using digital technologies’ which I very much like because, unlike literacy and media literacy, which are responses to new technologies, now if you write, discuss, make a film, blog, create a musical mashup, produce a collaborative document on a wiki like the Open Context Model of Learning, or even perhaps take an exam, you have left a traceable meaning, you have pro-actively inscribed yourself upon the world to some extent by your own hand.
What we are now capable of looking at is no longer the simple distinction between those qualified for a job through education and those left alone with their literacy but, potentially, at a new world made by those with their capabilities engendered through the expression of their digital literacies.
My three Questions for ALT-C;
PLN; As you may have guessed from the concerns of this blog, namely the abilities of learners to generate their own context for learning, and so to work collaboratively towards innovative and creative ends in a post web 2.0 world of evolving technology ecologies, my concerns are with how we provide learning support to do this. Two key ways are Personal Learning Networks, overlooked here, and social media. So I will be looking for evidence of the degree to which institutions have moved beyond forcing learners to have what Terry Mayes called “Hidden Learning Environments” and towards supporting learner-created “Personal Learning Environments” – Graham Attwell’s great passion of course. So I will be looking to see if PLNs are the user metaphor to match the institutional metaphor of Digital Literacy Development Frameworks at the Conference.
Mobiles; As technologies continue to develop, Kondratieff predicting ever-complex and deeper change until 2021 and Moore’s Law predicting the increasing scale of its power, some people think we have turned a corner with the iPad. Graham Brown-Martin of Handheld Learning thinks the iPad is a game-changer and has developed Handheld Learning 2.0 in 2011 to reflect this. Thomas Cochrane has shown how integrating mobiles into a degree course at Unitech Auckland can facilitate pedagogical change, and Professor’s Mike Sharples and John Cook (as well as Geoff Stead) have been hammering on about this for years. So I will be looking to see if we are finally moving into the mature phase of smart mob affordances. I have plans for Google Goggles in Ambient Learning Contexts myself…
Adaptivity; Etienne Wenger has recently challenged us (in Digital Habitats) to become “technology stewards” capable of walking at 45 degrees between the world that is flat, in which we live, and the institutions that are vertical, in which we work. He presented this challenge at a JISC-sponsored event recently on Communities of Practice at the University of the Arts hosted by Paul Lowe, who runs the brilliant MA in Photo Journalism and I hereby nominate Paul as our first 45 degree man (is this the Wenger Trophy?). His Wimba-driven course runs globally with 45 students engaging from different time-zones and top photo-journalist professionals acting as mentors. Photojournalists have seen their profession digitised and the education for it has followed likewise quite brilliantly. (Incidentally Marc Lewis is starting something similar with Advertising & Design at the School of Communication Arts 2.0 next week).
Why are educators in the cultural industries showing more creativity in learning and teaching than we are?
Shouldn’t we now be mature enough to reflect on our own history and create new frameworks of epistemic change in learning? Can Technology-Enhanced Learning become a discipline I wonder, or perhaps more? Let’s find out…