Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Practitioner's Journey Towards Digital Literacy

Lessons learned:

The possibilities of digital literacy in the teaching environment are well documented and becoming more so. It’s still a subject that is relatively new. Just Google it; the information changes from day to day as the subject continues to grow. Even so, the benefits it brings to learners is another subject that continues to develop. 

However, there is no long-term study as to whether or not “digital learning” will have a positive impact on academic and social development.  There is research being gathered at this time; but the research is still in progress. Time will tell regarding those benefits. Perhaps less common as a topic might be the benefits of digital literacy for teachers.

 The Impact of Digital Technologies on Learning
- a study from Durham University
It’s been a few months since I completed the digital literacy practitioners course and I can safely say that I have been “exposed” to a number of useful digital tools.  I have reflected on my studies thus far as well as the digital tools introduced in each lesson. This is what I think:

Don’t depend on digital tools when teaching lessons.  There are the usual problems of Wi-Fi not working, the Internet being down, the application you were planning to use is not working or allowing you to connect, learners have to register to use it and they are having difficulty doing so, etc.  The list goes on.  In one such lesson people in our class had various gadgets from iPads, Android Tablets, and mobile phones and were walking around the room, holding them up high (as if that really helps) trying to get a signal while one corner of the room made a successful connection – only to have this change after the tutor suggested we went for a short break. 

How does a tutor plan for that?  You can prepare a lesson, write a lesson, practice a lesson, and incorporate a myriad of fancy digital collaborative, creative, awesome, cool looking, and brilliant applications – but if the learning environment or equipment doesn’t pick up the Internet connection or support the software, you better have planned for that.  There is something quite painful watching a tutor trying so hard and just willing it all to work – when it doesn’t. 

So back my previous statement - You can plan for digital failure. A suggestion of how you might do it is to create a backup which would allow for a clever demonstration followed by a group discussion.  Or, better yet, back up your digital lesson with a “regular” lesson that doesn't require any computer technology. That might just work as well. 

Become more technically savvy. Nothing’s worse than trying to use digital techniques and being let down by the technology. Learners are likely to see the funny side, but you don’t want to feel the joke is ever on you. It’s the difference between having the minutes fly by because you are just so darn successful and fun, or having a single minute turn into an eternity of excruciating, embarrassing, painful, wish-I-called-in-sick-days-I-just-want-this-over with moments. That’s not fun.

Of course there are basic steps to take, such as always ensuring your kit is working in advance, that you’re familiar with it and that you have alternatives up your sleeve. But why stop there? Why rely on IT to solve problems? You might find becoming more technically capable and informed a worthwhile life skill outside the classroom in any case, so consider taking an IT troubleshooting course, reading literature or practicing in your spare time. What? No spare time you say? Well, I have to agree with you there. 

Here is another discovery I came across whilst taking this course. Assignments that begin with, “Using a tool of your choice, create…” sets me off running. I don’t want to just use a tool that I know everyone else in the class has seen and might use.  I want something different and that is the beginning of the rabbit hole.  I am off on the Internet surfing for some digital applications and hours and hours later, I find some.  I not only find something I am hoping no one else has found but I then have to figure out how it works.  The only way to really do that is to jump in and play with it. That takes even MORE hours of my life away that I will never get back (remember, I still have a lesson to write and present) - and then...

Oh look, email. Lots. Of. Email.  The vast majority of digital application tools are free.  Well, to a certain point.  Unless of course you really want to use it in its’ full flowery glory.  Or save it. You must pay. BUT, before you do, you must sign up for the privilege of looking, playing and creating a presentation, or whatever clever digital tool you are planning to use for your lesson to stimulate your learners. The beauty of signing up for such tools is the amount of email, spam mail, social media reminders, etc. you will be given. It’s the gift that keeps on giving because you signed up for it. Of course, once you get your name circulated on such websites, your contact details are sold on and before you know it, that little spam box is filled with all kinds of advertisements and requests to please comeback-we-will-give-you-a-nice-savings if you pay for premium usage.

Challenge yourself to try new things, it’s good for you and everyone is doing it. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t stick to techniques and technologies in your comfort zone. No matter how annoying all the emails may be, it is good to investigate new digital tools and technologies. It is good to take your old lesson plans and jazz them up a bit.  

After spending hours looking at various digital
tools myself, the reality is, most digital tools are relatively straightforward, and most are supported by a host of ‘how to’ guides on YouTube and elsewhere. You should see new frontiers in digital literacy as a challenge worth tackling – not just for the classroom, but for your own development

However, be aware of the amount of time it is going to take you to do so.  Investigate. A simple search for basic (free) digital literacy presentation software (for example) can save you loads of time and the pain of having to sign up on every website you click on just to try out their digital tools to see if it will be user-friendly enough for yourself and your learners. And, what is free for you to play with today, may not be "free" tomorrow.

Some final thoughts.  Education it seems is always re-inventing the wheel. It’s still a wheel.  No matter how we tart it up and be so clever in how we present it; it’s a wheel.  We used to call what our team did, “ESW Application of Number”, now it’s “Essential Application of Number”; which at one time was Key Skills and then became Basic Skills. But having said that, it’s just a fancy way of saying math or arithmetic; and the wheel goes round and round.

I wonder if the entire education system has grown tired of the battle and just given in.  We became tired of spending so much lesson time with trying to remove learners from their mobile phones; get them off Facebook and other social media sites, stop listening to music while we are teaching (passing notes was pretty cool in my day) and get them “engaged” in learning.   

Here’s an idea, let’s take all of that technology and make it work for us – the Educators! Let’s not fight them on it! Let’s incorporate, collaborate, include, stimulate, and blend these little minds by using all their own digital tools against them….rather, WITH them.  We will call it, “Digital Literacy” and whenever we can incorporate these clever little software programs and technological devices into every subject area we teach, we will combine it all together and call it, “blended learning”.

In a day where our main source of world news is retrieved from a thread on Facebook and 140 characters on Twitter, the fact that people don’t possess enough concentration to read more than a couple of paragraphs of information, I can't help but feel like all this becomes another form of entertainment. I wonder if we are inadvertently creating a complete generation of acquired attention deficit disordered learners that needs a pixilated fix just to stay engaged in education.

I’m not saying I don’t like it. I’m not saying it’s bad.  But I don’t love it; and I don’t think it’s all good either. (Here's hoping this finds an audience - MG)

What do you think? Do you think the impact of digital literacy in the educational environment might have negative consequences?

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