Gathering Quotes Together: NCTE Definition of Digital Literacy

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

This is the final post, with a curated collection of quotes from the various aspects of the definition of digital literacies that I have been taking a closer look at over the last few months.

Peace (in words and beyond),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Amplifying Language and Experience

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE amplifyI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

In this last section of the definition of literacy, which centers on how literacy and digital tools can amplify one’s multicultural heritage and stories in the world, I am struck by the guiding questions:

  • Do learners have opportunities to utilize digital texts and tools to validate their existence and lived experiences?
  • Do learners have opportunities to connect them with their textual and historical lineage and narratives?
  • Do learners explore and critique the premises, myths, and stereotypes that are often held by the dominant culture?
  • Do learners have space in the curriculum to support positive racial and ethnic identity development while pushing back against marginalized narratives?
  • Do learners have opportunities to increase engagement with reading and other academic subjects?
  • Do learners have access to images and narratives of multilingual identities and cultures from marginalized communities?
  • Do learners have space in the curriculum to provide healing from the damages to marginalized communities?

These are the topics of our times, as many schools and universities grapple with how to expand the traditional canon and incorporating the stories and learning of diverse cultures, and our students, themselves. The section uses the phrase of “variations of language” in an interesting way, pushing us to consider the quilt of human experience.

Thinking of my own teaching/classroom environment, I often admittedly feel woefully inadequate in this topic, even though I know I have been systematically trying to expand the aspects of literacy with my sixth graders, with different kinds of texts and a wider sense of story and characters.

When I think of how this sense of student agency and empowerment might connect to digital tools and literacy instruction, it seems to me that all students could do more with mapping projects to analyze the world, with creating audio and video projects to project voice and agency, with image and infographics, with writing and publishing their own diverse stories into the world. Such projects would validate their experiences and remind us all that there is not, nor never has been, one single story.

We are multitudes, to twist Whitman a bit.

Peace (amplified),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Narrative Disruption and Story Amplification

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE narrativesI’m slowly reading and digesting, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

Words have power. Stories have power. Who gets to tell those stories with those words wields power, and shapes the narratives. A critical look at this truth of storytelling is the center of the section of the definition of Digital Literacies where the use of multi-modal narratives either hem or cloud in our understanding of the diverse world, or open it up to new views.

This particular section of the NCTE document (second to last section) focuses on providing our students with access, understanding and use of digital tools — from audio, to video, to game design, to image, to words, to whatever we can’t yet imagine — to tell and share their own stories in meaningful ways in digital spaces as well as critique others. (There is a token nod to ‘print-based literacies,’ too). There’s a bit too much educational jargon in this section for my tastes but I still appreciate the depth of the thinking and the phrase of “heightened awareness” rings true.

The definition section here also hints at understanding the pros and cons of these various digital tools, in ways these tools might expand our sense of self and community — for example, how visuals might add an emotional impact a story — and maybe work to inhibit these same aspects, too — so how visuals might emotionally impact a story, but with false heartstrings.

This passage stood out for me, too:

“Learners also need sustained opportunities to produce counter-narratives that expose and interrupt misguided texts that do not represent the fullness of their identities or life complexities. “

The phrases of “misguided texts” is both powerful — yes, to countering destructive narratives that misinform us — and troublesome — who determines what text is “misguided” and needs disrupting? And how does one teach that kind of lens without shaping our students’ world in our own set of values? I suppose we teachers accomplish this by making sure our students question everything, even us, with a critical eye, but particularly, to question those texts that focus on their own heritage, their own language, their own customs and religions, their own communities.

The next sentence also helps answer this question, too, by noting that

“… learners need opportunities within the curriculum to author multimodal stories in order to examine power, equity, and identities and grow as digitally savvy and civic-minded citizens.”

Literacies are a key to the world. Stories can unlock the doors, or bar them shut. Honing literary techniques to tell our stories and to parse through the stories of others is a key skill in the digital age we live in. We could all practice more of that.

Peace (disruption),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: The Ethics of Information Creation

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE ethics

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

The theme I am exploring today is all about the ethics behind creating, posting and sharing content, and the moral obligations of the writers and artists and makers who feed word and art into those network spaces. What an important topic, and one, too long ignored.

As a teacher, I often have conversations with my young students about what they are sharing and why. This year, it’s Tik Tok. Last year, it was Instagram. Before that, it was Music.ly (which became Tik Tok, in the strange recursive nature of the technology world).  Before that, it was Vine. You get the point. Most of my students readily admit that they hit “send” or “post” without thinking twice about what they are sending forward, and to whom, doing it on a whim.

All of us, adults and children alike, have transformed into this vast snake of forward motion, it seems, and it is right in this corridor of shadows and thoughtless sharing, that fake news and hidden-meaning-memes and other nefarious things flourish and prosper, creating a cloud of negativity and darkness in the networks we all use, together.

We see this most visibly with Facebook, but also with other social networking spaces, where the system of “likes” and “shares” has social value, not the quality of information or reflective practice. When all that matters for visibility is the number of thumbs ups or stars, all that matters is for content that hits emotional nerves to be what one sends out to the world.

These guiding questions of this section of Digital Literacies are helpful to consider, and provide a guide on what topics to revisit regularly with our students:

  • Do learners share information in ways that consider all sources?
  • Do learners consider the contributors and authenticity of all sources?
  • Do learners practice the safe and legal use of technology?
  • Do learners create products that are both informative and ethical?
  • Do learners avoid accessing another computer’s system, software, or data files without permission?
  • Do learners engage in discursive practices in online social systems with others without deliberately or inadvertently demeaning individuals and/or groups?
  • Do learners attend to the acceptable use policies of organizations and institutions?
  • Do learners attend to the terms of service and/or terms of use of digital software and tools?
  • Do learners read, review, and understand the terms of service/use that they agree to as they utilize these tools?
  • Do learners respect the intellectual property of others and only utilize materials they are licensed to access, remix, and/or share?
  • Do learners respect and follow the copyright information and appropriate licenses given to digital content as they work online?

In fact, this strand could be an entire semester course on ethical writing in an online world. What if that were required for all high school students, everywhere? Would we start to finally see a shift towards the positive?

It seems to me that we have, without much thought about the consequences, bought into what social networks have told us is social capital — the likes and the shares. (Which for these businesses, is advertising data, which becomes money and profit) We, the writers and creators, need to push back, hard, on this playbook, to make visible the kinds of responsible, supportive, creative endeavors we know the promise of technology may hold.

And if a network does not bend to the will of the users, then it is time to abandon that network and find another place to connect. One thing we can say about young users is they are not afraid to jump ship when one platform no longer meets their needs (the counter to this is, they don’t often think clearly about the new ship they’ve joined). A sense of agency — that users ultimately decide what platforms will prosper and which ones will fail — is an important lesson to teach all young people growing up in close proximity of digital spaces.

This work begins now, in our classrooms, and in our homes.

Peace (flourishes in the light),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Global Connections and Intentional Relationships

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE collaborationsI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

I teach in a pretty insular community, in a classroom that is set off from other parts of the building (it’s inside the school but not near any other classrooms). It can be a pretty isolating experience, both from a teaching experience (no adjoining door to say hello to a neighbor) and a learning experience (the town is overwhelmingly white middle class suburbia).

This boxed-in mentality has often spurred me to try to find ways to connect my students to the larger world, and this section of the definition by NCTE speaks to that aspect, I think. Solving problems and pushing into shared inquiry, through help of larger connections and relationships, seems important in an ever-connected world where more and more of the work we do, and the learning we tackle, requires collaboration and teams.

The phrasing of “technology allows a wider range of voices to be heard” resonates with me, for I fear I don’t do this nearly enough, often to the detriment of my students’ experiences in the larger world. That said, past projects like Voices on the Gulf and Youth Radio and current projects like Connecting the Coasts (where my students in Massachusetts have been sharing and connecting with California friends via Flipgrid) have opened doors for some relationships and connections, pulling my sixth graders into something broader than the town they live, in progressive Western Massachusetts (although the town I teach is very conservative, an outlier in our area).

The definition talks about helping learners find voices different from their own, and perspectives different than their own, and this can be another sort of challenge. I often felt as if the Letters to the Next President project — while incredibly powerful in the way it brought writing and argument of high school writers to the surface in an array of important topics — did not do justice to the conservative voices of youth, that the platform had an overwhelming progressive vibe to it (which resonated with me and my views, perhaps, but seeing it through young writer’s eyes who has opposing views, it could be daunting). This is not a criticism of the work done by facilitators of Letters to the Next President — they worked hard to surface many diverse voices.

This surfacing of ideas in online spaces, in particular, is always a challenge — how to teach young people to be strong in opinions, and civil in their discussions –how to be persuasive in their arguments but open to other points to view. Heck, this is not just a challenge for young people. This is the challenge for all of us these days.

Anyway, I appreciated this part of the defining of Digital Literacies, for it forced me to reflect again critically on what I am doing, or am not doing, and what I have done, and can still yet do, better — both within my classroom itself, and by connecting my classroom to the larger and more diverse world beyond.

Peace (opening doors),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Access and Equity

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE access

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

Issues of access often take a back seat in discussions about digital literacies but here, in this definition, NCTE tackles it head-on early in its inquiry. And it’s not just who has what available — in other words, does the digital divide create unseen barriers for students — but also, how students with disabilities can access the same information and technology and tools as their peers.

I remember having a long discussion in a course about “alt text” on images via Twitter and other social networking platforms, and many of us worked on a public statement, urging Twitter to make the option for “alt text” writing on images for screen readers a default (it was an option one could turn on but I think it is now the default, so … progress). I am also thinking of how text-to-speech options, and how color-coding/highlighting/organizational possibilities, and how speech-to-text options all open the door to all of our students in terms of access.

Socio-economics play a role, too. I’ve done consulting work in schools where the computers are used for one thing: testing. Technology was only means of data gathering, and not a way for students to gather information and compose in different media. Student agency was nearly absent for the sake of constant testing.

One question within the NCTE definition seemed rather intriguing, as it brings to the surface an awareness of gaps. It asks:

Do learners recognize information gaps or information poverty?

and the follow up question:

Do learners advocate for their own individual and community’s access to texts and tools?

I wonder how teachers can best make those gaps visible to all students — this gets at the heart of equity — and how to help students advocate for places where the gaps exist? It seems to me that collaborations between classes — ie, Connected Learning principles — and better educator awareness might address this kind of question, but the fact is that for most of us, we don’t know what we don’t have because we made do with what we’ve got.

I think we all know we need to do better — with better-funded school libraries and information systems (that open doors for access, not just surveil our students), and classrooms, and teacher programs that incorporate these ideals in meaningful ways.

I was thinking of the mission statement of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project as I was reading this section of the Digital Literacies definition, as access and equity and social justice are front and center in all the work we do with students and teachers and school districts.

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Creators and Curators, Not Just Consumers

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE createI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

This section of the definition seems key to me — how to help students not only understand what they are consuming in the digital landscapes but how to gather meaning through curation of content and how to create, too.

I am just about to enter our Game Design Unit after Thanksgiving break, and the whole reason I even ever thought about teaching video game design as a literacy practice is because of concerns about my sixth graders spending so much time immersed in something someone else built, I wanted them to build something, too. By having them design and engineer and publish video game projects, I hope they uncover the process of the profession, and think more deeply about their own game experiences.

Curation is the lost sibling in all this, and even as I work hard on my own — as a learner — to use folders and bookmarking and tags to keep as much of my content together, to gather it for curation — to make sense of what I have been doing in digital spaces with digital writing (this blog is my most reliable curation space, I would say, but not the only one).

Even something simple, such as folder awareness for students who use Google Drive. In a meeting of our Western Massachusetts Writing Project yesterday, we were brainstorming ways that the technology team can support teachers, and this idea of explicitly teaching the construction and curating of folders, with project files and other materials, to students came up, and it is one of those things that many of may take for granted — we do it, without thinking, making folders for our files — and many students have no awareness of how to do it, or why.

Now, the definition by NCTE goes way beyond that folder architecture, in interesting directions — here are three of the more intriguing guiding questions in each of the three categories of Consume, Curate and Create that had me thinking a bit more deeply:

  • Do learners review a variety of sources to evaluate information as they consider bias and perspective in sources? (Consume)
  • Do learners collect, aggregate, and share content to develop their voice/identity/expertise on a topic? (Curate)
  • Do learners evaluate multimedia sources for the effects of visuals, sounds, hyperlinks, and other features on the text’s meaning or emotional impact? (Create)

Peace (make it so),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Explore and Engage

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE explore

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and reflecting on the ideas within it.

One of the first topics of the definition could be summed up as Explore and Engage, and the definition ponders a series of questions to consider, framed within the concept of what literacy is when the texts are multi-modal.

Officially, it says: “Explore and engage critically, thoughtfully, and across a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools/modalities”

As a teacher, I think of these concepts quite often when planning learning experiences for my students. I contemplate often about how I can expand my notions of what writing is to include the use of different modalities — from video, to image, to code, to hyperlinks, to video game design, to screen writing (technology as well as plays, I would add), and beyond.

In the definition by NCTE, I particularly like the reference to learners understanding and pushing against the “limitations” of technology they use, to understand or at least acknowledge that a developer might have one idea for a tool, or app, or site but that we, as composers and creators, can also explore workarounds, pushing something into something else.

Often, the only time you can find the limits is by pushing the limits in directions one might not think about. How do we teach this to our students?

For teachers, who need control of the learning environment, this is an uncomfortable place to be in. But if we want to engage our students in meaningful work, it is a shift that has to happen, even if slowly.

There’s no one way but keeping an open mind, as a teacher, about creative, independent students, and sharing our own digital writing experiences — where things failed, where we found a way out, where we found success — seems ever more important.

Peace (along the edges),
Kevin

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Interconnected, Dynamic, Malleable

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE introI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

Over the coming days (or weeks), I hope to explore some various aspects of their work, as digital literacy is a concept that I, too, have been pondering on for some time as a teacher and writer, and have struggled at times to put it all into words that seem large enough to encompass the changing literacy landscape and narrow enough to stay focused on literacy practice.

The words “interconnected, dynamic and malleable” stuck out for me in the opening introduction. Those three words say a lot about how we can look at literacy in the age of screens and Connected Learning practices and more.

  • Interconnections, as in the ways we can collaborate with others, find information across platforms, and write our way across platforms and online spaces
  • Dynamic, as in we can leverage multimedia to amplify our voice, our message, our connections (or we can choose not to, and write with quiet, too)
  • Malleable, as in we have flexibility for the ways in which we write, and share, depending upon situation and circumstance, and audience, and need

The NCTE researchers then dive deeper into how these elements play out across themes of literacies, access, social justice and more.

Active, successful participants in a global society must be able to

  • Participate effectively and critically in a networked world;
  • Explore and engage critically, thoughtfully, and across a wide variety of inclusive texts and tools/modalities;
  • Consume, curate, and create actively across contexts;
  • Advocate for equitable access to and accessibility of texts, tools, and information;
  • Build and sustain intentional global and cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought;
  • Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions;
  • Examine the rights, responsibilities, and ethical implications of the use and creation of information;
  • Determine how and to what extent texts and tools amplify one’s own and others’ narratives as well as counter unproductive narratives;
  • Recognize and honor the multilingual literacy identities and culture experiences individuals bring to learning environments, and provide opportunities to promote, amplify, and encourage these differing variations of language (e.g., dialect, jargon, register).  — from NCTE

Peace (thinking on it),
Kevin

Wrestling with Algorithms: Submission to the Machine

from Lumen5

Our AI handpicked sentences for you! Does the story flow well? — this was the message I received on Lumen5 after I put a poem into motion in the digital story platform

You decide. I said, yes, to let the experiment happen. This is the result:

What is this? It’s a poem that I wrote in response to something Terry Elliott created, in response to something I wrote to him, about a poem I saw. Looping, everywhere. I took my response poem and put it into Lumen5, which is a cool site for making digital stories, and let the algorithm choose the images, and set the pacing (I did have to choose the music, which is too bad.)

The poem, as original text:

Replace me, writer,
with a machine,
algorithm, software,
and our fields
may go fallow

the genetically
modified organism
of words may be
planted, watered
and sown

but it is only in
the unique experience
of being human
that we nurture

a poem

Lumen5 chose images that I probably would not have, such as a typewriter instead of a computer, and the human body model is just kinda strange, I think, but I see it probably hooked its search on the word ‘genetic’. It also bundled words together that I might not have (which is the first message I had received, about AI picking my sentences). There’s something further off about the digital version but I can’t quite place my finger on it. Maybe it’s just me, the writer, losing my agency. Perhaps a casual viewer with no back-story would not even blink at the digital rendering of words.

Somewhat related (perhaps only in my head), a DS 106 Daily Create that I had submitted weeks ago went live yesterday, asking folks to try out the machine-learning Talk to Transformer site. (I explored the platform a bit here and then extended my work here) You type a phrase and the algorithm continues it, tapping into a vast and growing database of texts.

Yesterday, in Talk to Transformer, I typed the first line: This machine writes poems …

And this is what it kicked out and the response is rather intriguing:

From Talk to Transformer site

What’s it all mean? I don’t rightly know. But it is increasingly intriguing to wrestle on the screen with algorithms and writing, to suss out the elements that make us human and what makes us programmers of words. Or not.

What is writing anymore, anyway?

Peace (mining it),
Kevin