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

Twitter Analysis: Digging Deeper into Write Out (part one)

Collage of WriteOut via GephiThanks to my friend, Sarah H, I took part in a three week online course around social media data analysis, and also with huge thanks to Sarah, she had been collecting Twitter information from the start of October’s Write Out project (connecting educators and students to place-based writing, and to the National Day on Writing), and she shared her files with me to use in the course.

I’ll share more some other time about the in-depth observations that I made, but the course itself revolved around three main tools for data analysis — TAGS, which can gather tweets into a spreadsheet; Tableau, which digs down into that data for more in-depth analysis of who was doing what, when, and with whom, etc; and Gephi, which can visualize nodes, clusters, connections and more. (The image above is a collage of some of the views I created with Gephi, to observe the interactions off the main hub of activity).

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by exploring some of these tools, but the course — called Social Media Analytics, offered through FutureLearn — was very helpful, in the ways they had us looking at the larger picture of social media landscapes (mostly Twitter, since others — like Facebook — are closed off from most analysis tools) before learning, systematically and step-by-step, how to set up and use Tableau and Gephi.

Personally, I found Tableau to be more useful than Gephi for the inquiry I was doing — which was based around my own questions of making visible the interactions that took place during Write Out and reflecting on ways to expand the reach of Write Out next year.

A handful of us, who already knew each other from other projects and connections, also created a private back-channel in the CLMOOC Slack, where we could share and ask questions of each other. I found that helpful for the beginning of the course, in particular.

I’ll write and share more later …

Peace (in the data stream),
Kevin

Book Review: Tubes (A Journey to the Center of the Internet)

Andrew Blum’s journey to the center of the Internet, as he calls it, begins when a squirrel nibbles the wires of his house, shutting his online access of. This event sparks a years-long journey of curiosity to figure out how the wires all connect, and how data flows through the physical space of the world.

In Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, Blum brings us along with him. It’s a pretty fascinating ride, if a bit technical at times, as he researches, investigates, and visits some of the main hubs of the dispersed Internet, from data centers to undersea cables to spaces below buildings in urban centers to isolated rural places — all forging different kinds of connection so that when I hit “publish” on this blog post and you click to read what I wrote, the data flows rather seamlessly (or so it appears) through fibers, wires, and yes, tubes of light.

There are moments where Blum geeks out a bit too much for my tastes, but I understand why he goes into such descriptions about routers, packets and fibers. What I was more interested in is how he frames the flow of information with the physical aspects of the world — the way we can imagine data moving along the contours of our Earth, and the ways in which those same contours provide barriers of access, too.

Overall, though, Tubes gives the reader a fuller sense of the digital world — sparking some appreciation for the original design of a distributed networked space and for the rather fragile elements that make up what we mostly take for granted. Some hubs are monumentally important, and yet, as Blum describes them, neither as secure as one would expect nor as reliable as they could be.

I really appreciated these final thoughts of Blum, who seeks to humanize his research, and ground it in the world we live in, not the virtual one we imagine when we use our technology.

“What I understood when I arrived home was that the Internet wasn’t a physical world or a virtual world, but a human world. The Internet’s physical infrastructure has many centers, but from a certain vantage point there is really only one: You. Me. The lowercase i. Wherever I am, and wherever you are.”

— from Tubes by Andrew Blum, page 268

Peace (flowing through us all),
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

John Reminds Us: Sometimes, Old School is Still Cool

John Spencer often shares interesting videos and resources and insights about innovative practice, and he often reminds us that advanced technology and the newest gadgets aren’t alway what’s needed. Here, he reminds us that “vintage” works, too. and might have more and different value than online or technology-based activities.

He also lists a bunch of possibilities, from duct tape and cardboard to hacking board games to sketchnoting on paper  (and it appears this whole concept will form elements of an upcoming book on the topic).

Peace (reminding us of its reach),

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