Tag Archives: Howard Rheingold

Taking control of our digital lives

In a few weeks our team will be running sessions on digital citizenship with all the year 10 students. In an attempt to make sense of a very dense session I thought I’d throw it into a blog post.  I’m open to suggestions or advice if you’re kind enough to read the post. Thank you.

The leading question is:

In the digital age what are the most important skills we need to develop?

We will explore digital literacies and what it is to be a digital citizen in today’s information age. In particular, how can we take control of our digital lives?

In no set order, and depending on the dynamics of the class and their receptiveness to engage in discussion, we will look at:

  • attention (mindfulness) – thanks to the work of Howard Rheingold
  • online privacy
  • critical evaluation of information
  • your digital profile

With mobile devices and technology ubiquitous in our lives, is it possible that we are not in control of the balance in our lives?

To start discussion about whether we are online too much, I will show students this video.

I hope to talk a little on mindfulness. Mindfulness is something we can practice. It helps us have control over what we give our attention to.

We might do this one-minute meditation exercise or we might ask students to do this in their own time.

Mindfulness during study would be really appreciated by students; it’s so easy to get distracted especially with the ping of social media inviting us to take a ‘quick’ break. We will recommend to students the SelfControl app which allows them to lock themselves out of social media and email for any period of time. Sounds good to me. Students can download this app to their devices for free.

Next we’ll move on to the question: ‘Are we doing everything we can to secure our online privacy?

Then we’ll show students this video about nothing being free online and about how their online activity is stolen for the purpose of data collection.  Hopefully they’ll start to feel a little uncomfortable as they realise how little control they have over what is taken from what they do online . But will this lead to some good discussion?

At this point we’ll introduce our students to Duck Duck Go, an anonymous, encrypted search engine.  We’ll take a look at why Duck Duck Go is better for privacy than other search engines.  We’ll look more closely at how our search results are generally filtered and how we can escape our search engine’s filter bubble.

We’ll watch the following video to discover that our search results are far from objective and that the internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see.

Moving on to our digital identities, we might google each other and see what comes up. When I did this last year there wasn’t much which – as I said to the boys – is good and bad. It’s great if they don’t have inappropriate things on their public profile, but what if somebody wants to find out more about the, for example, when they apply for a job?

Here’s an revealing video about why our Facebook likes say more about us than we think, and why we should care.

At this point I’d like the students to take a look at what others see about them on Facebook by going to their public profile. Since Facebook changes privacy settings constantly and these are never simple, it should be an interesting exercise. Facebook allows a user to view their page as a person they haven’t ‘friended’ and also as a ‘friend’. Then I’ll ask the students to check out the Facebook Help Centre – I don’t think they will have looked at this in detail.

Although I’m not an advocate of the fear tactics used to scare young people off social media, I also want to make them aware of what can and does happen.  What happened to Alec Couros very recently is a sobering story. Alec Couros is Professor of educational technology & media at the Faculty of Education, University of Regina. Someone stole his online identity and created an internet relationship scam. Read about it here in his very open blog post where he explains how scammers stole his photos to lure women into online romantic relationships to get at their money. Alec lists a long list of things he recommends to fight internet scams. He says that ‘digital literacy is necessary for determining the validity of sources, including the integrity and authenticity of our relationships.’ He recommends that ‘this needs to be a topic in school as part of a required digital citizenship curriculum’. Yes, it does. And so, our one session is not enough, but we are squeezing in at least this one session.

Alec’s final words in this second blog post are:

Likely, what I’ve learned the most throughout this predicament is that we need better systems for identity verification. I don’t actually like proposing this because I’m a strong proponent for rights to anonymity on the web. But, there must be a way to allow for anonymity and to also build mechanisms in place for identity verification where necessary. Ideas, anyone? Maybe my life’s work is in this problem somewhere.

After this frightening real story we are actually going to go back to encouraging our students to cultivate a positive online profile. I know that many of them will ask why. Why do they need to go public online? Doesn’t this go against what we’ve just been discussing – all the negative stuff? While thinking about how I could possibly make this case convincingly with something our students could identify with, I was on Twitter and had asked a question about saving archived webpages from the Wayback Machine. A few seconds later I received an answer from Nick Patsianas (@nickpatsianas) – someone I followed a while ago. He is a year 11 student who lives on the Central Coast in NSW. Nick is an inspirational young man (as you will understand when you read his blog bio) and his blog is an outstanding example of how a student can create a positive digital footprint. I will introduce Nick to my students. Nick is part of an active network on Twitter, as you can see from his Twitter conversations if you follow him.  Nick is part of Oz Minecraft Educators. If I were an employer and were looking for evidence that Nick was an intelligent, literate, responsible, engaged and thoughtful young man, I would have everything I needed in the digital footprint he has created for himself.

To finish the session (if there is time remaining), I will take my cue from Alec Couros when he says

Detection of these scams requires critical thought, a healthy skepticism, and active digital literacy.

We’re going to look at photos and text posted online and try to evaluate their validity. Hopefully this will be a fun exercise, and we might do it together. We will ask our students if the following photos are real or fake, and if the accompanying information is real of fake. We will see how well they can uncover a hoax.

After discussion, I’ll ask the boys to find out here.

What about this?

Find out here.

What about this one?

Find out here.

What about “15-ton prehistoric shark captured off coast of Pakistan”?

Find out here.

And “New York artist creates ‘art’ that is invisible and collectors are paying millions.”

Find out here.

Next we’ll have a look at some fake news websites.

In Australia:

The Shovel

World Daily News Report

See a list of international fake news sites here. 

We’ll look at some of the information taken from the article by Paul S. Piper,Librarian, Western Washington University, Better read that again: web hoaxes and misinformation. These categorise web hoaxes and misinformation, for example, parody and spoof sites, malicious sites, counterfeit, fictitious, questionable and malicious websites, and finally product sites and subject-specific misinformation.

Finally we will ask the students which of the following websites are reputable and which are not? Of those which are not, they are to specify which are counterfeit, parodies, fictitious, questionable, malicious or product sites:

I’ll leave the students with the following sites which are dedicated to tracking internet hoaxes.

Don’t Spread That Hoax


Snopes (Rumour has it)

Vmyths (Rhode Island Soft Systems produces this site designed to counter myths and hoaxes about computer viruses.

The National Fraud Center is a consumer centre for fraud, including internet fraud.

I think that ending with this lengthy activity is a safe way to approach different classes which may delve deeply into a couple of things listed here, and not complete all activities, or they might be less willing to join a discussion, in which case we will whizz through these activities.

So this lesson will be about 45 minutes long. If you are reading, please leave a comment at the end of this post. I would really appreciate it, and there is still time to edit the lesson plan.



The issue of trust in open networks #ccourses

Photo source: George Balanchine’s Apollo – David Ingram & Traci Gilchrest – photo by Peter Zay


It’s such a vast concept. Galactic even.

Unit 2 of Connected Courses raised these questions:

In the quantum learning space where interest is a key driver, how do we employ the same dynamics in our teaching? Or, how do we leverage the power of open? How do we maintain trust and a sense of security in open networks? How do we build our networks? What is social capital? How do we enable at-large learners to engage in our courses? Where should we teach our classes?

I started my pre-thinking by focusing on ‘trust’ as a general concept in my own understanding.

My reflections over the last week or so have been fuzzy, but now I think it’s time to attempt some kind of personal definition of trust in open networks, especially if I’m advocating these spaces to teachers.

Trust – we can talk about this from so many perspectives.

One of the difficulties of trusting in people you connect with online is the problem of not seeing them face to face, or not hearing what they have to say on a regular basis as we would with people we work with daily. I think we read visual clues about people without even thinking about it, even though some of our assumptions are not always based on scientific observation.

It’s also very difficult to read tone in text. You don’t always know for sure if people genuinely mean what they say, or if they are saying what you think they mean. This relates to people you know well in real life too. I go in and out of being sure that I know where people are coming from, especially online, and that’s part of the whole trust issue in open networks.

I usually stay away from self promoters while being aware that I may be coming across as one myself. I suppose I keep some sort of distance from people who don’t give back, that is, share things others have said without giving something themselves. This is not trust with a capital T: you don’t fear these people but you might not want them in your inner circle.

So, to state the obvious, to trust someone you have to know them to some degree. Trust is knowing someone well enough to make a judgement that they are someone you are willing to interact with.

Having said that, I ask a question: how do you know someone online?There is no simple answer, and I still don’t know. Maybe I rely on instinct?

Perhaps I warm to people who have similar interests? I’m in awe of people who have superior or expert knowledge, and so I trust them enough to learn from them. I think trust requires an openness, and a transparency, so that I can peek inside the person a little.

Who do I trust to be in my inner circle? (Haha, inner circle sounds very mystical and elitist). How can I trust that what they share is credible? Of course, it’s up to us to evaluate what others post online but I think that once you have a clear picture of their background and credentials, you can trust their shared knowledge. That’s why it’s important to provide a reference point for people in the form of a short biography, blog(s), Twitter handle, Google+ profile or similar.

So, turning the issue of trust around to me –

How can people trust that what I share with them is good quality and worth looking at?

This is a very important professional question for me: How can I build my trust as a teacher librarian who regularly shares online resources? Trust is at the core of everything that I do, and it’s been instrumental in the way I have developed my digital profile. I’ve made myself transparent online, which means interested people can check my bio, blogs, google+, twitter, etc.

My personal professional blog hopefully shows I’m serious about education. I’ve provided opportunities for people to contact me if they want dialogue through email and comments in many of my networks. When I share educational resources, I’m open to talk to teachers if they have any queries.

Why do we want to be trusted online? Some people might think it a strange question. They might think it’s nobody’s business but their own who they are even if they have an online profile. What if people want to be on Facebook, for example, so that they can see what their friends are up to but don’t want to reveal much of themselves?

I think that what you gain from a connected community will determine how much you get from it. To be accepted and considered a valuable participant requires trust, and then a continued demonstration that you can be trusted, for example, to behave respectfully, not to take over at the expense of community balance, to listen as well as contributing, to make an effort to contribute as well as taking from others.

It’s important to be yourself, to add value to the community, to share your unique perspective. If I’m hoping to be accepted as a valuable member of a community, people should be able to trust that I won’t be lazy and just piggy-back others. That is to say, it’s okay for me to retweet and share others’ stuff because I’m in awe of it or excited about it and want to share with others, but I also need to balance that out with my own contribution – and often that just means sharing my unique perspective on things.

From my observations, the best connected networks consist of people who are not afraid to be themselves, who push past the platitudes that sometimes make sameness in online communities undesirable or boring.


Yes, I admit, I’m guilty of being lazy sometimes, of sharing of others’ resources without the value added comments, and I will try to add value each time with my own perspective, by sharing Diigo annotations, adding my perspective to retweets (although word restriction!), doing the hard work of research and deeper reading to get to the deeper observations which add to the group’s understanding.

Some people might say, I don’t have anything to add that is unique, and to these people I would say:

Trust in yourself. You do have something to add that is unique, and this enables you to become someone real online. In my interaction with people through Connected Courses, I would say there are many people who exemplify this online. Maha Bali stands out for me through her open, encouraging and accepting online interaction, but there are also many others.

Lastly, I think that trust goes hand in hand with being interesting.

Everyone is interesting because there is something about all of us which is unique and which others may be interested in, but it’s important to bring that part of yourself out. I connect with people online who give a little extra detail about themselves because it enables me to picture them eg playing an instrument, cycling, getting worked up about something they care about. Sometimes photos are useful in providing a little window into ourselves. Howard Rheingold gives us many insights into his life and his interests through photos. Of course, it’s up to you how much you want to share about yourself beyond the educational context. I could trust someone online and interact for the purposes of educational exchange but they don’t become real for me until they paint a little more about themselves.

But that’s another thing to think about in another post.


Network literacies are essential – what are we going to do about it?

Being netsmart is something Howard Rheingold has been talking and writing about for some time. In this video, he very recently presented a keynote on this topic at Utrecht University.


Howard talks to the audience about network literacies: attention, participation, collaboration, crap detection and network know-how.

As I listened to his talk – nothing new for those who have been following his thoughts and writing, but certainly always worth listening to – I thought again about the need to recognise the importance of teaching network literacies to our students. And I don’t mean the once a year session snuck in by a teacher librarian, I mean a recognition by staff and leadership that we need to seriously work on a plan to integrate network literacies into our curriculum.

I’ve been working with others on a plan of attack for helping our VCE students who are having problems with study – time management, literacies, etc. Howard’s first identified literacy in the networked age is attention, and this is something I’d like to spend some time unpacking with the students.

Howard recounts a realisation during his lectures that students were not looking at him but multitasking online. He quotes statistics warning us that multitasking is disrupting our attention span more than we realise, and that only 5 or 10 percent of people manage to multitask without losing attention. What is it about these students? I really like his term, mindfulness or metacognition – being aware of where you’re putting your attention. I agree that we could identify for students attention probes which would encourage them to be aware of their use of media during class, lectures or while doing homework. Since trying to be more aware of my own online habits, I’ve had to admit that my attention is dispersed and that I’m addicted to following that little sound that alerts me to a tweet or Facebook message. I realise I need to exercise self discipline, knowing that these things can wait until I’ve finished what I was working on. This is what I plan to discuss with my students.

The aspect of manners is an interesting one in an age when private phone conversations are heard by everyone on a train, or when tweeting during a conference means you might look rude to others or even the speaker. As Howard says, maybe in the future it won’t be considered rude not to pay attention to the lecturer, but as far as I’m concerned, there are times when I ask students to close their devices and look at me, and other times I’d like to allow them to be productive online and take notes or do some on-the-fly research while listening. Listening without doing anything can be difficult. Why do you think people doodle? Still, we do have to make decisions all the time about what we are going to pay attention to. Are we going to look at that cat meme right now? Oh, why not! What was I saying again…?

So what Howard is recommending is that we take that unconscious process of multiple distractions and our behaviours and make it conscious so we take some control. Do I follow this link or email now? Why might I want to? What else am I supposed to be doing? Am I going to pay attention to it later?  How am I going to make sure I find it again? (This is where I couldn’t live without Diigo). This is a conversation I’d like to have with my students. Howard suggests that we could modify our attention behaviour and make it automatic, following strategies instead of impulses.

He’s right when he says that you’re the only one who knows what you need to get done today, and your priorities need to be your own. This is why I won’t conduct the study skills sessions with students in a rigid way recommended one way of doing things. Howard recommends establishing new habits, finding a regular place for these and repeating them. A simple act of writing down 2 or 3 goals on a piece of paper, away from the computer with the space to think, can make a difference when you keep those goals close to your sight while you work as a reminder, to help you refocus and assess your productivity.

As Howard says, attention can be trained, and we know this from thousands of years of contemplative traditions and also from neuroscience.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, some of our English teachers have started using Goodreads for wider reading. Yes, I’ve been pushing it a little – well, maybe a lot. It is about the reading network but I also believe it’s going to provide many opportunities for teaching network literacies. I expect students will feel so comfortable within this platform that it won’t be all deep and meaningful conversation about literary things. But, as Howard points out, casual conversations may seem trivial but help people get to know each other and trust each other, and understanding how networks work is part of esssential literacies these days. We do live in the age of social media, and the information society is becoming more of a network society, with the interconnection of all sorts of knowledge from different disciplines. Do you agree that diverse networks are more important than expert networks? That they are more likely to come up with better answers?  

I really do believe that we should teach our students the importance of switching off regularly, and I say this as a person who has problems switching off. I assume it’s very difficult for our students to not be connected all the time. It’s not common to be alone for long – does that mean we lose our ability to feel comfortable in silence, in our own heads, with our own company?

I really think we, as educators, should have this conversation and then do something about creating the regular opportunities to talk to students about these things.

I’ll leave you with Howard’s minicourses.

Gagging on content, struggling to switch off

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Curation is one of the new popular concepts in the education world, particularly amongst librarians. In the same way as some previously trusted platforms for bookmarking content have become disappointing (Vodpod’s takeover by Lockerz) or slightly altered (Delicious), new forms of collecting, organising and sharing content have emerged. Pinterest, for me, as for many others, has proven useful for  easily capturing and categorizing images and videos, for example. Scoop.it has become very popular and a new way to search for educational content (even moreso than Pinterest which is still mainly used for personal collections eg wedding paraphernalia and crafts).
Joyce Seitzinger (@catspyjamasnz) has created an insightful slide presentation entitled ‘When educators become curators’. I particularly like Joyce’s description of the different types of digital curators – Closed Door, Hoarder, Scrooge, National Inquirer, and the Robot, although I haven’t actually met the ‘closed door’ curators, only ‘closed door’ recipients.
I can definitely relate to the idea of ‘gagging on content’ since, I have to admit, I’m addicted to information. As a teacher librarian this should be a positive thing since I’m in the business of curating and disseminating information for teachers. But an addiction is never a good thing and can get in the way of working efficiently or even living the real life. Sadly I’m often one of those people who can’t switch off, who regularly check for Twitter and Facebook updates while I’m out, whose inclination to share things I see and find could be viewed as compulsive. That’s why I’m reading Howard Rheingold‘s Net Smart: how to thrive online – or trying to.
Gagging on content can be managed by curation tools but balancing your life and curbing your desire to drink from the fire hydrant is just as important. And it’s so difficult to resist the temptation to connect to your networks when the conversation is so rich, when the new discoveries are so constant.
And so, if I can resist the temptation to check my phone so often, I might be able to learn from Howard how to develop attention and focus which will help balance my life by cultivating an internal inquiry into how I want to spend my time. Anyone else?
Still, at least if we’re connected we have an inside understanding of what our students feel like when they have to switch off and listen to one teacher for the whole period.

Naplan our benchmark? Why not “The Horizon Report?”

Our school is in the process of an external review. As learning enhancement coordinator, I was reviewed as part of a small group which included the learning support and transition coordinators.  During our meeting the reviewers focused on the NAPLAN results, and asked us how we used this data. We were encouraged to drill down into specific data which would allow us to address the specific issues. For example, if our students’ weaknesses were revealed in the area of writing, we would make it our business to find out if the weakness resided in the mechanics of writing, the critical thinking component, etc.

At some point during the meeting I started thinking about how we came to put so much emphasis on NAPLAN testing, and if we had any other criteria with which to evaluate our teaching. Surely there were more contemporary skills to base our assessment on – beyond spelling, grammar, numeracy, reading and writing? It’s pretty obvious that, although all these things are important, we’ve come a long way in terms of essential skills in the last few years.

Just look at The Horizon Report. Its discussion of technology adoption highlights critical challenges, and these include digital media literacy, new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing and researching (eg blogs and networked presentations). These trends and challenges are indicative of ‘the changing nature of the way we communicate, access information, connect with peers and colleagues, learn and even socialise’.

And yet how many schools are engaging in conversation about these challenges? Or are they still looking at spelling, reading and writing. During our meeting I was disturbed to hear educators blame the introduction of one-to-one notebook computers for the decline in writing standards. Don’t get me started on that.

Back to my original point – who looks at the Horizon Report in schools? At best it’s read as an interesting or challenging extra piece of information. Is it too challenging? Considered irrelevant? Too far from what we are doing so we just put it away since it isn’t seen as crucial to learning and teaching? Or is it that we refuse to acknowledge how ubiquitous technology has become and think we can prevent the adoption of things like mobile phones? And yet, The Horizon Report states: “Mobiles enable ubiquitous access to information, social networks, tools for learning and productivity, and much more”.

We are still focusing on the problematic nature of digital and mobile technologies – problematic because they disrupt our orderly, nineteenth century classroom. They create chaos. But we need that chaos, we need to shake up the traditional lessons to re-engage students and help them connect to and take ownership of their learning.

I see the problem residing in the disconnect between school and life. How can students be engaged in an artificial construct which separates knowledge into rigid compartments, knowledge which is delivered in a way which students find foreign and unengaging. Shouldn’t we look at how our students find what they need to know, how they create things, how they organise events within their networks? We still see this as separate from learning. We are convinced that young people’s online socialising is superficial, a waste of valuable time.

Howard Rheingold’s post, How does digital media impact youth political and civic engagement?says otherwise. Rheingold points toJoseph Kahne‘s very important empirical study about young people’s use of digital media and how it impacts their engagement — or lack of engagement — in civic affairs and politics.

That research, Kahne says in an interview, punctures some core myths about online activism, and strongly indicates that the virtual world nourishes youth engagement in real-world issues.

What we found is that young people were more likely to volunteer offline when they were part of online networks.

The question becomes, how can youth’s embrace of digital media and enthusiasm for the Internet be leveraged for social enterprise and civic engagement?

And I would add, how can youth’s embrace of digital media and enthusiasm for the Internet be leveraged for what happens in terms of teaching and learning at school?

Online, young people are gaining skills … how to work in a group, how to negotiate things, how to get organized, how to organize other people… We also found that their online participation increased their exposure to diverse viewpoints… 

How diverse are the viewpoints students are exposed to in the classroom? I really think, not diverse enough. Rather than shut down possibilities for our students to connect outside the classroom out of fear, we could enable connections and guide our students to behave responsibly and maturely. I would even go so far as to suggest that we encourage young people to join specific online groups to broaden their range of experiences. If we take students out on excursions then we could do the same online.

Does anyone teach in a school which formulates its strategic plan while looking at The Horizon Report?  

Here’s the full interview with Joseph Kahne taken from Howard Rheingold’s post.

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Does social media and the Internet fuel youth political engagement? from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.

Howard Rheingold knows crap when he sees it

Howard Rheingold knows what he’s talking about when he says we need to teach our kids to be crap detectors, critical examiners of what they find online. No, not censorship – Howard recommends teaching kids to be detectives and investigate the authority of what they read online. Our kids need skills more than they need content to navigate the explosion of information available to everybody. The video goes for 24 minutes and is well worth viewing and reviewing.

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Here is Howard’s blog post of the same title.

There is a growing list of links to related online resources at the end of the article.

Reflecting again (still)

Last post I wrote a reflection for the culmination of my participation in the  Powerful Learning Practice program. Still, I felt I hadn’t drilled down to what was essential for me.

Listening to Howard Rheingold this morning, and rethinking things, I wrote another reflection.

My participation in PLP has been life changing. I know it smacks of evangelical fervour, and I’ve often written about this in my blog, but PLP came just at the point that I was ready for it. I’d just completed SLAV 23 things, and started a blog. Everything was new to me. Nothing was easy, I wasn’t a natural, probably more of a technophobe than anything, but something pulled me in. Jenny Luca must have read my blog somehow, and emailed me about joining the PLP cohort of Australian schools. It all avalanched from there. Soon I was blogging, wikiing, ninging, twittering, flickering, and having a great time.

Thinking about it more seriously, I realize there’s a big discrepancy between my personal awakening to online participation and what I’ve been able to do in convincing other educators at my school or anywhere else about what I see as a crucial path we must take in order to make learning relevant and engaging for students. Yes, I’ve made steps, and for me, these steps have been significant. I’ve been reflecting and sharing knowledge and resources in this blog, I’ve explored the literacy possibilities with Flickr’s image sharing, I’ve supported English and Art faculties with wikis, I’ve created a blog to inspire reading in the community, I’ve been working on a ning as a platform for learning, collaborating with a wonderful English teacher, I’ve sent countless links and resources to teachers as a result of my own connection to my online network. But it’s not enough. It hasn’t moved a significant portion of my school, it hasn’t changed the way my principal thinks, or other the way faculty heads function. Although, I suppose I shouldn’t underestimate small victories, such as the approval for an external fiction blog (read here and here).  On the whole, though, it’s often resulted in friends, family, colleagues casting a critical eye or making derogatory comments, telling me to get off the computerand get a life. Basically, I haven’t convinced many people that what I’ve spent an enormous amount of my own time on is worth anything.

It has, however, connected me to a network of people who are my lifeline. People I otherwise wouldn’t have met or known about. People who are experts in different fields, who are brilliant, engaged, supportive. It has crossed borders, transcended nationality, age-group, ignored physical apprearance and status – it’s been fantastic. I agree with many great speakers I’ve listened to: it’s not about the technology tools, it’s about literacies. Our students need critical thinking to navigate the flood of information and media that comes their way. They are learning outside of the classroom – and social media and technologies such as Youtube and Facebook provide a platform for communication, collaboration and collective action which is more important to them than their textbooks. One day it’s about organizing a large gathering through Facebook, and next thing, it’s organizing political action. None of it comes from teachers or parents; it wouldn’t spark that level of engagement.

I’m seeing the power of collective response to disaster. Why aren’t we thinking in terms of social capital? Why aren’t we thinking about how to mobilize people to do things using social media? What are we doing at school? How can we spark this level of engagement? Should we rethink the ways we are teaching, the content?

You can see that this isn’t about technology tools, although all of this is made possible through technology. These are the things that drive me today – as an educator, parent, citizen. I don’t have the answers but the questions are driving me forward, connecting me to others who find the conversation valuable. This is what my PLP experience has been about. Life is a series of new starts. That’s why we feel we never reach our destination. We’re always starting out with new questions and new problems to solve. That’s why it’s a journey.

Teaching 21st century literacies

Howard Rheingold  has written an article for City Brights on 21st century literacies.  His opening paragraph asks essential questions for the future (and present) of education:

Will our grandchildren century grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else? Or will they grow up knowing that the online world is a bewildering puzzle to which they have few clues, a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?

And here in a nutshell is the definition for 21st century literacies in plain English. What concerns me, and many others, is that the shift from traditional literacy to these 21st century literacies is not occurring in schools on any significant scale. An understanding of the critical need for a focus on these literacies isn’t happening from the top down, nor from the bottom up. And it’s not going to happen unless we, educators, step out of our teaching role and immerse ourselves in the 21st world as learners.

As far as I know, on the whole Australian schools still view online involvement for students as ‘a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?’ This is part of the reason for inaccessibility and filtering; for the rules prohibiting the use of online games and mobile phones at school. We talk about integrating technologies into the curriculum, but we still view these technologies as the enemy.

Perhaps many of us are uncomfortable about using new technology. We figure our students are naturals, that they’ll figure out the technology thing by themselves, better without us. Howard Rheingold questions the term ‘digital natives’ applied to our students:

Just because your teens Facebook, IM, and Youtube, don’t assume they know the rhetoric of blogging, collective knowledge gathering techniques of taggers and social bookmarkers, collaborative norms of wiki work, how to tune and feed a Twitter network, the art of multimedia argumentation – and, by far most importantly, online crap detection.

Rheingold makes it very clear how urgent it is for our students to be educated in 21st century literacies:

If you think that forgetting to teach your kids the facts of life is dangerous, wait until you witness the collision of a global superempowered infrastructure with a population of illiterate users.

There’s no mincing of words. According to Rheingold, our students will be illiterate if we don’t redefine our concept of literacy. What literacies are we teaching our students at present? Are these in line with the world in which they will live and work? We may not like digital media as much as our students, but isn’t our job as educators preparing them for their future? Their future is digital, global and networked. Digital literacy is not so much about the mechanics of digital tools; it is much more than that:

The most important critical uncertainty today is how many of us learn to use digital media and networks effectively, reasonably, credibly, collaboratively, civilly, humanely.

One of the commenters identifies the importance of teaching critical reading skills. Howard adds that ‘some, perhaps many, view critical thinking as a frivolous distraction from “the basics”… Others say that there is nothing new about this requirement’.  For teacher librarians, teaching critical reading and critical thinking has been part of their role for some time. As a teacher librarian,I find this problematic –  not the fact that we are delegated this teaching role, since we are ‘information specialists’, and our role must evolve in line with developments in the world of information – but that this teaching is seen as somehow separate from ‘the real curriculum’, that we come in for one lesson or two at most, and teach ‘information skills’ as discrete skills. We all know that this doesn’t work, that the integration of critical, digital literacies must be integrated fully in everyday teaching, and that curricular material must be selected with this teaching aim in mind. Our choice of medium must support the teaching of these literacies. If we use blogs, wikis or nings, it is not because we are ticking off our use of Web 2.0 technologies for the sake of being recognised as Web 2.0 savvy, it’s because we recognise that a networked learning  environment is the best way to prepare our students for their future. If we teach our senior students to critically evaluate newspaper articles and advertisements, shouldn’t we finally take the leap to teaching them the skills they need to navigate the deluge of online information?  They’re not reading editorials as much as they’re watching YouTube videos. Will they continue to get their news from newspapers? Or will they prefer real-time, real-people news reports on Twitter?

What are your thoughts? Let’s have a discussion.

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