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The problem(s) of 21st century literacy/ies

I’d really appreciate it if you tagged anything related to this post or topic literacyconversation.  It will help me (and others) collate ideas and conversations. Thanks! 🙂

As most people reading this will already know, I’m studying towards an Ed.D. at the moment. My (tentative) thesis title is What does it mean to be ‘educated’ and ‘digitally literate’? The impact of ICT and the knowledge society upon education in the 21st century.. You can find my thesis proposal here and bookmarks related to my studies here. My current thinking is that I’m just going to focus on the concept of what ‘literacy’ means in the 21st century as it’s a huge and confused (confusing?) field.

Because of my studies and deep interest in this field, I was delighted to come across Ben Grey’s blog post entitled 21st Century Confusion, which he followed up with 21st Century Clarification. Ben’s an eloquent and nuanced writer, so I suggest you go and read what he has to say before continuing with this blog post. 😀

The above blog posts sparked a great conversation on Twitter, of which I was part. The hugely influential Will Richardson suggested, as we were getting a little frustrated with being limited to 140 characters, that we have a live session via Elluminate the following day. You can find a link to the archived session here.

My own thoughts about that skillset/mindset/ability range we’re trying to quantify and describe by using terms such as ‘digital’ or ’21st century’ literacy are still a little jumbled. I’ve read, and am continuing to read a lot on the subject (and related areas), notes on which you can find on my wiki.

For now, though, here’s some highlights:

1. Literacies as ‘umbrella terms’

Many of the literacies or ‘competencies’ that are being put forward are described in ways that suggest they incorporate other literacies. Take for instance, this definition of ‘information competence’ (Work Group…, 1995):

Information competence is the fusing or the integration of library literacy, computer literacy, media literacy, technological literacy, ethics, critical thinking, and communication skills.

And again (Doyle, 1994)

In the last decade a variety of “literacies” have been proposed, including cultural, computer, scientific, technical, global and mathematical. All of these literacies focus on a compartmentalized aspect of literacy. Information literacy, on the other hand, is an inclusive term. Through information literacy, the other literacies can be achieved (Breivik, 1991). In attaining information literacy, students gain proficiency in inquiry as they learn to interpret and use information (Kuhlthau, 1987).

Ryan Bretag’s post, The Great Literacy Debate, introduced me to a word to describe this that I hadn’t come across before – deictic. This means that ‘literacy’ tends to be used in a way heavily dependent upon context. I couldn’t agree more!

2. Literacies defined too broadly or narrowly

As referenced above, if a type of literacy being put forward by an individual is defined too broadly, it becomes an umbrella term and of little practical use. Initially, I liked Judi Epcke’s comment that she’d heard Jason Ohler define literacy as “consuming and producing the media forms of the day”. But this began to trouble me. Aren’t consuming and producing different skills? And if they’re skills, is ‘literacy’ involved?

But then, defined narrowly, it’s easy to come up with counter-examples. For instance, if we define 21st Century Literacy in relation to technology, it begs the question ‘does literacy in the 21st century relate to printed matter at all‘. The answer, of course, would have to be yes, it does.

3. Do we need new definitions?

I share the despair of Gunther Kress (2003, quoted in Eyman) when he sees new forms of ‘literacy’ popping up all over the place:

…literacy is the term to use when we make messages using letters as the means of recording that message….my approach leaves us with the problem of finding new terms for the uses of the different resources: not therefore “visual literacy” for the use of image; not “gestural literacy” for the use of gesture; and also not musical “literacy” or “soundtrack literacy” for the use of sound other than speech; and so on.

Semantics are important. Whilst we can’t keep using outdated words that link to conceptual anachronism (e.g. ‘horseless carriage’) we must be on our guard against supposed ‘literacies’ becoming more metaphorical than descriptive.

Concluding thoughts

One educator left the Elluminate discussion on 21st Century Literacies before had really got going. He mentioned that he was in favour of deeds rather than words. I can see what he means, although as I have already stated, semantics are important.

But there comes a point where one has to draw a line. In my thesis, I’m using a modified version of the Pragmatic method, as spelled out by William James (1995:82)thus,

To ‘agree‘ in the widest sense with a reality, can only mean to be guided either straight up to it or into its surroundings, or to be put into such working touch with it as to handle either it or something connected with it better than if we disagreed… Any idea that helps us to deal, whether practically or intellectually, with either the reality or its belongings, that doesn’t entangle our progress in frustrations, that fits, in fact, and adapts our life to the reality’s whole setting, will agree sufficiently to meet the requirement/ It will hold true of that reality.

Thus names are just as ‘true’ or ‘false’ as definite mental pictures are. They set up similar verification-processes, and lead to fully equivalent practical results.

I’m looking for a definition that doesn’t ‘entangle my progress in frustration’. I’m yet to find it, but I’ll keep on looking! :-p

References:

  • Doyle, C.S. (1994) Information literacy in an information society: A Concept for the Information Age, DIANE Publishing
  • Eyman, D., Digital Literac(ies), Digital Discourses, and Communities of Practice: Literacy Practices in Virtual Environments (Cultural Practices of Literacy Study, Working Paper #12, no date)
  • James, W. Pragmatism (Dover Thrift Editions, 1995)
  • Work Group on Information Competence, Commission on Learning Resources and Instructional Technology (1995), quoted by Spitzer, K.L., et al. Information Literacy: essential skills for the information age, 1998, p.25


7 Things You May Not Know About Me

I’ve been tagged in another meme, this time the ‘7 Things You May Not Know About Me’ one by Alev Elci. As I participated in the ‘5 Things’ meme back on teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk in 2006 here, I’ll cheat by just adding two. :-p

6. I have a rather dry sense of humour. More like Martini Extra Dry, in fact…

7. I’m not great at geography. Unlike my wife Hannah, who has top-down maps of places in her head, I can still get lost using a combination of my Sat-Nav and GPS feature of Google Maps on my iPhone. On the other hand, at any given time I could probably tell you pretty accurately which way is North, South, East or West. Bizarre.

Top 25: The Best of Belshaw 2008

Best of BelshawVersion 2.0 of this blog (dougbelshaw.com) is now pretty much exactly a year old. It was a year ago that I decided to retire teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk and concentrate my energies here. During that time I’ve written some blog posts that have hit home with some people and some that haven’t. Here, in ranked order according to AideRSS, are the ones with the highest ‘PostRank’ – a ranking system that takes into account inbound links, tweets, delicious links, comments, etc. 🙂

  1. My Ed.D. thesis proposal: What does it mean to be ‘digitally literate’? (17 May 2008)
  2. The Map Is Not The Territory: the changing face of the edublogosphere (28 March 2008)
  3. Animoto rocks! Here’s proof… (5 February 2008)
  4. 5 productivity tips/hacks I’ve come across recently. (14 July 2008)
  5. 3 reasons the majority of students are NOT ‘digitally literate’ (2 February 2008)
  6. 3 reasons I’m against the Edublog Awards (3 December 2008)
  7. Why ‘high culture’ for pupils is highly wrong-headed (13 February 2008)
  8. Recommend me 3 (20 March 2008)
  9. 90% digital, or 12 ways my teaching ecosystem is evolving. (21 August 2008)
  10. Censorship and the Personal/Professional divide (17 June 2008)
  11. Is Twitter bad for you? (29 March 2008)
  12. AUP 2.0 (3 June 2008)
  13. Are you an ‘Edupunk’? I’m not. (31 May 2008)
  14. Help me write my job spec. for next year! (3 June 2008)
  15. 5 things School of Rock can teach us about real education (27 January 2008)
  16. Creating an Interactive Whiteboard using a Nintendo WiiMote (14 May 2008)
  17. Things I’ve been reading online recently (12 April 2008)
  18. THIS is how technology can enhance learning (22 February 2008)
  19. Hi, my name’s Doug Belshaw… (9 January 2008)
  20. Interesting Ways to use Netbooks in the Classroom (29 November 2008)
  21. Reflections on BETT 2008 (13 January 2008)
  22. My response to the GTC’s proposed ‘code of conduct’ for teachers in England. (21 December 2008)
  23. Ken Robinson on creativity v2 (17 February 2008)
  24. Page Peel Script (26 January 2008)
  25. Politics: the biggest problem in education (1 October 2008)

As you can see, it would appear that if one’s aim was to write posts to get the widest audience and largest amount of influence, one should:

  • Write ‘list’ posts – e.g. ‘3 ways to…’ or ‘5 things that…’
  • Be ‘anti-‘ something
  • Provide something unique (e.g. Page Peel Script, Wiimote Whiteboard guide)
  • Ask for collaboration/help

But that’s not my aim. I write about the things that interest or concern me, and that shall continue in 2009. I’m thinking of changing the layout of dougbelshaw.com a bit for the sake of my ‘online presence’, but I’ll still be blogging about the same things and ‘keeping it real’… :-p


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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas

Have a great Christmas and an enjoyable New Year. And yes, that’s my photo so I don’t need to attribute it… :-p

I’m 28, I’m not *old*…

Woe is me. It’s my 28th birthday today and, for the third year running I’m ill. Last year I still went out for a meal, could taste nothing, and had a thoroughly miserable time. This year I’m staying in bed. 🙁

To add to my woes, I’ve been re-reading what certain characters from history managed to achieve in their 28th year of existence. Here’s a flavour:

What have I done? Nothing quite so illustrious:

Not quite in the same league! I am, however, considering writing a book. It won’t be ‘available in all good bookshops’. In fact, it won’t be available in bad ones either! Like Doug Johnson and others have done, I’m considering using Lulu.com to make my proposed book freely downloadable and available to purchase in paper format for a reasonable fee.

Technology wise, I upgraded in the last few weeks from a Macbook to a Macbook Pro, went through several netbooks (Asus Eee 701 -> modded OSX-powered Advent 4211 -> Asus Eee 1000), bought an iPhone, returned it, and then finally changed my Nokia N95 for an iPhone 3G 16GB, and bought a wonderful digital SLR camera in the shape of the Canon EOS 1000D.

What are my plans for my 29th year on earth? Hmmm… I’ll limit myself to three:

  1. Apply for and obtain a job that means my wife, Hannah, doesn’t have to work.
  2. Write half my Ed.D. thesis around the concept of digital literacies.
  3. Start a new project – either through Folens or independently that brings together some of the ideas Nick Dennis and I have been discussing. 🙂

What are YOUR plans for 2009?

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My response to the GTC’s proposed ‘code of conduct’ for teachers in England.

GTCAs I’ve mentioned once or twice before, teaching is only a ‘profession’ in the loosest sense of the term. Teachers don’t get paid as much or enjoy the same sort of status as, say, doctors and lawyers, yet our job combines very difficult elements: social worker, instructor, mentor, teamworker, and role model, to name but a few.

The General Teaching Council for England have proposed a new ‘code of conduct’ for teachers. See the BBC News article here for an overview. I was against the establishment of this regulatory body as it seems (and has proved) to be an example of needless bureaucracy and red tape.

You can read the proposed code of conduct here. I would suggest that you do so before reading any more of this post… :-p

Here’s the key parts as far as I’m concerned:

Of course, the values and practices set out in the Code are already evident in classrooms and schools across England. The purpose of the Code is to set down in one place some clear statements about teacher professionalism which apply to all teachers, no matter what subject or age of children they teach, their role or level of experience, or the context in which they work. (p.3)

If the system’s already working, why do we need legislation?

As the professional regulatory body for teaching, the GTCE also has a key role in strengthening teacher professionalism.(p.3)

The GTCE is unelected and unwanted by most teachers, who resent the levied fee (even if we do get it back if we’re in full-time employment). It’s also a barrier to good teachers moving between countries. For example, if I wanted to apply for a job in Scotland, I’d have to pay c.£50 to join the General Teaching Council for Scotland first! (and vice-versa)

Reflecting changes in the policy environment and in legislation, the revised Code places greater emphasis on safe-guarding children and young people and promoting and protecting their rights, and on equalities. (p.4)

What about the teachers’ human rights and right to a private life?

The Code focuses on behaviours and the way in which teachers conduct themselves on a day-to-day basis. However, because behaviours arise from values, beliefs and attitudes, the document begins with a statement of the core values that underpin teacher professionalism. (p.5)

So you have to have particular beliefs and values to be a teacher? What about diversity?

‘Core values’ of the teaching profession in GTCE document:

• Excellence and continual development
• Commitment and empathy
• Reflection and self-regulation
• Honesty and integrity
• Respect, equality, diversity and inclusion
• Involvement and empowerment
• Collegiality and cooperation
• Responsiveness to change (p.6)

How can the code legislate for ‘reflection’, ’empathy’ and real ‘responsiveness to change’. It’s a farce.

The proposed ‘eight principles of conduct and practice’:

  1. Place the wellbeing, development and progress of children and young people at the heart of their professional practice
  2. Reflect on their own teaching to ensure that it meets the high professional standards required to help children and young people achieve their full potential
  3. Strive to awaken a passion for learning and achievement among children and young people and equip them with the skills to become lifelong learners
  4. Promote equality and value diversity
  5. Take proactive steps to establish partnerships with parents
  6. Work as part of a whole-school team
  7. Cooperate with other professional colleagues who have a role in enabling
    children and young people to thrive and succeed
  8. Demonstrate high standards of honesty and integrity and uphold public trust
    and confidence in the teaching profession (p.7)

This already happens. No argument here. The document then goes into more depth on these eight points. Most of it had me nodding my head in agreement, apart from the first bullet point of eighth principle, which reads:

Uphold the law and maintain standards of behaviour both inside and outside school that are appropriate given their membership of an important and responsible profession. (p.22)

This is worded very ambiguously. For example, until a couple of months ago I had 6 points on my license due to two separate incidents of minor speeding infractions. Are they relevant? A couple of members of staff get drunk at a Christmas party and dance on the tables. Is that relevant? Who decides – the unelected GTC?

I’m all for greater professionalism within education. What I’m against is administration and bureaucracy for the sake of it. I’m absolutely for easier ways to get rid of poor teachers. But I’m absolutely against imprecisely-worded ‘principles’ that have been drafted by an unelected and unwanted body.

And then, hidden away in the appendix:

Examples of failures in this category have included: bullying or harassing staff; working while on sick leave; being under the influence of alcohol while at school; accessing the internet for personal use while supervising children during timetabled lessons

I’m obviously a terrible teacher as I’ve done two of these on more than one occasion. No, not alcohol or bullying! I’ve been too ill to work at school before – in terms of standing up in front of a class, but have been able to use my laptop to earn money from ongoing work I do for a publishing company. Additionally, when I’ve covered classes who are working away quietly and independently, I’ve taken some marking to do. When that’s finished I’ve written the occasional blog post, checked eBay auctions, etc. whilst supervising a class.

I don’t think these two things make me a terrible teacher at all or morally reprehensible – do you? It’s the ambiguity of the statements that gets me.

What are YOUR thoughts?

Productivity: the problem for me, summed up in two images.

I’m a sucker for gadgetry. There is not an area of my life that isn’t technology-enhanced in some way (Oi! stop that sniggering at the back…)

But seriously. If it’s shiny – no, scratch that, it doesn’t even have to be shiny – if it’s cool and useful in some way, I tend to want it. I’m not going to list everything as it would seem somewhat boastful and inappropriate in these times of economic woe, but I’m sure you get the picture. I always know what item of technological wizardry I’m going to buy next should some money come my way through the various side-projects I’m involved in.

The trouble is, of course, that gadgetry depreciates rapidly in value. Perhaps I should buy rare books. They don’t tend to go down in value. Anyway, all of this can have an impact on my productivity if I’m not careful. I have to set aside times to focus on the things like my Ed.D. and work for publishing companies that has to be done. I suppose as one of my official job titles is ‘E-Learning Staff Tutor’ I could claim it’s all just research for work… 😉

My second major barrier to productivity stems from my youth. I can remember being  about 12 years of age and round at a friend-of-a-friend’s house. He had a computer (quite a novelty in those days) and had just purchased a game by the name of Championship Manager ’93. Oh. My. Goodness. How I loved that game. I bought it and every version of the game since then almost as soon as they came out. I didn’t do as well as I should have done in my GCSE‘s because of the legendary Championship Manager Italia. I played incarnations of the game less at uni, but with its successor, Football Manager has seen me succumb once again. I’m currently playing Football Manager 2009 with its great 3D match engine which looks great on my (shiny!) new Macbook Pro.

I go through phases with games such as this. The trouble is that they’ve recently released Football Manager Live, which is to the sporting genre what World of Warcraft is to the MMPORG. I just know for a fact that if I started playing that then even my semblance of a social life would disappear! 😮

What are YOUR barriers to productivity? Do you accept and work with them, or are you working to eliminate them?

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SEN Department E-Learning Session

My school’s Special Educational Needs department asked me to do an E-Learning Session just for them, as many within the department couldn’t make my lunchtime sessions for one reason or another:

One of the tools I recommended I haven’t yet done an E-Learning Staff Session on. That’s Voki – here’s a sample of what you can do:

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Get a Voki now!

I’ve run a session – and therefore created guides to – the other four web applications I recommend for SEN practitioners:

My Twitter network, as ever, were extremely helpful – although unfortunately I received some of the ideas after I’d finalised the resources:

elearnr: what have I been up to?

As the first term of the school year nears its end, the time has come to reflect on the blog that’s accompanied my new role. The start of this year saw me become E-Learning Staff Tutor at my school, a newly-created role for which the job description was only finalised two weeks ago!

It made sense to me to set up a blog to accompany this role, for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a useful way to disseminate e-learning resources, links and guides to staff at my school.
  2. It means my work can have an impact beyond my school via blog readers and RSS subscribers (up to 129 of the latter so far, according to Feedburner).
  3. It’s a handy record to show the work I’ve been doing as Ofsted will be coming knocking sometime this year.
  4. It serves as a point of contact above and beyond email and gives me a ‘home’ (as I’m without an office!)

This shows you what I’ve been blogging about, mostly (courtesy of Wordle):

…and this is a complete overview of posts reflecting the sessions I’ve run this term (in reverse order):

I hope you find them useful! 😀

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5 interesting web applications to mess around with when you’re bored over Christmas!

Since the beginning of this term I’ve run one session per week in my role as E-Learning Staff Tutor. The most common question after ‘How come you get so many free periods?’ is Where do you get all your e-learning ideas from?

I can finally reveal the answer. I get most of them from… Twitter!

It’s probably best to show Twitter in action rather than just try to explain it. It’s a bit like a hybrid of the best bits of Facebook and Here’s the message I sent to my Twitter network on Tuesday evening as I was leaving school at around 4pm:

And here’s the response I got by the time I’d got home and had a cup of coffee!

…and then later, when educators in other places around the world weren’t asleep:

Depending on the time of day and who’s in your Twitter network depends on where in the world you get your responses from. It’s like ‘microblogging’, crossed with text messaging (you’ve only got 140 characters) and a social network all rolled into one. You can share links, ideas and resources really quickly and easily. 🙂

Here’s links, in alphabetical order, to the sites mentioned above. My top 5 are in bold, whilst those in red are those currently blocked by our school network. If you’re reading this and from somewhere else in the world, your mileage may vary… :-p

  • Animoto – an easy way to create high-quality and engaging videos using images and text
  • Backpack– an organizer (calendar, group discussion tools, etc.)for small businesses and organizations
  • blip.tv – a video sharing service designed for creators of user-generated content
  • Bloglines – an RSS feed reading application
  • Blogger/Blogspot – a blogging platform by Google
  • Delicious – online ‘social’ bookmarking
  • Diigo – online ‘social’ bookmarking with advanced features and groups
  • Dropbox – store, sync and share files online
  • Drop.io – privately share files up to 100MB online
  • Edublogs.org – a blogging platform dedicated to educational blogging
  • Edublogs.tv – online video sharing and embedding tool
  • Eduspaces – a social network and blogging platform for education
  • Elluminate – ‘elearning and collaboration solution’ (not free)
  • Evernote – ‘allows you to capture information (text, photos, etc.) and make it accessible from anywhere
  • Flickr – a photo-sharing website with Creative Commons-licensed content
  • GMail – an online email application from Google that provides lots of free storage
  • Google Calendar – a web-based calendar application that has RSS feeds and a reminder service
  • Google Docs – stores documents online and allows collaboration with others
  • Google Earth – a more powerul and 3D version of Google Maps (requires installation)
  • Google Maps – online mapping with advanced features
  • Google Reader – an RSS feed reading application
  • Google Scholar – search academic journals and articles
  • iGoogle – customizable home page (.com blocked at our school, .co.uk not!)
  • Kizoom – web-based ‘intelligent’ public transport alerter and organizer
  • Last.fm – a social network built around music that also recommends music based on your listening habits
  • MobileMe – online synchronization service for Apple users (not free)
  • Moodle – an Open-Source content management system based on constructivist principles (requires installation on a web server)
  • Ning – allows you to create your own social network very easily
  • Posterous – very simple and easy-to-use blogging platform
  • PBwiki – an easy-to-use wiki creation tool
  • Picnik – powerful online image-editing application
  • PingMe – a social and mobile interactive reminder service for getting things done
  • Remember The Milk – an online to-do list with advanced features
  • Second Life – a 3D ‘virtual world’ (requires software download)
  • SlideShare – upload and share presentations
  • Syncplicity – sync, store and share files online
  • TeacherTube – YouTube for educational videos
  • Toodledo – an online to-do list
  • Twitter – a micro social-networking tool
  • UStream – live video streaming and chat rooms
  • VoiceThread – allows comments around content such as videos, pictures and Powerpoints
  • Voki – make your own speaking avatar to embed in your blog, wiki or website
  • Wetpaint – a good-looking wiki creation tool
  • Wikispaces – a wiki creation tool
  • WordPress – a highly-configurable Open-Source blogging platform (requires installation on a web server)
  • Zoho Show – create collaborative, online Powerpoint-like presentations

Remember, with collaborative applications you have to give a little to get a little for it to be really useful. Try out Twitter over the holiday period. Merry Christmas!

PS Twitter’s best used with a dedicated program rather than the web interface. I recommend the wonderful TweetDeck, available for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux. 🙂

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