Tag: conversation

Education: it’s what you can’t see that counts.

I had a great, wide-ranging discussion last night with Bud Hunt (@budtheteacher), Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) and Steve Hargadon (@stevehargadon) after the second day of the DML Conference 2012. Much of it focused on the role of technology in educational reform with much of it sparked by an excellent keynote panel of which Connie Yowell (MacArthur Foundation) was the star.

To me, the whole problem with educational reform is that what matters can’t be seen or touched. It’s physically intangible.

What do we tend to do? We focus on the things that we can see. As Bud pointed out, teachers in his district will sometimes point to discrepancies in access to technology as being a limiting factor on their performance. Others look at the material conditions of one learning environment and attribute ‘success’ to these easily-observed factors.

We should be used to this by now. Living in a world of networks (and networks of networks) we know that it’s the invisible bonds, the weak ties, that connect us to people and ideas. As Connie Yowell pointed out it’s this kind of innovation that scales. Audrey Watters extended this point when she commented that technology scales vertically, whereas people scale horizontally.

So what can we do about this? The first thing we need to do, I’d suggest, is to surface processes and networks. These both need to be as open and inclusive as possible and we need ways to talk about them to make them more tangible.

Any suggestions? I’d love to hear them in the comments.

Meeting with Ed.D. thesis supervisor: restructuring

Pebble Art

Last night I had a Skype conversation with Steve Higgins, my Ed.D. thesis supervisor at Durham University, for the first time in a few months. As I half-expected when I set myself the challenge, a deadline of 1st January 2011 is going to be pretty much unachievable now as I’m only 34,000 words into a 60,000 word thesis. That being said, Easter 2011 is looking good.

I find it useful to record our Skype conversations to go back through at my leisure. I haven’t done that yet – but I did capture the main points of our conversation via the Skype chat window. Here’s the highlights:

Other people’s work

As long as I acknowledge them, I can get other people to draw what I can only describe. Whilst I’ve made an attempt at representing what I discuss in diagrammatic form, there’s certain conventions and methods that I’m just not familiar with. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to afford to commission someone, especially given that I want to publish my thesis as a book.

Adjectives & verbs

Steve said something which, although he’s mentioned it before, struck a chord with me. He stated his belief that with ‘digital literacy’ the adjective and the verb seem to be the wrong way around. That is to say that ‘digital’ is the modifier for ‘literacy’ when it should be vice-versa. This led to a conversation about the final two chapters of my thesis before the conclusion. I intend to show that ‘digital literacy’ – and even ‘new literacies’ are too ambiguous to be nailed-down for all time. Instead, we should focus on notions of ‘digitality’ or similar.

Structure of thesis

Most theses, or so I’m led to believe, contain an introduction, followed by a methodology followed by a literature review, explication of points, and a conclusion. Not mine. As I’m writing a philosophical, non-empirical yet vocational doctoral thesis a slightly different format is required. As I began to explain in Ed.D. thesis restructure, I’m going to situate my methodology section almost half-way through my thesis, using it as a lever or a lens through which to focus the rest of my thesis. As for the literature review, this will be in (at least) four parts:

  1. History of traditional (print) literacy
  2. The history of digital literac(ies)
  3. New Literacies
  4. Policy documents (digitality)

That should keep things interesting. 🙂


Usually, as with most people writing something lengthy, I’d decide on my conclusion and then work backwards. That’s not entirely possible given the constant state of flux my thesis is in. As befitting Pragmatism, I’m making tentative conclusions. At the moment I’m given to concluding that the process (i.e. the inquiry) of notions surrounding ‘digital literacy’ and the like is at least as important as the resultant definition. In fact, I’m leaning more 70/30 in favour of process over product.

Steve quoted Douglas Adams at me. If this quotation doesn’t end up in my thesis, then you know something has gone horribly wrong:

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!


Image CC BY pshutterbug

Ten big questions for education

I need your input and help. It’s for a good cause. I’m a firm believer that educational innovation is a bottom-up process. Could you help me (and others) prove that?

I’ll try and keep this as brief as possible if you promise to do the background reading and try to contribute in some way. :-p


EduCon 2.0 is both a conversation and a conference.
And it is not a technology conference. It is an education conference. It is, hopefully, an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams.

This year’s was 29th-31st of January at the Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia, USA (which is why I wasn’t there).

Background Reading

Will Richardson blogged about what happened at Educon and the next steps required to turn conversations into action:


Will crowdsourced 10 questions that educators need to answer effectively:

  1. What is the purpose of school?
  2. What is the changing role of the teacher, and how do we support that new role?
  3. How do we help students discover their passions?
  4. What is the essential learning that schools impart to students?
  5. How do we adapt our curriculum to the technologies that kids are already using?
  6. What does an educated person look like today?
  7. How do we change policy to support more flexible time and place learning?
  8. What are the essential practices of teachers in a system where students are learning outside of school?
  9. How do we ensure those without privilege have equal access to quality education and opportunity?
  10. How do we evaluate and validate the informal, self-directed learning that happens outside of school?


The next step was the creation of a wiki – 10fored.wikispaces.com. This is a place to continue the conversation and provide tangible results. Taking a step back but keeping an overview, Will has asked for volunteer moderators for each of the questions.

I volunteered for Question #6: What does an educated person look like today? I’m interested in how it relates to my thesis, the original title of which was ‘What does it mean to be ‘educated’ and ‘digitally literate’ in the 21st century’.

Help me out. Send a tweet to @dajbelshaw with the #10fored hashtag with some ideas. Or, better yet, add your thoughts to the wiki page!

Thanks in advance! 😀

(image CC BY CarbonNYC)

3 ways Google Wave could be used in the classroom.

Google Wave logo

So you’re an educator who’s managed to score an invitation to Google Wave. You’ve had a play and it’s all very nice, but how could it be used in education?

Before I go any further, read these:

Google Wave conversation

Here are 3 ways I think Google Wave could be used by students for actual learning rather than just playing with something because it’s cool.

1. Empowering learners

There was a great presentation at the TeachMeet that accompanied the Scottish Learning Festival this year. Fearghal Kelly talked about his experiments with giving one of his classes more ownership over their learning. He ran them through the learning objectives and the content they would need to cover and then the student co-created and collaborated on planning what exactly they wanted to do.

Google Wave would be great for this as it allows wiki-like editing but is more threaded and conversation-like. The whole wave can also be ‘replayed’ to see how the thinking of the group evolved over time. It’s something I’d definitely be trying if I had a GCSE or AS/A2-level class… :-p

2. Student feedback

The most powerful learning experiences are those where students have ownership of their learning. That’s been dealt with above. But that’s of no use if students don’t know how to get better in a particular subject or discipline!

That’s why I think Google Wave could be used as an Assessment for Learning tool. Learning as a conversation could be shown in practice through having an individual wave for each student/teacher relationship. Alternatively, these could be small group and ability based to enable peer learning.

I can imagine waves being used for ongoing learning conversations once Google Wave becomes a feature of Google Apps for Education. I’ll certainly be experimenting with it for that purpose! 😀

3. Flattening the walls of the classroom

One of the really exciting things about Google Wave is the ‘bots’ you can add to automate processes. One of these bots allows for the automatic translation of text entered in one language into that of the recipient.

Whilst language teachers may be up in arms about the idea of ‘not needing’ to learn another’s language, I think it could be fantastic for removing barriers for worldwide collaboration. Imagine the power of students having the digital and wave-equivalent of ‘penpals’ in various classrooms around the world.

Now that really would ‘flatten the walls‘ of the classroom. 🙂

What excites YOU about Google Wave’s potential for education?

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Conversations about (new) literacies

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m (still!) studying towards my Ed.D. on the subject of ‘digital literacies’. The subject crops up in various networks of which I’m part from time-to-time, not least via my Twitter network.

Twitter only allows 140 characters which can be a little limiting sometimes and tweets are hard to collate and archive. As a result, I decided we needed a old-skool forum. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you:



It’s powered by bbPress, the sibling of the excellent WordPress (which powers this blog). It was super-easy to setup and there’s already some first-class debate and conversation going on. Head on over and take part! 😀

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The Third Conversation

Image by biverson via Flickr

In the beginning was ‘The Conversation’, ‘The New Story’, or how new technologies had the potential to change the educational landscape. What could we do with these new technologies. Did it mean the end of schools? This was from around 2003/4 up until 2006.

From around 2006 until 2008, conversations centred around applying these new technologies in the educational landscapes. What are the barriers to implementation? What’s the best tool for this particular learning outcome? I’ve just spotted this new Web 2.0 tool – has anyone used it in their classroom yet? Things got a lot quicker from 2007 onwards by many educators beginning to use Twitter.

At the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 a new conversation is starting. Perhaps as a consequence of what has been termed the ‘Credit Crunch‘, there’s a renewed focus on the signal/noise ratio. What’s important in education? What do we need to see in practice for things to change? Is literacy in the 21st century different?

I just hope this conversation doesn’t end before I finish my Ed.D. thesis! 😮

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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


  • 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