Educating Modern Learners, a new subscription site from Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon, is now live. Excitingly, the editor of the site is none other than Audrey Watters, whose blog and newsletter I’m sure you already subscribe to.
They commissioned me to write one of the first articles to appear on the site, a process that meant I benefitted from the editorial eye of Audrey. The post is currently available via the free subscription tier for the site, so you’ll need to sign up to access it.
The article is entitled Rethinking Literacy for the Web. In it, I provide an introduction to what the web means for literate practices, the challenge for educators, and ways we can respond.
The time has come to move beyond discussions of whether the web, social networks, and mobile devices are inherently “good” or “bad.” Debates about whether such things can (or should) be used for learning drag on while the next generation cobble together their own understanding of an increasingly blended online/offline world. It’s time we as educators stepped up and taught more than just “e-safety.” It’s time we started facilitating learning experiences around reading, writing, and participation on the web.
Once you’ve had a read I’d be interested in your comments here (I don’t think they’re turned on over there!)
You don’t have to believe in the lazy education is broken meme to think that there’s something wrong with the way we educate young people. As someone who worked for seven years as a teacher and senior leader in schools I’m not just some guy who has a view on education: I’ve seen what it looks and feels like behind the scenes in both ‘outstanding” and ‘failing’ schools.
I want to make it clear that nothing I’m about to say has anything to do with the role, status or professionalism of teachers. As I’ve said many a time, most teachers I’ve ever come across do a fantastic job and are dedicated and hard-working. My target here is, specifically, the English education ‘system’ (if we can even call it that).
It’s also important to bear in mind that I’m not talking about my own choices as a parent here, but rather me qua parent. The question I’m asking isn’t “should I homeschool my child?” but rather, “how should we as a society educate young people?” It’s a symptom of our age that the former is always assumed whenever I bring it up. Individualism and the logic of the market seems to pervade everything these days.
I’m also going to be setting aside the purpose of education for the moment. Going into any depth here would make this into either an inordinately long post, or a series of posts. That’s not my aim and, in any case, I spent a couple of years exploring that question with Purpos/ed.
Secondary school is a huge waste of time. I mean that literally.
Let’s do the maths.
Many secondary schools I’ve taught in divide the day into six 50-minute lessons. Children go to school five days per week so that’s 5 x 6 x 50 = 1500 minutes (or 25 hours) in lessons. However, in terms of learning time, once we’ve factored in changeovers, settling, the costs of task-switching and routine tasks/admin, that’s probably down to 5 x 6 x 30 = 900 minutes (or 15 hours).
The way that people get better at things is through formative feedback. In other words, someone gives you timely advice on a thing you’ve just done and shows you how to improve it. That could be how to write persuasively or how to swing a tennis racquet. In a class of 30+ children formative feedback happens less often that we’d all like.
So, going back to the calculations, the learning that takes place in 15 hours per week with a 1:30 ratio could probably take place a lot more quickly and accurately with a 1:1 or 1:5 ratio. I’m well aware that the research on class sizes shows that numbers have to be cut dramatically to make a difference but with these kinds of ratios Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development starts kicking in on a regular basis. My son’s footballing skills came on a lot more during 16 hours in a small group during half-term than they would have done in 16 one-hour lessons within a large group over four months.
We can, and I believe should, organise learning differently. We could have smaller learning groups for 20 weeks per year and the other 20 weeks could be the equivalent of apprenticeships – putting those knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours into action. Or each week could be divided into two. Or they could do one week on, one week off. There’s many permutations.
I know I’m likely to get some pushback in the form of how important a role schools play in terms of socialisation. I get that. But I think it’s important to realise that, as parents, we seem to have outsourced learning and socialisation and conflated it with reliable babysitting to allow us to go to work. We’re missing the point by tinkering around the edges.
Having worked in schools with extremely poor pupil behaviour, I realise that this, too, is likely to be another objection. But then, behaviour is the responsibility of those who construct the environment as well as the actions of the individual. If we organised learning differently, in re-imagined spaces, then we’d probably get different kinds of behaviours.
In short, instead of asking what we need to do with schools to perpetuate what we’ve already got, perhaps we should be thinking about the society we want to create for our children when they grow up. All I’m asking for is a rethink. There’s no point in adding epicycles. Iteration is all well and good but, to begin with, you have to be heading in the right direction.
If you haven’t already read Will Richardson’s book Why School?I’d recommend it as a short read that fleshes out some of the points I’ve made above. Also, Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Animate on Changing Education Paradigms is a must-see on just how crazy the system has become. Once that’s whetted your appetite, then dive into Prof. Keri Facer’s marvellous Learning Futures. 🙂
Oh, and if you’re reading this as preparation for, or part of, your teacher training, good luck!
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).
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:
What is the purpose of school?
What is the changing role of the teacher, and how do we support that new role?
How do we help students discover their passions?
What is the essential learning that schools impart to students?
How do we adapt our curriculum to the technologies that kids are already using?
What does an educated person look like today?
How do we change policy to support more flexible time and place learning?
What are the essential practices of teachers in a system where students are learning outside of school?
How do we ensure those without privilege have equal access to quality education and opportunity?
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!
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.
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
A few weeks ago on an episode of the excellent podcast EdTechWeekly, Jeff Lebow, one of the co-hosts, expressed how he is still a little amazed by wireless networking. It started me thinking about how much technological stuff in my everyday life I take for granted these days – and how that’s a good thing. 🙂
Absolutely! I don’t mean by the title of this post that I want educational technology to be ‘boring’ in the sense of it being tedious. No, I mean ‘boring’ in the sense of it being so commonplace and ubiquitous that it isn’t thought about. I want us to get to a stage with all of this Web 2.0 stuff1 where we’re constantly focused on what we can do with the technology. A bit like wireless networking – at least for most of us… :-p
I’ve been contacted by four different postgraduate researchers in the last two weeks. It’s getting to the stage where I’m considering setting up a new website/discussion space! A couple of them just wanted permission to use some of my stuff in their theses, one is already a member of the Edublogosphere, but one asked a very pertinent question:
My stumbling across some of your postings last night was my first trip in the edublogosphere. What else is going on out there?
As you can imagine, I hardly knew where to start! As I like to reply to emails ASAP, I replied thus:
Find some blogs to read. My Google Reader shared items might be a good place to start. Also try the big names in the edublogosphere – search for Stephen Downes, Will Richardson, Vicki Davis, Ewan McIntosh, and Dave Warlick. 🙂
Get yourself a Google account and use Google Reader to subscribe to the RSS feeds of blogs (don’t know how? click here)
Start using Twitter. At first you’ll think “What on earth…?”. After a while you’ll find it indispensible.
Start blogging yourself. Doesn’t matter what, but start making links with people. It’s the conversation that counts! Try edublogs to get you started. 😀
There’s a Hebrew proverb that I’m sure almost every educator will have heard before: “Do not confine your children to your learning, for they were born in a different time.” The same could be said of the Edublogosphere. I can hardly recommend that people start by using the same tools I did when things have moved on so much in the last 3-4 years! What would YOU recommend?
This Sunday, EdTechRoundup will be discussing just this issue – how to get started in the Edublogosphere – from 7.45pm onwards. Please do join us and give your input. The session will be recorded and go out as a podcast.
If you can’t make it, or just want to get the conversation going before then, please add your comment below! :-p
Karyn Romeis’ dissertation is going to be on “the use of social media on the professional practice of learning professionals”. She’s asked the edublogosphere for ‘testimonies’ – how we got started and the difference it’s made to our professional practice.
For what it’s worth, I’m going to chip in with my $0.02 as Karyn has often helped me before and has been a valued commenter, both here and on the now-defunct teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk.
The questions Karyn has asked are:
How did you get started with social media?
What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?
What difference has it made in your professional practice?
I shall take the points, as they say, in turn:
1. How did you get started with social media?
Although I knew what a blog was before 2004 (they came up in Google search results, for one) I didn’t really start subscribing to RSS feeds, etc. before then. I read the early ‘big names’ in what was then a small edublogosphere – the likes of Will Richardson, Dave Warlick, Stephen Downes and Wesley Fryer.
After subscribing to a number of blogs, including educational ones, I started blogging myself in late 2005. My confidence had grown from commenting on a range of blogs and having created websites the old-fashioned way as a teenager. I set up my teaching-related blog on a sub-domain of the mrbelshaw.co.uk website I was using with students in my classroom. When I found myself off work for a sustained period due to stress I began to blog at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk every day. Like so many in the early days, I saw the huge potential of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, and genuinely believed they could revolutionise the way we deliver learning to young people.
Wikis came later. I still haven’t found a way to use them in the classroom in a truly collaborative way, but I’m willing to keep trying. I’ve dabbled with podcasting, but blogs are my main method of communication on the Internet. Blogs, wikis and podcasts were – and to many still are – the defining tools of Web 2.0. Indeed, it’s pretty much the title of Will Richardson’ book.
2. What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?
I’ve mentioned the first part of this question above, but the journey unfolded in the following way. First of all, I started getting comments on my blog. These actually came from ‘seminal bloggers’ – in some cases figures such as the luminaries mentioned above. This spurred me on. During my absence from school due to stress, blogging gave me a focus, positive feedback and, I believe, aided my recovery.
The numbers of subscribers to the RSS feed of my blog slowly grew from late 2005 until I stopped blogging there at the end of 2007. During this time, I witnessed a huge expansion in the size of the edublogosphere. Ordinary class teachers (like myself) started putting their heads above the parapet online. First, this was mainly in the USA, but gradually I became aware of those in International Schools, then in Australia, and finally in the UK. I’m of the opinion that we still haven’t got enough English bloggers – Scotland’s at least 10 times smaller, population-wise, yet they put us to shame in the edublogosphere!
I’ve cleared my RSS feed reader and started again from zero a couple of times now. I think it’s probably a useful thing to do at least once per year: it gives you a reason to go out looking for new content and angles that can motivate and inspire you.
Finally, Twitter has been somewhat of a revelation. I’ve had my account about a year and a half now. During that time I’ve made so many more connections than I could have done before. You can get answers to very specific questions almost in real-time, begin impromptu more formal discussions or simply get the latest ‘buzz’. I love it. 😀
3. What difference has it made in your professional practice?
I’ve always been a fairly inquisitive person (I chose to study Philosophy as an undergraduate) and never been scared to mix things up a bit. In fact, the reason I became a teacher was to play my part in reforming the system for the better. Being part of a global community of teachers, however, has given me confidence, the knowledge and, in some cases, the skills, to get my point across in my educational institution.
There is such a thing as the ‘wisdom of crowds’, but I think it’s probably more like the ‘wisdom of the network’. Twitter’s a wonderful example. Thinkers such as George Siemens have a theory to explain this – it’s called Connectivism. Learners are ‘nodes on a network’ and the network harbours a great amount of knowledge, on tap at almost any time.
In my interactions with students, it’s allowed me to ‘flatten the walls of the classroom’ – to use a Warlickian phrase. Although students could keep up with homework, etc. with mrbelshaw.co.uk 1.0, the advent of learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk saw the dawn of mrbelshaw.co.uk 2.0, including links to Web 2.0 apps (wikis, podcasts, YouTube video clips, and so on).
It’s also meant I could start really showing my colleagues that they could use the Internet quickly and easily to interact with students. Having to learn HTML or to use a program with a potentially difficult-to-use learning curve to get content online, was a barrier for most teachers. Now, it’s as easy (in most cases) as signing up for an account somewhere, typing/uploading stuff and then sharing the web address with students. It also gives you the chance, again in most cases, to get feedback.
I’ve been fortunate to begin my teaching career at a time when such revolutionary tools are available. It’s just a shame that they haven’t – yet – caused a learning revolution. I’m four years into my teaching career and very much looking forward to what comes next. Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web? 🙂
I started reading educational blogs in late 2004/early 2005. Back then, there were only a few educators blogging – the likes of Will Richardson, Vicki Davis, Wesley Fryer. Oh, and the inimitable Stephen Downes. There was (and still is) a dearth of UK-based educational bloggers.
One thing they had in common, however, was a revolutionary message: that education must adapt to the 21st century or suffer the consequences. There were fantastic conversations to follow across these blogs. This is one of the reasons I started teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk in late 2005 – to become part of this ‘conversation’. 🙂
Now, in early 2008, things have changed. Whilst it’s great that there’s more educators than ever blogging, tweeting, etc. the focus has shifted. Those that were formerly in the classroom and relating the changing world and tools available to everyday educational experience are no longer in those positions; educators who have no desire to transform education are blogging. The edublogosphere has changed from being about ‘the conversation’ to being part of ‘the network’. It all smacks a little too much of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and, to be honest, viral marketing of Web 2.0 apps.
At the end of the day, the map is not the territory. My wife, for example, memorized the map of Newcastle-upon-Tyne when we got married and she moved up there. In many respects she could navigate herself around the city better than I could – someone who had lived close-by for 15 years or more. She could name the most popular places for pizza, show visitors the major attractions. But she didn’t know the city in the way a local would. She knew the what, but not the why.
The same goes, to a great extent, with the edublogosphere. Three years ago educators were looking to using new technologies to move towards a new model of education. Nowadays it seems to be all about bragging how you’ve used (web) application X before anyone else has. The edublogosphere seems to be overrun by educators who know the what but not the why. They’re impressed by those who can ‘leverage the power of the network’. This means, in practice, seeing how many people following you on Twitter respond to a shout out for information/hello’s whilst you move out of the classroom and into a consultancy role.
I guess from the above you can tell I’m not in favour of the new direction the edublogosphere’s headed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still people keeping it real and not jumping on the latest bandwagon. But they’re becoming increasingly hard to find. Technology and the teaching methods that gave a vibrancy to the early edublogosphere have been distorted in order to be shoehorned into a corporate vision of schools I, for one, find repugnant.
So how should we fix it? Well I’m not saying that I’m not also to blame. I know that I am. These days I use technology to make my life easier rather than to push boundaries. Perhaps we need a commitment to collaboratively develop new pedagogies rather than remark on how ‘cool’ it would be to use any given tool? I can’t believe that it’s 2008 and we’re still using a method of education more than a little reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution… 🙁