Let’s begin exploring our quickly changing ideas about digital literacy by noting the various skills required to engage in a contemporary online learning experience: a live session (now available in an online archived version) on digital literacy/literacies led by Doug Belshaw for #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others.
If we really begin with the basics, we have to start by navigating time zones since the session starts and ends at different times depending on the time zone within which you’re living (noon, PT, on Presidents’ Day/Washington’s Birthday 2013 here in San Francisco, 8 pm in Northumberland, England, where Belshaw is facilitating the live session that initiates a two-week course of study on digital literacy). Then we have to find our way into the online session within Blackboard Collaborate—recognizing that we’ll need a desktop, laptop, or mobile device to access the session.
Once we’re there, choices abound. If we simply want to observe, we can stay within the Blackboard Collaborate platform, watch, and listen. (Watch out for that live chat stream flying past us on the left-hand side of the screen—another skill to master.) Or we can actively participate by using our skills to engage in that online chat. We can go a few steps further by using online tools to place symbols on the map at the beginning of the session to show where in the world we are while participating, or draw/type responses to questions posed on some of the slides displayed during Belshaw’s presentation, or use the live VoIP interface to actually ask questions.
If we’re having trouble seeing the slides through the Blackboard Collaborate presentation, we can hop over to SlideShare and view the slides there—knowing they will remain on SlideShare as a resource to us and to other learners long after the live session has ended.
But wait: we’re far from finished. Belshaw invites greater levels of interactivity through use of yet another bit of free software—Etherpad—if we want to participate in a few live exercises, including the act of individually and then collaboratively defining digital literacy to show how our own ideas evolve during the hour-long learning opportunity. We can also return to Etherpad, after the session ends, to review what we’ve accomplished together within this #etmooc session and also view a variety of links to other resources that were mentioned during the live session. And there are even a few people out there carrying on yet another backchannel discussion on Twitter via the #etmooc hashtag; postings in our Google+ community and our blog hub can’t be far behind.
Because Belshaw and others in the session are sharing so many wonderful resources, we need to be able to grab some of those resources for later viewing, so another very useful skill is the one that allows us to click on some of those links to open them in other browser windows. That will allow us to review them in a more leisurely fashion once the live session ends and to bookmark those to which we want to return later for even more in-depth exploration—which means that having an account with Delicious, Diigo, or others and knowing how to use at least one of those accounts is going to be helpful to us in keeping track of and accessing session resources when we’re ready for them. We’re certainly also going to want to be able to view Belshaw’s TEDx Warwick session on “The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies”; or the web literacies white paper he, his colleagues at the Mozilla Foundation, and others have produced; or his “NeverEndingThesis” page with links to his other digital literacies presentations and his “What Is ‘Digital Literacy’?” Ph.D. thesis with its sections on new forms of literacy worldwide, ambiguities of digital literacy, new literacies, and a matrix of “the eight essential elements of digital literacies.”
Having mastered at least some of these skills, we’re now in a position to actually deal with the fabulous content and begin defining and understanding what digital literacy/literacies means to any of us involved in training-teaching-learning. At the heart of this one-hour session is Belshaw’s wonderful digital literacy version of a periodic table comprised of the eight essential elements of digital literacies he developed for his Ph.D. thesis publication: Cognitive (Cg), Constructive (Cn), Communicative (Co), Civic (Ci), Critical (Ct), Creative (Cr), Confident (Cf), and Cultural (Cu).
If we now step back and take a long, deep breath, we see the bigger picture of digital literacy/literacies and learning. What we’re obviously dealing with in a session like this one is the challenge of processing the deluge of information and information resources coming our way—which means that a major skill to develop is how to focus on essentials while sifting through the huge number of claims on our attention documented in this article. Recognizing that an ability to multitask while engaged in complex cognitive endeavors (e.g., learning) is largely a myth, it seems to me that a basic element of digital literacy/literacies is recognizing and acknowledging what we are and are not capable of doing; compensating for what we cannot do; and finding ways to gain as much as we can from our digital experiences so that we can be successful rather than being overwhelmed.
And if this review of some of what happens during a dynamic and wonderfully rewarding one-hour learning experience leads us to a better understanding of what we (and our learners) face and how we can resolve some of our learning challenges, it has helped bring us one step closer to developing the sort of digital literacies #etmooc and its creators and facilitators are inspiring.