Digital Literacy/Literacies 101: Doug Belshaw and #etmooc

February 18, 2013

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.

etmoocIf 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.

EtherpadBut 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.”

Belshaw--Digital_Literacy--Eight_EssentialsHaving 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.

N.B.: This is the ninth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


High Tech at Tyger’s: Resistance Is Futile

January 19, 2013

Seeing someone wearing and using a Google Project Glass product at a neighborhood diner here in San Francisco was not among the experiences I expected to have over brunch this morning. Like so many other people, I’ve been fascinated by reports of the continuing development of this latest foray into the world of augmented reality. I have also been wondering when we would have a chance to play with what Google has been developing and start seeing how it will affect the world of training-teaching-learning. It’s been my long-standing assumption that my first face-to-face encounter with a Google Glass device would be at a tech or educational conference.

But there I was, taking in the familiar faces of the Saturday morning crowd at Tyger’s (in San Francisco’s Glen Park Village), when my eyes froze at the sight of someone obviously wearing one of the devices that has been so prominently featured in so many articles over the past several months.

Google_GlassesThe stunning thing about this sighting is that Tyger’s is far from a hotbed of technology. It actually feels as if it sprang full-blown from the pages of Ray Oldenberg’s The Great Good Place and continues to be a living example of a vibrant, dynamic Third Place—a place where you can walk in whenever it’s open, know that you’re going to find a familiar face, sit with friends over a nice relatively inexpensive meal, and participate in conversation rather than being surrounded by people more engaged with smartphones and tablets than with face-to-face exchanges. It’s the sort of place where candidates in local board of supervisors races drop in to talk one-on-one with residents of their district, and where strangers don’t stay strangers if they patronize the place more than a couple of times.

Because Tyger’s is set up to foster conversation—the tables are set very close to one another, and it’s impossible not to overhear bits and pieces of nearby conversations—I didn’t feel the slightest reticence about immediately walking over to the table where the Google Glass user was sitting with his family. It also helps that a) I assume anyone wearing a new piece of technology is going to be far from shy about talking about it, and b) I’m hopelessly curious and socially inept enough to think that chatting up a total stranger is part of what fosters learning and nurtures new connections.

Our brief conversation quickly confirmed that the device actually was a fully-functioning Google Glass device; that it is not yet available to the general public and probably won’t be available to most of us for “quite a while”; that he didn’t find it at all difficult to interact with those with whom he was dining while also taking advantage of what the device offers; and that he was in possession of the device because he (of course) works at Google.

Returning to the people with whom I was sitting (“you really are a geek,” one friend lovingly admonished me), I took advantage of the fact that I was far enough away from him to not be an obvious nuisance, but was close enough to get a first-hand look at how someone wearing a Google Glass product would function in what is overwhelming an onsite Third Place rather than an extension of a virtual community.

What I noticed was impressive. He was sitting with his wife and one other adult, and was holding an infant in his lap. There was no visible sign that he was anything other than completely engaged with his child and the other people present at that table throughout the entire meal. And the way the device was positioned on his head (a small silver band with the tiniest of cameras positioned near his left eye without appearing to obscure his vision) made it relatively unobtrusive. In fact, he seemed far more present than most people who use smartphones and tablets appear to be—which, for me, raises some interesting questions about all I’ve read over the past few years regarding our overrated ability to multitask.

In our snarkier moments, many of us have reacted negatively to the sight of people with their Bluetooth devices plugged into their ears, and have suggested that we appear to be one step away from becoming part of a Borg collective. We’ve also suggested that, like the Borg, we’re falling into a frightening pattern of sheepishly accepting that “resistance is futile.”

Yet when I watched that Google staffer behaving no differently than anyone else at Tyger’s was behaving, and noticed that no one else at Tyger’s was even reacting to the presence of someone with a new tech device that is not yet available for purchase by most members of the general public, I found my attitude shifting just a bit. I no longer feel as if “resistance is futile” is a completely negative reaction to the sight of someone wearing a Google Glass product; I’m now a step closer to understanding the appeal of the wearable technology that colleagues and I have been exploring through work on the 2013 New Medium Consortium Horizon Project Higher Education Report. And I’m even more curious about what it will be like to try on a Google Glass device myself to see what it will bring to the entire field of training-teaching-learning.

N.B.: The photo accompanying this article is a generic Google Glass image.


Our Brains on News and Learning

June 17, 2011

Jack Fuller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, proves with his book What Is Happening to News that all of us involved in workplace learning and performance need to read far beyond the artificial walls surrounding our field of play.

While the book ostensibly leads us through the well-documented crisis and evolution of contemporary journalism, its focus on how our brains absorb and cause us to react to all the stimulus we encounter is perfect reading for anyone involved in training-teaching-learning.

As James Zull (The Art of Changing the Mind) and many others have already done, Fuller starts off with explorations of how our brains actually learn. His third chapter, “Models of the Mind,” is particularly helpful both in its brief survey and its description of the physiological reasons why practice makes perfect: “the connection between neurons strengthens through the coincidence of their mutual firing. As the neuroscience slogan has it, ‘Cells that fire together wire together.’ The more frequent the coincidence, the stronger the connection” (p. 34). For Fuller, that helps explain why repetition of statements through the  media we use has a long-term impact on how we perceive the world; for trainer-teacher-learners, it’s a first-rate reminder that being aware of how our brains work puts us in a position to be more effective in fostering the sort of learning experiences that produce positive effects among our learners and all they serve.

Fuller again, within the context of a discussion about contemporary journalism, reminds us that much of what we are facing is far from new: “We are not the first era to sense that distraction has altered our ability to think,” he observes as he notes that one of our seminal journalists, Walter Lippmann, documented the same effect in 1921 (pp.57-58).

And when he moves into a section on “the inundated brain,” he offers a thought worth quoting not only to those interested in why news reporting focuses so much on negative stories but also to those of us interested in knowing what happens to learners who are attempting to do too many things at one time: “Time  pressure alone also increases cognitive challenge and emotional response. Some studies have shown that when given tasks under severe deadlines, people use  more negative information—which suggests that negative emotions are in play—than when doing the same task without being time pressured. Multitasking and information overload, too, increase the challenge to the brain’s processing resources. And when a person’s information processing capacity is stressed through information overload or multitasking, she is more likely to rely on emotional cues and use social stereotypes in making decisions about another person” (p. 61).

Where Fuller’s analysis of our approach to the news really comes to life for trainer-teacher-learners is in his exploration of how we have moved from a dispassionate to an extremely passionate or emotional approach to journalism, as any of us recognize when we think of the difference between classroom lectures and highly interactive, skillfully facilitated learning opportunities: “The curve has shifted toward emotional presentation,” Fuller notes in exploring how news is commonly presented now. “The fact that you can’t find a new Walter Cronkite on television today is no fluke. The dispassionate approach embodied by Cronkite does not attract the audience that it used to. Walter Cronkite was lucky to have worked when he did… Today he would be cancelled. So, by the way, would Walter Lippmann” (p. 72).

And so, I would suggest, would any of us who insist on approaching learning as a one-way instructor-to-learner enterprise when our communication tools and our expectations are all directed toward the collaborative experiential approaches that social learning environments and tools along with social learning itself inspire us to seek.


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