Rethinking Digital Literacy: Defining Moments

July 17, 2015

With the roll-out of a new four-week ALA Editions online “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course a few days ago, I’m once again happily immersed in an ever-expanding, extremely intriguing moment of training-teaching-learning-exploring with a fantastic group of colleagues.

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicAt the heart of the course is a newly-forming community of learning (comprised of 45 library staff members and administrators from the United States and several other countries) creatively tackling the challenge of attempting to define digital literacy in ways that help community members more effectively design, develop, and deliver learning opportunities to foster greater digital literacy among those they serve. And there’s the rub: it turns out that even defining the term, as we’re seeing from Doug Belshaw’s Ed.D thesis (What is ‘digital literacy’?), is one of those enticingly wicked problems—something that is “difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements”—that can keep us up late into the night…for many nights.

I have gladly and very rewardingly spent quite a bit of time exploring digital literacy as a result of participating in discussions that began among those of us enrolled in the Educational Technology & Media MOOC—#etmooc—in early 2013. Some of those explorations led me to what I believe to be an essential digital literacy skill: an ability to work within much different time frames than we normally envision—time frames in which a “moment” (particularly in online learning, as described by Pekka Ihanainen and John Moravec in 2011) extends forward over periods of weeks, months, and even years while also extending backward as we come across, and respond to, threads of conversations we hadn’t previously seen. Think of all these exchanges as one magnificent synchronously asynchronous moment, and you begin to see what some of us are already viscerally experiencing.

Let’s be explicit here before we drown in jargon and fanciful proposals. Exploring digital literacy within the flexible structure of #etmooc started as a shared two-week journey with colleagues worldwide. By interacting with each other synchronously as well as asynchronously, supported by first-rate learning facilitators—including Alec Couros and Belshaw himself—we learned plenty. At the end of those two weeks, we walked away with more questions than answers, as is often the case when we are drawn into the exhilarating challenge of attempting to address a wicked problem. The result is that some of us continued to explore the theme; found and responded to tweets, blog posts, and online articles; and became part of an ongoing conversation with no easy-to-define beginning or ending point.

Even more rewarding for those of us who continue to explore ways to better serve our learners was the realization that the #etmooc connectivist approach provided plenty of inspiration as to how we can interact with and engage learners—an invaluable tool in a world where adult learning—particularly workplace learning—is often mistakenly viewed as something that detracts from “real work” rather than being seen as an integral element of successful work.

Building upon what I had already been doing to engage online learners (e.g., facilitating online office hours through Facebook, tweet chats, Google Hangouts, and other social media platforms), my colleagues and I continually look for ways to foster the creation and growth of communities of learning that support results-driven learning—we’re looking for positive, results-driven, meaningful change among learners here, not just blasting through a one-time session that produces nothing more than a learning badge or certificate of completion that fades almost as quickly as memories of the learning session do.

etmoocPerhaps one of the key lessons learned in that connectivist massive open online course (MOOC) was that rewarding, connected, significant learning is going to expand beyond the time constraints we initially expect to face when diving into a course with specific start and end dates—the #etmooc community, for example, continues to thrive long after the course formally ended. We need to keep that in mind; plan for it; and, when appropriate, support it so that our—and our learners’—learning goals are met.

This more or less brings us full circle to the current Rethinking Digital Literacy course. Inspired by those #etmooc discussions and creatively flexible pedagogical approaches, I developed a course that begins within a formal learning management system (Moodle); offers opportunities for the learners to carry the discussions and the learning beyond the boundaries of that course (e.g., into blog postings, tweets, shared videos); and encourages the learners to explore and use any digital tools they want to use in their exploration of digital literacy. Much to my delight, the discussions among the learners are already well underway just days after the course formally opened to them.

The spirit of exploring digital literacy via their digital literacy tools is stunningly and encouragingly on display within the course discussion boards. One learner, quickly understanding that the challenge of defining digital literacy is going to be an iterative process, posted an initial definition that was followed by two refinements within the first few days all of us began working together. A few others are already reaching out to each other to establish a formal hashtag that they can use to extend their conversations into Twitter—one way of retaining access to their discussions long after their access to the learning management system ends. Another, with a strong background in IT, is already extending our definitions by suggesting that one aspect of digital literacy involves “an ability to translate the functionality of one [digital] application or format to another”—in essence suggesting that digital literacy implies an ability to help others learn how to use digital tools and resources.

What is striking about all of this is the breadth of experience, the depth of thought, and the levels of engagement these adult learners are already bringing to the course in its earliest stages—and how many apparently disparate learning moments are combining into a shared/collaborative moment that is continuing to grow as I write these words.

Ultimately, I suspect that our collaborations will lead us to acknowledge this defining moment as one in which, by attempting to define digital literacy/literacies and expand our view of the synchronous and asynchronous moments we share in our online training-teaching-learning endeavors, we gain a deeper understanding of what digital literacy might be, how it works, and what it means to us and to those we serve in a rapidly evolving learning and work environment.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.


Open Education Week and the Open Movement: A Tribute

March 15, 2013

In writing recently about concepts of time, collaboration, and learning, I could have sought formal publication with payment and traditional copyright protections as I’ve done for some of the other writing I have completed on my own and with colleagues. But I didn’t. I chose, instead, to take an open movement approach: I posted the article, without expectation of financial remuneration, on my blog with Creative Commons licensing—a choice dictated as much by the topic and the way it was developed as by any other consideration.

The amazingly quick, positive, and unanticipated results have been magnificent. And they provide a rudimentary case study well worth documenting—one that viscerally displays the benefits of participating in the open movement, in Open Education Week, and open collaboration in training-teaching-learning and many other endeavors.

etmoocLet’s step back to the identifiable origins of this experience. My initial source of inspiration for that time/collaboration/ learning piece—and this one, in fact—was my continuing participation in a wonderful massive open online course (MOOC)#etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013. Because our latest #etmooc field of exploration is the open movement, I’ve been inclined to explore and write about it with MOOCmates in an open rather than pay-per-piece approach. This has facilitated the rapid development and exchange of still-evolving ideas; quickly inspired expansion of our synchronous and asynchronous conversations via a Google+ Hangout, live facilitated chats and other exchanges on Twitter, blog postings, comments in our Google+ community, and email exchanges; and helped us draw others who were not previously affiliated with the course into our platform-leaping exchanges.

A key moment in exploring our changing perceptions of time in collaboration and learning came when Christina Hendricks, a MOOCmate from Canada, posted a link to an article she had not yet read but suspected would contribute substantially to the conversation: “Pointillist, Cyclical, and Overlapping: Multidimensional Facets of Time in Online Learning,” published openly by Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) in November 2011. I devoured that piece in one sitting the same evening I received it—three nights ago; wrote about it a couple of days later—yesterday; and sent Moravec a link to my own article so he and Ihanainen would know that their work was continuing to influence others.

Open_Education_Week_2013_LogoNot more than an hour passed before Moravec wrote back, via email, with a brief note of thanks and a follow-up question (yesterday afternoon) that is continuing to expand the conversation as I complete this piece this (Friday) evening at the end of Open Education Week 2013. The conversation shot out additional tendrils this morning: Ihanainen wrote back with additional thoughts; provided a link to an online collaborative document in which he and another researcher are exploring the theme in a way that opens the conversation to anyone—regardless of time or place—who is interested in following and/or participating in it; and included a link to his collaborator’s blog that creates a bridge between the “Pointillist” article and the online collaborative document: “Response to ‘Pointillist, cyclical, and overlapping: Multidimensional facets on time in online education,” posted by Michael Sean Gallagher on November 27, 2011. To read Gallagher’s response and the ensuing exchange of 14 comments appended to that blog posting is to openly eavesdrop in the moment on conversations that originally occurred between November 2011 and January 2012—but remain as alive now as they were when Ihanainen and Gallagher composed them.

This is where we need to further develop what I referred to in my earlier description (yesterday) as “another digital literacy skill: an ability to function simultaneously within a variety of timeframes we don’t normally consider while we’re learning”: we need to take a deep breath, step back a bit, and deconstruct what is happening here so we can build upon it to the benefit of trainer-teacher-learners worldwide.

Here’s that deconstruction and summary: Hendricks and I join approximately 1,600 other learners in #etmooc between mid-January and early February 2013. We start following each other’s work via blogs and other postings and share ideas and resources throughout February and early March—including that link to “Pointillist.” I write about  “Pointillist” on March 14 and immediately connect online to Moravec, who then puts me in contact with Ihanainen, who then leads me to Gallagher’s writing on March 15. We now have a paradoxically in-the-moment asynchronous conversation connecting participants here in San Francisco (me), in Minnesota (Moravec), in Canada (Hendricks), in London (Gallagher), and in Finland (Ihanainen) via postings that at this point extend back to November 2011 and continue into the moment in which you are reading and reacting to these thoughts—yet another example of the sort of rhizomatic learning studied and facilitated in #etmooc and at the heart of the topic of timeless learning—which Ihanainen, Moravec, and Gallagher are calling the “Pedagogy of Simultaneity.”

There’s a real danger here that all this messiness and complexity—these uncontrollable shoots and roots multiplying at a mind-numbing rate from the original #etmooc rhizome—could make the average trainer-teacher-learner run for the hills and never look back. Which would be a real shame. For at the heart of all this is a wonderfully philosophical question that also has tremendous potential repercussions for how we develop, deliver, and facilitate training-teaching-learning in our onsite-online world: what can we do to build upon the best of our traditional models of learning while incorporating the techniques and tools that are quickly becoming available to us, show no sign of slowing down, and may have evolved further by the time you’re actually reading this?

What this comes down to for me personally is that in the moment in which I’m writing this, all these conversations have merged into one vibrant vital moment regardless of when others composed and expressed their thoughts or where they were, physically, when they composed and expressed those thoughts. What it comes down to for you as a reader-learner-participant is that the same moment is as vibrant and vital regardless of the date on your calendar as you read and respond to this and regardless of where you are sitting and what form of technology you are using to read this information. And that, I suspect, is the greatest lesson to be absorbed within this particular moment comprised of what we, as members of a fluid, open, pedagogy-of-simultaneity community, bring to it.

N.B.: This is the twenty-second in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc–and the 200th piece I have posted on “Building Creative Bridges.”


Learning Time and Heads That Spin

March 14, 2013

We may be identifying yet another digital literacy skill: an ability to function simultaneously within a variety of timeframes we don’t normally consider while we’re learning.

Before we take the leap into a bit of virtual time travel to pursue this idea, let’s ground ourselves within a familiar idea: much of the formal learning with which we’re familiar takes place within clearly-defined segments of time, e.g., an hour-long workshop or webinar, or a course that extends over a day, week, month, or semester. We work synchronously during face-to-face or online interactions, and we work asynchronously through postings that extend a conversation as long as the formal learning opportunity is underway and participants are willingly engaged.

etmoocWhat we are seeing as we more engagingly explore online learning in general and, more specifically, through a well-designed massive open online course (MOOC) like #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013, is that this connectivist learning process is far from linear—rhizomatic is one of the terms we’ve been using extensively throughout the course. We are also seeing that our learning process does not have to be limited to exchanges with learners and others who are participating within the formal linear timeframe suggested by a course such as #etmooc that officially begins in January 2013 and formally concludes at the end of March 2013. And that’s where we find ourselves on relatively new time turf.

What now is happening is that conversations can be comprised of those wonderfully synchronous, in-the-moment exchanges that are most familiar to us; those asynchronous exchanges that extend the “moment” to an hour, day, week, or semester-long period that formally defines a course; and those unexpected moments of participation by people not currently enrolled in a course, but drawn into a current extended moment of conversation by having their previously-posted work become part of a current conversation.

The seeds for viewing learning time in this unorthodox way were planted before I joined #etmooc at the beginning of February 2013. While facilitating two offerings of the online Social Media Basics course I have developed with colleagues at ALA Editions, I saw that learners from the first four-week offering (completed in June 2012) were beginning to interact with learners from the second offering (completed in early February 2013) via the private Facebook group I had established for any interested participant.

Social_Media_BasicsSome of these interactions took place during live office hours held within the Facebook space in January and February 2013. Some of the interactions took place via asynchronous postings between members of the first and second groups of learners. But most intriguingly, some of the interactions involved learners in group two going back to read postings completed when the first offering was in session—then incorporating aspects of those earlier (past-tense) comments into present-tense conversations that clearly have the potential to extend into future conversations when the next group of learners join the group (and the extended conversation) as the course reaches a third group of learners in July 2013 (or “reached” a third group if you’re reading this after July 2013).

The same backward-forward extension of conversation has crept into #etmooc. Ideas initiated in one setting, e.g., through a blog posting, extend into other platforms, e.g., within the course Google+ community. Cross-pollination and cross-time postings then occur via additional conversation within the context of a blog posting that may have been completed a day, week, or month earlier—but that remains very much in the moment through new postings within the context established within that initial post.

Where this becomes most fascinating and most worth noting is when the asynchronous postings attached to a specific blog posting then lead us to postings completed long before the current course was even in the planning stages—and those earlier postings are drawn into the current moment, as happened recently in an exchange a MOOCmate and I were having.

This becomes a bit tricky, so let’s take it step by step to bring a little order to the learning chaos this so obviously creates. I posted “Synchronous Sessions, Asynchronously: Blending Meetings, Learning, and Digital Literacy” on February 20, 2013. A couple of #etmooc colleagues transformed the piece into an extended conversation by adding comments that are continuing to be attached to that February 2013 posting as I write this piece a few weeks later. The conversation also is growing rhizomatically through extensions via Twitter, Google+, and the follow-up blog posting you are currently reading—which makes me realize that we not only have an organically-growing example of what we are discussing, but a conversation that will benefit from a rudimentary level of curation. (I’m providing that curation in the form of “see-also” references added at the bottom of the various postings within my own blog so anyone joining one part of the conversation can easily find and follow those rhizomatic roots and shoots in the form of the other postings).

The latest shoot came in the form of the online reference, posted by #etmooc colleague Christina Hendricks, to an article that Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) posted in November 2011: “Pointillist, Cyclical, and Overlapping: Multidimensional Facets of Time in Online Learning.” It’s all there in the first two lines of the abstract to that wonderfully twisty-turny densely-packed exposition: “A linear, sequential time conception based on in-person meetings and pedagogical activities is not enough for those who practice and hope to enhance contemporary education, particularly where online interactions are concerned. In this article, we propose a new model for understanding time in pedagogical contexts.”

Perhaps, by this time, your head is spinning beyond the boundaries of time and space; mine certainly is. But there’s no denying that what Ihanainen and Moravec explore in their thought-provoking article—and what many of us are experiencing in online venues ranging from live Twitter chats (that extend beyond the synchronous sessions via retweets appended with follow-up comments) to those Social Media Basics interactions that now include conversations that have extended over a half-year period and will undoubtedly take on extended life through an even longer “moment” when the course is offered again later this year—extends the challenges. And the possibilities. Which provides us with another wicked problem: how our traditional concepts of formal learning are adapting to learning in timeframes that increasingly include extremely extended moments without firmly established beginning and ending points. Our communities of learning are clearly one part of this evolving learning landscape, and we may need to acknowledge that we haven’t yet defined or developed some of the other key pieces of this particular learning jigsaw puzzle.

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


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