Rethinking Digital Literacy: Moving Out

July 24, 2015

Out of chaos sometimes comes more chaos—and that can be a very exhilarating and productive learning environment under the right conditions, as we’re seeing in our ALA Editions four-week online course “Rethinking Digital Literacy.”

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicThe course is literally and somewhat chaotically all over the virtual map. It has an obvious, easily-accessible  home base, which is our learning-management-system (Moodle). During Week 2, Rethinking has fostered increasing levels of digital literacy by moving out, beyond our virtual classroom walls, and expanding into Twitter; Facebook; blogs; and, as of this morning, a learner-produced video posted within and shared from Google Drive. And there’s no end in sight as to how far it can and will extend, which is fine: this connected learning, rhizomatically-growing learning experience is at least partially helping well-supported learners within a vibrant community of learning to viscerally understand that a key digital-literacy skill is an ability to navigate a variety of online resources and venues without allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed.

Our methodology, so far, appears to perfectly match and support the content, learning goals, and user experience within Rethinking. In designing and facilitating the course, I’m attempting to create an engaging, stimulating, learner-centric, results-based experience where learners (or to borrow one of my favorite terms that continues to evolve from the Educational Technology & Media MOOC—#etmooc: “co-conspirators”) are partners in the digital-literacy learning process. Where the original conspirators (those designing and facilitating the course)  in #etmooc inspired a group of co-conspirators in the form of #etmooc learners who collaborated on designing and facilitating a follow-up massive open online course (MOOC), the co-conspirators in Relearning include every learner who is joining me in shaping and learning from the course.

etmoocAnother match between methodology and content/learning goals/experience within Rethinking is the focus on co-conspirators learning how to define and foster digital literacy by identifying and further developing the digital literacy skills they bring to the course. They are offered—and some are taking advantage of—opportunities to learn about digital literacy by exploring digital tools and resources of interest to them and to those they serve. The process is still very much in its early stages, but is already producing results similar to what I saw—and was inspired by—in #etmooc. A few Rethinking learners are using blogs to document and build upon what they are learning. Others, as a result of asynchronous online group discussions within Moodle, have agreed upon a Twitter hashtag (#ReDigLit) they can use to carry their discussions and learning into the Twittersphere.

The latest expansion of our semi-controlled chaotic approach came this morning through the creative approach course participant/co-conspirator Joan Jordan took in playfully completing a warm-up exercise I offered for Week 2: she combined the assignment with an ongoing optional avenue I’ve encouraged learners to explore (try a new digital literacy tool of their own choosing each week to expand their digital-literacy toolkit). Joan decided to learn how to use the video capabilities of her smartphone, learn how to upload the video she created, and learn how to share a link to that video from an online venue (in this case, Google Drive). With that as the foundation for her approach, she responded to the actual warm-up assignment: watch a brief, charming video showing young learners displaying a variety of digital literacy skills, identify as many digital literacy skills in use as possible, and post the resulting list of skills within our Week 2 online discussion board. The result was extremely engaging: she filmed her cat, produced a video that had the cat telling us which digital literacy skills were observable in the video Joan and other course participants are viewing, and shared that video with us in place of providing a text-based inventory of the skills on display. In the best of digital-literacy approaches, she not only managed to learn what she wanted and needed to learn, but also inspired a lively conversation that is continuing to develop back at home base (Moodle).

An additional intriguing element of our collaboratively-developing methodology—very much what I would call “the #etmooc method” because that’s where I first experienced it—is the opportunity to see whether what grew out of #etmooc could develop from an online course that is not a MOOC: a sustainable community of learning that continues long after formal coursework concludes—what I have only half-jokingly referred to as a MOOChort elsewhere. As my Rethinking co-conspirators continue to define and explore digital literacy by carrying their conversations into a variety of digital settings, I suspect the seeds of a post-Rethinking community are already beginning to germinate.

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


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.

Redefining Digital Literacy for Our Learners—and Ourselves

February 27, 2013

Taking day-long hikes into an exquisite national park like Desolation Wilderness, west of Lake Tahoe, provides a wonderful metaphor for learning: just when we think we’ve reached a destination we have established for ourselves—a summit, a pristine lake, or a meadow—we realize there are even more to pursue. Which is exactly how several of us are feeling in #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course (MOOC) that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013.

Nearing the end of a two-week exploration of digital literacy that was initiated by Doug Belshaw’s introductory session on the theme, our entire #etmooc learning experience is both extending all around us rhizomatically and circling back in upon itself.

etmoocWhen we think about some of the #etmooc themes—the idea that learners in this sort of (connectivist) MOOC set our own goals within the broad framework established, and that there is no pressure around keeping up or falling behind since we each approach the course with a desire and ability to set our own learning goals and learning pace—we gain a visceral appreciation for and understanding of what a well-run MOOC can offer. And we have to ask ourselves a simple question: how do those concepts play into the challenge of defining and nurturing digital literacy? When, for example, we find ourselves starting with what appears to be a basic course text—Belshaw’s What is ‘digital literacy’?—and then, through our own learning hikes, locating other texts that can be equally engaging, attractive, and important in helping us shape ideas of what digital literacy means to us, we come to the realization that we’re using digital literacy skills we may not have previously considered. This, of course, can’t help but shape our own attempts to define and nurture digital literacy.

Two of those digital learning texts came my way this week through digital connections. The first, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (2009), caught my attention when a colleague (Cleveland Public Library learning strategist Buffy Hamilton) mentioned it in her Goodreads account. The second, the New Media Consortium’s online publication A Global Imperative: The Report of the 21st Century Summit (2005), came my way directly from the first in that it was mentioned in Confronting the Challenges.

Jenkins--Confronting_Challenges--Participatory_CultureHenry Jenkins and his co-writers, in Confronting the Challenges, engage us in a book-length exploration regarding “core social skills and cultural competencies” for anyone interested in being “full, active, creative, and ethical participants in this emerging participatory culture.” The book (available free online as well as in a printed edition) is well worth reading for its concise descriptions of those skills; for the examples provided at the end of each section; and for the summary of those elements on pages 105-106: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation. More importantly, the writers conclude the book with a reminder of why digital literacy is important: to “ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, [creative,] and economic life…”

The same concern drives the New Media Consortium report. The first few pages remind us that 21st-century literacy is “multimodal,…includes creative fluency as well as interpretive facility,…means learning a new grammar with its own rules of construction,…lends itself to interactive communication,…implies the ability to use media to evoke emotional responses,…[and] has the potential to transform the way we learn.” A call to action on page 19 of the report provides one possible road map that, through its proposals, helps us focus on the digital literacy skills we might want to foster.

A striking element of Confronting the Challenges and A Global Imperative is that both works focus on the need to promote digital literacy among our youngest learners. There’s no reason to limit our attention to that audience, however; it’s clear that older learners have as strong a need for digital literacy—however we define it—as those younger learners have. If we expand our thinking a bit and apply the same needs for digital literacy to learners of all ages, we stand a good chance of fostering the sort of digital citizenship that is going to be a topic of discussion during the final weeks of #etmooc. Which brings us back to the #etmooc challenge of defining, understanding, and, by extension, fostering digital literacy: if we want to understand the theme, we need to take a hike. And expect to keep going long beyond the destination we originally intended to reach.

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

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