When thinking about outward-facing learning, what is your greatest ‘take-away’ in terms of your own professional development and personal practices?

Key Question 1:

If you know it [it = what ever you are creating] will be shared before you start, does it change how you approach the task?

Answer:

For me, yes.

Key Question 2:

Is that change positive, negative, or neutral?

Answer:

It’s a positive, mostly. To ensure an audience / reader could grasp what I’m saying in a blog post, I need to make sure my writing is clear and the ideas well articulated (as much as is in my power to do so). To do this I need to plan, synthesise, and draft all my posts. I combine ideas, I expand others, and I explore the topic of the post through the initial generative process then hone in on my main points through the drafting, cutting, and synthesizing phase.

This is a particular strength of written communication and why I assume assignments are still in (predominantly) written form: it allows a full exploration of a topic in a structured, guided, referenced manner.

But blogging is different from writing an assignment, as anyone with an internet connection could potentially stumble onto it. (Note: I still put all my assignments up online though after I get them back, just because).

Someone is able to leave a comment, to add their perspective to the issue, and therefore help take my own thinking into new directions. This means when publishing online, it’s never really publishing for good – the story is evolving and iterative. The knowledge is not static. There is rarely one right answer.

Even so, if I’m blogging, I take it seriously. Someone reading my blog (lol?) is able to get a sense of who I am professionally, what I stand for, and what I believe through each blog post. I don’t want a reader to think “he doesn’t know what he’s on about”, “this is rubbish”, or “he hasn’t done his research.” I take pride in my blogging, and I want it to show the kind of professional, reflective teacher I am.

To be honest, I also know future recruiters / schools may peruse my blog before an interview, so I want this digital reflection of my personal persona to be up to scratch.

But because of this, I’ve suffered from analysis paralysis on many occasions. The amount of blog posts I’ve thought up, planned, then shelved because I think they are not “good enough” ideas are many. Which is a shame – that many of my ideas and reflections are tucked away in an Evernote folder somewhere, not able to be shared, commented on, or connected to. Even if they are half-baked, or useless, they still should be out there – someone could stumble upon one of the thoughts or ideas I’ve published, and even though it might not resonate with them or they might think it sucks, it might propel them into other more interesting lines of inquiry.

Actually though, while my care levels are still high – I do care what people think – they seem to be diminishing with each consecutive year on this planet. You can’t please everyone, and even if you could, why should you. Perfect is the enemy of done etc. I don’t need to be a perfectionist – I need to give X task a good shot to the best of my ability in the timeframe I have allocated, then move on with life. To do otherwise is the road to stress and burnout.

So, my personal goal this year is to cultivate and practice this attitude more. Publishing my outward-facing learning need not be a big deal. I don’t need to agonise over it. I need to get it out there. Because the more teachers just “get it out there” the more nodes of knowledge there are in the world, the more connections become available, and the more transparency there is in our industry. It’s selfish to lock up ideas and reflections, wins and fails, within the four walls of your classroom.

This was my first shot.

I do not apologise for any spelling errors, run on sentences, or jumbled thinking.

 

CC0 image via unsplash.com

CC0 via Unsplash.com

At school, we’ve introduced “Blogfolios” in Grade 4 and 5. These are, in fact, WordPress blogs with the dual purpose of providing a blogging platform and a digital portfolio platform. They have been received well with teachers and students, but we’re just waiting for the inevitable parent inquiry about the publicness of them, the comparing students issue, or the spelling mistake / grammar error comments. So I pre-wrote our response:

 

At **** we believe in the power of technology to bring people together. And it’s not just us; the research literature is unequivocal. Children learn best when the significant people in their lives – parents, teachers, friends, and other family and community members – work together to encourage and support their development. With current technology access, there has never been a better opportunity to connect in-school learning to this wider network of significant others.

 

In Grade 4 and 5, the platform we use to enable these connections are individual student “Blogfolios”. Blogfolios are semi-public: they are not indexed by search engines, but are accessible via unique URL. This allows students and teachers to extend classroom discussions, feedback, formative evaluations, and reflections into a digital environment, and continue the collaborative, social learning which the Primary Years Programme of the International Baccalaureate highlights.

 

The semi-public nature of the Blogfolios allows significant others to enter into the learning loop: parents, grandparents in other countries, extended family, and friends.

 

In classrooms, we work a lot with students about how to give effective feedback, appropriate responses to the learning of others, and how everyone is different and at different stages of the learning journey. We celebrate diversity and acknowledge everyone has different goals, and that learning will look different from one student to the next.

 

We expect the same level of responsible, appropriate behavior with the stakeholders students and teachers invite into the learning loop (parents, grandparents, friends etc). In class, we do not compare our own learning with others, we are not negative, we do not judge. For parents and grandparents interacting with Blogfolios at home, we ask the same to be true: only have positive, supportive learning conversations over Blogfolios. These conversations will constitute powerful role-modeling of inclusive and respective ideals, and reinforce the kinds of conversations students are engaging in at school.

 

Furthermore, students are learning first-hand how the interactions in digital environments are no different than the interactions in real environments; just because something is online does not mean you can act in a different way. This prepares students well for their growing interactions in digital spaces in their own lives through the development of digital citizenship competencies and skills. Our Blogfolios are sites to practise safe sharing, online interaction, ethics, and the building of a positive digital footprint – key skills to have as students enter their teenage years.

 

We believe strongly in the power of Blogfolios for the holistic development of students in our increasingly digital world.

A compelling aspect of exploring digital literature is that, at its heart, lies the appeal of good old-fashioned storytelling. Humans are storytelling creatures. We have been for thousands upon thousands of years, predating the advent of writing. Stories helped our ancestors pass on knowledge, share history, and create meaning in a world of randomness and chaos (Delistraty, 2014). A human brain responds uniquely to a good story, the cortex lighting up as if the events or descriptions in a book were really happening. Stories are a fundamental human communication method (Widrich, 2012).

What is eminently exciting is that we are living in a time where the ways to tell a good story are expanding. Authors are no longer confined to the written word, on pages, tucked away in physical books. The rapid expansion and ongoing convergence of media forms has given us the tools to tell stories in new ways: transmedia mashups of sound, word, and video, interactive reading experiences, nonlinear pathways through texts, hyperlinking, participatory and social reading experiences, and emergent narratives shaped by the user. Although many offer suggestions (Unsworth, 2006; Lamb, 2011), these digital stories are becoming increasingly hard to categorise as forms intertwine in creative and unique ways (as discussed in this reflective blog post).

Making these developments even more revolutionary is the fact that these tools of authorship and creation are available to anyone with a device or internet connection. Authorship is democratising – anyone can be a storyteller, have an authentic audience and a meaningful voice on a world stage (Richards, 2010). This is particularly useful when considering narrative creation as a teacher; putting digital authorship tools in the hands of students, letting them create rather than only consume, is a powerful pedagogical imperative (Tapscott & Williams, 2008). The value of leveraging digital storytelling in education is strong, as it allows students to explore their inner voice, create meaning for themselves, and then share their experiences and perspectives with a wider community (Rosenthal, 2015). This can be a platform for transformative, meaningful learning allowing students multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression.

It’s important for teachers and other stakeholders to understand though, that digital literature and the tools to create digital literature should not be considered as the only option – that all reading and story creation needs to be solely digital. It’s not a case of digital OR physical, it’s a case of digital AND physical. Students need a balanced mix of media and mediums, one which a skilled teacher can traverse and draw out the unique intricacies, the pros and cons, of each (Sadokierski, 2013). The role of the teacher is to manage this pedagogical mix (as discussed in this reflective blog post).

Because there are differences here. While the message remains the same (“a good story is a good story”, as I mentioned in the Module 1.2 discussion forum) the medium it comes wrapped in requires proficiency with different literacies in order to unpack the semiotic resources entangled within the artefact (Walsh, 2013). Traditional reading literacy revolved around the decoding of text, but if we expand our notions of what reading is (and should be): “Reading is the process of constructing meaning from symbols”, we can expand reading literacy to the comprehension of visual elements, layout, sound, navigation, interactive elements, participatory networks, and even gameplay design and mechanics (Leu et al, 2011; Walsh, 2013).

Many have claimed that the partial move to digital-based stories are diluting the experience of reading – that there are too many distractions and so children (in particular) lose the hermeneutic immersion required for deep reading (James & de Kock, 2013). They are not wrong. There are many examples of digital stories which are low-quality, don’t offer the opportunity for adaptation or feedback, accessibility or usability restrictions, or contain a poor “goodness of fit” between their designed elements (Roskos et al, 2014). It’s important to also consider physical issues such as eye-strain on longer stretches of screen-based reading (Huang, 2012) and the technical limitations of going digital such as battery, internet connection, licensing, purchasing, and equitable access.

These are not reasons to avoid digital literature, though. They are considerations for teachers to face, to understand the variables, and to plan and implement carefully and with a pedagogical purpose (“complexity and all”, as I mentioned in the Module 2.3 discussion forum). Quality digital literature needs to be selected and evaluated and aligned with learning outcomes. This is often tricky in the overly curated app stores and when considering budget, DRM, and licensing issues. Alternative means of sourcing digital texts exist however via public domain, creative commons, and free for personal use literature. 

In summation, literature in digital environments contains much potential – both in the reading and the creating – for students: the amplification of voice, the connection of readers to one another, sharing perspectives and opinions, creation over consumption, developing skills and transmedia literacies, and simply enjoying the eternal joy of reading a good story. Knowledgeable teachers will be able to evaluate digital literature with a “teacherly eye”, consider it’s uniqueness, and embed it within units and learning at school effectively (an example of this can be seen in this blog post).

 


References

Delistraty, C. 2014. The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-psychological-comforts-of-storytelling/381964/

Huang, H. (2012). E-reading and e-discussion: EFL learners’ perceptions of an e-book reading program. Computer assisted language learning, 26(3).

James, R. & de Kock, L. (2013). The digital David and the Gutenberg Goliath: The rise of the ‘enhanced’ e-book, English Academy Review: Southern African Journal of English Studies, 30(1).

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Leu, D.J. et al (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1).

Richards, R. (2010). Digital citizenship and Web 2.0 tools. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(2), 516-522.

Rosenthal, S.T. (2015). Digital storytelling: What it is… and… what it is NOT. Retrieved from http://langwitches.org/blog/2015/08/18/digital-storytelling-what-it-is-and-what-it-is-not

Roskos, K., Burstein, K., Yi Shang, Gray, E. (2014). Young children’s engagement with e-books at school: Does device matter? SAGE Open, 4(1).

Sadokierski, Z. (2013, November 12). What is a book in the digital age? Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/what-is-a-book-in-the-digital-age-19071

Tapscott, D., & Williams, A. D. (2008). Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything. Penguin.

Unsworth, L. (2006). E-literature for children: Enhancing digital literacy learning. Taylor & Francis.

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Widrich, 7. 2012. The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains. Retrieved from http://lifehacker.com/5965703/the-science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains

The Beep Moot is a digital story about a family and the apps they use (or more correctly, about the apps which use them). The family likes to get out and about: play sport, eat fish and chips, go to the supermarket, and out for bush walks. Butting into these family moments, however, are a bunch of intrusive interrupters – the beeping and buzzing sounds of Mum and Dad’s app notifications drawing attention away from “the stuff which makes life bright.”

The digital story contends with our switched on, 24/7 connected society – our need to get the latest news, update, or comment pushed to our phones the moment it occurs, and the effect this is having on special moments and interactions in real life. It’s about how our abundant access to information through technology offers the potential for distraction if not managed correctly (Felt & Robb, 2016).

At the international school I currently teach at students begin a 1:1 MacBook programme in Grade 5 and many students begin to get smartphones a lot earlier. It’s a time when students begin to build patterns of technology usage, for better or worse, and a time when many parents begin struggling with technology usage, norms, and rules with their children at home. The Beep Moot was written and designed with this need in mind. So while Grade four and five students are the primary intended audience, parents, and the wider school community are considered here too.

The Beep Moot has the intended purpose of encouraging students (and parents) to consider and reflect – that through reading about this particular family and their struggles with technology interruption they will be able to consider their own technology usage patterns, the effect this can have on people around them, and how to gain a healthy balance and equilibrium.

As an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme school, learning experiences revolve around enhancing conceptual understandings of big, thematic central ideas. One such central idea which Grade 4 and 5 students explore is “A Digital Citizen is aware of the rights, responsibilities, and opportunities of living and learning in an interconnected digital world.” Students explore the key concepts of Form – what is a digital citizen, and Responsibility – what responsibility do I have, to myself and others, to enact effective digital citizenship. The Beep Moot will integrate into this unit of inquiry as a reading resource for students and teachers to unpack and tease out the variables together (Guernsey, 2011), exploring the subject area of digital citizenship and the Learner Profile elements of Balanced and Reflective (International Baccalaureate Organisation, 2013).

The Beep Moot was written and designed not only with these curriculum needs in mind but also the particular learning needs of the students. Being an International School there is a diverse range of students from many different cultures and backgrounds with differing levels of English. In each class are native English speakers and “Phase 1” ESOL learners. For this reason, The Beep Moot contains a narration track as well as the written text which aids comprehension (Lamb, 2011). It contains bright images, recognisable social media icons, and speech placed at jaunty angles which builds non-textual understanding of the content. The story is not too long, contains situations and places which children will relate to, and humorous phrases and names of the apps.

The ability to tie the subject area, intended purpose, and audience needs together arose via the author, illustrator and designer being the same person. This is important to note, as many existing stories often get ported over to digital in ways, and with features, the original author might not have included; features which don’t have a goodness of fit, or can distract or impede the intended meaning of the story (Roskos et al. 2014).

The digital story has been published on YouTube. This allows a reader to mute the narration if they wish, pause on particular pages, and skip to certain pages. It also allows viewers to leave comments, extending the world of the story into a social network others can participate in and contribute to (Serafini, 2013) and share the story with other interested parties such as friends and family members. YouTube is a website and app available across all major device platforms and operating systems. The story is free to distribute, making it a valuable resource for children, parents, and community members.

The Beep Moot has been influenced by a number of interactive storytelling apps, namely those from developer Slap Happy Larry – The Artefacts, Hilda Bewildered, and Midnight Feast. These illustrated digital short stories can be enjoyed at a surface level, as a bit of entertaining fun, or examined in closer detail to reveal important ideas and messages. The same is true of The Beep Moot. Other influences are the Hairy MacLary series of digital storybook apps for their rhyming scheme, and the Dr Seuss series by Oceanhouse Media for their sense of whimsy and fun.

Check out The Beep Moot embedded below and please visit the YouTube page to add your thoughts and comments.

References

Felt, L. J. & Robb, M. B. (2016). Technology addiction: Concern, controversy, and finding balance. San Francisco, CA: Common Sense Media.

Guernsey, L. (2011). Are ebooks any good? Retrieved from http://www.slj.com/2011/06/books-media/ebooks/are-ebooks-any-good/#_

International Baccalaureate Organisation. (2013). IB Learner Profile. Retrieved from http://www.ibo.org/contentassets/fd82f70643ef4086b7d3f292cc214962/learner-profile-en.pdf

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Roskos, K., Burstein, K., Yi Shang, Gray, E. (2014). Young children’s engagement with e-books at school: Does device matter? SAGE Open, 4(1).

Serafini, F. (2013). Reading Workshop 2.0. Reading Teacher, 66(5), 401-404.

When does a book become an ebook? When does an ebook become an interactive storytelling app? When does an interactive storytelling app become a digital game? The reality is, its hard to tell a lot of the time. The ever growing confluence of media forms and literature has muddied the waters. Between every concrete example of one of the above literary categories exist a myriad vagaries: transmedia, no media, participatory, agentic, emergent, haptic. Storytelling is experiencing a revolution just as impactful as when moveable type changed the world (Cull, 2011) – a revolution reflective of the shifts evident in greater society where digital creativity is flourishing amid technological advancement, an increasingly participatory culture, and complex networks of information flow (Wheeler, 2015).

 

Are we losing something here though? There is something very calming, relaxing.. even homely, about sinking into a deep couch and reading chapter one of a Cracking Good Novel, feeling the spine under your fingers and hearing the papery wing flap of the pages turning. Scholars wonder the same thing – whether the bells and whistles of all this digital enhancement break the hermeneutic immersion necessary for deep, focused reading (James & de Kock, 2013; Gurnsey, 2011). The answer, again, is muddied. In many cases, a poorly designed ebook / interactive storytelling app without a goodness of fit between its visual, audio, and haptics will distract from the experience – but one which hits a sweet spot between those elements can indeed support the literacy learning and reading experience (Roskos et al. 2014). There are many, many examples of digital literature “out there” now, all falling somewhere on this spectrum of distracting to enhancing.

 

Kicking back with a good book...?

Kicking back with a good book…?

 

Personally, I’m very interested in comparing the experience of print literature versus that of a storytelling experience in a digital game, as I’m a big fan of both. Storytelling in games has been hit and miss over the years but in the past three of four, designers are finding their stride, understanding that when wrapped up in a rich story, games become much more engaging and appealing (Alderman, 2015). Many games available today offer “literacy experiences” (The Last of Us, Bastion, The Stanley Parable, Papers Please, Life is Strange, Mass Effect) the avant garde of which are using gameplay mechanics (control forms, decision making, customisation etc.) to tap into “the emotions of agency” of the player, deepening the connection to the story perhaps in a way that books and films cannot (Phillips, 2013). Digital games can make the player feel guilty, for example; the consequence of a poor choice. Games are also exploring the edges of emergent, reactive storytelling where decisions a player makes in game effects the story arc, the characters, and the environment around them.

 

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Comparing print and digital literacy experiences then, it seems digital storytelling, in its many forms, can indeed provide new and exciting ways to tell the stories we’ve always enjoyed. Research also indicates that students’ comprehension does not necessarily suffer, regardless of the format of text (Margolin et al., 2013) – what matters is the mindset a reader deploys. What schools, teachers, and parents need to contend with then is expanding the notions of what literature and reading is. There will always be classic, good old text-based books, but it’s also much more than that now in our digital environment, such as transmedia mashups of audio, written word, video, art, music, and gameplay. These are semiotic resources (Walsh, 2013); methods that authors and designers make meaning from. Reading should be thought of as the process of constructing meaning from symbols (Lamb, 2011) – so, reading any of these new digital formats can be accomplished via unpacking its semiotic resources, just as much as novel, a movie, or a piece of art. In today’s media saturated, convergent environment it’s more important than ever that students contend with these kinds of digital literature formats, these new literacy experiences, so they become armed with the tools to make sense of the mediasphere around them (Moorefield-Lang & Gavigan, 2012).

 

To walk the talk then, I’m currently planning a series of sessions with a Grade 4 class at school who are conducting a unit of inquiry on how “the values we have influence the choices we make.” Exploring the digital game Never Alone (discussed in more detail here) with these students will, I hope, help develop understandings of this concept. Initially, we will inquire into traditional Iñupiat culture via web research and key readings with the purpose of learning about traditional Iñupiat values. Jumping into the game next and learning about the challenge facing Nuna and Fox, students will record how the story and game design reflect the values of the Iñupiat. We will gather information across the mini-documentaries embedded in the game, the story plot, thematic and symbolic elements, and game design – working to read and interpret the semiotic resources available and in doing so, increase our understanding of the key concept (and enjoy a wonderful story).

 


References

 

Alderman, N. (2015). The first great works of digital literature are already being written. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/oct/13/video-games-digital-storytelling-naomi-alderman

 

Cull, B. W. (2011). Reading revolutions: online digital text and implications for reading in academe. First Monday, 16(6). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3340/2985

 

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

 

Margolin, S.J., Driscoll, C., Toland, M.J., & Kegler, J.L. (2013). E-readers, computer screens or paper: does reading comprehension change across media platforms? Applied Cognitive Psycology, 27, 512-519.

 

Moorefield-Lang, H., & Gavigan, K. (2012). These aren’t your father’s: the new world of digital graphic novels. Knowledge Quest, 40(3), 30-35. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/aasl/sites/ala.org.aasl/files/content/aaslpubsandjournals/knowledgequest/docs/

 

Unsworth, L. (2006). E-literature for children: Enhancing digital literacy learning. Taylor & Francis.

 

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA). https://www.csu.edu.au/division/library/ereserve/pdf/walsh-m3.pdf

 

Wheeler, S. (2015). Learning with ‘e’s. Crown House Publishing.