After four and a half years of hitting the books, of forum posting, of virtual meetings… of one day weekends… this is my final critical reflection for the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) programme via Charles Sturt University. My views, knowledge and understanding of the work of an education professional in digital environments have changed dramatically in these long years of study and I’ve very much benefitted from this challenging learning journey, both professionally and personally.

 

The first half of the final subject titled “Digital Futures Colloquium” revolved around the concept of Digital Scholarship. I wrote an assignment titled “Digital Scholarship for our Youngest Learners” which explored how digital, networked, and open technologies are allowing young students more voice, and how it is of vital importance that teachers focus on developing students’ technical skills, knowledge, and mindset in order to thrive in this open, networked, and digital culture (Weller, 2011). Engaging with others on Twitter and through blogging greatly helped to clarify and extend my understandings on this subject.

 

Co-hosting a Digital Scholarship Twitter Chat

 

Blog comments on a Digital Scholarship post.

 

The second half of the subject focused on the final assessment item: an open-ended case study, where we could chose a topic of personal interest and, using a structured approach, conduct research and analysis of a particular context. The collaborative nature of the research question discussion in FlipGrid and the ongoing peer-support in VoiceThread proved vital in making sure the research focus was valid and specific (Tondeur, Forkosh-Baruch, Prestridge, Albion, & Edirisinghe, 2016). I conducted research into my school’s “blogfolio” programme and came away with some great plans for extending the programme further. I very much appreciate, and was motivated by, an assessment such as this as it allowed the exploration of personally / professionally important issues (Ong & Cheung, 2015).

 

Collaborative FlipGrid

 

Collaborative VoiceThread

 

My experience in this subject, and indeed in the wider Masters programme, has been incredibly beneficial to my current role as Learning Technology Coach. I have learned concrete knowledge: theory, research, ideas, but along with this knowledge has come a change in my “way” of learning too. My ability to be proactive, to seek learning – to know where to find it, to filter it, and connect with others – has increased. My collaborative ability has increased. My confidence and propensity to share has increased. I feel like I now have the skillset, mindset, and toolset to leverage our digitally connected knowledge networks and bend them to my information needs.

 

It has not been all roses and strawberries, however. The open-ended nature of the final case study tested my ability to self-direct and self-manage. I initially struggled to relate Digital Scholarship, which seemed at first blush to be more higher education based, to a K – 5 focus. I didn’t attend as many colloquium as I should have. I didn’t post enough blog posts as I should have. I feel like I should have worked harder to help others in the course and give them more feedback. I’m not offering any excuses here, I’m merely reflecting on where I should have focused more.

 

Questioning…

 

Through this Masters, I have also been given many opportunities to examine my own assumptions and actions, and have often bumped up against what I believe being not really what it should be. For example, I kept feeling defeated when it came to whole school change efforts. “My administration are just not on the same wavelength!” I’d say. But I’ve learned to take responsibility and remain positive – to be a visionary leader even if it’s not institutionally stipulated. Another example: I’ve learned to unwaveringly lead with pedagogy instead of being glamoured by the pull of shiny new technology (Fullan, 2013).

 

There is much more to critically analyse and reflect upon, but again, word count is knocking on my door. It’s now time to close Evernote, quit it with the Primo searches, end the theorising and researching, and pull down the post-it notes. I’m heading to school on Monday to get in the trenches and make a difference.

 

References

Fullan, M. (2013). Stratosphere: Integrating technology, pedagogy, and change knowledge. Pearson: Canada.

Ong, G. M. Y., & Cheung, W. S. (2015). Exploring Students’ Motivations in Using Blogs at the Primary School Level. International Journal of Online Pedagogy and Course Design, 5(1), 30–44.

Tondeur, J., Forkosh-Baruch, A., Prestridge, S., Albion, P., & Edirisinghe, S. (2016). Responding to Challenges in Teacher Professional Development for ICT Integration in Education. Journal Of Educational Technology & Society, 19(3), 110-120.

Weller, M. (2011). “The Nature of Scholarship.” The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice.London: Bloomsbury Academic,. 41–51. Bloomsbury Collections.

When you picture a scholar or try to visualise scholarship, what do see? A graduation cap? A lecturer with tenure, sitting in an office? A dusty old library? A meeting of bearded men, sitting around a darkly stained oak table, quibbling over which papers should be included in the next journal publication?

 

Scholarship is “learning; knowledge acquired by study; the academic attainments of a scholar.” The term does have a bit of a stuffy reputation though. It has a knowledge-in-physical-books feel; it has teacher-as-guardian-of-knowledge feel; it has write-a-paper-to-show-you’ve-mastered-the-content feel. Much of academic scholarship has indeed, and still does, suffer from these afflictions:

 

  • Knowledge, as defined in reputable journals, is slow to be produced
  • Once it is published, it’s published
  • It’s expensive and locked away behind paywalls
  • As such, it’s disseminated / read by not enough people
  • Data sets / information from different sources cannot be cross-referenced easily

 

Enter Digital Scholarship.

 

Digital Scholarship seeks to enhance the scholarly work that researchers and students take part in by leveraging the affordances of three foundational pillars: digital, networked, and open.

 

“Digital scholarship is more than just using information and communication technologies to research, teach and collaborate; it also includes embracing the open values, ideology and potential of technologies born of peer-to-peer networking and wiki ways of working in order to benefit both the academy and society” (Weller, 2011).

 

A Digital Scholar:

 

  • Publishes freely to a blog or other online space
  • Is altruistic with knowledge, creating open resources and using Creative Commons licenses
  • Seeks (and gives) formative feedback (informal peer-review)
  • Connects with other Digital Scholars in social networks
  • Uses efficient strategies for discovering, searching for, and curating information
  • Integrates previously disparate sets of information, connects dots, sees the bigger picture
  • Has a strong online identity, and considers how to best reach a wide audience
  • Can collaborate online with diverse populations

 

Digital Scholarship is in its infancy – it’s not quite an accepted approach to scholarship in academic circles yet. Its critics cite:

 

  • Reliability and legitimacy of information issues because it hasn’t been through a long period of verification and review
  • Author rights are eroded as knowledge becomes “open-game”, able to be parsed, remixed, and commented on
  • Digital does not nesseasrily mean open – lots of universities and companies are making money off content which has just been duplicated online and locked behind a paywall
  • Academics get little recognition for their boundary-pushing Digital Scholarship effort – network building, blogging, and social network connecting – so why do it when they could be doing other things more likely to get them tenure

 

Scholarship is just another sector going through change brought about by the digital – open – networked triad. Hospitality (AirBnB), transport (Uber), music (Spotify), entertainment (Netflix), mapping (Waze), media… financial services… the list goes on. Sectors which do not respond are likely to fade out, slowly but surely – sorry video rental stores, music stores, travel agents, newspaper reporters, and accountants.

 

Is education another of these sectors on the fade?

 

No way, but it’s hard to defend the argument that the education sector has been very slow to innovate. There are pockets of innovation in many schools (primary, secondary, higher education) around the world now, but nothing systemic seems to have taken root. The promises of Digital Scholarship have not yet, in any case.

 

The question which I am exploring over the next few months is how might the digital – open – networked triad might be effecting education, particularly in the K-5 bracket. Is it effecting it at all? Should it be?

 

How might our youngest students become Digital Scholars: what hard skills, what soft skills, what scaffolds, what learning experiences, what modelling, what assessment is required to help them take advantage of working, learning, and living in our growing participatory culture. Is this important for them? For us as educators? Or are there other priorities?

 

Lots of juicy questions and areas of inquiry to delve into.

 

Please leave your ideas down below – your resources, or readings – any leads you may think may be useful.

 

References:

Weller, Martin. “The Nature of Scholarship.” The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011. 41–51. Bloomsbury Collections.

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