We are living in an increasingly digital world requiring a increasingly complex matrix of digital literacy. Our media-saturated, online, mobile world has developed quickly – as must the ways people access and navigate it. Developments are rapid, iterations are constant, and traditional mediums have faced (and will face) tremendous change.

Music is a standup example: vinyl evolved to tape evolved to CD evolved to Minidisc (for a few months) evolved to 320kbps lossless FLAC. Literature, too, has set off on a similar journey and just like with music, there will be pros and cons for each iteration of the medium; people hold a multiplicity of viewpoints based on personal connection, context, and nostalgia, not just the technical specifications. There will be feelings of loss as new forms arise. There will be mourning. There will be bafflement and scorn from generations raised on the previous iteration. Developments might not be well understood or utilised, except, perhaps, by a few. And the kids, of course. Always the kids.

In many cases, students are receiving a great education… in the kinds of literacies required for the world of the teacher, rather than for this new and rapidly developing world – the here and the now. And while there are teachers out there contending with digital media and related digital literacy practises steeped in the real lives of students, I think it’s fair to say it’s not quite so widespread yet.

Why is this? Perhaps because we mostly teach how we were taught. Perhaps it’s too complex. Perhaps because the digital world moves so fast. Perhaps because it’s not assessed. Perhaps because digital media and associated reading practises are considered not the “gritty” stuff, ripe to be studied, explored, and better comprehended. Who knows.

Consider though, the complex kinds of digital literacy and reading practises people employ today in a context where the written word is but one piece of the puzzle:

– Navigating hyperlinks, click-bait, social and participative commenting, non-linear pathways
– Text-language, fleeting messages, micro-blogging
– Visual elements: images, infographics etc. comprising a growing amount of site real-estate
– The utilities around reading (snipping, copying, pasting, CTRL+F, simplifying)
– Reader choice, patience, and profiling, and how this shapes content
– Author intention when anyone can be an author. Some want to tell a ripping good story, some want to entertain, some want to vent, some are subtly political, most try to sell you things
– Interactive reading, augmented with music, haptic feedback, activities and other content

This is interesting stuff, to be explored in combination with our traditional reading education. It is ripe to be studied: to learn how to read better online, to appreciate and explore the narrative of a great digital game, to analyse a tweet, to see through the glare of everywhere-advertising. To be literate in this world – i.e., comprehend communication, see through it’s veneer, understand it’s purpose… and ultimately to be awake and aware in a world that wants you to not think too much, means you need the comprehension skills and tools in order to do so.

Students need to have the opportunity to “closely read” a wide variety of texts, for a wide range of purposes. They need to enjoy some, disagree with some, and tear apart some. This “wide variety” needs to be a vastly wide variety of mediums and messages. From traditional printed text, to digital literature, to digital games, to movies, to SnapChats, to Instagrams, to Skypes, to YouTube tutorials, to images, to advertisements, to forums, to wikis, to letters, to emails, to emojis, to body language. And this is only just scratching the surface.

Any battleground where meaning is crafted and communicated needs to be studied and explored and ripped into at school. We can’t have a legion of sheep being led into the big wide without any armour. Students need the know-how to understand the media, messages, and mediums that will be thrust upon them, and to appreciate the stories that speak to them.

Engaging with digital literature, some of the time, as a part of a reading programme and broader media education / digital literacy strategy, is a meaningful way for teachers to get going on this journey.

What I find striking about digital citizenship is the citizenship aspect. It is a very positive human trait, the willingness to engage in issues which go above and beyond self-benefit. It’s altruism in action which our digital networks have the capacity to amplify. As a result, in an increasingly connected world where borders blur and a global audience is but a tweet away, knowing how to be responsible and reliable citizens within digital environments is more vital than ever.

We are at a junction in the road where if educators do not begin to cultivate the desire and capacity to use digital tools to enhance connection, creativity, and cultural understanding, we’re doing a huge disservice to the students of today and society of the future. It’s now a teacher’s professional responsibility to engage with the new media environment of the 21st century and to design learning experiences for students which embed digital citizenship. Despite what it sometimes seems, students are not “magically empowered and fluent in the use of social media” (Rheingold, 2010). They need coaching and relevant learning programmes to assist the development of their digital citizenship understandings. It’s a teacher’s responsibility to facilitate this.

Many have explored different models of digital citizenship (such as Mark Ribble) but a key aspect that must be included is international-mindedness, where digital citizenship is enacted on a global stage through practised, embedded actions (Lindsay & Davis, 2012; Global Digital Citizen Foundation, 2015). An entry point for teachers wishing to get going on their journey to learn more about this is to dive into the world of education-based social media. Platforms such as Twitter allow teachers to connect and contribute to a worldwide think-tank of educators and develop their personal learning networks. Starting a professional blog, curating educational content, and commenting on the posts of others are meaningful ways teachers can begin participating in a global conversation and growing their own understanding of what it means to be a digital citizen. Of course though, not all rests on the shoulders of the teachers. “It takes a village”, a community approach with all relevant stakeholders working in sync, for holistic and lasting digital citizenship development (Hollandsworth, Dowdy, Donovan, 2011).

The other side of the coin looks at how schools as institutions are preparing to implement or extend a digital learning environment. This can be challenging for schools as a heady mix of parental concerns, teacher and administrator understanding, financial expenditure, and time commitment can become barriers. While these can often seem insurmountable, the power of a motivated teacher must never be underestimated. The teacher with gumption, ambitious goals, and a deep motivation (aka a Teacherprenuer) can view these issues as creative constraints to innovate upon. Teachers who take an active, purposeful, leadership role can greatly assist a school to face these obstacles.

During this course, many opportunities have arisen to develop our capacities as Teacherprenuers. Curating content and connecting in the #ETL523 Twitter stream has deepened understanding and led to many resource hunting “down the rabbit hole” experiences. The first assignment, which drew together four educators to collaboratively design an online learning module was challenging, but clarified for me what truly collaborative work requires: clear communication, understanding, doing your fair share, and being willing to compromise. Opportunities to explore the perspectives of others was evident in course forum interactions. The last assignment especially, a report in which we drilled into the issues in our own school’s digital learning environment then planned how to overcome them has helped enormously to build a “Teacherprenuer” mindset where evidence-based action can be taken immediately.

At my school, as Learning Technology Coach, it’s up to me to provide the way forward for leadership, teachers, parents, and students; to plan the planning, bring stakeholders together, discuss the issues, pilot, implement, support and evaluate. I believe this course has given me the skillset, mindset, and toolset to enable this to occur. In fact… it has already started. Due to the momentum from the last assignment and discussions with relevant stakeholders, an initial meeting has taken place with the Elementary Leadership team and we are on the road to drafting new blogging and portfolio policy documents, embedding digital citizenship learning into relevant units of inquiry for next academic year, and have already lead staff professional development on Creative Commons and professional blogging.

The board is set, the pieces are moving.

Thank you to Julie Lindsay, subject coordinator for providing a rich learning experience with Digital Citizenship in Schools. Jordan and Jacques for ongoing support, Hangouts, and comedic relief. And the other forty or so course participants for pushing thinking, answering questions, and sharing their varied perspectives.

 


References

Global Digital Citizen Foundation (2015). https://globaldigitalcitizen.org

Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., & Donovan, J. (2011). Digital citizenship in K-12: It takes a village. TechTrends. 55(4) 37-47.

Lindsay, J., & Davis, V. (2012). Flattening classrooms, engaging minds: Move to global collaboration one step at a time. New York: Allyn and Bacon.

Rheingold, H. (2010). Attention and other 21st century social media literacies. Educause Review 45(5). Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/attention-and-other-21st-century-social-media-literacies

Ribble, M. (2015). Digital Citizenship in Schools: Nine Elements All Students Should Know. International Society for Technology in Education.

Being a Teacherpreneur sounds like something all teachers should be striving towards:

Pedagogically knowledgeable, technologically literate, striving for global connection and collaboration, developing a strong PLN, making a dent in the world of education, a community organiser, personalising learning, and someone who stays supremely focused on the learning experiences students are having.

Great stuff, of course. Lots of stuff, from many different educational sectors.

For a deeper look you can read more about teacherpreneurialisim in these articles:

Teacherpreneurs (by Caples, Casey, Cherian, Espejo-Vadillo) and Leadership for a Global Future (by Julie Lindsay).

Lets reflect for a second on the original meaning of the word, entrepreneur. Here are some snapshots from the Wikipedia article:

  • Entrepreneurs have a “pro-risk-taking attitude”
  • They “identify opportunities, evaluate them as viable, and then decide to exploit them”
  • They show “considerable initiative”
  • They invite in “creative destruction” and “dynamic disequilibrium”
  • An entrepreneur “assumes all the risk and reward of a given business venture”

Two points jump out at me from this. Entrepreneurs have a keen eye for spotting opportunities (and then acting on them), and they assume risk. Zeroing in on these two points, I believe, brings us to the essence of the term Teacherpreneur.

Lets drill down a bit further about how they might flow over into the world of education.

“Entrepreneurs have a keen eye for spotting opportunities (and then acting on them)”. This may be…

Teachers with open mindsets, who are curious, and question. Those who ask – why do we do it this way? So what, who cares? Those teachers who pounce on a teachable moment, who set up rich learning experiences from unexpected sources. Teachers who can empathise with their students, can locate what is blocking learning or comfort, and create ways to nullify these blocks. Teachers with hunches about what might work, and the gumption to try out small or big solutions. Those with an intuition, a sixth sense, highly attuned to the ebb and flow of student life.

The other point, “they take a risk that their ideas might fall flat”. This may be…

Teachers who speak up. Who are not comfortable with business as usual – who have a gentle “uneasiness” that they can and should be trying to innovate. Those who are brave enough to lead the way and try new things, sometimes against colleague, parental, and societal pressure. Those who are comfortable failing (and failing publicly), because they know they will learn something every time. Teachers who keep testing ideas, iterating, testing more, learning, getting feedback, and perfecting ideas. Those who are willing to be active, to take responsibility for enhancing the experience of “school” for their students.

Zeroing in on the essence of the term Teacherprenuer, I believe you find yourself at these points. A restless, active, and brave mindset, which you deploy in the pursuit of enhancing education.

As the internet has flourished and grown exponentially over the years, keeping our children and students safe has been quite the cause for concern – from media, from parents, from teachers. Digital citizenship, at it’s very least then, can be thought of as developing the skills to keep safe online, how to avoid the nasty bits of the internet, and strategies to deal with it when they eventually do.

It’s a valid aspect of digital citizenship, but should not be the main focus. It’s too negative.

Well-rounded digital citizenship efforts should focus on how our digital technology enables us as individuals to become more active, altruistic participants in global culture. Altruism is our selfless drive to contribute, to share, to help, and support. Our digital networks of mass communication and collaboration can be tools to amplify our altruistic tendencies.

“Active citizenship” is the philosophy that citizens should work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens. – Wikipedia

Digital Altruism

Digital citizenship efforts must encourage altruism; placing the student, the individual, as a citizen of the world, responsible for adding open knowledge, having healthy, positive, relationships, respecting diversity, being creatively free, ethical, and moral, sharing productive pursuits, able to support others, and engaged in non-judgemental debate. This is what an informed, publicly engaged digital citizen should be embodying.

While this is a wide wave to surf, as teachers, we can now begin to zero in on the kinds of knowledge, skills, tools, and mindsets altruistic digital citizens might need in order to participate fully in the social networks and online places and spaces people come together in, in order to have better, more positive, meaningful impact.

Fortunately, much work has been done in breaking down the component elements of a digital citizenship programme which aims to reinforce notions of effective, positive, responsible participation (Greenhow, 2010). Mike Ribble, Gerald Bailey, and Tweed Ross have identified Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship: digital etiquette, digital communication, digital access, digital literacy, digital commerce, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness, and digital security.

Christine Greenhow illustrates how teachers are setting up learning experiences for students to meet these themes – including creating cyberbullying scenarios within Second Life, and presenting cases of ethical dilemmas to work through – which are having an impact. Following the #digicit and #flatclassrooms hashtags on Twitter reveal a host of other learning experiences students are engaging with as well.

The internet gets a bad rap a lot of the time. Lets change the narrative. Lets encourage students to use the digital tools and networks they have available for the power of good. Lets make the themes of altruistic digital citizenship run rampant throughout our teaching and learning programmes, encouraging positive, moral, ethical, and productive action.

 


 

Greenhow, C. (2010). New concept of citizenship for the digital age. Learning & Leading with Technology, 37(6), 24-25.

Ribble, M. (2016). http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/Home_Page.html

There are a class of digital games which require the formation of “cross functional teams” (Gee, 2005). Cross functional teams are “a group of people with different functional expertise working toward a common goal.” The ability to take on and respect these different roles is a sign of good, healthy collaboration rather than simple “group work” where participants work side-by-side but not together.

To access the best gear in World of Warcraft, for example, groups need to be formed in order for certain content (raids or dungeons) to be successfully completed. The kinds of challenges the groups face demand there be a character up front sucking up all the damage from the big bad guy (a tank), someone staying out of trouble healing (a healer) and three other characters doing damage to the big bad guy (DPS – damage per second characters). Characters specialise in their areas and need to stick to their role if the encounter is to be successful; you cannot win a dungeon if your group comprises solely of one class or of people not sticking to their assigned roles (read: a Leroy Jenkins).

Players must understand their character’s abilities and roles, but also integrate and coordinate smoothly with the group as a whole, embodying what James Gee calls “cross-functional understanding” (2005). What you get then is a group coming together in a shared endeavour, each character an integral part of the puzzle. These dungeons constitute an “Affinity Space” – a place where experimental learning happens, where newbies and masters unite, knowledge is dispersed and leadership is flexible. In a World of Warcraft raid group you learn and grow together; fail and succeed together.

A group of people working together, taking different roles, communicating and collaborating? This is good stuff – stuff which indeed hits on many aspects of what we consider to be elements of good learning experiences:

  • It flexes many of Guy Claxton’s characteristics of powerful learners, most notably that of experimentation and the virtue of sociability (Claxton, 2013).
  • It takes a cue from not only a constructivist view of learning, where learning emerges from experiences, but also a connectivist approach where learning is strengthened and enhanced when nodes of knowledge (players) connect and diffuse knowledge.
  • It is an interactive approach to learning, not one in which learners are passive receptacles (Becker, 2011).

What is interesting is considering these informal, affinity based groups alongside the idea of identity and social inclusion as well. It allows students to experiment with different roles and identities, ones which could be altogether different from those they embody on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t matter how fast you run or what clothes you wear or what your recent writing sample was scored at – in a MMO (massive multiplayer online game) it comes down to how well you know your class, how well you can work together, communicate, collaborate and trust each other. Participation in affinity spaces can bridge barriers and bring people together.

Setting up experiences where students get to be a part of a cross functional team can therefore lead to great learning in and of itself, but can also be used as a springboard or scaffold into offline collaboration too. Cross functional teams are valued hugely in many areas because they can flexibly meet challenges and deliver creative outcomes. Helping students to be active participants in these kinds of groups – to be able to take on different roles (a leader or a follower, a devil’s advocate, an experimenter, or a dreamer) – is good stuff. The importance then would shift into reflecting deeply on your online experiences and taking those learnings into group projects, social interactions, and collaborative learning IRL. Thankfully there are strategies and tools that can assist this – de Bono’s Thinking Hats and NoTosh’s Design Thinking tools spring to mind.

Digital Games are not just the past-time popular media would have you believe, but powerful spaces for learning and powerful prompts into other learning. Using cross functional teams as a training ground for offline collaboration and social inclusion is one of these.

So – who do you want to be today? A tank, a healer or a DPS?


References

Becker, K. (2011). Distinctions between games and learning: A review of current literature on games in education. In Gaming and Simulations: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools and Applications (pp. 75-107). Hershey, PA: . doi:10.4018/978-1-60960-195-9.ch105

Claxton, G. (2013). What’s the point of school?: Rediscovering the heart of education. Oneworld Publications.

Gee, J.P. (2005). Good video games and good learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 85(2), 33-37. http://dmlcentral.net/sites/dmlcentral/files/resource_files/GoodVideoGamesLearning.pdf