Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Over-Consumption and the Journey in Becoming Healthy and Digitally Literate

Eight years ago my husband and I bought our first Macbook. After 8 hours of unwrapping the styrofoam and plastic packaging we finally got to our digital canvas. The machine that would unleash our creativity as we would endeavor to make music, home videos and digital scrapbooks. Eight years later, I am proud to say we have actually done a lot of those things. Really! We have made scrapbooks, photo-edited and made movies... Time is probably the factor that has got in the way of doing more, but I am proud to say that it was worth the investment. Did having the tool make a difference in unleashing our creativity? I would have to say a loud "YES!" to that question. Having the right device has allowed us the power to create. However it was also more than that. We were also moved to create as the subject matter, our kids... our family... empowered and inspired us to record our memories. 

Before we get into my reflections and connections to the readings, I want to share with you my family's creative journey.  This is my daughter Micaela when she was born. Like many parents we posted a photo on Facebook, thereby starting her digital footprint - whether she wanted it or not. Of course we got many "likes" and congratulatory comments, as most new parents in this platform.  

On that same day, my sister took several pictures and posted them on Facebook, tagging me in the photo. One of the pictures that my sister posted was this one (on the right), where Micaela looked as though she was perhaps getting tired of all the friends, family, neighbours and well-wishers popping in to see her. This picture brought on several comments which included... "At Dawn... We Ride!!!"; "Get to the Chopppa"; "This is Sparta".... What really made me laugh about the comments from my family and friends was the participatory nature of posting reactions to the picture. No one had much to say about the sweet image I posted, but many were inspired to share comments with the angry-baby photo.

The picture didn't exactly go viral, but I didn't exactly feel like experimenting with a photo of my newborn to see if it would create a meme phenomenon either. But the picture inspired someone to create... Days later, this meme was sent to me by a family member. It almost became my birth announcement...
So what does this have to do with the course readings or even this course? I decided to share a photo, thereby allowing friends and family to see a new addition to my family. This in turn encouraged other family members to share their responses to the photo... Everything that took place represents the participatory nature of Social Media and the opportunities afforded with the Internet. However, text is text. So you don't get the feel of the remix of the comments shared on that Facebook post, unless you see it visually.

So, with the help of Image Flip, I created remixes of the original picture incorporating the comments that were posted on Facebook.

How does my oversharing pictures of my daughter connect to the readings? (I'm getting there!) In creating we are doing more than consuming. We are participating we are engaging. We are also inspiring others to engage in this creative process. Many of our students engage in this way in their free time - in the hourse between 3:30pm and 9am. The question is, how can school encourage this same creative outlet?

Larry Lessing asks in his TED Talk, "Laws that Choke Creativity", asks how can the Internet revive the Read-Write culture of creating and break us from the consuming nature of Read-only nature? I think the answer to Lessing's question can be summed up in one word... Audience. The Internet will change this mindset provided there is an audience. With the Internet their is the potential for all users to share what has been created with a real audience - a chance to share interests and passions. Lessing puts it "culture where people produce for the love of what they're doing and not for the money...the culture that your kids are producing all the time". Lessing gets into the extremism of the legalities of copyright, but without getting into the copyright/copyleft argument, the question for educators is how are we addressing these issues with our students? Are we encouraging students to create and share, then encourage them to in turn share their media in the Creative Commons so that it in turn can be remixed? Shaun Horsman, in his post, "The Language of Literacy", comments that the "current era of ‘ownership’ and copyright that is going to be a more challenging proposition than it has in the past". How are teachers helping students to navigate questions related to remixing and ownership? The Digital Citizenship Continuum addresses these issues under "Digital Law" at the grade 6 to 9 level, where students are encouraged to "Create a Creative Common license for work they create" - however, how can we help students navigate through the grey with remixing? At least one of the benefits in seeing the concept in the continuum, is that it starts the conversation regarding students seeing themselves as creators and contributors of material on-line. But then again, who owns it?
The biggest question is, how are schools tapping into the student's natural inclination to create and share? What needs to be in place? Is it a case of the Macbook in my family...  get the device - then get inspired? Or is it something more? Our students are inspired, and many have access to some of the tools - but are educators ready to provide that space for creativity? Or are we too consumed with the notion that we don't have time with all that we have to "cover"? Does our current framework for assessment and evaluation even match the opportunities afforded with digital learning?  In the midst of report cards, Danielle Maley in her post, "Remixing Education, a Reportcard Rant", shares her feelings on the need for a shift in mindset within school divisions and at a provincial level, in how we allow students to share what they know. She implores fellow educators to "get passionate and back to our core... rather than limiting kids ...[and] start opening doors." However, it's hard to open doors, particularly with the pressures related to assessments. Perhaps one of the ways we can open doors for our students is to provide opportunities where they can explore their passions within the context of digital literacy (or literacies).

Over the past few months when I have discussed with teachers the role of digital literacy and fluency in readying our students with the transferable skills they will need for 21st century learning, I am often reminded of the challenges educators face in just ensuring that students are at appropriate levels for literacy and numeracy. Although I totally agree with these teachers that before we can explore other literacies, traditional notions of literacy and numeracy need to be addressed. But do they necessarily conflict? If one looks at the Cross-Curricular Competencies for the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, you can see that Technological Literacy is interwoven and embedded within all competencies. These cross-curricular competencies being: Thinking, Identity and Interdependence, Literacies, and Social Responsibility. 

When I started looking at Doug Belshaw's work, I started to see a connection between his 8 Essential Elements of Digital Literacy and many concepts in the Saskatchewan Cross-Curricular Competencies. Belshaw shares that extremely challenging to define “literacy” –never-mind, “digital literacy”. Literacy can only be explained contextually, and for this reason, Belshaw uses the plural and explores the notion of ‘literacies’. To further help understand the different contexts of digital literacies, he explores 8 essential elements which include: critical, civic, confident, cognitive, creative, communicative, constructive and cultural. After further investigation, I was also able to see a connection to Fullen's work on the New Learning Goals or the 6C's - critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and imagination, character education and citizenship.

Doug Belshaw's TED Talk, "The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies", was one that I was already familiar with as his work has helped to inspire my collaborative major project. Within the context of the presentation, Belshaw emphasizes the importance of taking people, particularly students, into a mindset beyond passive consumption of technology and instead into one centralized on making, creating, or remixing. In order to develop digital literacy within students, schools need to look at what opportunities we are providing students to develop these proficiencies. Skills at learning how to decode technology and media and contribute to the creation of products and ideas using digital tools.

The Essential Elements
of Digital Literacies
from Doug Belshaw
In addition to helping students develop skills in being able to remix, decode and create in developing digital literacies there is also the challenge of "bolstering student engagement and drive more innovation" and shift to "deeper learning approaches, such as project and challenge based learning", as stated in the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12. One of the aspects that I love about this report and the challenges shared from manageable to "wicked" is how there is an emphasis on constructivism where the focus is not on the technology, but the concept of creating. 

Belshaw,  Fullen and the Horizon Report all focus on what can be accomplished when the focus is on student-centered pedagogy and opportunities for students to choose how they will use technology. The focus is not on devices but on pedagogy. The question is, how can we get school divisions and educators to this shift in mindset? How can we shift from "covering" outcomes to allowing students opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the outcomes in a variety of ways? Perhaps the shift from percentage based reporting to outcome based reporting will help us find these answers. At least this might be a start...


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