first blog post

Ok this is my first blog ever. I have come to this project from the outside. Outside the world of digital literacy, OERs, wikis, blogs and tweets…
I am not a technophobe. I have dabbled with the super 8 -making films of moving fruit in my youth, and have constructed short digital films to create moods for presentations for conferences. I have a blackberry… I can often build up the flat packs from IKEA. I do not shy away from new technology.
But while Anna has been an absolute saint guiding me through these new tools for social networking, I find that I am completely out of my depth as I gradually realise the extent of the work has gone on already.
I can see blogging and tweeting allows for instantaneously shared thoughts, connections with people, and that it can invite exciting collaborative ideas but I am reluctant to plunge in. I am fearful/wary/shy of the web. I have been trying to put together some words to explain why.
I think it might have something to do with the speed and the irrevocability of it all.

I want be able to present things carefully before it is published to the world: I feel more comfortable having control over what I present, and how I present it, and know who my audience may be.
When I researched teachers’ lives for my doctoral study I became aware how conscious people were of preserving their privacy, protecting their identity. The data they shared with me was sensitive and I was very much conscious of the fact that I was extremely privileged to have access to it. The teachers needed to be asked before their conversations were taped. They did not want their images connected to the data, so I used actors to re- present their stories.
It is with this background that I come to the project. Tiptoeing through other people’s sensibilities, and not always getting it right.

I am slow, I need time to give thoughts and feelings space to cultivate/develop/ (fester?) before they are put out as printed words . I like to be able to get used to an idea as a thing in itself before it becomes, (as old Barthos acknowledges), a thing whose meaning we can no longer control, although we are still ascribed its authorship…
And this is another area I find confusing.
We can anonymise our words-we have handles(is that the right word?) like graffiti artists, that allow us to post things anonymously, which can be quite refreshing, but sometimes this is not satisfactory because the value of a statement coming from a vacuum is questionable, and anyway these pseudonyms are cosmetic. People in the know know. Although we are addressing this point on our blog, it is still an issue I find hard to come to terms within the culture of social networking.
And this is just some of the baggage that I arrive with as a digital refugee to the project…. It is how I feel today, but probably not tomorrow,

Standing at the starting line …

It is now a whole week since the first DEFT team meeting at the Mercure Hotel in Sheffield. Way down in the cellar I wondered if we would need to keep coming up for gulps of air, but maybe it was the caffeine that kept us going, or maybe it was the energising  nature of everyone’s  ideas –  the day flew by and I, at least, learned a lot.

Life style coffee and the digital tools required for work

The team includes experts from many areas – teachers of Media; of Film and Digital Media; people who have used new technologies to enhance their literacy teaching; to make learning more interesting; we have bloggers and film makers; teachers and teacher educators; we have ‘digital enthusiasts’ – and this last includes the full team.  We are all also interested in developing ways of helping teachers and student teachers become more confident in using new technologies; to learn from younger users and to improve their school learning experiences. This is a team of people who make things happen.

We talked about all sorts of STUFF, airing issues and rehearsing and developing debates around Digital Literacies and the place of new technologies in people’s everyday lives.  We mentioned how a lot of what young people do at home with new technologies is often more exciting and innovative than how these technologies are used in school; but we also talked about how some young people were not involved and how everyone can benefit from being guided by well informed teachers or peer mentors.

I was  struck by a teacher colleague’s words when he talked about how new technologies enable youngsters in his Special School to talk more – that having a digital camera in a child’s hand made it easier for that child to discuss what he was doing and why. The camera opened out possibilities for developing relationships with new people. I had not considered this before; much is talked about in terms of extending non ‘meat space’ interaction – through virtual activities – but here we found out about how digital technology can extend communication possibilities  in ‘meat space’ as well.

We discussed what we might mean by Digital Literacies, thinking about the ways in which we can use new technologies to publish for wider audiences; to work on texts together; to comment on other people’s texts and to co-author things even when in a different time and space. It is easier to produce texts with sound, moving images and to link texts together.

Whilst we said we were less interested in taking a skills /technicist approach to teaching about using new technologies – wanting to avoid a focus on the ‘how to’, nevertheless, we all acknowledged, there is a necessary period where one does have to get to grips with new technologies and interfaces before one can use them confidently.  This was expressed as being the ‘instrumental stuff’ that can get in the way of the ‘new communication stuff’. We also agreed that in learning about the technical possibilities, we also learn about the social affordances of many new media.

The word ‘creativity’ was used a lot and we wondered if we needed to define this – and  whether there was sometimes an intimidating aspect behind the notion of ‘Creativity’ – something that has become something to aspire to at all times.  Can good practice exist without things having to be rated as either more or less ‘creative’?

As the day moved on (- and we felt alternately re-fuelled and somnambulated by our large lunch  -)  we talked more about the importance of involving young people in the projects we develop and to engage them in the research process. We talked about doing projects that could not be done without technologies – something totally new. But we also felt it was important to blend the old and the new ….. But one thing was also sure. We knew that we could benefit from continued collaboration.

There were of course worries about parental permissions, online risks, access to social networking sites and so on. Partners from YHGfL were able to talk to us about how they can help schools in this regard however. They have a hos of ideas and resources to share with the project.  Our partner from The Sheffield Children’s Festival excited us with what he had to say about how we can showcase our work next June – July 2012.

Many of us were inspired by Smart Assess (yes that’s right) who have all kinds of ideas for brightening up school websites and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). Most impressive for me was the determination to make such learning environments REAL  (RLEs)as opposed to virtual. And equally important is the work done by Learning Connections in making learning interactive through Digital Technologies – with a director who is happy to work with any of our project schools in making their projects work.

We are all set at the starting line with ideas and support; we are at the ready to get going on new projects… the DeFT core team will be there in support and are excited to run. So we will be visiting schools in January and then coming together again on February 9th 2012.

Here’s a video of the day!

Mercure Hotel, 8th December 2011

First project meeting? Check!

We’ve achieved our first major milestone, that is, a project partner meeting which took place on 8 December. Within the project, we are looking at collecting stories of practice with digital literacies and so during the day we experimented with various ways of capturing the stories that were being told at the meeting. We started off with somewhat of an old school twist on people tagging mentioned in an earlier blog post by our principal investigator. As people came in, we handed them a form to fill with information about their preferred contact details for admin purposes but we also asked the question about their favourite gadgets and mobile devices seemed to come up a lot. We also asked about their digital superpowers and digital kryptonite. Turns out that there are some real hidden talents among the group as we noticed that participant mentioned “invisibility” and “photographic memory” and Facebook seems to be quite successful at putting people off technology, as are faulty photocopiers. We then whipped out a Polaroid instant camera (yes, they’re back!) to take snapshots of participants which were then appended to the forms and added to the display boards. We came back to that map throughout the day, looking for connections between the participants (see also our Tweets from the day) and any emerging stories and paths to explore as we reflect on various meanings of digital literacies.

We were aided in these reflections by a diagram created by the members of the project team, which offers a visual representation of project methodology and the roles and responsibilities of our three main partners – schools, PGCE tutors and consultants from the local creative digital industries. The figure in the right-hand corner of the diagram, our evaluator, also made a virtual appearance during the day and listened in to our conversations with the PGCE tutors in the morning, offering some useful insights for the project. One thing that we will certainly keep reflecting on is striking the right balance between technology and literacy. as our evaluator noted, if you foreground ‘digital literacy’ there is a possibility, a danger in some circumstances, that the technologies become prominent and the emphasis on pedagogy and communication is lost, at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with enthusing people to try new technologies. After all, we are working with a very creative bunch of people from a variety of backgrounds, including media studies, creative and digital media, ICT and English, amongst other things. They come from different sectors, including primary, secondary and special schools, but all have one thing in common – an interest in digital literacy and a willingness to take risks with their pedagogic practice.