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

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