To shine or not to shine?

I think, as Anna says, it’s not the shiny OERs that would make people want to embrace digital literacies in the classroom. It is material that responds to the sensibilities of those of us who feel they are still on the nursery slopes that would work for me. The invention of technological advancement is all very commendable, but it is the interface between technology and users that seems the hardest to get right.
At the last teachers’ meeting, I was exposed to a new vocabulary. Teachers spoke of their involvements with Moodle, Nanogong, Edmodo, QR codes, GPS with mobile devices, final cut, and ‘stealth reading’. I don’t think I am the only person in the world who did not know about these things… well… do you know what they all are? Certainly in the pub later that night, nobody had any idea of what I was talking about. Now I am aware these things exist, and am exploring some of their possible applications I feel more in the know, (and just a little superior?)
But DeFT teachers are keen not to be categorised as techies. They are empathetic, and understand issues involved here. Kate is planning on making resources to introduce people to web2.0 ‘stuff’. She said (according to my transcript)” I know it sounds really simple stuff, but actually it can be really scary if you have not done it before.” Michael is looking to set up a ‘non-threatening’ web space in his school, where members of staff can share, trial and reflect upon resources that support the use and promotion of digital literacies in school. Jack, who is fed up with being “wheeled in like a circus act” to schools, is intent on producing a “warts and all” story of all the stages he and the children he works with went through to produce stunning film productions.
The session worked as a stimulating exchange of ideas which could as Jo said, “change my life” as a teacher!
These case studies will work towards presenting new technologies as interesting aids to teaching and learning rather than difficult challenges that add to all the other burdens teachers face.

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In full bloom: Digital literacy and creative learners

In our exploration of issues related to digital literacy and Open Educational Resources in the context of teacher education, we have purposefully made space for creativity. Right from the start, when thinking about our involvement with the schools, we talked about creative learners and ways in which creativity informs children’s digital literacy practice, both within and outside of schools. To show how serious (or playful) we were about all things creative, we asked Richard Johnson from the Sheffield Children’s Festival to collaborate with DeFT as an official project partner and many conversations later, some very creative ideas are ready to see the light.

Tulip by Richard Johnson

On top of his many artistic skills (see the tulip, created with the Brushes app at our recent project meeting for proof!), Richard has extensive experience of organising and working with schools as manager of the Sheffield Children’ Festival, organised by Sheffield City Council every summer. In 2011, over 34,000 young people had an opportunity to take part in the festival, the largest of its kind in the UK, and work with professional artists, develop their creativity, exhibit work, perform in city centre venues, participate in workshops and special events. Two DeFT schools will be participating in the festival this year – kids from Mundella Primary School will be taking part in the “Bigger Bloom” project inspired by David Hockney’s work where they will use iPads to create digital flowers which will then become part of a spring flowers mural displayed at the festival. Kids from Bradfield Dungworth Primary will spend the day capturing the involvement of the school with Camp Cardboard project (does what it says on the tin – the kids build a camp, using cardboard) via digital photography and video, they will also blog and possibly Tweet about the event.

We are working with Richard to explore creative ways of disseminating OERs created in the context of the project and started brainstorming about details of an installation which would reflect the understandings of digital literacy being developed by DeFT partners. The working title for the installation at the moment is “Digital Bloom”, and the key metaphor we think of using is that of a field of flowers, where each of the flowers represents individual understandings of digital literacy, with the field signifying its collective meanings. So, who wants to come out and play with us?

Digital literacy metaphors we live by


Talking about digital literacy

That team meeting the other day wasn’t just a chance to experience the “gold level ” sandwiches (catering-speak for food that is edible as opposed to designed with cardboard fans in mind), but first and foremost to plan our project meeting for teachers and PGCE tutors which took place on the 9 February. We’re now in the process of busily writing up the notes, following up on suggestions, reflections and action points but as far as first impressions go, it seems like all the planning paid off and we are quite pleased with how the day went.

The location at the Crucible Theatre – certainly helped boost our creativity, and set the tone for the day as we spent quite a lot of time discussing the metaphors of space in relation to digital literacy. Interestingly, a number of our partners schools have chosen to develop a case study where the starting point is a physical space that they plan to augment/annotate with OERs which can be accessed via the wonders of QR codes. For instance, Jim Hildyard from Winterhill High School is planning to pilot the use of QR codes in partnership with Magna Science Adventure Centre to showcase student-produced resources about Magna exhibits. Rob Hobson from Halfway Primary is looking at tagging Heathlands parkto create an adventure trail for his pupils where they will interact with QR codes placed on the park grounds. Both mini-projects are a great example of how enhancing digital literacy skills of pupils helps widen their horizons, both in a literal and a more abstract sense – the students will come away inspired by engaging with initiatives embedded within their local communities, but they will also get a sense of what is possible via digital means of engagement with literacy. Thus, yet another way of looking at the purposes of digital literacy is that of signposting/guiding; and one of the teachers commented yesterday of how myopic the pupils can be when it comes to their engagement with digital space and it is only by enhancing their skills in that area that they become more confident in venturing further out.

Metaphors related to the world of filming were quite abundant as well, not surprising given that a couple of the cases focus on the use of visual media in the context of digital literacy. Jack Todhunter from Newman School, who has a wealth of experience in using film when teaching English and creative media, brought up the concept of out-takes in the context of digital literacy, arguing that very often, the emphasis is on showcasing polished performance via digital means. However, it is the false starts and blind alleys, the bits and pieces which end up on the editing room floor that contribute to the learning process; at the same time, revealing and exposing these out-takes can leave teaching professionals feeling exposed and quite vulnerable. This ties in with some of the questions about releasing teaching materials openly – from my experience of working with academics on two previous phases of the OER programme (C-SAP pilot and cascade project), the biggest obstacle to sharing more openly was the fear that the resources are not “good enough”, not polished enough. Striving for high quality is certainly a good thing, after all, issues of quality assurance come up repeatedly in the context of OERs, but how do you make sure that the richness of the practitioner’s journey is not lost when the world is presented with a shiny OER?

After the core team meeting

Last week, deep in the bowels of the Science block at Hallam University, we had a DeFT core team meeting.  Although at first only a few members of the team were able to attend, in the end everyone was there: Julia Davies, Jackie Marsh, Guy Merchant, Cathy Burnett, Richard Pountney, Anna Gruszczynska, and me. We had the best sandwiches that Sheffield Hallam could offer (there were whispers that they were ‘gold’ level), and sat down to a working lunch.

Richard outlined the agenda for the afternoon: the main subject of the meeting was the schools’ case studies, and the meeting with the teachers on the 9th February.

As discussion points, Anna introduced a theoretical mapping activity using the JISC Digital Literacy Anatomised diagram and the Futurelab framework to identify areas of digital literacy we may be covering.  She also presented a location map of the schools. We found that inadvertently we had chosen schools that formed a ring around the city centre.  It was decided to invite one more school situated at the centre of Sheffield.

We then shared news of case studies from the schools.  The energy and enthusiasm that sparked round the room was quite uplifting.  This was the first opportunity team members had to get a full picture of the range of different projects the schools were involved with, and it was a valuable opportunity to share ideas and experiences.  It was felt that it would be a good idea to provide the teachers with the same opportunity on the February 9th project meeting.

Thoughts went to dissemination, and Guy mentioned that the team will be presenting at the UK Literacy Association conference as well as at the Cambridge OER2012, and Richard confirmed that the workshop focusing on OERs for teacher education is being planned with Sara Younie and Sara Jones involved with the “Digital literacy and creativity” project and will take place during the ITTE conference in July at Oxford University.  The Sheffield Children’s Festival is on the horizon with thoughts of emulating Hockney’s work on ipads…although nothing is set in stone yet, there are exciting plans afoot!

There’s generations and generations…

As I visit some of the partner schools, and listen to students in focus groups from both universities, some surprising perspectives about digital literacies are starting to emerge. It seems to me that in terms of digital literacies, ‘generations’ are being concertinaed into very short time spans. In one of our focus groups, post graduate student teachers were talking about their A level students as a ‘different generation’. Although I would think there were only four or five years difference between them, these trainee teachers felt they were light years apart! They remembered (nostalgically perhaps?) telephone access to the web, clumsy computer games, and the days before everyone had a mobile, when they would stand waiting for their friends at bus stops, not texting or phoning- perhaps having a conversation with someone face to face. They felt they had to work hard to keep up with new generations of pupils; to remain savvy about the newest games and equipment in order to maintain some credibility with their classes.
Mark Brumley suggests that competences in digital literacies seem to be dependent on interest or circumstance rather than age. Certainly the participants in the project- tutors and teachers and student teachers span several generations, (hundreds if you go by the focus groups definition of a digital generation!) and all have different areas and degrees of involvement with digital technology. Depending on interests and needs, some elect to ignore certain technologies such as facebook and mobile phones. These resources are perhaps not necessary or useful to them in their present situations.
This puts a different perspective on some of the blanket assumptions that I have come across recently in schools with veteran staff. The theory is that these teachers are out of touch, not willing to learn, and unable to take on board new ideas. As I found in my doctoral study on, ‘Grumpy old Teachers’, these assumptions are often unfair.
In several of the schools involved with the project, the member of staff interested in technology is working to develop ways of passing on expertise to other members of staff. Even new teachers -straight out of University were not necessarily familiar with ways in which digital technology could enhance their teaching. It seems that all teachers need time and training to maintain up to date digital literacy in their practice.