I arrived at the Newman Special School event 10 minutes early to the sound of singing. The sound was very professional, with full orchestral backing. I thought I had come to the wrong place. When I got to the hall, there was a large audience listening intently to a beautiful singer, and Jack on some sort of digital music device. No, this was Jack’s dissemination event for the Deft project. There was an eclectic crowd there- pupils from Newman, their parents, student from Hallam, and teachers. The tables were arranged in the hall cabaret style, so there was lots of opportunity to socialise during the breaks, between cups of tea and pizza. But when the show got on the road, we were entertained with a magnificent performance hosted by Jack , with Simon working on an array of digital equipment, showing the films that Newman pupils had made and helped others to make.
I sat at a table with someone who turned out to be one of the film stars. Her smile radiated with pride, joy and something else- that I realised later was -ownership. This glow of pride echoed around the hall. It was almost tangible. This was their work on show, and boy were they proud of it! I managed to speak to some proud parents in the break whose feet hardly touched the ground. Their son, who featured in one of the films and was relatively new to Newman school, had taken full advantage of the digital literacy opportunities afforded by Jacks methods of teaching. In one of the films shown that night, there is a shot of him laughing with a fellow pupil while using a tripod and camera.
“There is not one day he comes home unhappy” said his proud father. His mother was just as proud. She told me that her son had amazed her by his competence in handling the digital equipment. She wants to come in for lessons now. “If he can do it” she said, “then so can I”.
everyone appreciated the hard work that had gone on
This is a very busy week in the life of the project – we’re busily collecting data for the school and PGCE case studies, meeting with the teachers, presenting at the Higher Education Research and Scholarship Group conference at Sheffield Hallam University… We even managed to squeeze in a stint at Sheffield Children’s Festival and had some close encounters with cardboard boxes at Bradfield Dungworth Primary on Monday, where year 4 and year 5 children acted as digital reporters for the day. They were reporting on the involvement of the school with Camp Cardboard – a day of activities arranged by Timm and Sam Cleasby from Responsible Fishing, where throughout the day, the school children used cardboard boxes to create elaborate structures (tunnels, bridges, marble houses…) and learn about communication, teamwork and sustainability. The digital reporters were there with their trustworthy iPads to take photographs and notes, which were later converted into blog posts and can be admired in their entirety on cardboardbds.wordpress.com; the YouTube video created from a combination of time-lapse photography and the photographs taken by the digital reporters also offers a brilliant summary of the day:
That said, I couldn’t help but wonder about the kinds of images the children have chosen to share with the world – the Instagram Gallery shows picture after picture of stacks of boxes and the different shapes they took on throughout the day and occasionally the viewer gets either a view of a group of children sitting down, photographed in a way that only shows their backs or sometimes an individual child with their face blurred out of focus, using special effects on Instagram. I missed seeing photographs that would capture the enthusiasm and the joy of the builders of the camp, who were excitedly jumping up and down and lugging around boxes with a big grin on their faces. This was part of the story we were not able to see because of e-safety – it was easier to adopt a uniform “no face” policy rather than try and cross-check the photographs taken by the children with permissions letters offered by the parents. There were a couple of other interesting teaching moments which brought home to us how complex and oftentimes messy the issue of e-safety can be. On behalf of the project, we invited other teachers to comment on the blog as it evolved throughout the day and suddenly Chris, the teacher at Bradfield, found himself answering some tough questions about why we were encouraging the kids to respond to strangers’ comments on the internet, which was in clear violation of the “no talking to strangers rule”. We continued that conversation at the meeting of DeFT teachers which conveniently took place on the following day; turns out that the kids are very good at communicating the “party line” to the teachers but will still be kids and get Facebook accounts well before they turn thirteen…
While the Sheffield doc fest was happening last week, the DeFT was making its own documentary film about the project. Artist Clare Young and I put together a digital animation of the DeFT poster which describes the players and story of Digital Futures for Teacher Education.
We elicited the help of six year olds Ben, Macy, Gabby and Michael from Mundella Primary School. , who took on board the project’s philosophical and empirical intentions, and worked together very patiently to provide the film’s narrative.
We have entered it into a competition held by the Creative Commons, U.S. Department of Education, and Open Society Foundations, who aim to promote the benefits of open educational resources for teachers and schools everywhere. You can hear The US secretary of Education Arne Duncan talk about its benefits
You can watch the film and vote for us on this link.
For the most part, it seems that the project is adding to my personal collection of (mis)understandings about Open Educational Resources and digital literacy. OK, it is probably a bit unfair to call them misunderstandings as it implies that an understanding – a “truth”, so to say, about OERs/DL actually exists and that’s just as problematic. But I have found it really interesting to be confronted with what seems to be a set of stock stories and reactions to my efforts at explaining what I do, with the short version being “I work on an e-learning project” and the long version is where I talk about working with teachers on a digital literacy project as part of the OER programme. Friends, family and friendly taxi-drivers quite often respond with what seems like an apocryphal story about their three-year old nephew who got hold of an iPad at Christmas/birthday/any other occasion to be inserted as appropriate and since then has proven to be very competent at using the device, leaving hapless parents far behind. It’s quite an amusing, if somewhat unsettling story, especially if you stop to consider the implications of the army of three-year old whizz kids ready to take over the planet. With my researcher hat on, I find the story fascinating, especially as I’ve encountered a version of it in so many diverse contexts and in both professional and personal settings, including at a meeting of heads of e-learning last autumn. Given the context of the project, the story resonates very well with the teachers working on our project as well as the trainee teachers we talk to, who at times seem to feel quite intimidated and threatened by that hypothetical three-year old.
I do find it fascinating that it is the toddler equipped with a mobile device that seems to be occupying the collective imaginary at the moment; with a sprinkle of moral panic about the young rising against the elders added for good measure. The focus is on the kid and its (presumed) superior digital literacy and the device becomes somewhat transparent. This makes me wonder about another somewhat DL-related story that seems to have receded into the background for now; where it was the machines which became too intelligent for their/our own good and turned against the humans. Maybe it is because we still have about six years of reprieve before Skynet rears its ugly head. Or maybe we’re on the cusp of coming up with a different story?