Open your textbooks …

It is in the last few weeks of the DEFT project that our thoughts have been turning to the important task of creating and releasing our Open Textbook to the world. These are the difficult times when all of the work as a team comes together. Looking back over the postings in this blog you can see how individuals are making sense of Digital Literacy, addressing important issues that impact upon them and their understandings of the world. I include here the teachers involved in our projects and their case studies (see Project Website – currently at digitalfutures.org – note: this soon will be making space for the Open Textbook itself on 1st November). These thoughts have been informed by the wonderful conference and the excellent and well-received keynotes by Doug Belshaw and Bob Harrison. Some of these notions of Digital Literacy are not always easy to articulate and are sometimes less about what people actually say and more about the, often tacit, systems of meanings that underlie them.  These many voices are at varying  volume and timbre, some rehearsed, others underperformed. Making a response is important and needs to be taken in the spirit in which it is offered: i.e. open to debate. However, the nature of projects is that they require outcomes and products and hence our busy-ness making all of this make sense, and we thank our readers in bearing with us while this emerges.

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Deft at DeFT

Was it just me who flinched when Doug was talking about how to explain digital technologies in a way that was simple enough even for his old mum to understand? We were invited to have a good laugh at the image of this simple woman coming to grips with modern technology.

“There but for the grace of god (and Anna) go I,” I thought.  With their help I am now slightly more digitally literate than I was at the start of this project, but am probably the same age and definitely the same gender as Doug’s mother.   I could not succeed in ‘othering’ (see Fine ) myself completely from her and did not like this stereotype.  As it was repeated, I became more ill at ease.

I think that the statement made me feel uncomfortable because it reveals a particular attitude to women and age.

Firstly, why was his mother– not his father or even his son used as an example of digital incompetence?  I know many men who are self-confessed digital illiterates- so they do exist. Even if his mother was the least digitally competent person in the family,(and to be fair, it is widely accepted that men do spend more time on computers than women) is he right to imply that she is intellectually challenged?  Is he subscribing to the trope that women have an inferior intelligence, especially in the male dominated realm of digital technologies? And how far does this belief in intellectual inferiority extend?

Secondly, does age predefine levels of skill and interest in technology? Are we to believe that older generations have no proficiencies in this area?  If Doug had looked around he might have noticed quite a few veteran experts in the field, and that one very eminent professor had just become a Grandmother.

Jokes on age and gender- not a very good cocktail to present to an academic audience- I was not the only one who was- shaken not stirred- by the performance.  In fact if Doug’s mother was there she might have made him sit in the naughty chair.

For dissing his elders.

Deft Regional Conference

On Tuesday,  we hosted a regional conference to celebrate and disseminate the achievements of the Digital Futures in Teacher Education project.  The conference started with an introduction from Richard Pountney, our project lead and Anna Gruszczynska our project manager.  Then Julia Davies and Cathy BurnettImage set the scene by outlining the themes that emerged from the project.  Parallel sessions of Case studies were presented in four themes.  The presentations are hyperlinked to the presenters, but you can see their case studies written up on our Digital Futures website.

Getting to grips with Software was the theme for Peter Winter, Chris Welch and Jack Todhunter’s case studies.  Using Social networking was the theme for Chris Bailey and Kate CosgroveJim Hildyard, Rob Hobson and ImageZubida Khatoon showed how they used mobile technologies outside the confines of the classroom, and Mick Connell, Sarah Butler, Michael Payton Greene and Christine Bodin talked about professional development issues.

Doug Belshaw and Bob Harrison gave keynote speeches, and a discussion panel, chaired by Phil Moore from YHGfL invited questions and comments from the floor and the twitter feed.  Our principal investigator Guy Merchant, and academic lead Jackie Marsh ended the day- you can see the full details on our project programme.

It was a great success.  The conference centre was filled with over 80 delegates (some from as far away as Japan) who shared an interest in digital technologies and education.  They came from a wide range of backgrounds- from the students that Sarah Butler brought along- to a researcher of educational buildings; from a retired SEN teacher to a teacher educator from Lincoln.  Our DeFT teachers and tutors, confident and inspirational, succeeded in motivating them all by sharing their creativity and technological know how.Image

Everyone was interested in the same story- the development of digital technologies, the exploration of digital literacies and ways of promoting new and exciting ways of learning. In the words of Bob Harrison this was a “timely” and “genuinely important project”, because “there are massive changes taking place in education at the moments, and the use and impact of technology on learning is really really important”.  Now we need some sort of transformation in the way we educate our children. We need to “educate the educators- or else our young will be left behind”.   Keith Hemsley, who has spread the gospel about the benefits of using informational technologies in schools for the past thirty years, said that he enjoyed listening to the teachers: “I thought I would have heard it all before,” he said, “but it’s a different approach!”

Delegates were impressed with how the case studies showcased a wide range of involvements with digital technologies. Several people I talked to were impressed by the scope:  “we can take these ideas away, and build on them…” said one teacher educator.  A few were amazed at the dexterity of the tiniest of our participants. One delegate, after seeing the Sharrow Nursery project said, ” I have learnt a lot, I am surprised that very small children can use these tools, a video camera, they made video clips, it’s so amazing! Yes I saw a new world! ”   Many more people spoke of how they were really inspired by the case study presentations.

I spoke to Doug Belshaw who said he was pleasantly surprised by the determination and imagination that the teachers demonstrated:  “I was expecting them to say ‘well we were trying to do some stuff, but we were hamstrung by e-safety issues,’ but they found ways round this and did stuff, I would quite happily have my five year old son in that kind of class.”

For other blogs on the conference see Guy Merchant‘s , where you can see Jack Todhunter’s film of the event, and Doug Belshaw’s blog, where he posts the prezi he used for his keynote speech.  Leicester City Council have blogged about Lucy Atkins’s impressions of the day

The conference was a brilliant showcase of all the effort that the project members have been working towards over the past year. We have come so far… it seems so long ago that everyone met together at the start of the project. As Sue Bamford said in her feedback sheet, “Lovely to see the outcomes of this project- having been at one of the first meetings where everyone was putting forward their first ideas about what they might do.”

I have not had all the feedback sheets back yet, but so far the message is clear: it has been a truly wonderful event ….

here are just some of the comments:

“very thought provoking… positive promotion of using digital technology in the classroom by inspirational teachers”

“getting to grips with software. very interesting and useful”

“the themes intro was brilliant at putting the sessions into context”

“A very valuable experience overall.  I have been introduced to many new ideas and issues to think about, which I plan to share with my fellow PGCE primary students”

“great ideas for primary- inspiring, thank you”

“I really enjoyed this event, I was stimulated.  UK is challenging to introduce ICT into schools.  That is amazing.  All presenters were excellent.  Japanese should have a sense of humour like British.”

“Excellent opportunity to learn from others and contribute to that learning … privilege to meet so many creative and daring people who are making a difference.”

“constant frustrations with tech. but seen huge passion and enthusiasm with great examples of innovation in learning and teaching”

“events like this help to provide the most valuable CPD – learning from each other’s, sharing innovative work, how social media is a forum for sharing.”

and you can see many more on the #deft twitter feed.

 

The fun we had

“Margie even wrote about it that night in her diary. On the page headed May 17, 2155, she wrote, ‘Today Tommy found a real book!’

These are the opening words of an Isaac Asimov short story called ‘The Fun They Had‘. It’s about how children of the future find an old book and what they think about it. The story was written in 1951 and Asimov sets the story 200 years later.

‘They turned the pages, which were yellow and crinkly, and it was awfully funny to read words that stood still instead of moving, like they were supposed to – on a screen, you know. And then when they turned back to the page before, it had the same words on it that they had had when they read it the first time.’

I was reminded of this story at the DeFT Conference at Sheffield United Football Ground on Tuesday 2nd October 2012. We were talking about Digital Futures for Teacher Education and I was thinking about how in the story the teachers were robots. We talked about this in relation to language teaching and how sophisticated digital translators were becoming. ‘Not good enough yet‘ said one person ‘But maybe one day they will be‘ said another. ‘Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer, ought to be” said Bob Harrison, quoting Arthur C Clarke, and echoing Sugata Mitra on ‘Child driven education‘. I wanted to know what happens to the curriculum when knowledge becomes redundant – like Latin, perhaps. ICT as a subject in schools has become like Latin – difficult to learn, unpopular and without a real purpose in the world. But programming is the ‘new Latin’ says the government: notable here not because it has any real purpose for learning but because it differentiates – those who can from those who can’t. Bene diagnoscitur, bene curatur as someone’s old Etonian Latin master used to say. Which reminds me of a very old Spike Milligan joke about eating old sausages. That is perhaps why the consultation on new programmes of study for ICT have been given to the BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, and the Royal Academy for Engineering to lead and advise. We were not mindful of this at all at the conference where teachers shared their stories and digital practices. We were too busy thinking, perhaps like Margie in the story:

“Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days. She was thinking about the fun they had”