About rpountney

Principal Lecturer in Education Curriculum Development and Technology Enhanced Learning Sheffield Hallam University

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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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”

Old yellow eyes

‘I drew a line, I drew a line for you, Oh what a thing to do, And it was all yellow….’ (Yellow, Coldplay)

I have been thinking about what digital literacy means to me. In some ways DL is not a cline: I don’t think it is possible to claim that one is ‘a bit digitally literate’ for example. We tend to see this in black and white, don’t we?. And this is not an aesthetic treatment of DL, it’s not chiaroscuro, for example. No, it’s black or white and I think it does matter, Michael!. I wonder about the way we think about these things and how it does resolve itself into competence and performance camps. This is an educational ‘treatment’ of ways of doing and being. In terms of children’s art consider two responses to the child who shows the teacher a painting of a house. The first teacher says ‘that’s interesting, tell me about it’; the second says ‘what a lovely house but you have forgotten the windows’. Which of these responses is teaching the child to draw? And is this different to teaching the child to see?

Richard's tulip's

Whose picture is this?

I was encouraged to ‘look’ at Richard Johnson’s excellent workshop recently. We were drawing the tulips. ‘Can you see the blues … look closely in the folds … see the reds, a kind of orange in the shadows … and see there the purples’. I looked. I looked really hard. I carried on looking  But blow me if I could only see yellow. It was all yellow! Am I deviant? Was this the ‘king’s new palette’?

Basil Bernstein talks about an acquired gaze and how important this is in education (‘truth is a matter of an acquired gaze; no-one can be eyeless in this Gaza’ (1999, p.165). I prefer to believe that this is not something we are born with, although I can be convinced that a social gaze can be acquired from a person’s status position, his social category, and possibly gender and race. What I am surer about is that gaze can be cultivated; that is a social disposition acquired through education and enculturation. And if we can be shown the underlying structure of things we can acquire a ‘trained gaze’.

To be able to see Digital Literacy for what it is I need to be able to look more closely at it. This goes beyond seeing how it is described and manifested, and how it is treated. I need to see the underlying elements that shape its form: what ‘being good at digital drawing’ means for example, and how it is constructed. David Hockney has been interested for some time in how drawing is made in a printing machine, and how we become invented by our technologies. In attempting to draw the tulip I was of course drawing myself.

Basil Bernstein (1999): Vertical and Horizontal Discourse: An essay, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20:2, 157-173

Better than life …?

Why are the avatars we select for ourselves usually better looking, taller, thinner and cooler than our real selves? My own selected representation is a photograph of myself as a four-year old: I look expectant, a little hesitant, and, I like to think ready for what the world has for me. I sometimes like to animate that image using Crazy Talk and to have a conversation with that ‘me’ about what the future will be like (the present that I have now), and I find that emotional and very strange. If that earlier me could imagine a future I guess that it would be one that was formed in an imagination shaped by cultural influences in my childhood in the 1960s: Tomorrow’s World (archived), and  DoctorWho (regenerated) and more recently Red Dwarf (Better than Life episode) for example. These futures were exciting and frightening, and in many ways idealised, and in the Christmas morning of my imagination I am opening ever more exciting and useful tech. This appears more than the stuff we live by (e.g. electricity, heated homes) and I am wondering if the more prosaic view of technology is lost in our view of the learning future (as in Asimov’s ‘The fun they had‘). The programme Grand Designs projects a view of the future as one which is outlandish, and which jars with our now, as the (creative) person’s imagination made real in, or as, their own homes (the Ideal Home). Which leads me to how we might build and furnish the DeFT project. The term Open Educational Resource (OER) is one that is laden with utility, and perhaps with the mechanics of learning and teaching; it is the ugly baby in the technology beauty contest. What we might need is a parent’s love to see what it might become, to build its confidence in the gadget playground, maybe? To be continued ….