Archive for literacy
As you know from my last post, I spent Friday with Jeff Nugent co-facilitating a full-day workshop at the INFORMS Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium. It was rather exciting to spend a full day with a room full of mathematicians! I am still reflecting on what transpired, but wanted to share some thoughts on one aspect, triggered by a couple of articles today.
The October 17th issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education contains an interesting article by John Seely Brown entitled “How to Connect Technology and Content in the Service of Learning.” Brown noted that:
“Web 2.0 has blurred the line between producers and consumers of content and has shifted attention from access to information toward access to other people.”
In a view similar to Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody, Brown illustrated how the internet offers incredible opportunities for like-minded passionate people to connect and explore their passions. These niche communities provide an environment which supports lifelong learning. If we are not tapping in to these social aspects of the internet, we are missing an opportunity to connect with our students.
Key findings of this corporate (and probably biased) study include:
- More than 80 percent of faculty teach at least some of their classes in “smart classrooms,” yet just 42 percent of those faculty use the technology during every class session
- Topping students’ technology wish list is online chat capability with professors; just 23 percent of higher education IT staff say their campus offers it
- Faculty and IT staff agreed that lack of technology knowledge among faculty is the biggest barrier to technology on campus
Biased or not, the findings do not surprise me. They illustrate that – contrary to conventional wisdom, our students DO want to connect with us, their faculty.
I do not believe in faculty-bashing, but I do fear that a new form of digital divide is developing. Outside of class, our students are developing skills in connecting and communicating via text, chat, IM, FaceBook, blogs, and video. With the exception of a few early adopters, few faculty have these same skills.
This brings me back to our workshop last Friday. I had the 21 faculty brainstorm their assumptions regarding the Net Generation. Some of their assumptions included:
- Students want to be in control of their resources
- Students take a consumer approach to education
- Students want to be spoon-fed
- Students want to understand the relevance of what they are studying
- Student are focused on grades first, learning second
- Students use the internet to find information and communicate
When I asked whether allowing students to bring technology into a classroom was a good thing or a bad thing, the comments made indicated that some of this group of faculty saw technology as a distraction which broke the rhythm of the class and prevented students from “getting the basics.”
One participant made the interesting comment that he wished students would just take what he was teaching on faith rather than immediately wanting to know why.
I have come to hate the phrase “21st Century” whatever: Learner, Thinking, Teacher, Skills.
Has anyone noticed it’s 2008…well 79 days until 2009!
We’re 9 years (depending on how you count) into the 21st Century and we’re still calling for 21st Century things.
I’m sorry we’re in it! These are just skills! They are just what we should be doing and if we’re not teaching them, helping students to understand them then we’re letting them down….big time!
So that’s it…I’m done. No more 21st Century for me.
They just are today’s skills
They just are today’s schools
They just are today’s students
They just are what we should be doing!
No more putting them off.
No more pretending we are thinking of the future.
Either you are a 21st Century school working on preparing students for today or you are a 20th Century school that just doesn’t get it.
That goes for teachers, skills, content, curriculum, students.
On Friday, I attended the ECVA Conference at Virginia Tech along with Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl. Two delightful companions with whom to do a road trip – we left Richmond at 5:30am and got back at supper time.
At the conference, we had the opportunity to hear two excellent keynoters. Michael Wesch talked first about the new literacies required for teaching in the 21st Century. Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins-Bell then followed with a discussion about implementing technologies in ways that solve pedagogical issues.
Much of what Wesch covered was similar to a talk he did at the University of Manitoba last June. He maintains that the old literacy involved reading and writing, but that what needs to be taught today involves reading and writing on the web. Students today have access to unlimited information, so can find the typical questions one asks on multiple choice tests. It is more important to teach critical thinking with that information than the information itself.
Wesch made several points that I had not really reflected on before. First, he noted that the technologies he was using (wikis, YouTube, NetVibes, etc.) did not exist five years ago, so our students have not “grown up” using them. They have learned them during the same time period that he had. This goes a long way in my mind to putting a nail in the Digital Native / Digital Immigrant discussion. I would also suggest that while students today may not have necessarily grown up with the tools in use now, they did grow up with a comfort level to technology that their teachers still do not have in many cases.
The second point he made led to this blog post. He maintained that he does not need to teach reading and writing to students in college – it is assumed they have these literacies when they come into his class. In a like vein, he does not see it as his place to teach the use of tools in the Read/Write web to students – it should be a given that students either know how to use the tools or know how to figure out how to use the tools.
I am currently teaching a graduate course in Instructional Uses of the Internet to a bright group of K-12 teachers. During the first two weeks, we have been focusing on Web 2.0. Many of my students – some of whom have been teaching twenty-plus years – are frustrated and overwhelmed by the myriad of tools and options afforded by the web. Several have stated that I as the instructor am not doing enough to “teach” – I am not providing detailed step-by-step processes for each thing I am asking them to do, such as build a homepage in Blackboard, set up accounts in delicious, wikispaces, and Google Reader. In some ways, I am attempting to model the “messy” way in which learning occurs today on the web, but I am seeing some pushback by these colleagues (and I do think of my students as colleagues). So I have been struggling with this concept of just how much hand-holding I should be doing with graduate students in a Web 2.0 environment. From Wesch’s viewpoint, it sounds like the answer is “none.”
I might agree with 18-year-olds, but these K-12 teachers are in many ways just like the university faculty with whom I work. As a faculty developer, I am mindful that my job in many ways is to act as a problem solver for them. They do not have the same motivations to “play” on the web that I have as an early adopter. They have become successful as faculty and researchers using an older paradigm, and are only now slowly awakening to the need for a new one – if they are awakening at all. Part of this awakening is driven by their students and a visceral feeling that these students know more about technology than they do. I think Michael adequately addresses this (they do not necessarily – this is stereotyping and students enter with wide diversity of capabilities), and some recent blog posts at NetGen Nonsense back up the growing realization that students are not as tech savvy as we give them credit for being. But the fact remains that most faculty, and many in my class, remain fearful of trying out these new technologies.
This shifted me into thinking about what Intellagirl said in her talk. She stated that the process she used in introducing new technologies was to ensure that she had talked through three aspects with her students – The Promise – The Tool – and The Bargain. She promised that the technology would help create bonds and connections, and also add fun to the course (which I agree is a good thing!). She tied the use of the tool to the learning outcomes. She recognized and helped students realize the learning curves associated with technologies and tools. So, she ensured the students had the time to become familiar with the tool. She wanted students not to escape into the tool, but to use it as an extension of their learning. She helped students understand that they left footprints in the web when they interacted with the tool and each other…and she wanted them comfortable with that. Finally, part of the bargain was that she was going to use technologies to help achieve learning ends, and not because it was just cool to use some tool.
I like Sarah’s approach. I will discuss this with my class and see where I can assist their learning curve and their comfort level. I have a wide range of students, so I suspect that I can co-opt some of them into helping others grow in their abilities to effectively use the opportunities afforded by the web.
I would be interested in your thoughts on the balance between hand holding and expectations of self-learning.
Cathy Nelson blogged about 21st Century Learner Standards yesterday, drawing our attention to the American Association of School Librarian’s Core Standards:
The Standards describe how learners use skills, resources, and tools to
- inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge;
- draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge;
- share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society;
- pursue personal and aesthetic growth.
While I only have just begun, I currently have 31 links in delicious on this topic. I hope to put together a faculty learning community next fall to explore this very subject. There is definite commonality among these links but some differences as well. Many focus on the technology alone. While the web may well be ubiquitous, does 21st Century literacy simply mean digital literacy, or is there more to it than that?
Some great starting points that I have found so far:
• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
• Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments
These align nicely with the AASL Standards, focusing on both technological skills and collaborative skills.
I think that it is important that we do define what we mean. I am mindful of an award winning post by Karl Fisch last year on the peril of the illiterate teacher. He chided all of us that we need to model 21st Century skills:
In order to teach it, we have to do it. How can we teach this to kids, how can we model it, if we aren’t literate ourselves? You need to experience this, you need to explore right along with your students. You need to experience the tools they’ll be using in the 21st century, developing your own networks in parallel with your students. You need to demonstrate continual learning, lifelong learning – for your students, or you will continue to teach your students how to be successful in an age that no longer exists.
If a teacher today is not technologically literate – and is unwilling to make the effort to learn more – it’s equivalent to a teacher 30 years ago who didn’t know how to read and write.
To model, we have to define what we mean. So, I am looking for comments and guidance here. What do YOU think are some good resources on what we should mean when we say “21st Century Learners”? Looking for the wisdom of the crowds to help me out here!
[Photo Credit: hyperspace 328]
- faculty development