Digital Literacy Thoughts – first try

This is a first attempt at synthesizing a number of Digital Literacy frameworks into something that I feel I can take to teachers to help them build Digital Literacy capacity in their classrooms. The frameworks I have looked at include:

BC Draft Digital Literacy Standards
Mozilla Web Literacy Standards
Brennan’s Framework for … Development of Computational Thinking
Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay’s Digital Citizenship framework
TPACK framework

One of my frustrations with Digital Literacy frameworks from a teaching perspective is that they tend to lump together skills that need to be taught in different ways. For example, Digital Etiquette and Respect can only truly be learned in real life situations where mentoring and guidance is available and it is ok to make mistakes. No teenager ever changed their behavior because an adult told them too.

It seems to me that the skills we need to teach students so they can be ‘digitally literate’ and the corresponding learning environments could include:

  1. Web Literacy
    • Teaching Environment: Direct instruction and practice
    • Favorite Framework: Mozilla
      • Exploring – navigation, search, credibiity, security, web mechanics
      • Connecting – sharing and collaborating, participation, privacy
  2. Problem Solving and Computational Thinking
    • Teaching Environment: Messing around; maker space
    • Favorite Framework: Brennan’s work on Computational Thinking and Mozilla’s ‘Building’ strand
      • (Brennan) Computational Concepts, Practices, Perspectives
      • (Mozilla) Composing for the web, remixing, design and accessibility, coding/scripting
  3. Digital Etiquette and Respect
    • Teaching Environment: real life experience, feedback and mentoring
    • Favourite Framework: Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay Dig Cit Framework
      • Digital Etiquette and Respect part

In my mind focusing on breaking Digital Literacies into skills that require different teaching environments might be a first step to building teacher’s capacity to teach these skills in the classroom. Thoughts?

A shift in focus

focus TechEd-dy has been good to me.  Forcing myself to think out loud in writing has helped me grow as a person, as a teacher and as a leader.  There is a certain confidence that comes with having put all your ideas out there and knowing that the inter-webs don’t think they are total garbage, and maybe even that they are good ideas.  Blogging has forced me to confront the messiness of education, and figure out what guiding principles I truly believe in.

My focus, however, has shifted.  I still think a lot about Technology in Education and am still a Technology Coordinator.  More and more however I am fascinated with changing how teachers teach and how students learn; on the conditions necessary to educate the whole person.  In this regard I am very influenced by the IB program and my efforts as a MYP Coordinator.

I am still blogging, but with a different voice and in other places.  So, for a while, I am going to leave Tech-Eddy alone and focus on some other online spaces.  I will be blogging as MYP Coordinator on our schools IB Continuum blog.  I am quite proud of the post I wrote recently Introducing the MYP and it’s “Next Chapter”.

I am also putting a lot of effort into my Design Technology blog and hope that by the end of the year it will be a robust hub for my Design Technology classes.

And finally I will be launching a random assortment of musings via my new blog, which is linked to my Evernote account.  How cool!

My guess is that TechEd-dy should probably move to a self-hosted solution, but edublogs has been good to me and I am not in a hurry to leave.

So, ta ta for now TechEd-dy.  Time to shift focus.

(Thank you Alastair Creelman for the photo.)

Why I explore/lead

Ottawa locks

I was disappointed to discover that I had missed the sign up deadline for George Couros’s newest project the ‘School Admin Virtual Mentor Project’ (#savmp). After a brief moment of feeling sorry for myself, however, I decided to try and participate anyway (minus the mentor) as the course is exactly the framework I need right now to help me process my current position and what I want to make of it.

I teach at a small independent school in British Columbia. Part of working in a small school is that you get to wear many hats. Two of the hats that I currently wear as those of Technology Coordinator and IB Middle Years Coordinator. From a technology integration aspect this is an awesome double hat to wear as I get to have a say in how we integrate technology AND in how we structure teaching and learning. My challenge so far as been that I have also been wearing lots of other hats (a big one has been the teaching hat) that eat into the time I can allocate to my Coordinator positions. That will change in the coming year when I will actually have the time I need to really focus on my leadership positions and as a result I am feeling the need to do some reflection on how I function as a leader and on what I would like to accomplish.

I have never seen myself as a leader. I don’t even like the word very much because in my mind it always seems to imply that I need to be telling people what to do. In the past few years however I have started to appreciate the more nuanced variations of leadership that exist and have reluctantly realised that they appeal to me.

It is in this context that I found myself biking around Ottawa yesterday reflecting on ‘Why I lead?’

I am in Ottawa for three weeks with my 8 year old daughter and my wife. We have rented an apartment that overlooks the Rideau River bikeway. Once we arrived it didn’t take me long to start pouring over a map of the city’s bike paths looking for good adventures to have with my daughter. You see there is nothing I like more than exploring and the bike map was covered with tantalizing green lines that represented potentially awesome bike paths and the chance to discover some beautiful parts of the city. As soon as we could my daughter and I found some bikes and headed off on our first adventure. We had a great time, but I was excited to discover more so I started getting up at 6 am every morning to scout out potential trails for us to explore as a family later on.

And that is how I ended up deciding to bike clear across town yesterday morning to have coffee with my mother-in-law. My trip did not go quite as planned. It turns out that not all of the enticing green lines on the bike map represented beautiful bike trails. Some of them were dirt paths, some of them included stairs, and at one point I misread the green lines on the map and ended up on a busy street with construction and no bike lane in site. At this point I considered turning around, but realized that would be a waste of a great adventure so instead I revised my plans and finished up my ride with an amazing cycle along the Ottawa river and behind the Parliament Buildings.

What does all this have to do with why I lead? Well, I read a #savmp blog post just before leaving on the trip by someone that described themselves as a learner first and leader second. I was mulling this over while biking and realized that I consider myself an explorer first and a leader second. I love to explore. Learning is part of exploring but not all of it. Exploring includes having a vision and not being sure how to get there. Exploring usually involves a map covered in tantalizing green lines but the explorer needs to be willing to go out and use the map and find out what the lines really mean. The explorer needs to be comfortable with uncertainty and confident in their skills to handle adversity. The explorer needs to understand the big picture so they can make informed decisions when lost. Above all the explorer needs to be always looking around the next corner.

In my professional life I am an explorer. The green lines on my map are things like blended learning, digital citizenship, mobile devices, podcasting, blogging, google apps, digital portfolios, PBL, Inquiry etc. My map is my online community. I love exploring the possibilities of new tools and the new ways they allow our students to communicate, collaborate and share. Discovering a new teaching technique or online tool that will let my students do something transformative is, for me, akin to discovering a new bike path that traverses a beautiful wood and ends at a stunning waterfall. But just as I wouldn’t expect my daughter to come with me on my early morning jaunts I have come to realize over the course of my career that not everyone is as comfortable exploring the physical and virtual worlds as I am. And in a sense I am starting to realize that the leadership positions that I now hold are a result of my innate need to explore, because after a while other people want to know where I have been going and I take great pleasure in helping them discover what I have discovered.

Upon reflection there are two different ways that I like to help others discover their own paths; guiding and map making. I will be guiding my daughter over the next few weeks while we are on vacation. In this role I will try and put myself in her shoes, judge her biking capabilities and temperament and will take her on the trails I think are a good fit. Steep enough to challenge her, but not so hard that she gives up. For the most part in my role as Technology Coordinator I have so far been mostly a guide. I have been working with teachers to see what role technology could have in their classrooms and scheduling time to visit their class to help them get up and running. I am judging their skills and temperaments and offering advice and assistance that I think is appropriate. Ideally as a guide I slowly take a back seat and become less and less involved in the activity as the person being guided becomes more and more empowered.  In practice however I have had a difficult time stepping back from this role and as a result in the coming school year I am very interested in how I can be more of a map maker.

I see a map maker as someone who draws the map with green lines representing possible paths and adds the notes in the margins that give others the confidence to launch off on their own explorations. I am not sure yet what this will look like next year. I imagine there will be regular opportunities for small groups of teachers to meet and share, a number of different online support tools, and quite possibly another blog. In the long run I want to be a map maker. I want to provide the tool and supports for others to explore, take risks and be successful. This is why I lead.

Another MOOC … not finished.

Not finishing MOOCs is starting to become a habit with me.  I tend to start strong and then falter in the last leg of the race.  This time it was the Scratch Creative Computing Online Workshop.  Life just got in the way.  Still I made it to week 4 (of a six week course) and learned lots.  I won’t get a finishing certificate but I do want to celebrate the learning that happened, so embedded below is my Design Notebook and a couple of the Scratch projects I am quite proud of.

#EdCampWest reflection

I have just returned home from #EdCampWest at the University of Victoria and feel the need to write a few things down before they fade away.

An Ed Camp is an interesting and somewhat elusive experience. The unstructured nature of the day gives participants opportunities to have conversations they are interested in, but this same lack of structure can mean the conversations can be somewhat circular or bounce around all over the place. This isn’t a bad thing but it does mean you can leave an Ed Camp not really sure what you have learned. Of course some conversations can lead to awesome products like this google doc on Educoaching with the SAMR model, or resource sharing like this list of digital literacy resources. But in general I think if you are going to an Ed Camp with the intent of leaving with something concrete you might be in the wrong place. The magic of Ed Camp (I think) is really in the people who attend and the conversations that happen. People who are all passionate enough about education to give up a day of their weekend to be in the same place as other passionate people, with the hope that some magic will happen. And conversations that might bounce around a bit, but which help each person move their own thinking forward in a way that matters to them. So, with that in mind, here is how each conversation today helped me move my thinking forward a little.

Session 1: Blended Learning/Flipping the Classroom

For me the value of this conversation was the voice of Open Schools BC educators (I should mention that lots of interesting things were said, but I am trying to parse out the bits that I can use to further my own thinking). This is a group of educators that function in a totally online environment and it was fascinating to hear their reflections on how to do this without just digitizing a content delivery approach to education. It seems that they model they have found to be most effective is to treat the online course like an interactive textbook, and use it in a blended model of instruction. I can see how this model would work and am thinking that having access to courses developed by Open Schools BC is a good reason to think about my school having a Moodle presence of some sort.

Session 2: Assessment and 21st Century Learning

In this session I discovered that I am very uncomfortable with the idea of giving ownership of learning over to students without some way to hold them accountable. I am still wrestling with this as it makes me sound like a stuffy old educator that wants to micro manage my classroom, which I hope is not true. I am, however, not convinced that just giving them space to pursue their passions is enough. Possibly it is the book ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You‘ that influences me. I find that I believe strongly that our job as educators is to figure out how to break down the complex skills involved in inquiry and project based learning and teach these skills to our students. I don’t think they will learn these as they go along. I also believe that once we have broken down these skills and are able to describe them in rubrics that our students should be assessed against these rubrics on a regular basis so they have concrete feedback to use to improve. I felt a bit in the conversation today that assessment was getting a bad rap (I probably started us down that road), which was not my intent. Instead I think that we are assessing the wrong thing and that the wrong people are doing the assessment. It should be the students doing the assessment and it should be the formative process that we assess (mostly) not always the summative product. I was however completely in agreement that percents and letter grades are a completely hopeless way to give students feedback on their learning.

(postscript: The learning never stops. Just listened to David Truss’s reflection on the SFU EdCampWest and at the end he said something I think is very important and relevant. Bright students don’t need scaffolding and in fact it can hold them back, he shares a great quote ‘good is the enemy of great’. However for the other students scaffolding and feedback is how they are going to be successful. I think that when I wrote the paragraph above I was guilty of only thinking about the students that stuggle and not distinguishing enough between different students and their needs.)

Session 3: Digital Literacies

It was really interesting today to be in sessions that were both k-12 and higher ed. It was interesting to hear the higher ed perspective on a) what literacies were considered important and b) how little students knew coming out of k-12. This reinforced for me the problem of us trying to TEACH digital literacy skills to our students. We can teach these skills but in my experience our students won’t really internalise these skills. This won’t happen until students are using social media tools in many of their classrooms and their school work has a digital footprint, then school might matter enough for them to pay attention to the lessons they are learning.

I also came out of today’s sessions with the realisation that while it is important for individual teachers to do what they can to prepare their students with digital literacies this is not enough. If we are serious about these new skills being important we all need to lobby for larger scale change so that a student can go to school and have the same skills modelled and reinforced in all their classes.

That’s it. A day well spent and lots to think about.


Sir Ken Quotes

Despite it’s US-centric message I enjoyed this Sir Ken Robinson TED talk.  My favourite quotes:

“There are three principles on which human life flourishes and they are contradicted by the culture of education under which most teachers have to to labour and most students have to endure:

  • Human beings are naturally diverse
  • Humans are naturally curious
  • Human life is inherently creative”

“Science and Math are necessary but not sufficient.”

“If you sit kids down hour after hour doing low grade clerical work don’t be surprised if they start to fidget.”

“The arts are important because they speak to parts of children’s being that are otherwise untouched.”

“Curiosity is the engine of achievement.”

“Teaching is a creative profession.  Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery system.”

“In the end education is about learning.  If there is no learning going on, there is no education going on.”

“In the place of curiosity we have a culture of compliance.”

“Professional development is not a cost, it’s an investment.”

“Education is not a mechanical system, it’s a human system.  It’s about people.  People who either do want to learn, or don’t want to learn.”

“The real role of leadership in education should not be command and control, the real role is to create a climate of possibility.”

Search is a journey, not a destination.

I have been trying to teach my students how to search the internet more efficiently for quite a while now, with limited success.  I used to spend a lot of time on keywords and understanding boolean logic and trying to find the magic query that would return the most relevant results.  I told them not to type in the question, and got frustrated when typing in the question actually got them to what they were looking for.

The truth is that Google is very good at ‘almost’ reading our minds and returning useful answers to our day to day questions.  The trouble is that using search in school to find information for analysis and synthesis is very different from how students use search in their day to day lives, but if we don’t make this distincton for them they will try to apply their day to day search skills to the more sophisticated questions posed in school.  To me this is an important reason why we need to figure out how to break down search into component skills that we can teach to students; the only way for us to make students take more advanced search techniques seriously is if we can get them to realise that it is not a skill that they already have, but one they need to learn.  The rest of this post is my attempt to figure out what skills we need to scaffold and teach students so they can be good at search.

As I pondered how to teach search I had my first ‘aha’ moment when I tried to take the Google Power Search course last summer and realised that Google looks on search as a process, not a product.  My realisation was that I had been trying to teach my students the magic formula for sifting through the internet in one fell swoop, when I should have been teaching them how to get started on their search journey and how to make good decisions along the way.  The trouble is that often we ignore this process (for lots of reasons) and assume that students know what they are doing.  In my head it looks a little like this:

The image above is a slide from a presentation I recently gave on internet search with Google.  Hopefully it is obvious the the black box is the process of searching and the question mark represents the skills and attitudes students need to successfully navigate this process; skills and attitudes that for the most part are not really taught in schools.  I can think of 3 reasons why this is the case:

  1. Teacher are not sure how to DO this part.
  2. Teachers are not sure how to TEACH this part.
  3. Teachers don’t think it is their responsibility to TEACH this part.

For a long time I have been #2, and my conference presentation was my attempt to address #1 and as for #3, well, in this day and age I think all teachers need to see search literacy as one of their responsibilities.  What I think we need to do is try and break this black box up into a framework and set of competencies that we can teach and assess (nor for marks, but in order to give feedback and make decisions about what to teach next).  Here is what I see as a workable framework:

Students need both technical knowledge of how to navigate a search engine AND the habits of mind that help them interpret the results they get and make decisions based on these results.  It is at the intersection of these skills and habits that successful search happens.  To get started identifying competencies I tried to think of all the scenarios where my students struggle with search.  Here are the ones I came up with:

  1. They expect Google to do the thinking for them.  Carl Sagan once said the ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ and I think sometimes that there is a little of this happening with the Google Search algorithm.  It is so advanced and seems so prescient that sometimes we assume it can read out minds.  To counteract this tendency I think it is really important our students understand what is going on in the background whe they do a search.  This video is a good place to start, as are many of the resources on the Google Search Education page.
  2. They don’t know how to speak the language of Google.  Typing in the question works great for simple questions, but gets students in trouble once they start trying to answer more complex questions.  Once they understand how Google works I have found it quite effective to explain to them that if they type in a question the top hits will be question and answer sites which are not very reliable.  The next step is to replace typing the question with something more effective.  Google suggests a 4 step process called Parsing the question to turn it into a Query.  I like that this is new language to my students, as it seems to make them sit up and take notice.
  3. They don’t know what to do with search results.  This is a very important part of the search process.  When I used to teach search I used to look at a set of search results as an end product.  The goal was to have my answer in the top few hits.  Now I try to teach my students that they search results are a step in the right direction, and now they have to go looking through the search results for clues to inform their next search.  Some of the things they need to know how to do include:
    • understanding the parts of a search results page
    • know how to use filters and operators to narrow down the search
    • know how to search within web results before clicking on a link (in my experience once students click on a link they can get lost in the web page they get taken to).
  4. They don’t know how to efficiently read and markup a webpage.  Simple tricks like using ctrl-F to find key terms on a page can make a big difference to students struggling to start accessing a web page full of text.  Similarly markup tools like Diigo can make the process of note taking much easier and give teachers a way to assess how well each student is at finding the relevant information on a web page.

Once we have established a framework and competencies that students need to search the internet effectively we need to assess their progress and give them feedback to help them improve.  Too often with skills like internet search we default to teaching them but not assessing them.  Instead we assess the things we do with the information the students find, but we forget about the black box that the students had to navigate to get their information.  I think that if all the skills mentioned in this blog post were assessed then students would take them more seriously and possible start applying them more regularly.

Learning and re-learning

I am a bit of a frustrated learner these days.  There are so many great learning opportunities available in the areas that interest me and I just don’t have the time to take advantage of them.  I wish I could participate in all the amazing #ETMOOC sessions or read the articles available through MIT’s Learning Creative Learning course, but that is just not my reality.  This blog post is not meant to be a complaint however, instead I have been fascinated by how the themes of these courses are still having an impact on my thinking and learning despite my not really participating.  A couple stories to get things started:

  1. Have you ever felt like it’s impossible to have an original thought?  I have been thinking that lately.  After months of struggling with an idea, watching things happen in my classroom and school and reflecting, I finally think I have figured something out.  I might even blog about it.  Then I will be in the grocery store lineup reading something written my Marshall McLuhan or Seymour Papert 30 years ago that articulates what I have just figured out in much greater detail and eloquence.  When this happens I find myself thinking, “I just need to find the time to sit down and read all this stuff written by these great thinkers.  Then I could save myself a lot of effort”
  2. A friend of mine recently explained to me why it took her so long to do 5 math problems for a course she was taking.  “I could just plug numbers into the formula” she explained “but then I wouldn’t really understand it.”.  Instead she solved each problem by going back to first principles and working out the formulas herself.  I found myself thinking “Wow, she really understands how to learn and she’s not even a teacher”.

These stories have got me thinking about the difference between learning someTHING and really understanding it (more on that in a bit); for now I want to reflect on the MOOCs.  Despite not having time to do the readings for these courses I have been following the conversations on Google+ and have been aware of the themes.  I am fascinated by how the themes have helped me focus my thinking.  When the #ETMOOC theme was connected learning I really enjoyed exploring the Nature Path metaphor with a few other teachers; when it was Storytelling I found myself using thinking a lot about storytelling while revamping my gr 6-8 SCRATCH unit plans; when it was DIgital Literacy I found myself reflecting back on posts I had written much earlier on the topic.  The point is (I think) that it was really useful to have a broad framework to help guide my thinking and doing, even when I wasn’t awash in the information available to me in the course.

So where am I going with all this?  Well, certainly nowhere original, but maybe somewhere that moves my thinking a bit further forwards.  What I am finding is that after messing around on my own with some of these themes and topics, when I read something written by someone else that describes the understanding I am moving towards, I feel like I get it at a deeper level.  To really understand a THING it is necessary to first mess about with it and place it in a personal context in order to understand it.  It doesn’t matter that that THING was already discovered years ago, until I am ready to understand it it is really just a bunch of words.  But when I do understand it those undertandings can be connected, and a bigger picture can emerge.  This is what it looks like in my head:

Of course I am well aware that there are already lots of fancy terms like constructivism that describe this understanding, but I like that I feel closer to my own understanding of this process.  Of course, once I drew this graphic I started to think about what traditional curriculums packed with content look like.  Here is what I came up with:

Lots of THINGS to learn, and no room to develop a personal understanding or make connections.  Seems sort of pointless, doesn’t it.


My brain loves to make connections.  As a result of #etmooc conversations, #ceetopen, #isabcpd13, and a variety of other online stimulli it is currently in overdrive, and the connections are happening fast and furious.  In this blog post I am going to try and share some of the connections I am making and hopefully in the process stop them bouncing around my brain.

Event #1:  While casually exploring all the blog posts streaming through the ETMOOC Blog Hub I discovered a vlog by Scott Hazeu where he used the metaphor of the Nature Trail to explore the concept of open learning.  His metaphor resonated with the outdoor educator in me and I decided to try something new and respond using video.  The ensuing conversation between Scott, Ben Wilcoff and myself was really fun and helped me shape some ideas.  The big piece that I took from this conversation was that learning is social, and that it depends very much on the people you are learning with.

Event #2: Fast forward to the ISABC Collaborative Pro-d day last Friday.  The keynote speaker for this event was David Helfand, the president of Quest University.  His keynote was really thought provoking, full of stories and anecdotes that revealed some of the uncomfortable truths of education.  One of his quotes that made for a popular tweet was:

What I assume he was referring to was the industrial model of schooling that we are stuck with these days.  At the scale that we are educating students it is very difficult to focus on the conversations and the relationships (see event #1) that make learning meaningful and make it stick.

Event #3: The New Media Consortium was looking for ambassadors.  Applicants needed to include a 2 minute presentation reflecting on: significant changes are happening in their classroom; how the NMC Horizon Report series influences their practices; and the concepts that guide their teaching philosophy and pedagogy.  I didn’t manage to put a video together, but I spent a lot of time thinking about it.  I have spent quite a bit of time with the NMC’s Horizon Project, and have used it in a number of my classes.  This potential opportunity got me thinking about how a knowledge of new and emerging technologies was/is/could have an impact on my classes.  Somehow this thinking overlapped with David Helfand’s quote and my conversations with Scott and Ben and I realised something that is not a new idea to me, but one that I somehow seem to understand more deeply.  Maybe that means I learned something.

“It’s not that today’s technologies allow us to do new things; it is that they allow us to do old things in new ways.  They allow us to overcome the limitations imposed by an industrial model of schooling and go back to an approach to teaching based on inquiry, conversation and mentoring.”

Narrating my learning/questions

Another #etmooc vlog response to Scott Haseu’s latest post.  Upon reflection this one is more about questions than answers and I forgot to comment on Scott’s point regarding how we could be using recognition to encourage learning in our classrooms.  I think that this is a place where technology can be really powerful.  I have seen math classes where students record their thinking using flip cameras and share it later at the front of the class; MathTrain is another example of the power of technology to recognise and celebrate learning.  I am still waiting to get an iPad with the Educreations app in my classroom.  I think it could be an excellent way for students to demonstrate learning and be recognised for it.