Monday, August 25, 2008

Thanks, and some brief reflections on digital literacy.

Many thanks to all of you who have responded to my first posting - I appreciate the interest, advice and encouragement. I had good intent to learn how to post an audio clip on the weekend, but I ended up sleeping most of it away! Anyway, I did manage to change the date and time showing on the blog, and have set myself the target of my first audio posting by the end of the week.

I did do a bit of thinking about "digital literacy", though - or was that a dream? As I thought about the many things I don't know/cannot do I wondered where I sat on that continuum from "some of my best friends have computers" to " there's not much I cannot do with a laptop and a PDA". I recognise I have lots to learn, but I am aware that we have staff at OP who know very little - one I heard about apparently does not know what is going on around the place because he never reads his email - is just not comfortable with the technology!

A further prompt to my thinking came from my 10 year old who certainly does sit towards the right hand end of that continuum, and is mostly self taught. She will be at polytech/university in seven short years, and I wonder what she will find when she arrives? Hopefully not lecturers standing in front of classes with little desks all in a row, telling her all they know! Hopefully she will be using the technologies she is comfortable with, and partnering with her teachers in pusuit of what ever capabilities she wants to develop.

But deep down I fear she may be disappointed, depending on what she chooses to study. Which leads me to ask: is it time that we required all of our staff to be digitally fluent? Is it not a core competency that educators are skilled in and comfortable with using commonly embraced digital technologies, and that includes social networking technologies? Can we really afford to accommodate modern day luddites? Personally I think not. What's more, I think it is a professional responsibility these days for teachers to be digitally literate. And managers! But what does being digitally literate really mean, and what is the best way forward for us to encourage and support our work force?


Sarah Stewart said...

Good questions about what we actually mean by digital literacy. I always thought it was about being able to use online tools. But Bronwyn Hegerty challenged me to think about it in deeper terms in a comment she made to a post I had written about making a video. I was just focusing on making the video ie using the technology. But it was more than that - it was looking for information on how to make the video; principles of video design; finding music that could be freely used; putting together a story board etc. So it wasn't just using the technology but also finding information, evaluating it and putting it into use - that's what I think digital literacy is : hope that makes sense.

Leigh Blackall said...

I agree Phil, I think it is reasonable to expect fluency working with digital formats and using the Internet, but I'm not sure it is time yet.

Besides the fact that 67% of NZers do not have broadband in their home (which pretty much sweeps away access and motivation to work in anything other than simple text and email), there are a number of things that stand in the way of a common understanding of what it means to be digitally literate.

There are a few things the organisation uses that are well known to be out of date, and have little value in terms of transferable skills in terms of the literacy we talk of. While many people in the org' may well be fluent and able with those digital technologies, it doesn't mean they are fluent where it matters - out in the wider world of information and communication.

The reason we push blogging so hard is because it is a simple practice that exposes people to a wide range of contemporary Internet skills and features. Audio blogging for example! Something not readily accessible to 67% of NZ - so in local terms a pretty advanced skill. Internationally however, a basic skill.

I think the really important thing you touch on is, "Is it not a core competency that educators are skilled in and comfortable with using commonly embraced digital technologies..."

If we did a survey out on the street to ask people what they had heard of or had experience with - as a measure of what was commonly embraced, how would this turn out:

Have you heard of Blackboard?
Have you heard of Moodle?
Have you heard of Elluminate?
Have you heard of Groupwise?
Have you heard of otagopolytechnics streaming media server?

compared to:

Have you heard of Google?
Have you heard of Skype and MSN?
Have you heard of Gmail or Hotmail?
Have you heard of Wikipedia?
Have you heard of Youtube?

I think if our teachers were fluent and critically aware of the popular Internet and were thinking about how to make it work in their practice, then very few would have a need for the things in the first list (and those who do have a need, it would be a well informed and reasonable need). If we focused on the popular Internet more (but with informed and critical awareness leading our judgments) we'd be a lot more relevant, have more transferable skills, and have less stress in learning how to use tools and then explain to students how to use them because they are popular and easily supported by the wider community.

In my experience it takes about 6 months intensive to get a staff member to trust you enough to use more relevant technology instead of out of date, non transferable stuff. Your lead will help reduce this time. It then takes about 6 - 12 months solid practice and genuine inquiry learning to become fluent and competent with the wider Internet features. So it is important that staff first use these tools for their own learning before trying to implement and support students with it.

7 years.. that should be enough time - just.

Wayne said...

Hi Phil,

Wayne here from the Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver. It's inspiring to see a CE embrace social software as a mechanism to share thoughts and create opportunities for open discourse with Otago Polytechnic staff and the rest of the world. Well done!

Will your daughter be able to use the digital technologies she is comfortable with in seven years when she starts her post secondary learning at the Poly?

Good question. The positive side is that we collectively have 7 years to prepare ... a lot can happen in this time. Wikipedia became a top ten website in 3 years -- so there is hope for us working in education!

Otago Polytechnic is certainly showing the way using a learn-by-doing approach gauging by the uptake of early adopters using social software tools under the able leadership and passion of the Educational Development Centre.

I think the organisational challenge will be to think of creative ways in how to scale-up this capability development across the institution, the NZ sector and then internationally. Educational leaders will need to think about the organisational incentive and reward mechanisms to support and recognise this capability development across the institution in alignment with organisational strategy.

Otago Poly is an exemplar of transformational leadership for digital futures. Observing developments as an outsider, I believe that you have established solid foundations. Rule No.1 in leading transformation is to be sure that the organisation has created a "safe-place" for staff to move into before the heat associated with change starts to build up.

Otago Poly's new IP policy and strong support through EDC for these new initiatives have created fertile ground and a "safe-place" for future success.

Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading your next blog post!


hadashi said...

On the question "what should we expect from the staff?" I would say that your blog be made required reading for anyone who does not now know how to blog. They will learn vicariously by Reading through your discoveries and from reading the tips that others give you in their comments. Dare we hope that others emulate your efforts?