Much has been said about new literacies and the need for new pedagogies that add the digital to the equation to leverage and deepen learning experiences, but still, schools, Districts, PD programs miss the heart of the discussion on digital literacies. It all starts within us, with our own motivations, set of beliefs and attitudes towards learning and digital technologies, their connections, affordances and constraints. In fact, Hobbs and Coiro (2018), make a point when stating that teachers’ motivations for digital learning have a strong influence on their actual use of digital media and technology in schools. There are many views of the definition of what it means to be digitally literate, and probably it can take as many shapes as the people dealing with the topic. One thing is certain, the complexity and interconnectedness of our modern world requires us, educators, to develop a new set of skills to read, write, interpret, and participate in our local, national and global communities, learning how to make good use of the tools and resources that we have within our fingertip reach.
Check, for example, some of the views of the mentors in the Summer Institute in Digital Literacies that took place in Providence, Rhode Island, in July 2019. You’ll notice that every educator, professor, librarian that talked about their own views on digital literacies brought to the stand very unique perspectives based on the kind of work they did, their repertoires, passions, interests and world views. It highlights the need for us to move beyond a technical approach to the theme, focusing on the affordances that digital media offers to promote new pedagogical practices in an increasingly networked world in a way that teachers and students have an active part to play and to deepen their learning experiences. I urge you, then, to take a look at what Maha Bali has to say about the difference between digital skills and digital literacies. She emphasizes that digital literacy is not about the skills of using technologies, but how we use our judgment to maintain awareness of what we are reading and writing, why we are doing it, and whom we are addressing.
Every time a new PD program for the academic staff is put into place, what we need to consider is people first, then we need to analyse the learning outcomes we’re willing to reach to determine the kind of technologies at our disposal that fit our pedagogical purposes. So, how about starting with you who is reading my post addressed to educators who care about their professional development, and mainly, about the kids in and outside your classrooms?
First, let’s have a quick understanding of where you stand. Check those statements and see what you believe in and agree with.
Understanding our motivations is key to determining our practices. Are you more to the left yellow column or to the right blue column? By analysing our own beliefs, we can be self-aware and understand if we are considering our pedagogical practices in tune with the digital possibilities or not. So, here, if you tend to the left column, you are probably more concerned about the risks and dangers that technology might have in the social sphere. On the other hand, if you are more into the right side of the column, chances are you are looking into the potential of digital media for learning and connections. Hobbs & Coiro (2018) expand this ideia of teachers’ nuanced views of digital media that play a role in our practices. So, dear educator, the first step for us to go further is to realize if digital media for you falls more into the empowerment or the protection spectrum. If you are still here with me, how about deepening our awareness of our values and beliefs systems? So, what’s motivating you? Please, take your time to answer the questions in the Digital Learning Horoscope Quiz. Invite your co-workers to take it, as well, for according to your results, you will certainly have different approaches to digital media in the learning process. Having different perspectives will help you build a new vision for what the development of the team digital literacies will look like in your educational institution.
The second step now that you know more about yourself and your perceptions? How about coming up with a set of questions about the challenges you face in your classroom related to deepening students’ learning experiences and their use of digital media? Brainstorm using, “How might we…?” For example, “How might we improve learning outcomes digital media in our favor?” Go on. It’s your turn! When you are done with your brainstorm, choose one or two burning question to work on. Then, add as many ideas to deal with it as you and your colleagues can think of. Now, choose one of your lesson plans and make adjustments and remix it with the insights you had with the questions and ideas to solve them. Finally, after trying out those new insights and actions in your lesson plan, reflect on what worked well and what you still want to improve, how you might do it, and who can help you on the way. To summarize this self-awareness process moving into an action plan, check if you followed the steps:
As I mentioned, the concept of digital literacies is broad among researchers and educators. However, I feel that focusing on a framework might help you move forward and find your own ways to new pedagogies that put students and teachers in the center of the learning process by developing students’ ability for critically dealing with content and information, collaborating, exploring multimodalities in reading and writing, creatively showing their understanding and reflecting upon their learning process. In fact, the whole process I’ve invited you to go through is what Coiro, J., Castek, J., & Quinn, D. J. (2016) call PDI – Personal Digital Inquiry that you can apply to your students. What the authors encourage is that students go through a process in which they actively (a) inquire, (b) collaborate and discuss, (c) participate and create, and (d) reflect for deep, authentic, and personally relevant learning experiences that foster academic achievement, reflection and civic engagement. To achieve that, they have a framework that not only encompasses these stages of inquiry-based learning, but they also give a major contribution on connecting pedagogical practices to the purposes of technology use use for knowledge acquisition, knowledge building, knowledge expression, and knowledge reflection. Then, dear educator, I ask you, have you considered these stances of interconnectedness with preparing your lessons or training other educators? Even if you have, I can assure you that digging into the PDI framework will give you precious insights for a more structured inquiry-based learning process for deeper learning. Please, check the explanation and examples of the PDI framework here.
Thus, by connecting learning that matters to students based on the curriculum we need to teach and using the potential of digital media to enhance voice and choice, you’ll certainly be in the way to developing a new approach to your own pedagogical practices. But, remember, dear educator, it all starts from you, your motivations, values and beliefs. Only when you understand where you stand on the concept of digital literacies, will you be able to determine the paths you need to take to hinder what is preventing you from advancing in your digital competencies and what is already latent to be used as a potential use of technologies to enhance learning in your classroom. Here’s my invitation to you to join the movement of meaningful learning with the purposeful use of the digital to achieve the learning outcomes you set for your lessons.