Saturday, May 15, 2010

New Students, New Media, New Literacies

Opening New Doors
Jason Ohler gave the keynote this morning. His theme was transforming learning through digital creativity. Jason started by mentioning two teachers that had been very influential to him, both had given him something that had stayed with him his whole life and had "opened new doors" for him. He said the greatest teachers are door openers - they are constantly looking for the door to open for each child. And his question to us was: Are you a door opener? Do you look for ways for students to express themselves when the normal channels don't work?

Today many students want to express themselves using their iPods, through digital storytelling etc. As adults, we control the door - unless we open the door we will never understand what they know and how they see the world. What he said very much reminded me of an experience our son had during his first year in Thailand. He was asked to summarise the first two Acts of Macbeth. He chose, instead of writing, to make a Flash movie. Thankfully his English/Drama teacher accepted this. Contrast this with the approach taken by his IT teacher who wanted him to make a movie using MovieMaker, later that same year. Our son had already had 3 years making movies in iMovie and therefore made his movie using that instead. The reaction of this teacher was "Who taught you how to do that?" Our son explained that his mum (me) had shown him this about 5 years earlier. The teacher was incredulous and scoffed "Your mum??!!" Our son didn't mention at the time that his mum was a computer teacher, nor that he had already had his own computer which he used on a daily basis at school for the previous 3 years before moving to Thailand - however these things certainly became very apparent to his IT teacher at the first parent conference later that year .......

Two Lives
As teachers we need to be aware that many of our students are living two lives: a digital one at home and a non-digital one at school. Many students can do so much, just using their mobile phones, yet these are often banned by schools. The phone is a communication device where students can go to make things - where they change from being consumers of media to creators of media. He asked: What is the next big thing we will ignore at school?

Jason went on to talk about the dangers of living two lives - by isolating the two we lose the opportunities to give our students many valuable lessons and have many important discussions. He argued that schools need to use technology effectively, creatively and wisely. We are saying turn it off, we should say turn it on these are the ways you should be using it.

Media Collage
Jason then went on to discuss literacy. Literacy is consuming and producing the media forms of the day whatever they are. Students shouldn't just watch television, they also need to write television - to pick up a camera and use it. Students need to understand the persuasive nature of media, and they can only understand this by creating it themselves. Baseline literacy used to be words, now it is a media collage - putting things together. The collage needs design, colour, animation, movie, music (things that used to be considered fluff in the arts curriculum). In order to be literate they need to be able to do all these because literacy is not a content, but a fundamental part of our lives. Moving pictures used to be "read only", now anyone can make them. With the web, the first people to post were nerds - now anyone can do it. Media collage is the new baseline literacy.

How the Web is Changing
Jason outlined the ways the web is moving:
Web 1.0 1990 - 2000 - most people were the consumers of information.
Web 2.0 2000 - 2010 - everyone is online, everyone contributes.
Web 3.0 2010 onwards - the semantic web changes the way we search the web - traditional searches looks at words on pages, the semantic web is a recoding of the web by millions of people - a new search will not show a list but will bring back a report with things linked in intelligent ways. This is a huge change that will impact everything and will probably be affecting education in about 3-5 years for education. It is already used now in science. We can and must plan for this in education.

Digital Literacy
Jason came up with 10 digital literacy action guidelines:
  1. The shift from text-centrism to new media collage.
  2. Writing is more important than ever, but it doesn't have to look like the essay - now we know where writing is the most effective way of communicating and where it is not. But writing is only part of the equation - it is the foundation on which we build the media collage. We need to write in different ways. Visually differentiated text (VDT) is now more important than essays. Essays are still functional but VDT is easier to access for information. It forces you into the synthesis of Bloom's taxonomy as it is a higher order skill.
  3. Adopt art as the 4th, next R - it is not a content area but a literacy, as fundamental as reading and writing. Unfortunately many still see it as fluff. Art should be infused across the curriculum as a general literacy in the same way reading and writing are - we must be able to communicate visually to be functionally literate. The multimedia collage is universal, it is real work for real pay - it is a visual culture. ISTE is on board with this and has refreshed their standards to include innovation and creativity. All international educational technology standards flow from ISTE. He also mentioned that if students make everything then there are no copyright issues.
  4. The DAOW of literacy: digital, art, oral and written. Our challenge is to take all these literacies and bring them together.
  5. The attitude is the aptitude - attitude towards learning is a better predictor of intelligence than your aptitude. Students are intelligent if they can bring it all together.
  6. Practice private and social literacy - if you are literate by yourself but can't add to a blog or wiki or add to a media production team then you are not functionally literate.
  7. Develop literacy about digital tools.
  8. Develop literacy about literacy. This also includes digital citizenship. We must talk to students, for example, about the responsibility of using cell phones and the ethics of what happen on line. We mustn't have our students live two lives. Jason talked about how every technology connects and disconnects and gave the example of the microwave which has led to the obsolescence of family diners - anyone can use one any time and you don't have to sit down and eat just when the meal is ready. We did not predict the impact of the microwave, that now in most new homes it is the dining room that has disappeared and there is no place where we eat and talk. Jason asked: How does technology connect us and disconnect us? We must have this conversation. We have more individualization but at the result of socialization. Another example he gave is about images: 90% of all images online are digitally doctored. As of last year France was considering putting a warning label on doctored photos - because of health concerns for young women who were anorexic as a result of constantly looked at airbrushed photos and thinking they were the norm.
  9. Fluency is important, not just literacy. People who are fluent become leaders - literacy is not enough. Fluency is knowing how to lead and manage with all the tools you have.
  10. Harness both the report and the story. Actually Jason said we should embrace the story. Our students come to school very versed in the story form that connects information internally. A story is a way to structure information in an age of information overload. We come to school understanding information presented in a story, but at school we give student information in a list orientated format without the internal connections.
The 80/20 Rule
One of the most powerful things Jason mentioned in his presentation was the rule of 80/20 - teachers often don't use these new tools, for example movie making, because they think making a movie takes too long. In fact you get 80% of the project done in the first 20% of the time (taking rough clips) but it takes 80% of the production time to tweek/edit the last 20%. His suggestion was to forget the last 20% Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Media production is possible within the first 20% if you put the story first and the technology second. When you allow lots of special effects most students don't go for the meat of the story but go for the special effects and are often graded based on these extras. His advice was: Get rid of the special effects. Good transitions are the ones you don't even notice. The story must come first. If you have a weak story and you make it high tech, it just makes a bad story worse.

Teachers are more important than they have ever been. His advice was: leave the clicks and tricks to the students with time. Let the student who knows how to use the scanner do it for everyone who doesn't know and to show them how to do it. The teacher doesn't have to do this, in fact doesn't even need to know how to do this as students will often teach themselves - our job is to be the guide on the side not the technical magician. We need to encourage students to become good teachers to other students. We need to create learning communities, to encourage creativity and give assessment and feedback. To control the quality of the story not the bells and whistles. We must use Bloom's taxonomy to assess media literacies - is there just the remembering and regurgitation of knowledge or is there something more. To assess something it might be necessary to play the media several times and it is important to ask questions before looking at it and be clear what happens in this that takes it beyond just a report. We need to have evaluation rubrics which ask if the story is good, not that focus on the technology.

Jason said digital media is the door. Students will walk through it, but not if they are living two lives.

Turn Concerns into Goals
He pointed out that there will always be concerns - from parents or from other teachers, but we must not be ruled by concerns - but instead turn concerns into goals. If one person on the team has concerns then don't let those concerns stop you moving forward. A concern is just a negatively stated goal. Turn it around - focus on the goal. Keep moving forward.

What Teachers Want in a Tech Director
One problem that sometimes get in the way is the tech team, who put limitations on what the teachers and students can do. He said: Techies are from Mars and teachers are from Venus. Teachers want the IT team to WORK FOR THEM. Tech directors that are loved:
  • go to curriculum meetings and ask how they can help
  • get up from the bench and go and sit in the classrooms (for at least half an hour each week)
  • support academics in their mission and vision.
He ended giving us a challenge:
Go tell your story!!!


  1. Maggie, it looks like it was a really great session. I saw Jason last year at the TIE conference, I noted some similarities but the focus there was on digital storytelling.
    Thank you for being so faithful in your note taking and summation for those of us who couldn't be there with you. You left me with a lot to think about, thank you!

  2. Maggie - Great post - AGAIN!!!!
    Thank you for you very worthwhile insights and reporting.

  3. This is a great post on what must have been a great talk. There is so much here, I need to go back and read through this. Definitely need to pass this one on.