Digital Literacies

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Learning Futures

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I have been thinking about the ‘Away Day’ I am attending tomorrow where we are thinking about the Faculty of Social Sciences Learning and Teaching Policy for the next 5 years. In particular I will be thinking about the technology aspect as this is part of my job and I have a responsibility to develop ‘Technology Enhanced Learning’.
I have taken part in this kind of event many times in my career and it always feels hard to project for the future. I think our best bet is to realise we cannot project for the future and that we need to have a policy which allows for this flexibility.

In essence this is what David Puttnam argues in his talk captured on video here about ‘The Future of Learning’.

I agree that what we have to do is invest in developing individuals to work in teams, to collaborate, to have agility. And that competence based learning is not what we need any more. This is also argued by Sugata Mitra in this film:

He despairs of those who insist that kids learn their times tables, saying that the system of education the Victorians developed was one in which all the kids had to learn the same as each other. This obviously allows us to compare kids all the time and this is what we seem obsessed with. But like James Paul Gee, (in this book) Mitra and Puttnam are arguing that we need to develop individual skills and help people think and work together. We should have different roles from each other in project based learning that we collaborate on.

Puttnam makes the point that classrooms these days look very similar to what they looked like 50 or even 100 years ago. This, he points out, is different to the progress we see in the operating theatres of today’s hospitals, compared to 100 years ago. I am less worried about this; I am happy that many classrooms are still keen to encourage interactivity that is not always mediated by technology (and actually my GP’s surgery is still very similar to one we may have seen in 1915). Sometimes we have to think about the kinds of interactivity that is right for the job we have in mind.

We are all still a bit alienated by things working on a grand scale and are inclined to hang onto technologies that let us talk to small groups of people, or privately to our best friends. The important thing is that technology allows us to make choices. We can select which one we need for the job we want to do. We are pretty good at this in our social lives but less good at work. We select whether to use Snapchat, Instagram, Flickr or email to communicate with each other. But in our classrooms, it seems to be one PowerPoint after another – that we mediate for our class or share in our Learning Management Systems. This is ‘polished performances of old practices’.

Puttnam talks about how teachers use lesson plan sharing sites and shows how in 2012 over 2 million plans were downloaded from one webiste alone; and that one teacher in her history of being on the site had seen her work downloaded over 1 million times. This kind of self generated activity is fascinating – and points to how we prefer to interact in ways that are not overseen by massive corporations and let us develop in ways we choose.

Mitra talks about how important it is that we teach the skills of reading comprehension; search and retrieval of resources; and critical literacy skills. This third point her refers to as teaching about belief and ‘armour against doctrine’.

For me, the pointers I take from this is that we need to teach students to:

Use technologies to find, evaluate and share knowledge; to collaborate and participate in research about knowledge; to collaborate in the creation of new knowledge. this I think, also means moving away from the traditional ways of presenting knowledge, and that we should allow them to choose the right technology to mediate what they have learned. I would also like to see us using technology in ways that does not simply replicate old practices but allows us to do new things. We need to realise that we have to move beyond the word processor.

Written by DrJoolz

May 20th, 2015 at 3:58 pm

Social Media to Big Media

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This last week has been an emotional roller coaster. From tiny acorns great oaks do grow. (And other cliches).

After a disappointing result in the UK election, where the right wing Tory party for the UK got voted in by a majority, a lot of us here were gutted, especially as the Tories were voted in on a mandate that supports the ‘ordinary working person’. Many of us have seen this as a vote against the non working people – including the elderly, sick, infirm … etc. It is not great being ill or disabled to such a degree that you cannot work; work is about access to the world, participation in interesting and exciting things. It allows you to meet people, to socialise and of course, earn money. If you cannot do this your choices are limited. No one chooses this for themselves. Obvious to me. But I live with this reality through my daughter so I see it daily; but she and millions of others remain hidden behind closed doors from the rest of the world.

After the election my daughter posted on Facebook about her disappointment and was astonished to see how quickly her post received literally hundreds of shares by people she odes not know.

The following day Rosa was asked by The Guardian to write an article for their ‘Comment’ series. After a bit of angst about how to approach this task, she produced a great article that to date has in excess of 9,500 shares. It’s here.

She has now been approached by other newspapers and by disability organisations who are asking her for quotes and comments that they can use too.

So – out of bad, can come good. The Tories gave her the push to shout her head off.
Rosa has lived a difficult and isolated life since her illness, aged 11, stopped her from attending school and she has been virtually housebound ever since. The internet has been her umbilical cord to the word and she has friends across the globe. She is networked and respected. But this latest event has given her the recognition that gives her the confidence and assurance she needed. She has a voice that people want to hear. The Internet did this for her.

The Internet is enabling. Rosa has read loads, spent hours, days, months and years interacting online; doing MOOCs; joining forums; listening to podcasts; reading reading reading. She is not addicted to the Internet. She would rather be out there, face to face, physically present. But this is the next best, and Rosa rocks.

Written by DrJoolz

May 15th, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Habbo Hotel under Siege

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For all the best possible intentions Channel 4 recently exposed how a large number of peodophile and predatory interactions take place on a very regular place on Habbo Hotel. Habbo is a Finnish social networking site aimed at teenagers, wiki describes it here.

In an extensive piece, they talked about how undercover researchers joined Habbo Hotel and found that they were immediately and regularly sexually propositioned. They were subjected to sexual talk and coercive behaviour which sometimes attempted to move virtual chat through avatars from online ‘sexting’ into requests for individuals to strip in front of webcams. The Channel 4 investigation also revealed the identity of a couple of men who have already been prosecuted for such activities.

Habbo seemed unphased at first but when they realized what a storm Channel 4 had provoked they immediately silenced all interaction on their site. This was undoubtedly exacerbated by one of Habbo’s sponsors immediately withdrawing their interest from Habbo.

Despite all my interest in researching teenagers’ online behaviour over the years, I had not been at all interested in Habbo. perhaps because not one of my research participants ever mentioned it to me – although I had heard of it.  In fact as it has been around so many years I had assumed there was not activity on there. This is apparently not the case with wiki reporting that by 2011 230 million avatars had been registered (such figures need to be regarded with caution as some people will have multiple avatars and many avatars will have been registered but never or rarely been active).

It looks like the site is going to only unmute the talk and text functions once it has put into place much better more stringent moderation features.

My comments on all this are that:

(a) As usual the research that Channel 4 undertook was research that I think is pretty flawed. The adult researchers did not behave in the same way as teenager researchers and I thnk they should have involved teenagers in a much more authentic exploration of the site. What adults do in the site is not going to be the same as teenagers. This could have been asking teenagers to consent to being involved in research, asking them to join and observing them while interacting on the site – obviously a range of safety and ethical features would need to be set up for the project.

(b) The researchers made all kinds of assumptions about how young people might react to the propositions and lewd interatcions from the resident peodos perverts etc. Agtain, involving teenagers in the research would have helped with this.

(c) The researchers had a model of teenagers and young people as helpless victims. They did not think to consult teenagers who were already using the site about their observations and experiences.

(d) the researchers made the classic mistake of trying to immediately understand the site and to participate without lurking first. I would always advise researchers to first lurk about a site before participating… and this is what most people do before they join in on a networking site too.

(e) I am against covert research. Although the researchers like to get a scoop and love the thrill of under cover operations, I think they woud have got a great deal more from the research if they had got permission ethical approval and then done a thorough and multi faceted research project.

As a result of Channel 4’s research, not only has Habbo itself reacted by taking action which it should have taken long ago in relation to trolls, peodophles and pervs (!!) but  many of the sites users are using the internet  as a way of speaking back, protesting and making it known that they would like to be acknowledged as having some agency. For example here and here.

I like the way that this player critiques Channel 4’s use of the site. You can see from the video that many young people are utterly distraught by this decimation of what they see as THEIR space.

(It is somewhat naff, btw, that Channel 4 have disabled the embedding of video material they put on YouTube.)

I am very happy to see also how young people were finally invited to be on Channel 4 to have their say and this was a very good piece.

Hopefully Habbo will involve young people in the moderation of the site and to play a major role in advising on policy etc. But the whole piece is a really great example of why we need to teach about and with social networking in schools and to see young people as research participants as opposed to subjects.

Written by DrJoolz

June 22nd, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Ethics and photography

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The OCA (Open College of the Arts) has a most wonderful blog with so many videos that are short, moving and good to look at. This one , without trying to, makes some excellent useful points about ethics and photography.

The Dad Project from Open College of the Arts on Vimeo.

I will definitely be using this when I teach my Image Based Research session to the MA Educational Research students this year.

Written by DrJoolz

August 31st, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Posted in academia,Education,Film

Skills for Teachers

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I came across an interesting post yesterday about ‘the digital skills’ teachers should have.

It is a really useful list to think about – in terms of the kinds of direction we need to move in. However I worry about setting up the uses of new technologies as being part of the never ending ‘must do’ list to make teachers feel even more stressed than they already do. The list is very long and very comprehensive. I am sure many teachers would read it and agree they should know all those things – but then feel dismayed.

I think it’s great if teachers can produce their own digital resources and help kids to do so; wonderful is the teacher who can make, edit and upload audio files; or do the same with video. But these are things to learn along the way of doing projects – on a need to know basis. We need to concentrate on teaching and learning and then thinking about the technologies that may or may not enhance this. Technology – apart from in the case of ICT teachers – should not be the subject content – but the way of doing things.

Web 2.0 is great – we can share resources and expertise online; we do not even always have to have the expertise in our school or department – we can always ask for help in online spaces. We do not all have to individually be able to do everything. And we don’t have to do be able to embrace every technological possibility.

This is not a technophobe post; far from it. I live my life with my face in the Internet! But I am aware of how teachers need to feel confident in their own classrooms. An important thing for trainee teachers, is to help them feel confident with new technologies, to see their relevance in teaching and learning, to see a reason for moving technology from their social world into their professional world.

For me the important digital skills for teachers, is the ability to evaluate new technologies when they come out and when we are choosing which to use; the ability to work out copyright law and work within it; the ability to locate resources and the support needed to get going with them. Guy and I are hoping this book might help.

Sorry, but I worry about the sanity of our lovely teachers.

Anyhow here is a variation on the all our base meme.

All your chip are belong to us

Written by DrJoolz

April 8th, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Virtual World Experiences

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I am a co-organiser of this seminar series. on Children’s and young people’s digital literacies in virtual online spaces. It has been a great series so far and we have had some fantatstic speakers – as you’ll see from the site. (Check out the slideshows etc.)
I was not very interested at all in Virtual Worlds until the last couple of years as I asociated VWs with gaming and the need to be able to be dextrous in mouse controls etc. I had a notion that you had to have brilliant hand/eye co-ordination – which I am afraid I have not developed. In fact whilst it helps to be quick – actually you do not have to have those skills and you can learn at snail’s pace and still get by like me. In fact I probably bump into fewer things in SL than RL, so there you go.

Anyhow, I have realised that like so many things online, there are lots of different spaces to go to, and different ways that you can interact with people within the one Virtual World. It is a heterogeneous space, and just like the blogosphere, or Twitter or Flickr (etc) smaller networks form and people negotiate their way through, usually travelling similar paths on each visit and interacting in habitual ways – just as we do in real life (my ‘Sheffield’ is different to someone else’s experience of the same city, for example).

Thus with Second Life there are academic spaces and shopping spaces; sports spaces and media spaces; there is a clubbing scene and there are offices and seasides and islands … the list is not endless however! It seems that SL – like all the other VWs I have seen- imitate a great deal of what we have in Real Life. In some ways this is disappointing, as the dream, I suppose, is to be able to exist in a different way in a different world. However we can only build on what we know and if we knew other ways of being with each other, we would have created them in RL too – if you see what I mean…. maybe.

Nevertheless it remains the case to an extent that we can try out new things and we can visit places virtually, that we may not visit in RL; and interact with others that we may not manage to meet in RL. We can leave aspects of our RL selves behind and take on new ways of being – thus SL can become (to an extent) liberating to the disabled, or a space where new skills might be developed – be it a new language or even people management skill, for example. A case in point is that a friend of mine in RL has, in her SL, run a night club and escort agency; she made good money, many friends and gave a lot of people jobs in-world. She was able to support others through friendships she made. Now, in moving into a new job in SL, she is thoroughly excited by working as a journalist on the news programme of metaverse. Here is one of the most recent news programmes, which includes Lisa reporting on issues to do with Education in SecondLife:

MBC News 1-27-2010 from Metaverse TV on Vimeo.

In case you are interested , this report has Lisa talking about the “adult continent Vindra” in Second Life.

Hats Off to Lisa I say!! I think her reports are fabulous and she has to research for them as well as be confident enough to talk publically and spontaneously on the show – with a view to her global audience. She has to temper her language (note her use of ‘spiffing’) – and be aware of local idiom. Sadly though, these activities (which involve learning of many kinds) that people are becoming immersed in, in a range of Web 2.0 spaces, seem to go unnoticed most of the time. Second Life participants are often held up for ridicule – with stories of marriages being made and broken being top ones in the tabloid press.

Obviously this kind of coverage adds fuel to the fire of all the other scare Discourses around why the Internet is so bad, why you have to stop your kids going online etc etc. It is part of the whole Toxic Discourse which I find naive in the extreme. Fact of the matter of course – as I always end up saying – is that because there are lots of people online there will be a diversity of experiences to be had, and you have to learn to stay safe online, just as you do off line. Hence, we need educators online, so that they can teach within online spaces as well as outside them; they need to become confident users of these spaces so they can teach in an informed way.

I love that we are thinking about ways of using Virtual Worlds in Education and of course we already know that many Universities are using SL as a space where students can learn as well as hang out. Lancaster University SL space had this slideshow in a presentation on their island; I spotted this after a meeting the other week

A lot of SL Education arenas use slideshows – perhaps rather an old fashioned medium now, but nevertheless I found this a powerful tool for sharing learning when I spotted it the other day. The reference in world for where to find it: Lancaster University, Lancaster University (52, 231, 22). If you drop by, you will se that each of the statements on this slide, is explained on others.

There’s an interesting conference up and coming on Virtual World Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) via Peak education conference in Second Life | Treet Business and also see info here.

We do need to think about Best Practice as just going online is not enough; although we see a lot of learning happening in out of school practices, I think that f schools, colleges and universities are going to spend time in Virtual Worlds, then they need to structure the learning and show they take it as seriously as everything else.

Maybe it could all become part of the Slow Education movement. A concept which I find compelling.

Finally , I went on the Sheffield wheel yesterday. That was an experience I found just a tad too physical – and also my partner TT kept blocking my view!

TT shoots in monochrome

Naked person on top of city hall

Here’s Hyde Park Flats in its current incarnation:

Written by DrJoolz

January 31st, 2010 at 1:24 pm


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In Leeds visiting Sam today the shops were already crammed with Christmas stuff .. the book shops selling the usual Christmas books – a strange genre of books – aimed at people who don’t like reading. These unwanted gifts will presumably have all made their way into charity shops across the country by June. (So if you do actually WANT one, I would wait till then). I think I will look out for Gok’s book as I am a bit of a sucker for this kind of stuff but don’t want to pay proper money for it.

Aaanyway, just thinking about this idea of selling things to people who don’t really want them … this is what the new SimplicITy pcs seem to be about. The Guardian gives it a bit of a thumbs down really, thinking the market it is directed at won’t look at it, and those who like IT won’t be interested either (like those Christmas books.)

This is technology for technophobes .. for those who now feel they have missed the boat. It’s for the people who saw technology coming, said “No thanks” and then looked again and realised they were on a little island all alone while everyone else’s faces were lit by the light of a screen.

Marketed specifically to ‘older people’ the software is set out in a simple way with the desktop offering clear choices without any of the ususal secret language of computers. The BBC has a nice video of a woman, aged 80, talking positively about it here:

Interesting for me is that she is attracted to the SOCIAL affordances first and foremost …the ability to keep in better contact with her brother in Canada; to be able to participate in social happenings online with her two American friends- as well as to look at fashion online – to give her an idea of what to look for before going shopping. She has an idea about how the Internet can enrich her life and affect her relationships with others.The Internet has matured and is a different beast to the one she first rejected years ago and I think it is great that this software is able to give her a direct route into what she wants from the net.

I think it is sad that some people (as with this lovely person) feel they have been a bit bad somehow in not participating earlier. I hope we do not move to a position where we see those who are not ‘in with ‘ technology as deficit, in the same way as some use terms like ‘illiterate’ about others. What I like about this software is it is helping people to join in in they choose – unlike those rubbish christmas gift books which are something very weird indeed.

Written by DrJoolz

November 14th, 2009 at 8:55 pm


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Stuff that is banned becomes unbanned on YouTube. Am researching for the writing of a chapter about YoTube for the book Guy and I are putting together on ‘Web 2.0 for Schools’ – (for this series.)

have used the search term ‘banned cartoons’ and fascinated to discover this Betty Boop cartoon:

Obviously banned for its racist content. Interesting also is the discussion that follows in the comments section.

More disturbing was the discussion which followed a news report about a banned diversity training video… this is a more recent film which was supposed to be used as a staff development/ awareness raising piece. However people complained about the assumptions that white, ‘blue collar workers’ are more likely to be racist than black or hispanics. The discussion that ensues on YouTube is quickly taken over by white supremists. Following links from their discussions quickly took me down avenues too dark to paste into my blog. Gut wrenching stuff. Anyhow this is the original news report:

Certainly all sorts of issues here to consider in terms of using YouTube in schools – I would not feel confident that I could deal with the possible outpourings that some of the videos and comments that YouTube might incite from my students. There are important issues to consider about how to introduce YouTube and how to guide students’ use of the site so that they come to a critical reading of some of the hateful material there.

And I have to admit, this kind of stuff forces one to take a moral position – something I find a real challenge. I like to think that as a teacher I don’t dictate to kids what to think but give them the resources to think about and to think with and then let them go. But actually when push comes to shove, I would have to take a clear ant racist and anti sexist stance – and I am not sure what this looks like without either allowing some of these views to be voiced in my classroom (and all that implies) or without banning this stuff. Hmmm.

And finally … maybe Ihave a lot to learn from sites like this which Rosa told me about.

Written by DrJoolz

August 14th, 2008 at 7:17 am

Posted in Education,YouTube

Eleven GOOD Reasons not to ban social networking sites

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I went to Lewisham yesterday and talked to Primary ICT co-ordinators about New Literacies, Social networking and the future … I had enjoyed the weekend preparing for it … putting together a list of sites and examples of wikis, blogs, and so on. The conference participants were really welcoming, enthusiastic and fab. I really enjoyed talking with them.

I gave examples of:

  1. – photosharing;
  2. Bubbleshare; – photosharing where you can add speechbubbles etc
  3. Voicethreads; – photosharing and you can add sound and text;
  4. Evoca; – podcasting;
  5. 21 Classes blogging software;
  6. Blogger – blogging software;
  7. You Tube – video sharing;
  8. Making the News – podcasting and more;
  9. Radiowaves – podcasting and more;

Well all seemed OK and at the break people talked to me about how they were going to try some of these ideas. Am excited at the thought that a few said they were interested in doing the online MA in New Literacies at Sheffield.

Then came the presentation from Kent Local Authority who talked about how they had totally banned all social-networking sites in every school in their region. (And Lest we forget … Kent still has grammar schools and wotnot). They had distributed more than 100 thousand leaflets to parents which includes information on discouraging use of chat-rooms and social networking sites. The leaflets promoted the use of pcs for educational purposes only and suggested also that young people should not ever use computers unsupervised. Here is an example poster.
I feel OK about most of this but am unhappy about only going to websites that the teacher has set out or to never use chat is not really responsible in my view. We have to teach students how to independently research in a safe way.

This is the policy document…. here. Again a lot of good stuff but some areas where I think that they have used a hammer to crack a nut and I do hate the idea of banning things. (We once burnt books you know.)

This is all on the same day that the much awaited report from Dr Tanya Byron brought some similar approaches – with children constructed as totally manipulable, passive, uneducable dupes. The Guardian reports:

Byron, who shot to fame with the BBC series Little Angels, was asked by the prime minister, Gordon Brown, last year to complete the study. She will say the pace of the online revolution has left parents as “the internet immigrants” and children as “the internet natives”, often causing worries for parents struggling to stay in touch with technology.

There is a funny thing going on here, with on the one hand children as expert in technology, but unable to make any kind of moral choice. Also I am not keen on the terms native or immigrant; they have negative connotations at the best of times and undermine the complexity of what it might mean to be competent. Education is what is needed for everyone, including parents. We need to run classes for them too. Classes where their kids show them things and we show them things and we all learn from each other. I definitely think we need digital literacy researchers involved in future research in this area, not just psychologists who see children in quite strange ways sometimes!! (Dr Tanya is the one who suggests that to teach kids to behave you can sit them on their own in a room – I am just not into this kind of punishment malarky I have always believed in talking to kids in a reasonable way at every stage.)

So without spending my whole day on this blog rant I want to identify reasons why I think Social networking sites should NOT be banned from schools:

  1. Social Networking is here to stay. People will use them even if they are banned in school. Children therefore need to be taught how to use them safely.
  2. Students use social networking out of school, – so do many parents and this number will increase. We will (continue to) alienate learners if we ban what they value.
  3. Some children do not have access to the Internet out of school. Schools are places where we should try to balance out inequalities and provide equal access. Children (and adults) increasingly use the sites to continue social activities begun elsewhere (and vice versa).
  4. Students can be shown the value of citizenship journalism and the need for other voices than those officially constructed by mainstream media. This is an important social literacy practice for citizenship education.
  5. In a classroom context students can be shown how to enjoy, control and be wary of the power (their own and that of others) in online text production and consumption.
  6. If teachers use SNW sites in school, they can talk with students an ongoing basis, without using scare tactics, about how to stay safe online.
  7. Students can be taught to read online texts critically and discern ‘hidden messages’ – for we know that some insidious sites, such as Nazi sites, KKK sites appear innocuous at first. If we ban all sites like this, they will only read them unsupervised.
  8. The nature of literacy is changing; to ignore social networking sites is to exclude a whole area of literacy practice from the educational domain – thus making the school curriculum a dinosaur. Multimodal texts are easy to produce using social networking software.
  9. There are excellent educational benefits in using social networking software – even when it is not used to actually network with others – such as using Voicethreads and embedding work into a blog.
  10. Social networking software is changing all the time and thus brings constant fresh and exciting FREE material into the curriculum.
  11. Children are motivated by using such software – especially boys.

Let’s hear from the kids: Top Ten Reasons to Use Blogs in the classroom

There is a need to treat kids as responsible people and to show them things carefully. Not ban things as you will never be able to keep it all out. So you need to teach them to protect themselves and to ENJOY what there is online and not pretend that the Internet and pcs are only there fore boring educational sensible things.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about that really. Apart from that the slideshow for the conference is here:

Written by DrJoolz

March 28th, 2008 at 5:15 am


with 2 comments

Have been looking at the new 21 classes blogging software. Looks like a great new package for the teacher who wants to use blogs but is nervous about keeping control of things. Looks easy to use and privacy settings are changeable very easily.

Here is what I have just set up.

Jackie told me about Voicethreads a way to combine sound with images – and again user-friendly software set up with schools in mind. Here’s my space.

You can embed what you do on voicethreads, into your blog or website:

(I know it’s a bit rubbish but I rushed this!)

Next up …. we all know the frustration of our pcs and software going wrong. Check this out.

And for easter … there’s this link. Enjoy!!

Written by DrJoolz

March 24th, 2008 at 6:16 am