As part of the eCampus Ontario Extend program, I have committed to writing a post on "Digital Literacies for Teaching"....and what better time to get started than 2 days before the holiday break? A good excuse to avoid diving in to "New Year" work don't you think?
This challenge was embedded in the "Technologist" module for the Extend program. Each module is based on an element of Simon Bates' (2014) "Anatomy of 21st Century Educators".
And this brings me immediately to my first thought. While I recognize this prompt needed to go *somewhere*, I think we are limiting ourselves if we relegate the concept of digital literacies to only one of these domains. And in particular, if we embed it under "technology" we might miss all of the important ways it intersects with our roles...as teachers, curators, collaborators, scholars, experimenters, and instead place the importance on gadgets and platforms...
Of course, inherently this is why the Extend program exists. To provide a professional development opportunity for instructors to hone their knowledge and skills in all of these areas toward not only digital literacy, but also citizenship, scholarship, and beyond, and so I digress...
So, "Digital Literacies for Teaching?" you ask. The questions is not easily answered. The question is, in fact, HUGE. And it is important. On my campus, "Literacy" (broadly) is considered an institutional learning outcome. And while "digital" and/or "media" aren't explicitly mentioned in the definition, I would argue you would be hard pressed to deny they are implicitly assumed, expected and valued as part of the undergraduate teaching and learning experience.
But, where can we find the development of these literacies in the curricula? Which of our educators are ensuring that our students are developing the skills and knowledge to confidently and critically participate and contribute online? More, how can they do so if they are perhaps not "literate" themselves, or perhaps shun the exercise as one only rooted in technology tools or platforms (as mentioned as this is inherently not what it is about), or most often, can't figure out where to include such practices alongside their "content"? These questions are further compounded by a shared belief that our students are "already there", a belief that many, including myself, would vehemently disagree with, but a belief that allows us to perpetuate the idea that this is someone else's question to answer, or perhaps not a relevant question at all.
So what do we mean by "digital literacies"?
What do we mean when we say "digital literacies"? This ambiguous term is banded around a lot, but what is it that we are talking about? A somewhat recent NMC Report (ahem, commissioned by industry - a good commentary on this here) recognizes varied definitions, but underlines that the question is complicated further by divergent practices and applications. Conceptually, it is ever-evolving, and is influenced by context, and a changing set of tools over time.
But, let's try and ground the discussion for a moment.
Digital literacy is more than technological know-how: it includes a wide variety of ethical, social, and reflective practices that are embedded in work, learning, leisure, and daily life.
So that's one definition, but do we have any more clarity in reading it? It's easy to feel a little...
And so what can we do?
Recently, on Twitter, I have dipped in and out of a conversation in this area (the "out" determined by 2 young and busy boys who needed my attention this holiday season, that and I am still deeply thinking about the question "And so what can we do?"....).
In a blog post by Brian Lamb as follow up to this conversation, he wrote -
The emergence of digital media represents foundational shifts in how knowledge is constructed, gathered and disseminated. One would think this transformation would be of vital interest across higher education, yet all too often it remains the domain of the specialists that she [Autumn] mentions. When considered within the curriculum, it is usually by specialists in computer science, media studies, digital humanities, etc… Elsewhere, it is evidently fine for a modern scholar to proclaim “I don’t do technology”, to accept the logic of surveillance capitalism as it is, whatever the effects on scholarship or the platforms where we teach, learn, communicate.
More layers of complexity. It is an unwieldy beast. As part of the Twitter conversation above, I had suggested we build something together. And Brian noted in his post that he is unsure of what I am suggesting. The answer is, "neither do I". I don't know the answer to "And so what can we do?".
What I do know is that if we continue to be rooted in our own contexts and/or silos of our home campuses, the work may be necessarily harder, or at least likely take more time to get started as we are often alone in the work (....it won't "end", and even though we needn't reinvent the wheel). I agree with Mike Caulfield that we need open pedagogy AND open resources, and that inherently instructors do need (or at least want) support to include both in their curriculum, and including support for their students as they "try" to work this through.
Looking back to the original prompt considering "Digital Literacies for Teaching?", of course we have to provide educators with their own opportunities for professional development. Programs such as Extend, or JISC's Developing Digital Literacies are awesome as they offer educators a place to start. As Autumm mentioned, faculty development programs are also another option. I like the #digpins program coming at SNC, in particular the idea of planting "kernels" to seed larger conversations and encourage ongoing practices. There are plenty more great options: #Digipo, Antigonish 2.0, Digital Pedagogy Lab etc. all working toward similar values and in particular placing front and centre the "ethical, social, and reflective practices" mentioned in the definition above.
But if we are truly going to build something to help these practices into curricula, we also need to provide instructors with something tangible. We can bemoan the notions of learning outcomes, assessment, etc, but the current reality is that most instructors will continue to abide by these tenets. And so we need to reach further.
Extend the Extend?
What if we did find "some other not-so-creepy place to collect our work and let it grow" as Brian suggests in his post. This work can include some of the already great initiatives by folks in the conversation above (Sundi Richard, #digpins), and many others, and build on them. What if the work covered all of the conceptual areas valued as important, but with suggestions for non-disposable, discipline-agnostic activities and/or assignments, and including guidance and support toward implementation. What if this "not-so-creepy place" was completely open, simple and modular, and offered instructors the option to adopt well-curated resources, to at least give the digital a "try" in their courses. What if these activities and/or assignments are just well developed *enough*, so that anyone might be willing to give it a shot? All the while ensuring that the rest of the *enough* leaves plenty of room for adaptability, creativity, etc.?
And so if they only wanted to adopt a little bit, great. But, if you wanted to think bigger, the entirety of the modules could be a stand alone course?
It would seem I have more questions than answers. And I'm okay with that for now. I realize that, in the end, this post is less than coherent, but at least it has me starting to make sense of "And so what can we do?" in my own head if nothing else.
So, "Digital Literacies for Teaching" you ask? I guess I don't have a clear answer. In particular as the focus on teaching leaves out the learner, and that is the question I am perhaps more interested in, for now. For now my one wish going into 2018 (as I am continuing this post after the New Year) is that we keep the conversation going. "Faster alone but further together" right?
Part of my "work" (#personalgoals) in 2017 was to continue to resist the urge to "burn it down". Meaning, that I have learned to value small fires and incremental progress and to lean in to my own impatience. I have been working on a First Year Seminar tackling some of this "stuff" that will hopefully be a small fire, for me, and a small group of students, for this year.
But, if you have other ideas in mind, or answers to my questions...please do let me know!