New Territory: Digital Literacies Lab

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I had an idea. I talked about it with an administrator. I announced it to our whole staff. Next Monday I will convene the first gathering.

I am not the expert. I am an interested party. I am a reader and sometimes writer on the topics we plan to investigate. My goal is to build knowledge and gain some experience along with my colleagues and friends.

So I have called folks together; asked people to join me as we try to learn some stuff. Together. With each other. And we’ll have snacks.

I am not the teacher, nor will I be teaching. We are all learners. I am the convener.

I’m opening a Digital Literacies Lab at my school for a few Monday afternoons over the next several weeks. I’ve planned 5 sessions and just about everyone is invited: faculty, support staff, and high school students. It’s set up to be catch-as-catch-can, meaning that folks should come when they can and not worry about the rest.

I’ve invited my co-presenters for our upcoming NAIS People of Color Conference Seminar (p.16), Chris Gilliard and Bill Fitzgerald, to each skype in for a some Q and A around digital rules of engagement, i.e. Terms of service (Chris) and Data Hygiene (Bill). We will start out with those topics but our conversations may end up somewhere else entirely.

To convene for learning means creating and opening up space for engagement. Yes, there will be rough agendas and some resources to support us but I anticipate much feeling-as-we-go. What are the needs and major questions of the folks in the room? What kinds of resources and expertise might we have in the room to respond to and think about some of those questions more deeply? Rather than sit-and-get, these sessions will be, I hope, come-and-share-and ask-and-respond.

I envision movement. I imagine us spreading out in the room, poking and prodding our devices and each other to discover what we might be missing or have so far perhaps failed to realize. I anticipate aha moments, and slow dawnings; lightning strikes and blank stares. There must be room for all of this and more. Because learning is on the agenda.

And the rough agenda looks something like this: (from the e-mail invitation)

Oct. 2nd

What are digital literacies? What are we talking about when we use that term?

What are some skills you’d like to learn that might fall under this broad heading?

Oct. 9th

Considering the rules of engagement

How to read Terms of Service and figure out what we potentially risk when we sign on to apps and other digital service arenas

Guest speaker: Chris Gilliard, Professor of English, Macomb Community College

Oct. 16th

What is data hygiene?

How do we protect and safeguard our data across multiple devices and services?

Guest speaker: Bill Fitzgerald, Privacy Initiative Common Sense Media

Nov. 6th

Thinking about information filters

Exploring fact checking skills  (i.e., Reverse image search, tracking the source of viral content)

Nov. 20th

Data and Society (big, right?)

I have ideas but I also want to see what emerges from the previous labs before determining a specific agenda.

Now, it wouldn’t be very digital literacy-like if I didn’t welcome input from so many of you who have joined me on my journey up to this moment. Which resources – posts, articles, authors and activities would you recommend to a group of relative beginners starting out in traversing this territory?

How might you like to join us on this little trek in the information wilderness? Here’s a hashtag possibility for Twitter: #DigLitLab (unclaimed until now – just checked!).

I’m excited about being the convener and not the expert. I’m excited about learning and making space and time for learning with others. I’m excited about starting and following through. I’m excited about knowing that I don’t know how it will all turn out and doing it anyway.

 

image CC0 via Pixabay.com

 

Looking for help and all I get is the market

I was up at night recently with a itchy and inflamed eye. I wasn’t sure if this was a stay-at-home kind of illness but I thought it might be good to have a medical professional look at it. I have insurance so I didn’t have to wonder about whether I could afford to seek help or not.

Since it was an eye thing, my husband suggested looking up an ophthalmologist he had visited before who had a practice fairly close by. Enter Google. I looked up “Augenarzt 1190”  which means eye doctors in my district in Vienna. Sure enough I got a list of practicing doctors in my district that looked like this:

Screenshot (32)

 

Great. I find some names, some addresses and one whose actual office hours are listed. In several cases, one click leads me to a further platform which should supposedly help me narrow down my choices, like this:

Screenshot (31)

Yes, I get names, addresses and phone numbers and reviews. I’m not as concerned with someone’s opinion as I am with location and time. And there are several of these types of platforms: docfinder, Arztsuche24, or netdoktor. They represent the marketplace more than real access to critical help.

So my eye is itching like crazy, I’m deciding if I can/should/will go to school and/or see a doctor about it and I’m having a difficult time finding all the information that I need in one place to make some useful decisions.

The information I really need is: the doctor’s location, if she or he is available right now, and what kind of insurance he or she accepts. Google and these other platforms say they want to help me but they don’t particularly care about my itchy eye. Instead their emphasis is on presenting me with options for which others have paid to get to my eyes  first (itchy or not).

After my initial bout of searching, I huffed into the kitchen frustrated at how much effort the whole thing required, still without a significant lead beyond learning that my general practitioner would have office hours in the afternoon.

Thankfully, I remembered an alternative. Old school, but ultimately more effective in this situation: the white pages. In the Austrian edition, the physicians’ pages are marked with red edges. If there are large numbers (i.e., general physicians, they often group doctors by district which is particularly helpful. Also included in the listings are office hours and insurance acceptance. Essentially, everything I really need.

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Ultimately I solved the situation differently, making use of privileged connections which did not immediately occur to me. Our school nurse maintains a list of English speaking physicians for our international community. From that selection I decided to call a general practitioner who has long standing connection to the school. I described my situation, she volunteered to call in a prescription to the pharmacy which lay directly on my way to school. It all worked perfectly. I got the medicine, I worked all day without incident. My eye is almost all better.

What was striking for me though in this whole scenario was recognizing how the monetization of search may not be helping us in the ways we think it can and should. Yes, we seem to be getting a lot of information for free. But is it the information we need, offered in the way that is most beneficial? In my situation, definitely not. Rather I had a surplus of information but not the critical signposts and filters to collate that information usefully.

The market needs consumers, not people in crisis or difficulty or lacking literacy. My itchy eye was not interested in shopping but Google and its business model assumes that shopping is our primary (if not only) objective.

That is a fundamental problem. Especially when we need help and not markets.

Notes from #ISTE2016

No kidding. Another #ISTE post!

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EdSpeakers trio at ISTE2016: @edifiedlistener, @ShellTerrell & @Regionalconsult

First, the excitement: I finally got to hug @ShellTerrell, @Sarahdateechur, @CoburnCori, @ShanaVWhite! On top of that I got to hang with @RegionalConsult (Juanita Hines), @mrhooker, James Kapptie as fellow keynoters. Here’s a periscope link of the ISTE Affiliate Keynote Smackdown.

So now that the nerve-wracking portion of my attendance has passed, I can take some time to step back and “observe my observations.”

I brought one book with me on this trip: (Yes, a real hold-in-your-hands, takes-up-space-in-your-carry-on book.) Researching Your Own practice: The Discipline of Noticing by John Mason (Routledge 2002) which was recommended to me by a Maths educator friend on Twitter, @dannytbrown. The author’s premise is that developing professionals, particularly teachers, rests on the understanding that “change is not something you can do to other people but something you do to yourself, following the maxim that ‘I cannot change others, but I can work at changing myself’.”

We have heard this idea expressed before. Yet Mason’s emphasis on the practice of noticing in all of its cognitive and emotional and physiological facets, provides a surprisingly compelling impetus to try the exercises, to test oneself and discover both the challenges and rewards of actively noticing.

So I am at #ISTE2016 and working on noticing.

This morning I sat down to sift through some of the flyers in my bag. There are several from (I’m guessing) the biggest sponsors alerting me to events and presentations supported by their companies in some way. There are some key official ISTE resources – maps, program, contact info. One thing which caught my particular attention was the raffle booklet for various vendor giveaways. Naturally, you fill out a stub with your essential contact info and your name is entered to win some fabulous object or service. This is a common tradeoff.

But leafing through this booklet, I was struck by the language in many of the blurbs referencing the sponsoring product or company.

“Set your teachers free with _____________! … Enjoy the flexibility of presenting lessons anywhere in the classroom and increase personalized learning.”

“The tools you need to be wired, inspired, charged and protected.”

“___________ harnesses the power of technology to empower, inspire and support schools with end-to-end ed-tech solutions.”

“Imagine idea sharing without barriers. Turn classrooms into interactive learning environments with __________. It’s the easiest way to get students connected and sharing ideas from any device. Smarter collaboration starts here.”

“________ helps teachers turn parents into partners by giving parents guidance and actionable suggestions, simplifying communications and activities management and making engagement fun.”

“…an online eLearning platform to help students improve skills in reading, writing, math, and science, access interactive prep for the SAT, ACT, AP …”

“Presenting an ultra easy standing desk solution…”

” _________ is one of the fastest growing education platforms that develops solutions aimed to enable educators, empower students and engage parents.”

“…Teachers have the ability to orchestrate and deliver content, work collaboratively and monitor student PCs.”

“Here’s your chance to teach 21st century skills to your students with the award-winning ______________.”

“In higher education you need to be able to work smarter and not harder. ___________ is redefining the way that administrators and educators coordinate and deliver great work.”

“The award winning ___________ is ideal for differentiated instruction, communication of school-wide initiatives and recognition of academic achievements.”

“____________, your leading provider of innovative, evidence-based instructional solutions and services, want to help you bring your lessons to life with the ___________!”

“…Students ‘learn by doing’ in a virtual environment where it is easy to undo mistakes and make changes with no material costs or clean up…”

“Technology charged learning starts here.”

I notice the language of magic: “turn into…” I notice the emphasis on ease, simplicity, and competitive advantage (i.e. “award winning, leading”). “Solutions” are prevalent as are high hopes for engagement, inspiration and communication.

This is what I noticed.

It is terribly exciting to be on site for this huge convergence of educator energies and passions. At the same time I am poked and prodded by the awareness that we are, above all, in a sales environment. As teachers, administrators, consultants and bloggers we are being wined and dined throughout the conference by industry representation currently giddy with investment dollars. It’s impossible to be here and not notice that.

This is also the point at which I acknowledge my distinct perspective as a participant-observer. I have come here on my own dime and am under no obligation to a school or district authority to account for the time spent here. I have the luxury and privilege to be able to browse, take-in, network and contribute at my leisure and level of comfort. While the atmosphere is tangibly celebratory, I know that there are many folks, vendors included, who are here and have business to attend to.

So I’ll work on my noticing skills and try to rein in my impulse to judge, judge, judge. #ISTE2016 is an amazing place to be, to learn, to become aware.

 

10,000 Characters

How many words might that add up to? How many pages? How many minutes of reading would that entail?

Like many other Twitter users I have some feelings about the lifting of the 140 character limit and potentially expanding it to up to 10,000. I had and have feelings about the shift from favorites as stars to hearts indicating a “like.”

I read the articles and posts describing Twitter’s downfall, death, corruption and fight for survival because this is the social media space that best meets my needs so far. And every time I feel myself about to say something sentimental about how and why I “care” about Twitter, I slap myself upside the head and remind myself that like hundreds of other corporations this is one more that is aiming to generate shareholder profits via my ongoing display of “care”: filling their platform with thousands of data points per hour.

And so it was with great relief that I read an article which made plain for me exactly what is at stake with Twitter lifting its signature 140 character limit. Will Oremus argues convincingly that it’s not about the length of the tweet:

What’s really changing here, then, is not the length of the tweet. It’s where that link at the bottom takes you when you click on it—or, rather, where it doesn’t take you. Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the “read more” button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.

After a while, you may notice that this garden has expanded to take in territory that once lay beyond its walls—and that those walls are a little higher than you remember them being. Stories published on Twitter may not be available elsewhere. At the same time, Twitter might start to exercise some control over which stories available elsewhere will be allowed inside its garden.

The title of his post: “Twitter Isn’t Raising the 140 Character Limit. It’s Becoming A Walled Garden” says so much. And what it revealed to me was how much corporations are vested in guiding consumers in the “best way” to enjoy a service or product. Brand loyalty is even more important than ever. Attracting an audience or following is one thing, but to keep your audience tethered to your platform/service/product long enough for them to receive adequate ‘experience enhancers’ in the form of specifically targeted advertising; that is fully another.

And seen that way, I can’t believe that I have fallen in so deeply with all of this. How many terms of use have I knowingly accepted without so much as glancing at the details of my unique surrender? How widely and generously have I distributed my cookies among countless third parties?

So if Twitter changes its character limit, I have essentially all the same choices I have every day. To stay or go. To feed the insatiable monster or reduce my offerings. In truth, I’ve already become quite comfortable in my little garden space. Some things have begun to take root and grow, even thrive on some days. I appreciate the many neighborly interactions with other gardeners. And the wealth of our conversations is generated by the fact that none of us live in our Twitter gardens. We all come and go, check in and check back out. We bring our experiences from elsewhere and re-examine them back in the garden.

 

And yet, this garden with walls or without, is hardly built for permanence, although we like to behave as if that were the case. Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey was quoted in a USA Today article describing the company’s logic in contemplating the change:

Dorsey has pledged to challenge long-held beliefs and conventions at Twitter in an attempt to reignite user growth.

“I’ve challenged our teams to look beyond assumptions about what makes Twitter the best play to share what’s happening. I’m confident our ideas will result in the service that’s far easier to understand and much more powerful,” Dorsey said during the company’s third-quarter conference call.

What struck me here was the idea of “long-held beliefs and conventions” in a company that is just over 10 years old. “Long-held beliefs” move fast in Silicon Valley and therefore for the rest of us, too, apparently. And “reignit[ing] user growth” is every company’s headache. That upward growth curve simply can’t go on forever the way it started. But that seems very hard to accept if you made so much money (or amassed so much attention) for a while there. If Silicon Valley insists that 5-8 years is time enough to have established “long-held beliefs” then none of us should be surprised when these same corporations begin to speak of “glory days” after 15 years in the market.

Understanding why companies do the things they do with us and supposedly for us has to become an additional priority in our digital day-to-day.  This pains me. I would really rather not bother. But there is too much at stake. How much have I already shared and surrendered? What happens if rather than introducing higher walls, bulldozers arrive and the Twitter garden is made over into a giant strip mall?

This is why we need to keep our eyes open. If you catch me saying that I “care” about Twitter – remind me that Twitter does not care much about me. Twitter cares about Twitter’s survival which now is only measured in economic terms, suitable for Wall Street exchanges. 140 or 10,000 characters of expression will neither provide the cure nor seal the demise.

Someday we’ll look back and laugh.

My #DigiWriMo 2015

 

What I wanted to do here was display my new found bravery in the creative sphere and offer you a cool infographic or other excellently crafted visual that would show you what a great time I had being a part of Digital Writing Month (#DigiWriMo).

The truth is, I don’t have that kind of time. I could have tried speaking it but that would have meant having to listen to my own voice. I’ll save that torture for another day.  I might have found a cool template on one of these sleek graphic tools that are all the rage and simply fill in the blanks. But you know what happens there. You spend all this time trying to get your icons all facing in the right direction, your fonts all neatly aligned and before you’ve even addressed the content two hours have flown by and you have, like, nothing.

So I am back to words and lists and narrative. At least I know my way around here.

Here was my November 2015 in #DigiWriMo:

[Actually, I got a head start in late October with the warm-up activity to create an alternative CV. Couldn’t resist that one.)

November 1st: Turned 50

November 2nd: my guest contributor post, Author, Audience and Parts of Speech, kicked off  digitalwritingmonth.com

November 2nd-7th: I encountered the warmth, generosity and openness of the #DigiWriMo community as expressed in comments, tweets & retweets on my post. It was a joy to respond and interact and meet some of the crew. I received TWO poems in response to that post and I still am blown away by that. Poetry, y’all.

In the second week, the emphasis was on visual expression in digital writing. Right off the bat in Kevin Hodgson’s introduction to the visual as a theme I found a spark to explore the novel Wonderstruck by Brian Selziek. Then I was inspired by Kim Douillard’s post to add a photo of my corner of the sky to a collaborative collection titled: Our Eyes on the Skies.

By Nov. 11th I was ready to follow Troy Hicks’ pointers and consider producing my first infographic. Although initially at at loss as to what I would want to demonstrate, as I let myself play with the tool, the actual content announced itself in due time.

Here is what emerged: DigiWriMo2015(2)

By the time week three rolled around and the focus was on using sound in writing, well, let me just say, I had my reservations. Not about the relevance and possibilities but simply my own capabilities to build this aspect into what I already do. Once again, the community had my back and the guest contributors that week provided the encouraging nudges that led me to share this post: Shhhh! An Audio Revelation. And revelation was not at all an exaggeration – being able to listen to the opening of a number of different classes was so revealing and fascinating. How do I actually manage to get a group of 16 five-year-olds to settle down long enough to give some instructions? How do we negotiate those openings with each other?

In the process, I also learned how to use Sound Cloud and audiocopy. My #DigiWriMo treasure chest continues to grow. Along the way I discovered so many great voices and perspectives which gave me both pause and inspiration. In the final week when the emphasis was on transmedia expression I found that I had indeed hit a wall of sorts. The notion of “transmedia” somehow overwhelmed me at that moment, in that week, although the whole month long I had been doing precisely that in bits and pieces. Once again, the community was right there with me offering both understanding and opportunity. In the final guest post, “It All Falls Apart,” Anna Smith documented and shared her production process in creating her transmedial oevre “Pieces.” In my comment I was able to give voice to the odd uneasiness I was feeling for not having gone “the whole nine yards,” as they say. And I was able to sum up what this month of creative community meant for me:

#digiwrimo is more than a number of days, more than a collection of interested and interesting people, more than the numerous artifacts which were created under its auspices. For me, #digiwrimo has become a frame of mind that I want to hold onto: a reminder to dare to experiment and contribute to communities of play and experimentation, digital and otherwise.

Just like that, it’s suddenly December and all manner of fresh engagements fill up my calendar (and probably yours, too). But #DigiWriMo as an experience, as a source of inspiration, as extraordinary meeting of the minds – will remain with me. Practicing “being the audience I want to have” is an ongoing commitment and one I gladly honor. It’s the frame of mind that will grow along with me. For that I am immensely grateful.

 

 

Digital Consciousness Training (Rough cut)

CC via Pixabay.com

CC via Pixabay.com

Let me start in the middle. When I open up my WordPress blog for editing on my iPad or through my browser it gives me this baby blue and white watered down version of itself. For reading this is more or less fine. But when I want to post something, I don’t want ‘watered down’ and ‘super simple.’ I want to see the full complement of my options, all the knobs, buttons and icons I can stand, many of which I still don’t know how to use. But I want to have them there and visible and available and at my disposal.  At the top of this very page there’s that infamous claim: “There’s now an easier way to create on WordPress.com! Switch to the improved posting experience.” But that’s not what I want. I don’t want the “easier” way. I don’t want their version of an “easier” way. It does not add up to an “improved posting experience” for me and I get a little annoyed.

In many ways this is par for the course, especially in dealing with consumer technology. The marketing and sales people insist that the developers keep coming up with a thousand different ways to maintain and grow the clickety-click-click of new users, members, consumers. The guiding question is no longer “what makes this person tick?” rather “what makes this person click?” In this brave new economy, no matter how much information we can access so quickly and easily, to our favorite and most frequented digital platforms, we are really only as valuable as the data bread crumb trails we leave and the thousands of keystrokes, swipes, and clicks we contribute to the mounting masses of relentless data.

One of the questions I ask myself is, where is WordPress going with this “improved posting experience”? What is it that they want me to understand? I feel like I am  gradually and unwillingly being weaned from the more complex, layered and nuanced posting experience over time – that one day I will arrive and that skimpy baby blue option will be the only one left. Unless, of course, I want to pay.  This is what I anticipate happening because this is what technology companies do. At some point they have to find ways to make some serious money from all these “free” services. Their shareholders are banking on it. I get that, but it is still so easy and common to feel duped in the process.

I’ve been thinking a lot about tech lately. I use my fair share of tech and while I would hesitate to apply the term “tech savvy” to my digital profile, I have learned how to figure stuff out, whom to ask for help and how to read directions carefully and to decide when a video tutorial will do the trick. Upon returning to my teaching post, I’ve found numerous ways to integrate more tech into my planning and teaching routines. My colleague started a great blog of our program last year while I was away and now it is the easiest thing ever to share pictures and videos of what our kids are doing in class with parents, colleagues, students and anyone else who may be interested. I like that.

We have a department iPod which has a great selection of music on it which I use a ton in class (music is my start and stop signal in most cases). We have a well protected iPad with a bunch of different apps related to fitness and performance. I can connect the iPad to a beamer and the stereo and show demonstration videos or use the video delay app which allows students to see a playback of their performance a few seconds afterwards – talk about immediate feedback! The possibilities are countless. And yet.

It’s still early in the year and these new additions are definitive upgrades. But it’s still up to me, the teacher, the human, the pedagogue  to determine what, when, how much, and for what purpose tech can be applied for the benefit of student learning. And because I am the teacher and human, there is also resistance. It is frustrating when things don’t work on the first try, or I miss seeing what my students are actually doing in real time because I am busy trying to position the camera to catch them doing it on film. It pains me to get the video up and not have sound. I dislike appearing incompetent. I am human. I am the teacher. Trying out new stuff, both with and without tech, is both risky and rewarding; it’s troublesome and (mostly) worth the trouble. It’s the hardest thing to be patient and keep believing; to have that ounce of faith that in a month or two, this awkwardness of switching cables, locating the remote, waking up the sleeping beamer and more, will gently recede into the background and I will look like I know what I am doing.

My tech use in class will likely become as routine as our strengthening routines but only within the parameters of genuine usefulness. This is not about making my work “easier”; that is not my interest. Rather I want to take on the complexity and messiness of teaching and learning with tech rolled up inside and navigate, find my way. Right now I’m taking a lot of new tools for a test drive. And sometimes I feel like some of those same tools may be taking me for a ride. This kind of travel is tiring and may make me a little irritable in the short term. That’s a bargain I am willing to strike en route to becoming the better teacher, and hopefully better human that my students need and deserve.

So when I rant a bit about the ferociousness of the information economy, I do that as one who is immersed in that economy and eager to see it live up to its promise to help us become better people. So far, much of what I have seen has not been overly convincing. So I rant and resist and point out and raise questions even as I use the tools and share terrabytes of data. The tools I select to use in my classroom, therefore, merit all the more scrutiny and caution and care. Balancing risk with rewards is always more complicated in action than in the written plan. Teaching with tech, or not; blogging with the full dashboard of options, or not – Which is better? When? For whom? These question recycle themselves in my mind. Contemplating my possible responses becomes my diet of digital consciousness training.

Digital. Consciousness. Training. – That may have to become my thing.

Conversation Starters

I am somewhere else in my Twitter development now.

I used to lurk and now I engage.

I used to post links to other people’s words, now I regularly share my own.

I used to follow conversations already in progress but kept quiet, afraid to butt in.

Now I find that I can start conversations and others join in.

That is new. And edifying. And yet another reason to continue:

sharing my words.

welcoming dialogue.

opening the can (maybe it’s not only worms).

participating in community.

offering support.

daring to disagree.

keeping it short.

making it meaningful.

making friends.

gaining insights.

showing up.

being heard.

being seen.

having fun.

signing off.

 

Hat tip to my recent conversation partners who allow the term to live up to its most positive definition: @gowithjordan, @sarahdateechur, @RusulAlrubail, @Jennwillteach, @Sisyphus38, @adamphowell. Thank you, friends!