Sunday, 8 July 2012

#Teaching&Learning: Digital Literacy and the Game Changers of Modern Education

Has anyone else ever done that thing when you fall asleep in an empty train carriage and then snored yourself awake an hour later to find three other people sat staring disapprovingly at you over their iPads and Venti, triple-shot non-fat, sugar-free, cinnamon dolche lattes, with whip? No? Oh, okay then...

So after completing my usual train-related faux-pas I arrived in London for a conference at the NCVO about Cyberbullying and E-Safety. Neither of these things are particularly alien to me, having spent four years advising the as-was DCSF about the government's policy to protect young people from bullying. However the premise of the conference was 'to turn on its head the notion of embedding good practise in schools and organisations'. Not entirely sure how this could be achieved, I signed up and made the excruciatingly early journey from Durham to London's now rather lovely King's Cross Station. It was a revelation! The idea of E-Safety being effectively defunct was music to my ears, and that schools now need to be moving towards and era of digital literacy amongst both students and staff, and the relative ease with which this could be achieved was my inspiration for writing up this blog.
'You can't teach people to swim by blocking access to the
swimming pool.'

The first thing that should perhaps be explored is what exactly is Digital Literacy? And more importantly, how does it relate to our role as aspiring teachers?

There is some ambiguity as to the nature of our relationship with technology as adults. Are we digital immigrants or digital natives, like our students? Well the reality is that neither ourselves, nor our students are so easily classified. What is clear, however, is that our perspectives are different. Our students may know more about the nuances of a BBM group, but are they as savvy when it comes to the digital footprints they leave behind? Research would suggest not, and as teachers our job has to be to assist students in their citizenship of the online world, as well as the offline one. To do this we as teachers need to engage with the realities of e-safety and an online existence, and not to buy into the archaic terms of Cyberspace, the Superhighway, and the Virtual World. These terms don't mean anything to young people, as they describe these alien spaces as My Home, My Space, and My profile. The Internet is not a bolt-on aspect of their childhood. It is as embedded as pogs and pokemon cards were to us.

The advice we're likely to be given on our PGCE that we are supposed to pass onto our students will run the course of: 'Just delete them off your friends list', 'turn your phone off', 'tell your parents about it' and the classic 'don't give out your personal details online'. We might as well sit there and blow bubbles with Deely Boppers on our head. All of this advice asks students to turn away from their online activities and to be as inconspicuous as possible. Young people don't want to do that, they want to be discovered, followed and 'liked' by both friends and strangers, to reassure themselves that who they are and what they like is okay. As educators we need to accept this, and rather than show them how to be 'safe' online, we should be assisting their adoption of functional, digital literacy that allows them to navigate the online platforms they inhabit in their day-to-day lives.

There are six key ways in which I believe schools can achieve this:

  • By empowering students and showing them how to manage their privacy controls
  • By having better, frequent, hands-on staff training, which students themselves can participate in
  • With better inter-agency learning
  • By making reporting easier
  • By really promoting peer learning and education
  • By embedding digital literacy into social and emotional literacies.
As aspiring teachers, we cannot turn up on our first day at work and implement these changes across the school, but as individuals we can each seek to embed these approaches into how we manage the pastoral demands of our students. 

As a final note, I must pay credit to the former head of Childnet International, Stephen Carrick-Davies, who's talk on this subject was my inspiration for sharing my thoughts on this important issue. You can find more information about him here: 

May I also suggest that if you are interested in embedding Digital Literacy into your approach to teaching, please have a look at Adrienne Katz's fantastic book, Cyberbullying and E-Safety: What Educators and Professionals Need to Know.It's available through Amazon.

Also, if anyone else is as interested in these sorts of things as me, I would urge you to watch this fantastic talk by Brene Brown about the power of vulnerability. 

Mr James

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