Digital Practices Mapping – Intro activity for digital literacies course

I developed a new tension pair for introducing digital practices. Thought I’d share. Lemme know how it goes if you use it.

My planning prep for a course is to have a number of possible activities in the hopper that I can pull out and use, or make something up, or use an activity suggested by a participant. I have short canned slide decks. I have writing/chatting prompts. In class short readings. And, of course, the usual bevy of ways to get people talking to each other all designed to create an environment in which everyone can come to know. I always have general places I assume we’ll want to get to, but I think that in a post-knowledge-scarcity world, its pretty presumptuous to think that you know what a group of people you don’t know are going to need to learn before you’ve even met them.

I spend an inordinate amount of time, however, worrying myself about what the first activity for the course will be. Those first couple of moments a learner spends in a class are critical, in my view, to establish the first threads of the social contract. It sets a tone. What’s this course going to be like? What is going to be expected of me? Am I allowed to have opinions? If I walk into a class, spend thirty minutes on a slidedeck intro and goal setting, I’ve basically told everyone that they’re job in my class is to sit and listen. This is not what I want.

I tend to have have a two step process at the start of day 1 – one activity that gets people working together, right out of the gate, and one that gets them to reflect on who they are (and who other people might be) with regards to the intent of the course. This stuff is stolen and learned from dozens of awesome practitioners over the years. Thanks to all ya’ll.

First step – get people relying on each other
6 or 8 years ago i tried the most extreme version of the first intro. I walked into the class, made a brief (2min) introduction, suggested that they form groups of four to register for twitter, wordpress, the moodle course and (something else, can’t remember) and then i walked back out the door. It was a response to the consistent challenge i’d been having of people looking to me for step by step explanations. To thinking that somehow I was in the room to explain to people how to use technology. It did work. When i walked back in five minutes later everyone was up, explaining to each other what was going on and getting things done. But it’s kind of a jerk move. And it doesn’t really serve people who are not feeling safe in the classroom. So…

That… was probably taking the thing a little too far. But it does illustrate what I’m trying to get done with the intro. I want people to look to other classmates for help, for guidance, for hints. There is no such thing as cheating, there is only learning. I want engagement.

In the Digital Practices class we built things out of cardboard. We used my precious cardboard screws to build some random structures as a group. I just said “build something with the cardboard”. I was looking for a couple of different things. i wanted to see if anyone looked on the internet for instructions (they didn’t) and I wanted to get a sense of how the social dynamics would come together. It also, I hope, helped build those other social contract things like creativity, like there not being a particular thing they needed to build, independence etc… that would fold into the rest of the course.

The first activity – part two
I was lucky enough to be drawing at the table with Dave White and Lawrie Phipps when the first V&R map was drawn in a little canal side bar in the UK 10 or so years ago. I love me a tension pair. I like how tension pair maps allow you to bring together two sets of concepts into one space. If you’ve never used V&R its a model that gives people a sense of where their tool use is on the digital spectrum. On one axis it goes from personal to professional (clear enough) and the other from visitor to resident. I’ll leave you to read Dave White’s blog for a more detailed sense, but a visitor dabbles (like lurking on twitter) and a resident engages (like someone who goes to twitter and replies to people on a regular basis).

It’s a useful model… but it sets the digital apart as something that either ‘is digital’ or ‘is not digital’. I was looking for something that looked at the whole of someone’s practice rather than just the digital stuff. And V&R tends to look at things from a tool based perspective, rather than from the perspective of what someone is trying to get done. I wanted us to look at ourselves from the perspectives of ALL of our practice… and see what its digital qualities might be. I wanted each participant to be able to see what each other considered to be part of the ‘professional practice’ and where they considered that practice to fit in the mapping activity.

I popped four pieces of blue sticky note on the wall with the words from the pic above creating the map. Do you do your professional planning by yourself on paper? drop a sticky note with “professional planning” in the bottom left quadrant.

The nice thing about this activity is that it kept us focused on ‘what is a professional practice’ as a first point of interest and the digital quality of it as a secondary conversation. It also prompted any number of conversations between us about how digital a particular practice really is. Is email ‘really’ a digital practice? Write a letter, send it to someone, wait for a response? Not so digital. Lots of interesting discussion and the start of some goal setting.

It seemed to work. lemme know how it goes for you.

Beyond the Tree Octopus – Why we need a new view of k12 (digital) literacy in a Cambridge Analytica world

I’ve been very fortunate the last few weeks to have the opportunity to co-design (with learners who happen to be master teachers) a course on digital practices for education. It’s kind of like cheating. Small classes, very engaged and intelligent people, with a real desire to get to the bottom of what the digital means to the education system. These are the folks who write the curriculum, work with principals on school goals and work with teachers on their teaching practice here on Prince Edward Island. The digital strategy committee has done a ton of work here getting the systems part of things ready for a digital world and have developed some interesting ‘shiny projects‘ but the work of this course is where the important stuff happens. The day to day. If we’re going to prepare our students for the world that they live in, if we’re going to give them the habits of mind for a generation that has so many new demands on it, these are the kind of people who are going to figure it out. It’s been a real privilege.

Session 1&2 – Abundance and trust
The core premise of the course is that the digital moves us from a societal position of scarcity to one of abundance. There was a time not so long ago that a student (in a school) could only access the information from his teacher, from books within arms reach and from their friends. A teacher could only access the resources they had squirrelled away, their own experience, the experience of their colleagues and the hours of professional development that could be provided by their educational authority. This is no longer true. I can reach into my pocket right now and get just about any ‘information’ that I want.

Or can I?

There are any number of structures that were in place in the pre-digital world that made it so that ‘a’ piece of information became ‘the’ piece of information. And that’s a critical distinction. It used to be that our publishing industry, our faculties of education and our educational authority had a near stranglehold on information in our system. And I don’t mean this in a bad way. The advent of paper, of schools and of education systems did amazing things for our culture, they allowed us to take the human voice and move it around in a way that changed us from mostly illiterate farmers at constant risk of losing most of the knowledge we had (see. Dark Ages, fall of Mayan cities etc…) to groups of cultures that can build upon the past. That’s awesome.

But the controls that were in place, the publishing cycle, the education and selection of faculty, the balances of an education system, meant that the information that made it to the classroom was heavily filtered. That’s good and bad. It meant that tons of smart people had looked at the things you were going to use before you used it. That’s good. It also meant that you got less practice (and your students even less) learning how to filter. (it also means that dominant narratives stayed dominant, but that’s a discussion for a different day)

There’s a ton more to ‘learning how to filter’ than just picking information, its also about learning who to trust. If you’re information comes to you through limited sources, finding out how to evaluate those sources is fairly standardized. National Enquirer – uh… probably not. New York Times – uh… sure. That guy at the conference who everyone said was a nutball (mostly referring to myself here :)) might want to take that with a grain of salt. The professor that won all the awards? Sure, I’ll trust her. That approach has weaknesses, but on the whole, it works.

In a world of abundance, those filters are no longer in place. Pre-digital systems of adjudication for turning ‘a piece of information’ to ‘the piece of information that i need’ simply don’t work anymore. The processes that we did have for filtering were not built to handle the onslaught of stuff that we receive on a daily (or minute by minute) basis on facebook, from our google searches or in our increasingly splintered media. We retweet without thinking about it. We post a comment by reflex on something that makes us mad – thereby increasing the noise. And people are taking advantage of us.

Cambridge Analytica
I’m not suggesting that people have just started taking advantage of us. Robocalling during elections apparently started in the sixties where people would call you during an election and ask questions like “if your candidate was a murderer, would you still vote for them?” This kind of nudge suggestion doesn’t necessarily work on each individual, but it can start rumours, start conversations and suddenly a candidate has a reputation that was totally fabricated. Advertising IS the attempt of people to try and shape your opinion about things. That’s what’s happening now, the difference is the scale or, to put it in the language of this post, the difference is abundance.

Cambridge Analytica is a election data firm in the news when this post was written for helping shape the feelings voters during the US election and the British Brexit vote. Information like the things you ‘like’ on facebook and the results of personality tests you do create a profile for you. It tells the database what kind of things attract your attention. Companies like CA use this data to target you with the exact message that is likely to impact your feelings in the way they’ve been paid to do that. Take a look at how they made ‘Crooked Hillary‘ a thing. Unlike the robocalling, these approaches can affect millions of users at the same time creating a web of messages that look like something that ‘could’ be true.

It’s much, much easier for us to just pretend this is an internet thing that doesn’t effect our lives. The Trump election should convince you that this isn’t the case. Cambridge Analytica isn’t alone… not even close. There are simple tools at work like remarketing (think of how all your ads start to match up with what you last viewed on amazon). There are also much deeper tools that are constantly trying to ‘nudge’ (see Behavioural Economics) your attitudes in one direction or another. They’re not trying to make you believe that something is ‘true’ they’re trying to move opinions by 5%. That 5% gets you elected. It shapes public policy.

Why the tree octopus is not helping
In 1998 a website called the Tree Octopus was created to help students identify real information on the internet. Thousands of school children (millions?) have been assigned this activity as a way of building their skills in identifying what’s ‘true’ on the internet. It’s an initial step to building the kinds of skills that will allow students to identify ‘reliable’ data. They are going to judge ‘is it the piece of information’ is it ‘true’ or is it something that I can safely ignore. It is, in a sense, a digital ‘book’ that they are going to add to their library or not. This is an analogue view of information.

Think of it this way. Most kids will say that the wikipedia is not a trusted source. For that matter, so will most teachers. It was not created using the filters that created the items of trust from before the digital era. “anyone can just go on there and edit it.” It’s not been validated by a publisher, by a professor or by another system. Here’s the thing, wikipedia is neither ‘true’ nor ‘false’. Its a place in a large network of bits of information. It’s part of a wide abundance of information around any topic you might have a question about. No particular entry is likely to be perfectly good or perfectly bad. It’s a really great place, however, to get started building your own thread of knowing. You can read the introduction, if you’re fancy you can look at the history of the edits, but most importantly you can look at the references page to get a sense of what others have said. It’s a FANTASTIC tool if your in a world of abundance. It doesn’t pass muster if you’re still using the filtering tools of world of scarcity.

Our friend the tree octopus is one page. Isolated. Artificially created to make a point. It’s not part of a larger ecosystem of knowing, its not connected to other things that help you understand it’s background. That connection to understand, that ability to build a path of knowing IS THE 21ST CENTURY LITERACY. I would suggest that the octopus takes us down an analogue path, building habits were just going to have to break when we’re doing ‘real’ work on the Internet. We’re not building the skills that will allow the students in our system to deal with the world of nudging and data that is shaping our world.

What does this mean for the classroom?
That’s the real question here. How does this change what we actually do on a regular basis in our school systems? I’m going to leave the two questions we’re working on now here. Feel free to help us with your thoughts.

1. How does this change the interaction between faculties of education/educational authorities and teachers? How do they account for the loss of hidden controls (again, no blame here in the word hidden) that they had over the information teachers had access to?

2. How does it change how a teacher should filter information that goes to students? If we accept that students need to build their own tools to deal with a world of abundance, how does that change the way we work with our students?

The world has changed around us. You can forget teaching students for a future world of whatever. We’re going to struggle to teach them for the world we are currently in right now.

Note: a huge debt goes out to all my colleagues working on this, but especially @holden who’s work has been central to our course. Check out his book

Pedagogy, Not Outcomes – How to Do Maker Models for Language Arts

In PEI we are working towards bringing ‘maker sensibility’ to our classrooms and trying to come up with a functional approach to getting this done. I’m hoping to help support the pockets of creative projects that currently happening in our system with maker/tech and pedagogy supports that can allow teachers to feel as comfortable as possible putting student lead creativity at the centre of their classrooms.

I’m working towards a model I’m calling STELAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Language Arts, and Math). It takes STEAM sensibility and embeds it deeply into the language arts classroom.

What do the words really mean?
The acronym STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) means different things to different people. The usage of the acronym STEM (without the arts) is fairly recent, its really only come into fashion in the last 10 or 15 years. It’s a response, partially, to the concern that some people have that we need more science-type people being trained in our schools. There is a great deal of debate around whether this is true. I am comfortable, however, claiming that the kind of critical thinking that can come from exploring STEM style projects can be useful to students. Let’s take that as a shared premise and move forward.

The addition to the A (Arts) in STEAM is a recognition that there’s more to being a successful STEM person than just the STEM. You need creativity and the ability to communicate. I think of it as a way of mapping the STEM concern to the Maker movement. When you combine the research skills that come from STEM with the creativity that comes with art, you end up with the potential for a rich classroom experience that creates some connective tissue between our curricular silos. That’s when this gets really exciting.

Maker movement in education
There is a great article in edutopia about the maker movement.

In a day when everyone thinks, “There’s an app for that,” many educators believe that we’re missing the point of technology if we think its best use is programming kids to memorize math facts. Students don’t want to use apps — they want to make them.

The maker movement is committed to putting students at the centre of their learning. That learning ‘may’ involve the use of technology, or it may be building things out of cardboard, but it brings a hands on, student lead flavour to how we explore our curriculum.

Maker carts
Here in PEI we are taking a maker cart approach. Imagine a cart that you can roll into you classroom with everything from cardboard screws to 15 Microbits on it. That number ’15’ is relevant because we’re looking to populate the carts so that kids can work in pairs. The carts will also have an age appropriate collection of other things that can help you make things, both tech and craft. This gives us a bit more flexibility in terms of scheduling, and it is WAY easier to get one cart down the hallway, then to get 24 kids down a hallway :). You can also imagine the contents of a maker space divided into four or six carts that could be used at the same time by different teachers.

Custom Educational Furnishings
Here’s one from Custom Educational Furnishings

STELAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Language Arts and Math)
So what are going do with this stuff? In a real classroom? Excellent question, thank you for asking. I want to work it into language arts. I mean, not only language arts necessarily, but its the real focus of my interest. i want kids to create an elephant out of cardboard, and build a robotic interface inside of it that lights up its eyes, or makes it roar when you get too close or… whatever. But i want them to use it as a communication object.

Why?

I have zero interest in measuring creativity
I have no interest in measuring how creative a kid is. I’m happy to encourage creativity all day. Reward particularly interesting bursts of it. Take pictures of it and post it online. But i have no interest in giving your cardboard elephant a 92 and your cardboard treehouse a 78. None. If we think of the maker process as a pedagogy… then i don’t have to. It’s the WAY that we go about learning something, not the something that needs to be learned.

More time for being creative
If I’m in a language arts classroom, working on a personal reflection about my elephant, or doing procedural writing about how to build it, or explaining to someone else what the elephant’s backstory is and turning it into a story – i have TIME. I have time to work on my creative process. I have time to get comfortable with the coding I’m using to make its eyes flash red. I have time to allow my project to iteratively improve. Too often these kinds of creative projects are rewards before Christmas break, or march break or after a long stretch of hard work. I want to provide the possibility to have it integrated into the work we’re doing. Weeks not hours.

Because it totally makes sense in language arts
But the journey of maker into language arts isn’t just a matter of finding time in the day. It makes sense because of narrative. So much of the creative is about coming up with a narrative for what you’re doing. Whether that’s just the name of the thing that has evolved out of your creative process or a whole story about it. The communication. The writing. The collaboration. The reflection. These are key skills that are needed for citizenship. Team that up with some coding and some maker skills and you’ve got a killer combination.

How does it work?
This is still emerging, I figure it will continue to evolve as we get more and more people involved in thinking about it. At the current time, we’re thinking about putting a clear guidelines for achievable tech projects (make the lights blink, launch an elastic band) in with the maker carts. We’re also working towards having trainers in the classroom (and the staff room) to help teachers work through things their first time or two. They would be flexible projects that you can build around. This figures that once teachers get their minds around it with projects that are maybe a tad more scripted than a traditional JUST MAKE classroom, they’ll be able to take it from there. We’re also talking about graduated carts that help kids develop (say, in grade 1) the skills they’re going to need (maybe by grade 5) for doing the programming, wiring and building up required for these projects.

The key, though, is to design these projects so that it isn’t just the geeky teachers that get involved. We want LOTS of teachers to think “hey, i can get started with this”. That diversity will bring more art, cooler LA projects and more practicality to the maker process.

I’m super excited.

elephant!

Supporting Digital Practice – making time-for-learning

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks here in PEI. We’ve launched the first part of the training and discussion for our maker cart project. We’ve been working on pulling together all our information pieces on supporting technology in the system. We spoke with the principals about our work and have had a fair number of them reach out excited to get involved. We’ve been thinking about how technology can support language arts. We’ve been working towards better basic training in technology in the form of google certified educator. We’ve been thinking about how we can improve our wireless infrastructure in the long term. The digital strategy committee approach (yup, I suggested we solve a problem with a committee) has been fantastic. As always… getting the decision making worked out is a critical step in the process, many thanks to the leadership in k12 here for letting us set it up.

Digital Practices
Dedicated time-for-learning is critical for digital transformation (or, really, any change project). While we are planning learning events with teachers for both the maker work and with google, getting time-for-learning with the curriculum consultants and the coaches is just as important. This week we start a 2 month-ish course on digital practices. The course itself is based on the ed366 course I taught at UPEI for years, but modified for smaller class sizes and the more specific use case of being within an education system.

‘Digital Practices’ are the things that I do that are born out of the affordances of our digital communications platforms. It is an assemblage of the digital skills i might have mediated through the digital literacy and habits that i have acquired. Or, to put it more simply, it’s ‘being digital’.

It’s tricky business, talking about this stuff, and it inevitably leads to some contradictions. One of the biggest advantages of digital spaces, from my perspective, is the return to orality. When we depend on a finished text (say, a printed book) to arrive to us in the mail, we are the receivers of the knowledge that is contained therein. I can certainly work through that text with my other, previous learnings, but I never get a chance to contribute, to ask questions that can get answers… I’m not part of the knowledge creation process. When we think of an oral discussion (at least, a good one) there is a chance for both sides to contribute, a chance for us to move together to a new understanding. Digital spaces allow for this to happen with text. We can collaborate on something that becomes knowledge through our interactions with it.

It’s not all sunshine and roses of course. Collaborative texts tend to reduce themselves to consensus… which can be nice, but can sometimes privilege existing ideas over new ones. There is much greater safety in sending out a printed text that people read when you’re not in the room. If the reader hates it, or it makes them angry, you are not in the immediate line of fire. These advantages and disadvantages need new social norms… new practices to make them effective and still maintain our own healthy relationships. These digital practices need to be negotiated, they need to be talked about out loud in ways that many of our 20th century practices don’t. I’m going to run a course about this. It’s going to be fun. A few opening thoughts…

Tools vs. practices
Years of teaching courses like this have lead me to believe that most people are coming expecting to learn ‘how to use a bunch of tools’. I can totally understand this. You see people using tools, they claim to be effective with them, you too want to use the tools. Truth be told the ‘how’ of these tools has simplified (in most cases) to the point where the technical using of them is an almost incidental part of the learning process. There’s all the world of difference between ‘learning how to use a hashtag’ and ‘knowing how to use a hashtag to avoid getting it hijacked’. One involves knowing that when you put a character (#) in front of a word it becomes a tag, and the other involves hours of working in an environment to come to understand how twitter spam/trolls work. People will probably learn how to use tools in the course, but I probably wont be teaching much of it.

Complexity
I’m still pretty stuck on the idea of complexity being important when teaching digitally mitigated practice. I think that separating things to learn out into simple, complicated and complex concepts allows us to make space between things that are easily accomplished by more rote means and those that require us to settle into a concept and work our way around inside of it.

Maker
There’s always been a maker strand in my work, but I’ve never formally acknowledged it. I was uncomfortable with the term, but the last six months preparing a maker project here in PEI has led me to feel much better about it. I’m expecting to have a big solid maker section in this course and to use it to demonstrate differing analogue/digital approaches to learning/teaching with it. Do I need to have ideas for the kids before I arrive? How do I structure student lead ideation so that all my students can succeed and I don’t make it teacher centric? Is the internet really full of good ideas? How can I work with other teachers to create more relevant ideation spaces?

Community as Curriculum
It always come back to this for me. I feel more strongly about it now then when i first wrote it 10 years ago. The goal for me is for each person in this course to be able to be able to become a member of a conversation in a community of knowing in the subject. Can you pass? Can you engage? Do you know how to ask questions? Do you speak the language? Can you help? We learn to become members in a community of knowing by practicing and learning together. When the community is the curriculum.

Citizenship
At the end of the day practices lead to citizenship, as they do in the rest of our lives. The ways in which we interact with each other, with our community, our schools ourselves… these all make up our actions as citizens. As more and more of our communications are mediated through the internet, more and more of our lives as citizens are mediated through it as well. If our schools prepare citizens, it is essential that they prepare them for being good citizens, online or offline.