Imagine if we didn’t know how to use books – notes on a digital practices framework

How do we solve for – “but we need to train everyone to teach with the internet?” It’s a problem.

No really. We’ve got a bunch of yahoos wandering around telling people that all we need to do is code and we’ll be fine. That actually has nothing to do with the actual real problem we have. We have this massive knowledge making engine that we aren’t in any way prepared to teach anyone how to use. Not morally. Not ethically. Not practically. Imagine if we didn’t know how to use books… THAT’S WHERE WE ARE. This is a vision on how you might think about training hundreds/thousands of people to learn how to use books… if books were the internet.

This image is a draft of a model i had designed for preparing an education system for the internet. As you see it here it has had some input from folks like Lawrie Phipps but it hasn’t gone through any kind of review process. The idea is that some people are never going to make it all the way to being ready to teach with or on the internet. At least not in the short term. I offer it as a draft for feedback.

I’ve talked a bit about the 20/60/20 model of change. The idea is that the top 20% of any group will be game for anything, they are your early adopters, always willing to try the next best thing. The bottom 20% of a group will hate everything and spend most of their time either subtly slowly things down or in open rebellion. The middle 60% are the people who have the potential to be won or lost depending on how good your plan is. They are the core of your group, the practical folks who will take on new things if they make sense, if they see that they have time. They are always the people we want to encourage. If they buy into your project… you’re a winner.

There are three streams to this model that eventually leads towards people being able to function as good online learning facilitators. The top stream is about all the sunshine and light about working with others on the internet. It’s advantages and pitfalls, ways in which to promote prosocial discourse. The middle stream is about pragmatics. The how’s of doing things, it starts out with simple guidelines and moves forward the technical realities of licensing, content production and tech using. The bottom stream is about the self. How to keep yourself safe, how to have a healthy relationship with the internet from a personal perspective.

Level 1 – Awareness
This model is an attempt to set some standards for things that everyone should be aware of. This is a non-negotiable, you can’t opt out of this conversation, you must participate to this level kind of thing. There are any number of reasons why some people wouldn’t want to participate passed the first literacy level. There are people, certainly, who are just ornery and hate anything that isn’t what they currently see as normal. Lets leave those people aside.

There are many marginalized people, who have been stalked, attacked or otherwise had very negative experiences on the web. There are people with legitimate fears of what their interactions on the internet could turn out to look like. There are others with religious reasons for not collaborating in one fashion or another. I don’t think that we should force those people to go beyond the level of awareness.

Every teacher (and anyone else responsible for a child) should be aware of the dangers of private, obfuscated or otherwise dark communities online. There are an abundance of folks out there who are directly targeting young people in an attempt to radicalize them for one reason or another. Whether its groups that target misinformation against common searches or discussion forums that misrepresent cultural groups, there are a lot of dangerous places on the internet. Everyone should understand this.

This level responds to best practice. The people who never make it past awareness will not be able to necessarily understand the complexity of digital practices and therefore should have a list of dos and don’ts that they can refer to that needed have interpretation. “Don’t let kids use reddit” Does that mean that no one should use it? No. Just that if you haven’t put the time in to understand your own digital practices and those of others, you should stay on the safe side.

If training people is something that you are going to do, I would suggest that the development of these best practices should be at the top of your list. Keeping learners safe is as much about explaining the simple dangers as anything else. Make a postcard of info, steal it from the internet, and paste it next to every computer.

Level 2 – Learning
As we move past awareness to learning online, you’ll notice we’ve left our bottom 20% behind. I don’t think it makes sense to try and bring every person to this point. There are people just before retirement who may be uninterested (though, I should add, many of the best digital practices people I’ve met have been near the end of their career) and for a myriad of other reasons… we shall leave the resistors behind.

This level is going to respond well to some complicated challenges that allow participants to see the power of digital practices to influence and improve their learning experience. I say complicated activities and not complex ones, here, because for the tentative, early success is important. When I’ve given overly open ended projects to people new to working on the internet, they can often flounder. Too much abundance of content too quickly. Try for projects where multiple but not indefinite outcomes are possible. Gradual release of responsibility is key to ensure that you can ensure the best possible first experiences.

This is also where the deprogramming should start. People are going to be coming to these activities expecting to hear about a new app or to get ‘training’ on how to use a particular piece of software. They’re going to be looking for ‘take-aways’ that they can use in their own lives that will make the time spent worthwhile. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t throw in a couple of those (some people will never make it passed level 2) but you should make it clear that this is an early spot on the journey. This is less about a few tricks that can make your life easier, and more about a shift to understanding how knowledge actually works now.

As people make their first claims to identity (twitter/blog/discussion space?) it’s important to build on the early identity and safety discussions from level 1. I make particular note here to straight, white, heterosexual males. The internet can be a dangerous place to other people in ways that it simply isn’t to you. Including people into the internet discussion requires full disclosure on the trainer/guide’s part. If you don’t have a good grasp on what those dangers are, do some reading and call in a friend.

Learning on the internet… that sense that you can find the things that you need if you know how to search for them properly, takes time and authentic activities. It also takes a growing understanding that ‘the thing’ you are looking for is not actually one thing. With access to so many perspectives, ‘the thing’ can be elusive. The learner’s key skills shift away from certainty and towards decision making between various options. It also takes reflexive activities. You need to give people a chance to find, the opportunity to ask others they don’t know, and then the time to have successes and failures.

There are certainly some technical pieces that should be introduced at this point I suppose… A good example is the usage of citation services. Zotero allows you to keep track of the things you find and has the advantage, if you’re going to do any academic writing, of formatting your pages into proper citations. More importantly, however, it’s a way of keeping track of the stuff you’ve found that you might need later and applying a little bit of structure to it. A good, simple technical piece that allows the work done at this stage to be useful later.

Level 3 Interacting and making
Things start to get messy here as learners should be introduced to both the complex end of working on the internet AND some of the complicated PITA that is associated with being a producer as well as a consumer of content. People are going to gravitate with their predilections (technical knowledge or complex application) but i think a good balance here is important.

So much of the ‘learning how’ technical pieces, however, are actually about realizing that things are possible. If you’re using a wordpress blog to claim your digital identity space, develop ideas or track your research, a quick look behind the curtain will show you what you can add to your wordpress setup. Basically, if you can think of it (and its possible) someone has probably made a plugin that will allow you to do it. The ‘technical’ part here is more about understanding the conceptual way the internet is made and how you can use that to your advantage. We aren’t, most of us, coding our way to solutions anymore, it’s not really necessary.

Some of the technical pieces here are also about what the technology can’t do. With all the yacking about Artificial intelligence and machine learning right now, it’s important that we demystify its usage in the learning process. Much of the research around AI’s advantages speak to improvement in student’s memory retention or adoption of repetitive skills. I mean, those are useful, but they may not be goals that you have for the learning process. Analytics and the rights of students is a critical topic that simply can’t be overlooked.

At this point we’re also hoping that people are able to connect with social groups and being able to discern whether or not the space they are looking to work is a healthy one or not. Some folks would suggest that reddit is best avoided, but some of those spaces can be the best places to meet like minded people. Its the analysis of the space and its safety/fit that’s the critical literacy at this point.

That kind of active participation where people are not only using the internet to ask questions but also giving back is not for everyone. The suggested participation here is about 60%… that may be high. You have to take your profession pretty seriously to be willing to contribute, and the contribution experience is not positive and supportive for all people alike.

Level 4 – Teaching
Once we’ve made our way through the literacies, we get to the point of preparing to actually organize a learning experience online. There are a number of shifts that occur when we get to this point, but perhaps the most important one is that people are not going to be working with self-selecting folks in your fun community looking to learn together. I mean… they might be, it’s just not likely to happen as much as you’d like. While it would be awesome if we were all able to teach in environments where our learners were ecstatic to learn what we have to teach them, the truth of the matter is a different thing entirely.

There are many folks who would argue that teaching online (well) requires more effort than teaching face 2 face. There are certainly different pitfalls, and starting is much harder online than it is face 2 face. Everyone’s teaching journey is going to be a different one and, as indicated in the percentages in the chart, I don’t really expect the majority of people to get there.

If we see the preparation for teaching online to include the key factors of personal identity management and wellness, a keen understanding of the collaborative power of abundance and community networks and a relatively good understanding of the complicated pieces involved in the tech… I think we’re doing a reasonable job preparing folks for the road ahead.

At the end of the day teaching online, like any teaching, is a personal journey. You can learn from others, adopt skills and literacies through study and observation, but we are all going to be different teachers in the end. Experience can be the only long term guide.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

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