Archive for the digital literacy category
May 18th, 2011
Yesterday, I attended Google’s Big Tent Event in Hertfordshire. As an academic, I’m used to attending conferences at universities or Hiltons, not countryside resorts with helicopter pads. The event was held in a grand tent that could easily hold 500 people. It was well-insulated from weather and noise, carpeted, with an extraordinary sound and projection system, consistent and fast wi-fi, comfortable chairs, and to be honest, even the bathrooms were amazing. As I sat in my chair, discovering electrical plugs conveniently located under each seat, I couldn’t help but compare this temporary structure for Google’s few days of publicity events to public classrooms in their home state of California. I’ve conducted teaching observations in many elementary classrooms where 28 students share two or three computers, often less, because one computer isn’t working and a request to fix it may take days or months because budget cuts have resulted in limited staffing. I’ve lectured in university classrooms that either do not have a projector or the projector is broken and again, the fix will take weeks, months to fix because budget cuts have limited technical support. School-wide wi-fi is an unrealized dream at most schools. Even at the university level, a majority of classrooms in California do not have it. California schools’ permanent structures frequently do not have the insulation from weather or noise that Google’s amazing temporary structure boasted.
Google’s Big Tent Event
I wonder what could be possible if teachers had classrooms that functioned as well as Google’s Big Tent? If teachers had the technical and administrative support that benefited yesterday’s speakers, how could students’ learning experiences be improved?
Do the quality of bathrooms reflect the health of an institution? MP Jeremy Hunt may say yes. In his address to the Big Tent group yesterday, Jeremy Hunt drew connections between the vision demonstrated when developing London’s sewage system to current efforts to improve broadband infrastructure in the UK. The secret is the size of the pipes, apparently, and larger ones will ensure preparation for future data demands. Mr. Hunt used South Korea, who is #1 in OECD’s educational rankings, as an example of the success possible with super-fast broadband. While discussing funding models for the project, including private support, Mr. Hunt did not address what would seem an obvious part of the equation: education funding. UK schools have been hard hit by recent budget cuts, including canceling the Building Schools for the Future Scheme and recent £155m additional cuts in the standards fund. If the education rankings of South Korea are serving as justification for investing in infrastructure for faster broadband, it would seem that simultaneously cutting funding for education serves cross-purposes.
While much public debate surrounds the quality of education, often solely blaming teachers, the quality of educational environments, including support at the technical, facilities, and administrative levels need more attention. Let’s use Google’s Big Tent, rather than makeshift shelters, as a model for classrooms and start directing funding to supporting students and their teachers, rather than forcing them to make due without.
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October 19th, 2010
My dissertation research will be presented at AOIR’s annual conference this week in Gothenburg, Sweden. Below is the abstract and presentation.
Abstract: In university settings, students are increasingly required to conduct online research to complete course-related assignments, yet often receive little instruction in the skills necessary to proficiently locate, evaluate, and use the information they find. By comparing the processes of 150 graduate and undergraduate students during a 50-minute course-related Internet research and writing task, this study examined the roles of prior knowledge and cognitive processing in digital literacy practice. Framed within an expert-novice comparative design, this research combined qualitative and quantitative measures including questionnaire, behavioral analysis (log file data), and content analysis (search terms, URLs, and essays). Outcomes were measured by demonstration of synthesis, comprehension, and cohesion in students’ resulting essays. Results show that students who bring greater academic experience to a course-related Internet research task are more likely to succeed than those with technical expertise alone. Analysis of students’ cognitive processes show that deliberate practice afforded through years of schooling contributes to digital literacy more significantly than short-term instruction. The findings of this study challenge the assumption that ease of access to information afforded by the Internet equals skill in using information.
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October 11th, 2010
The U.S. Postal Service is sending around a brochure titled “Do you know the warning signs of fraud?” It is brief, but surprisingly helpful. Here are some of their tips:
- Sounds too good to be true
- Pressures you to act “right away”
- Requires an upfront investment
Play It Safe
- Never click on a link inside an e-mail to visit a website. Type the address into your browser instead.
- It’s easy for a business to look legitimate online. If you have any doubts, verify the company with the Better Business Bureau.
- Your bank will never e-mail or call you for your account number.
- Don’t wire money to people you don’t know
- There are no legitimate jobs that involve reshipping items or financial instruments from your home.
- Foreign lotteries are illegal in the U.S. You can’t win no matter what they say.
- Point out “too good to be true” offers to your kids, and teach them to be skeptical.
- Share information about scams with friends and family. Use social networking to keep them safe.
More tips are available at deliveringtrust.com. I’m excited about this effort by the USPS because it represents both an awareness that critical engagement with information is important and it offers concrete tips for evaluating and engaging with potentially fraudulent sources.
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July 20th, 2010
Today, Jeff Bezos announced e-books are outselling hardcovers at Amazon. What does the success of e-books mean for reading? I’ve been talking to people who read their Kindles or iPads on train rides or plane flights — and this is by no means a scientific sample — and most express surprise at how much they enjoy reading on the devices. This surprise is usually accompanied by a demonstration, showing me what they’re reading, how easy it is to turn the pages. Most cite the convenience of carrying multiple books or magazines in a lightweight device as a major benefit. For most of the families I’ve spoken with, the kids still seem to prefer books which, surprises their parents.
As Sellen and Harper report in The Myth of the Paperless Office, printed books offer affordances that digital devices do not. Mainly, with paper, readers can see where they’re at when they’re reading, in particular where they’ve been and how far they have to go until the end. They can hold their place on a page or within a book, spread out texts on a desk, and better find a spot in a text to which they’d like to return.
That said, e-readers offer their own affordances. Readers can, if they wish, carry their entire library with them (assuming the books are available digitally). They can search for a specific term, rather than thumb through an entire book. Plus, they can download a book instantaneously rather than waiting for it to arrive, or traveling somewhere to purchase/borrow it. Mostly, these arguments point to ease of access and convenience of locating specific materials, but what do these benefits have to do with reading? Do people read more because they can more easily access texts? I think the answer may be ‘yes,’ but the depth of their reading and length of attentional focus is another matter.
I wonder what we lose and gain as we transition toward a more digital life.
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May 13th, 2010
The desktop revolution of the 80′s empowered us to create, not just consume texts. Desktop publishing is a concept most users take for granted, but was certainly a significant change from the typewriter. As Cynthia Selfe (1996) points out, prior to the 1980′s, most executives dictated texts to their assistants, rather than typing themselves. She states that even in the mid-1990s, e-mail represented “one of the few text literacy environments in our culture whose use is expanding rather than shrinking.” The past two decades have been chaotic in their creative output, thanks in part to the affordances of our burgeoning technologies.
The iPad feels like a step backward.
What I’ve disliked in my brief playtime with the iPad is that it seems to promote consumption of texts, but not creation. I can’t annotate, therefore I can’t engage the texts the way I wanted to. Since only one app can be viewed at a time, and the notepad and reader apps are separate, the iPad separates the reading experience from writing and vice-versa. There’s no camera for pictures. I can sort of write, but the ergonomics of it are awkward. I expected a smaller laptop, but got a larger iPhone. I’m sure with time someone will create apps for anything I need, but for now, it seems designed to encourage passivity.
Selfe, C. L. (1996). “Theorizing e-mail for the practice, instruction, and study of literacy.” In Sullivan, P. and Dautermann, J. (Eds.). Electronic literacies in the workplace (pp. 274-292). Urbana, IL and Houghton, MI: National Council of Teachers of English and Computers and Composition Press.
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April 23rd, 2010
Touch is barely taught in schools. There’s the basics, scratchy, softy, smooth, but for the most part, we develop our sense of touch informally, through experience. I’ve been thinking about touch and tactileness a lot since the introduction of the iPhone and now iPad. Directing text through our fingers seems different than using a mouse. It feels closer and more responsive. What does this mean for our reading experience? Touch screens bring us closer to the feeling of a book. Tablets place the texts in our hands again, instead of on a screen. We’re closer, turning the pages with our fingers instead of a mouse. iPad empowers our fingers to highlight texts and move them around the screen. It brings the book back to our lap, in our hands, closer, and more under our control.
The iPod taught us that if we want to scroll down, we move our fingers clockwise, to move up, counter-clockwise, and the speed of our movements affect how quickly the text will scroll. While this movement isn’t intuitive, it’s quickly learned. To thumb through a book, iPad teaches us to glide our finger right to left, similar to how we move printed pages. To change screens, the iPhone and iPad require the same right to left glide. These actions have become second-nature to most users. What other movements will our new technologies teach us?
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April 15th, 2010
I’m preparing for a talk on the future of reading and decided to keep track of what and how I read today.
So, I started my morning checking e-mail, which involves two steps, my main e-mail (work) and my gmail (fun). In my gmail, there was a link to an article in the NYT about Ebooks. The brief blurb sounded interesting, so I followed the link. I’d read two sentences when a link to an article about cilantro caught my eye, so I clicked. At that point, my husband came in, saw I was reading the article about cilantro, which he had read the night before, and we had a conversation about it (cilantro has always been a point of contention for us — I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much cilantro, but I digress). I thought it would be fun to post it as a link to Facebook, so I did.
Facebook, need I say more?
A half hour later, I looked at my laptop with the Ebook article and promised myself I’d get back to it. Now, I started my real work, finishing an intro for an article I’m completing. For the next hour, my reading consisted of the draft and supporting materials (printed). Then, I needed a mental break, so decided to do some laundry and listen to a TED talk.
Before I left for a noon meeting, I checked e-mail. A friend had posted a question for me on Facebook. I spent the next ten minutes writing a response and then realized it would make an interesting blog entry, so spent another twenty minutes formatting my response for my blog.
After my noon meeting, a friend and I went and played with the iPad at the Apple store. I can’t remember anything I read except Winnie the Pooh and something from Stephen King. I don’t know whether that’s a reflection on the iPad reading format or my memory.
Once at home, I read people’s comments to my Facebook post, spent another hour revising my blog, and returned to Facebook again.
Then I returned to my draft for a while. After all the usual evening stuff, I’ve checked and responded to a few e-mails and it is only now, at 9:30, as I write this that I realize I never read past the first two sentences of the E-book article that started my day.
Is this the future of reading? Despite my best attempts, if I have access to e-mail or Facebook, I’ll check it. If I can look up something — relevant or irrelevant — to what I’m reading, I usually will. I work with two laptops: one has my e-mail and I use it to look up fun stuff on the Internet and the second is completely for work. I did this to create boundaries, but it doesn’t work. The fun laptop sits beside me, always open, ready to share e-mail. The work one tends to spend more time sleeping, unfortunately. Even though I know the data about attentional focus, how we do not multi-task, how it takes a significant time to re-focus mental resources on serious work, I tell myself I’ll just check something really quickly…it will only take a minute.
What I disliked in my brief playtime with the iPad was that I can’t quit out of any applications. There’s a decision that occurs when you quit out of something…it’s closed. With the iPad, like the iPhone, users just click on the next thing, serially leaving unfinished business in the ether. There’s no sense of closure or completion.
I’m not saying anything new here, but with print materials, readers can walk away from the tempting distractions of technology. We can focus on a specific concept or idea and quiet our mind enough to stay with this one idea. We’re not haphazardly jumping around. We’re not becoming hyperlinks.
Today felt like hit-and-run reading to me, where I skimmed many surfaces, but never fully dived in. I don’t want this to be the future of my reading experience. After several years with the Internet, I haven’t figured out an effective strategy for tuning out, which concerns me and makes me wonder how the rest of us are doing.
Your turn: Over the next few days, could you pick a day and keep track of what you read and how you read it (online, print, skimmed, read all the way through, interrupted to check e-mail, etc). Feel free to share your diary as a comment here or e-mail it to me. I look forward to hearing about your experience.
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April 15th, 2010
To ban or not to ban laptops in classrooms? What about cell phones? And calculators? Before we hand students a list of technologies to leave at home, let’s consider the real problem: attention vs. distraction. If you’re going to ban everything distracting students, you should consider what you’re wearing, how you talk, the guy in the front row who hasn’t called the girl in the 7th row, etc.
After teaching for several years, training teachers, and studying learning, I’ve developed a few strategies for maintaining student engagement. Of course, nothing is full-proof and there will typically be someone who falls asleep, looks clueless, glares at you during lecture, leaves after 15 minutes, or stares off into space. Try not to take it personally. After all, intentionally or not, I’ve been that student, haven’t you?
I just posted the following list on Facebook in response to a question on Metafilter and am re-posting it here:
- Call upon people randomly. On the first day of classes, let students know that at any point in the lecture, you may call upon them. Cut up your roster and, when participation reaches a low point, randomly pull a name out of a hat. Ask them to concisely summarize something you just said, or discuss implications for a different scenario, etc. The point is to let them know that there’s rewards for paying attention…and consequences for not paying attention. I did this pre-laptops in the classroom and it improved discussion. It’s also a non-confrontational way of ensuring participation/attention.
- Turn to someone next to you. One strategy I find highly effective in teaching is to identify a concept from the readings and say, “For the next 3-5 minutes, I’d like you to turn to someone next to you and discuss what you think the term participative media means. Think of a few examples from the readings/your own experience and be prepared to share them with the larger group.” I usually either walk around to hear people’s conversations, or meet with a student close by who hasn’t found a conversation partner. While everyone is meeting, I pick a particularly chatty group, or volunteer the person I’m speaking with, and ask them if they’d be willing to go first. As people share their ideas, I write them on the whiteboard, or insert their insights into my slide presentation and use our discussion as a springboard for the next part of the lecture.
Having people speak in smaller groups primes them with ideas for sharing in the larger group and so accomplishes two goals: engages them in the discussion and empowers them to participate.
- You can have “laptops down” moments, where you ask everyone to close their laptops to help them think and focus.
- I start the quarter off being honest and saying that it’s really tough to speak to a large crowd and tougher still when you have to compete for their attention (e.g., talking in class, or using tech to tune out), so to make it easier on me and more interesting for them, I’ll be asking questions throughout the lecture and if I see someone not paying attention, I will most likely call on them.
- Have students present some of the info, where appropriate. Each class period, I have a 5 minute block for student presentations — students definitely seem more interested in information from their peers. If the students get the info wrong, I use it as a teachable moment.
Audience from Napoleon Dynamite spoof posted on YouTube
- I also do fun things, like take pictures of the audience when they look the most bored and include it in the next class period’s powerpoint, just to let them know what my view is like. Then I use the image as a background for some of the slides. People love to see themselves.
- Or, the best scenario is to incorporate the laptops into instruction. Even in a lecture, you can have scavenger hunts or discovery moments. For every class period, I assign a couple bloggers to report on what they learned. You get a record of the class, students who missed have a useful resource, and students with restless finger syndrome have somewhere to focus their energy. Here’s a link to course blogs from past students: http://www.brenmesm.blogspot.com.
There’s a misconception that in lectures we should be the only ones talking. An ideal learning scenario is one in which we empower students to feel responsible for their learning experience and create an environment in which the technologies, no matter how seductively distracting, can be used as part of their learning.
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March 19th, 2010
When I was in high school in the late 80′s — early 90′s, it seemed that the U.S. education system was an abysmal failure — after all, weren’t the Soviets and the Chinese students scoring higher in math? Today, headlines still decry our education system as a failure. In a recent op-ed piece published in the New York Times, “One Classroom, From Sea to Shining Sea,” Susan Jacoby advocates for a national system with a standardized curriculum, standardized teacher training, and standardized funding. She states that our system has outgrown its antiquated independent heritage.
Funding. It’s difficult to discuss problems with our educational system without discussing funding. As a California resident, I’ve watched funding drastically diminish with, among other things, the passage of Proposition 13, the Enron scandal, and our latest recession. Education is not a funding priority. Regardless of curricular referendums, standardized testing, and increased accountability for teachers, without consistent and ample funding, our schools will continue to degrade. Without realistic budgets for classrooms, teachers, and materials, we are expecting the impossible from our schools. Even as a university teacher, I have often purchased supplies for my students and classroom. Under the best conditions, teachers labor with limited support. Imagine spending 6 hours in a classroom with thirty 12 year olds (those of you with pre-teens understand the challenge of an hour with just one), five days a week. While competing for their attention and attempting to manage the classroom chatter, now imagine that class days are longer due to budget cuts, or you’ve had a wasp’s nest near the outside classroom door for six months, despite several requests to have it with removed, so you need to keep the door and outside windows shut. Now imagine that most of the toilets don’t work because the district has had to cut a majority of its maintenance staff (I’m describing a colleague’s actual experience in a Southern California school district). These externalities are rarely part of discussions about our education system. Instead, let’s talk about standardized testing and holding teachers more accountable.
Education isn’t simply something to criticize. We all have a stake in its success. We choose. We choose to prioritize other issues, vote against bond measures, argue the intricacies of esoteric tax rules, and then blame our teachers, their training, or some other indefinable scapegoat for our failure to adequately educate our future. Let’s put our energy into figuring out an ample funding scheme for our schools, giving teachers and students the resources they need, create a climate of success and then re-visit questions of standardized tests, national curricula, and teacher accountability.
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March 12th, 2010
I recently attended a truly fascinating workshop, but I’m not going to blog about it…yet. I’m studying how a particular user group conducts research online, so if I discuss preliminary observations, I risk biasing my sample.
To blog or not to blog seems to be a conundrum facing many researchers. Some choose to blog immediately to spread their idea. Others choose not to blog at all and wait until their peer-reviewed publication. Many of us are caught in the middle, attempting to balance information sharing with respect for our study participants or patience with the process. The immediacy pervading the Internet seems to pressure researchers to engage in flag planting, rather than wait a year or two to publish their results in a peer-reviewed publication.
So, what’s the problem? On the one hand, I find it exciting to be able to immediately comment on topics of interest as well as learn from other’s perspectives. Waiting until the data is in takes a while and often, other technologies have already replaced the ones under study.
Why wait? As researchers, we have a responsibility to get our facts straight. Often, experts’ hunches about a practice or theory are correct or approximately so, but we have a responsibility to the public who trust us to label hunches as hunches and findings as findings…the two are not the same.
I’m interested to hear from my colleagues how they approach information sharing. I think it’s important to engage in scholarly conversation, while at the same time conduct quality research and I do not find these pursuits to be exclusive. At the same time, I do not post to my blog preliminary hunches or observations while I am in the midst of collecting or analyzing data. I expect research I read to have been carefully vetted, and in turn attempt to do the same.
Since blogs do serve as academic discussions, I think it’s completely acceptable to noodle over new topics, as long as we label this exercise as opinion, or noodling, and not claim it as fact.
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