Archive for January, 2018


From Fiction to Reality

In the future, George Orwell imagined that there would be telescreens, speakwrite and printed postcards, much like computers, CCTV cameras and emails of today (Orwell, 1949). In 1985, Back to the Future predicted flying cars, hoverboards, fingerprint recognition and wearable technology. In Dave Eggers’ book “The Circle”, he described data sharing, public transparency and the ultimate connectivity through responsive wearables and smart objects. More recently in Ernest Cline’s book “Ready Player One”, we see students attend virtual schools as avatars in a dystopian world via VR headsets. How accurate and relevant are these “predictions” and are they more fiction than reality? Examining the Horizon report helps us to see what technologies already exist and which possibilities are just around the corner. Through its report, we can ascertain the necessary steps schools will need to take and investigate how to prepare our students for a future world we cannot yet know.

A Relevant Education

Traditionally the purpose of school has been about academic success. Conversely, schools like UWCSEA have developed a holistic programme, but academics are still the focus and grades remain important when transitioning from High School to University. But do academics prepare our students for survival in the future world? What is authentic learning and a relevant education in 2018? Ken Robinson argues that “creativity, innovative and interpersonal skills and social sensitivity” are the fundamental skills needed (Robinson, 2017). There is never a more relevant time for changing the way students learn with so much technology at their fingertips. As the world of connectivity evolves and the need for innovative and creative entrepreneurs are ever more required, schools need to change. Out with the prescribed curriculum, standardised tests and end terminal examinations and in with digital literacies, multimodality and collaborative learning. Robinson talks about the past when practical and vocational subjects taught the skills that were needed for the workforce (Robinson, 2017). What skills are needed for our emerging world? Creative thinking and innovation have often been under-supported, but they couldn’t be more needed to help solve world problems in our ever growing planet and overwhelmed environment and infrastructure. But as technology threatens to take over our every chore, we need to educate students on surviving the pressures of today with strategies to cope with distractions and peer pressure, safety online and digital citizenship. There is a demand for digital fluencies (Crockett and Churches, 2017) to be compulsory within education norms. Web literacy is a basic skill when reading, writing and participating on the internet. Students need to be taught how to navigate, participate and to synthesize information in order to make sense of it and apply it. It is no longer enough to be solely an acquirer of knowledge; one needs to participate to learn effectively in today’s connected society (Sfard, 1998). But along with this comes pressure and they need to be helped in finding balance and develop strategies through positive role models. By humanising education through personalised learning the rewards will be empowered and intrinsically motivated individuals.

Real-world learning

As one reads the most recent Horizon Report, there are trends of technology in education that continue to feature in their ongoing research. Digital literacy, personalised learning and deep learning have been core areas of study over the past 5 years. More recently the popularity of STEAM, coding, learning spaces and virtual reality have been investigated. (Freeman, Adams Becket, Cummins, Davis & Hall Giesinger, 2017). Many schools have introduced coding for learning across their curriculum and Makerspaces support the rise of STEAM to reflect the skills needed for the world in which we live now.

Schools are responding to the changing curriculum by looking at how to incorporate digital tools effectively within the existing learning environment. Mobile technology aids this transition, with tablets and phones but with this comes distraction and information overload.

Gamification is not a new learning theory and gamified approaches have long since featured in a teacher’s toolkit. Spurred on by Jane McGonigal’s TED talk, “Gaming can make a better World”, wider understanding and acceptance of the power of games and game-based learning led to the development of apps like Quizlet and Duolingo where learning is personalised and adaptable both in the classroom and at home.

The popularity of learning through YouTube over the past 10 years or more has enabled the medium of video to become a hive of activity for both consumers and creators. Individuals have become more open to direct their own learning and as a result online courses through EdX, Coursera, Udemy or MOOCs, have risen in popularity. My own experience of online engagement courses has been motivational, as I can choose a course which meets my needs at a time that best suits me. Practices of flipping classrooms and using videos within apps like Edpuzzle are becoming more usual practices. Similarly, teacher-monitored study sites and mobile apps like MyiMaths, Quizlet and Doddle help integrate person-centred learning opportunities alongside traditional teaching methods. Personalised learning has to be key in the future, where individual needs are understood and digital tools are chosen to improve differentiation. Students will need to become more self-directed learners in order to be motivated to drive their own learning and upskilled for the world of tomorrow.


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Emerging Technology

In the Horizon report, virtual reality (VR) features heavily as emerging technology for schools. But “it will take a few years before VR becomes vital to schools around the world.” (Freeman et al., 2017, p.46). As an example of experiential learning, VR has much potential to help students understand and immerse themselves in an environment, situation or place. Google Expeditions has been successful in classrooms as a cheap and simple option when starting out with immersive technology. Being able to step into another world and experience life in another culture or underwater brings the unreachable into the classroom. Simulations prove fun and engaging and this aspect of VR is seen as a potential direction for schools. Relevant world experiences, whether real or virtual, engage and help deeper and authentic learning. In Michael Bodekaer’s TED demonstration of a virtual science lab, he explains how important the education of today’s generations of scientists is in solving world issues such as population growth, health and the environment. He sees immersive technology as a tool to engage and understand difficult concepts and situations to reimagine learning as we know it (Bodekaer, 2015). Apps like Google’s Tilt Brush take VR to the next level. The possibilities are endless but, as it is still in its infancy, we are, as yet, limited in the examples of schools successfully integrating VR into the classroom. The next 12 months will be crucial in changing this shift, as technology evolves and becomes more viable economically and practically.

Focus on Fluencies

With the increasing advancements in technology, there is a growing need to embed the teaching of digital fluencies. Linked to this, in his book “Creative Schools”, Robinson says that we should be teaching students 8 core competencies: curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure and citizenship (Robinson, 2015). To be able to critically question, develop innovative ideas and solve complex problems are crucial skills that build students capabilities to live and work in a future world. As schools change and adapt so must teachers themselves will need to keep abreast of these new literacies.

With these competencies in mind, Director of IT at UWCSEA, Ben Morgan, says schools need to focus on what is needed right now and the relevant technologies that can help us to learn most efficiently. He says that he sees “great examples of using technology all over the College, but what I would love is for the best of that to be in use everywhere” (B. Morgan, personal communication, January 20, 2018). An example of this is the use of Teamie, an online learning platform, used for discussion, sharing of resources, feedback and ongoing formative assessment. If all teachers employed it consistently, then all students would use it effectively, resulting in deeper learning. Only then should we move on to other emerging practices and tools that support learning and enhance digital literacy. Digital fluency has never been more important and, rather than continuing to chase the next best thing, schools should focus on what is the right technology for their students and fully embed it in the curriculum.


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With advancement comes balance. As students live increasingly sedentary lives, the importance of play and spending time outside will become even more important. The benefits of play are clear in early years but also for older children: play builds skills in collaboration, tolerance and persistence and the Lego Learning Institute cites play as “an essential ingredient to fuel creativity and capacity as learners” (Whitebread, Ackermann, Gauntlett, Wolbers, Weckstrom, 2012).

Whilst online communities and gaming sites allow for collaboration and communication, face to face interactions are still a crucial part of developing relationships. Whitebread talks about the risks attached to play deprivation and how “children’s cognitive development and emotional well-being” is related to the quality of play. When play is taken away or reduced, so too does cognitive functioning and social and emotional development (Whitebread et al., 2012). Bringing play back to the classroom will bring benefits as well as balance.


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Deep Learning

Schools need to change to be relevant. By focussing on a culture of innovation, deeper learning will follow (Freeman et al., 2017). In “Different schools for a Different World”, Scott Mcleod and Dean Shareski talk about the big shifts in deeper learning schools and innovative organisations. These are: changing thinking approaches to school; higher level thinking such as creativity, innovation and problem solving; student agency including personalisation and differentiation; authentic work; technology infusion such as global connections and online environments; and “robust tech integration” (McLeod and Shareski, 2018). They cite schools that are fostering deeper learning including High School High, Surrey Academy of Innovative Learning and New Tech High with projects incorporating communication, collaboration, critical thinking and technical proficiency alongside relevant, real-world situations and in flexible learning environments. (McLeod and Shareski, 2018).

Closing the Digital Divide

With rapid advances in technology, concerns must be raised of the digital divide. How do we lessen this gap whilst technology advances so rapidly? How do children in impoverished areas develop these skills? Is the divide between the rich and poor widening with regard to digital literacy? When will access to technology be free and available to all, so that consumers can become creators no matter their culture, status, age or upbringing? How could schools and communities help towards digital inclusion?

With the dawn of a new era of modern media, who will be left behind to widen the gap even further? Should it not be a human right to have access to modern technology.

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Freeman, A., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., and Hall Giesinger, C. (2017). NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2017 K–12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Mcdonald, D. (2017). The Future Belongs To Those Who Prepare For It Today: How The Nmc Horizon Report (Higher Education Edition) Can Help You Plan Your Institutions Technological Future. EDULEARN17 Proceedings. doi:10.21125/edulearn.2017.0572

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Whitebread, D., Basilio, M., Kuvalja, M. & Verma, M. (2012). The importance of play: a report on the value of children’s play with a series of policy recommendations. Brussels, Belgium: Toys Industries for Europe



The Virtual Playground

Being social is a natural part of anyone’s life. From playing in the playground to chatting on the phone; meeting up with friends was commonplace when I was a teenager. Despite this still being true for teenagers today, I am so grateful that Facebook, Snapchat and some of the other giants of social media were not around when I was growing up: to have my life mapped out visually for everyone to see, the pressure to look a certain way, behave a certain way and interact online, it is positively exhausting! But we cannot ignore it, and, according to the Pew Report 2015, 92% of teens are online daily mostly down to the ease of accessibility with smartphones. (cited by A Lenhart, 2015). It’s the place where teens hang out. Most of them have multiple accounts and, since the report 3 years ago, I am certain the figures have gone up. In the Common Sense census of the same year, it reports that 13-18-year-old Americans spend up to 9 hours a day online but with only a quarter of this time being spent on social media (M Robb, 2015). I am certain in 2018, the numbers would be higher as Snapchat becomes even more popular. Much of its popularity is down to Snapstreaks, keeping the addicted teens locked in and in fear of failing friendships. Gamifying communication has been a game changer with Snapchat, but parents are becoming increasingly concerned about the time teens spend in these often obsessive and addictive behaviours. In her article on Huffington Past, mother, Julie Kelly says

“Kids are desperate to stay connected. They’re afraid to be left out, that they will miss something. This leads to a constant feeling of needing to be ‘on’.” (J Kelly, 2017)

In order to keep up with these digital natives, we must understand where they are at, keep the channels of conversation open and reconsider social media’s place in education. There are pros and cons for the use of social media and its place in education, particularly that of tweens is a hard fought debate. School aim to educate youngsters to fit in and thrive in society and, in order to fully understand the implications of social media’s place in the classroom, we must investigate how it operates in our world and what good it can bring to our children.

I first became aware of social media when I had left the UK and was working in an International school in Italy. Far from home, with a young family, we learnt to use a webcam to connect to our nearest and dearest. Teaching our parents how to use one remotely was the toughest part! Soon after moving I joined Facebook (2007) and later in 2009, Twitter. Prior to this, I do remember having Friendsreunited to reconnect with old school friends and a myspace account, but I cannot recall how long ago or if I really used the latter much: as with most of us, Facebook took over fairly quickly and overrode all other platforms.

Social media did exactly what it said on the tin and it became the place to be social and talk with friends and family when living abroad. I could share messages and photos and see what they were up to. At first, I didn’t quite understand Twitter: it seemed I was tweeting to an empty audience and I wasn’t quite sure of the point. But later, in 2011 following the Learning2 conference in Shanghai, I followed advice and started to follow a list of recommended educators. Following others, watching from a distance, “lurking”, and learning from them helps us to understand the protocols and processes of a new media. It also leads to new connections and ideas. That is the thing about Twitter: it is full of wonderful people and ideas, links to articles, videos and others creations. Of course, we have to filter out and ignore the rubbish and outrageous tweets, sift through the fake news and find what it is we are interested in.

Beyond microblogging

Having become a converted fan of Twitter, microblogging led to “proper” blogging. Finding an audience became my first fear – would I have anything interesting to say, would anyone want to read it and then what? What was it for? Blogging should have a purpose but be authentic to the individual. It should be a place to freely express oneself and this can be valuable when reflecting on a course, conference or weekly updates or shares. My first task, back in 2014, was finding other art teachers who blogged. As the COETAIL course evolved, we were encouraged to comment frequently on other cohort member’s posts, much like MA TCT, and develop closer connections. Creating authentic connections and developing genuine friendships virtually was an important part of the course. We live in a connected global classroom where anyone can stumble on your words and offer opinions and ideas. Building a PLN, a tribe, was a crucial element in developing dialogue.

Finding your tribe

It is the same for our students. Each day they interact face to face and online, building connections. They might have different friendships on social networks, from gamers on Steam to photographers on Instagram and makeup artists on YouTube. This is their world, their playground, a place to meet, talk and learn. Jabiz Raisdana, a prolific blogger, Middle school English teacher and writer, tells us “I see social networks as digital playgrounds. Our students are out there. They are playing and experimenting.” (J Raisdana, 2012)

And this is why integrating digital literacies should be fundamental in every school curriculum: literacies like reading, interpreting, decoding, analysing and sifting for truth. In Anne Longfield’s worrying report “Life in Likes” the children’s commissioner for England says children hit a “cliff edge” when starting secondary school and asks why aren’t we “preparing them for the pressures of social media?” (cited by M Browne, 2018). Helping students to successfully navigate the complexities of being social in this digital world means helping them to understand more about who they are, their values and wellbeing.

Global connections

As an experiment to connect art students across continents I joined with 3 other art teachers to collaborate on a project to connect and bring our students together online for feedback and discussion on their artwork. We set up groups where students would post, comment and connect through class blogs overseen in the art lessons. The term “Quadblogging” was first coined by David Mitchell, where 4 classes (or teachers) work together to comment on each other’s blogs in a rolling cycle. (Mitchell, 2011). If you are interested in the process, you can read more about the project and how students not only connected but also learnt more about digital citizenship. (N Hambleton, 2015)

For some it was a chance to have a voice and to share their creations, for others it was a chore, and that is the stumbling block: a blog should be personal, and, if it is forced (for portfolios or reflections) it won’t necessarily be an authentic voice. In her article on self-directed learning, Judy Robertson, in her paper on computers and education, mentions that the “commenting affordance of blogs” builds empathy and supports student development, and it is this function of social media that most interest me; how others can impact ideas and build skills through conversation and dialogue online. She goes on to talk about how blogs (in Higher Education) can support how students learn how to learn and to build their skills as independent thinkers. (Robertson, 2011)

Similarly, Huay Lit Woo and Qiyun Wang investigated the affordances of “weblogs” in developing critical thinking. Constructing a blog post requires research and analytical skills, referencing and organisation as well as writing and appropriate accreditation. Problem-solving, creating engaging content and synthesising ideas are higher order thinking, at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy. Silvia Tolisano equates a successful class blog to the upper levels of Dr Ruben Puetredura’s SAMR model. She shares that it can redefine learning by being a “central hub” where students and teachers share and create, connecting, communicating and collaborating with the wider world. (S Tolisano, 2014) Another of the key affordances of a blog is that the writer has an audience and that viewers can interact with the writer through commenting. (Woo and Wang, 2009). Building conversation, developing arguments and cultivating opinions, in and out of the classroom are all valuable life skills we should help our students to hone. Within a class, how often do students authentically interact with each other offering valued feedback and advice? How often do all voices, including the introverts, get heard? Offering opportunities to share opinions, reflect and ideas can open the channels of conversation, connect like-minded individuals and build a supportive community. Supporting our students and encouraging them to create genuine connections online is an ideal opportunity to support their wellbeing. Modelling and sharing experiences with Twitter or Instagram class accounts, and following specific hashtags are simple ways to start out, but also teaching safety and awareness of privacy. The media is littered with examples of adults and high profile individuals behaving badly online on Twitter and these can serve as learning opportunities in digital citizenship. 

According to Piaget’s theory of constructivism, we build knowledge based on our experiences, (Piaget, 1976) and digital opportunities of connecting and collaborating online offer new ways to understand and make meaning. Moreover, Vygotsky repeats the importance of social interaction in the development of an individual. His theory on the zone of proximal development presupposes that an individual will develop alongside a more advanced. (Vygotsky, 1978) But is this true when connecting online? Is it the interactive and collaborative nature that social media affords that help to develop the skills in our students?


The Connected Teacher

Developing as an individual through connectivism is also true for adults. A small group of teachers in Singapore, piloted by a colleague, Tricia Friedman networked through individual monthly blogs to connect and start discussions around shared ideas and articles. It soon grew to include teachers further afield and, following this success, I am planning a new kind of connected and social play online with a Sketchbook challenge, digitally inspired but traditionally produced. These shared experiences will be literally passed around physically and virtually, connecting like-minded educators to share their ideas and thoughts visually and learn from one another. 

Blogging for the MA TCT has pushed my own research, critical thinking and analytical skills. Being put back in the shoes of a learner, navigating my way through multiple readings and slowly and surely finding my own research route through past and present theories and ideas has been eye opening. It takes time to develop an authentic voice and courage to post publicly. I am developing deeper thinking, yet I would like to connect and encourage more authentic dialogue with the rest of the course participants. How can we do this more seamlessly, transparently and easily alongside our busy teaching lives? Could microblogging be a possibility or could we as a group work in smaller more focused clusters, much like quadblogging, to give meaningful feedback and create community?

Inspiring the next generation of creators

YouTube is students go-to community to learn a new skill or find how to do something. This has been the case for many years and video has become a popular tool for gamers and musicians to share their work. Often adults assume teenagers to be watching mindless videos or consuming endless accounts of gaming adventures but there are many youngsters sharing meaningful creations that can inspire the next generation of creators. Bloggers like SoSonia with her unique style of video began sharing her creative ideas as a young teenager and now she is now working for SoulPancake, making positive, meaningful and uplifting media for the “optimistic millennial”. Livbits is a 10 year old social media ambassador, showing youngsters how sharing online can promote student voice and audience. Boblhead is the 14 year old son of a music teacher in Singapore, recording his own music, making films and selling his own designed merchandise. It is through inspiring examples like these that we can justify social media’s place in modern society and the more examples we can share the more our students will be inspired to create and share.

The future of social media in education

Parents may still feel that social media doesn’t have a place in education, but it is where our youngsters play and learn. We should talk with them about what they do, who they listen to and learn from and how they use social media in their daily lives. Often it is assumed to be solely a playground, but through social media they are learning how to communicate, to behave and to create. With appropriate strategies, students need to be educated in the ethics of what they communicate, share and create online and their rights and the accompanying dangers. Recently, in the Times Educational Supplement, Jonathan Owen shares some newly published simplified guides to the terms and conditions of popular social media like Snapchat and WhatsApp. (Owen, 2017) With so many actively online, we must ensure they know what data and information are being gathered and shared.

We need to show students how much more social media can be than just sharing an image and waiting for the obligatory amount of likes, retweets or streaks to signify popularity. They need to develop better habits of living healthy digital lives. As educators and parents, we must address teenagers’ vulnerabilities and talk more openly about student wellbeing when playing in such a potentially volatile yet mesmerising and ?? playground.

What ways can you see social media positively impacting your students?
How might you use blogging to push their critical thinking skills and enhance their digital literacies and citizenship?


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Marc Prensky Shaping Tech in the Classroom

Mark Prensky’s “Shaping Tech in the classroom” visual note by Nicki Hambleton

On being Literate


Photo Credit: adamrhoades Flickr via Compfight cc

Today’s classroom is a far cry from when I started teaching back in the 1990’s. Nowadays, schools may have a 1:1 laptop programme, BYOD, a suite of static computers or trolleys of iPads to use. Students communicate via online learning platforms, such as Edmodo or Teamie, write and submit assignments via Google docs and create a plethora of ideas using devices or applications. Technology is evolving at an astonishing rate and educators are responsible for students ever-changing skills as a result. What does it mean to be literate in today’s technology-driven education? What are the necessary skills needed to navigate, communicate and create?

When we consider being literate we think about being able to read and write. According to the dictionary, being literate is to have “education or knowledge, typically in a specified area” (Oxford Dictionaries, n.d). Being able to read and write has always been a basic requirement to understand the world around and the standing block of Primary education. But the world around has changed and, in the 21st century, being able to understand and navigate the digital world is becoming a necessity. To be able to interact and communicate; to read, interpret and dissect information; to connect and collaborate online and to be able to trust and research what is real and what is not are skills today’s students need to be taught.

Marc Prensky described Millenials as “Digital natives” having being born into the digital era and thus more naturally capable and adaptable to the skills needed when using technology. (Prensky, 2001) But do we assume digital literacy? In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that “in the US, about 5 million households with school-aged children did not have access to the internet at home.” and “many homes did not have laptops or computers” leaving students to use their phones to access websites and facilities online (as cited by Abumu, 2017 ). How can so many students without adequate access possibly become fully literate in the digital skills needed to sail through university? What does it mean to be digitally literate? And what of the “digital immigrants”: instructors and teachers who ventured into technology later in their careers. How might this polarisation limit development or become barriers to our students’ 21st-century progress?


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What is Digital Literacy?

In his book of the same name, Paul Gilster describes digital literacy as “the ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers. (P Gilster, 1997). He says that being literate has never been solely about being able to read and write, but it is about understanding and making meaning from what we read. In 1974, Paul Zurkowski explains that “information is not knowledge” but that it is important for the consumer to know what to do with that information, how to work with it, and use it for other purposes, such as problem-solving. “Information is a tool to accomplish a purpose” (as cited by W Badke, 2010). Therefore we can ascertain that digital literacy is about interpretation, understanding and cognition of what we see.


20 years on from Gilster’s first use of the phrase, we must now look in more depth at what specific literacies are needed to enhance students skills to survive and thrive in the 21st century. 3 such resulting digital literacies are Information Literacy, Visual Literacy and Media Literacy. As communication changes with the advances in technology, these literacies are multimodal (C Jewitt, 2008) often combined and supportive. One cannot visit a website or blog, such as this, without finding it necessary to interpret an image alongside information. Being competent in understanding texts, interpreting images and other media through digital sources is the new backbone of education, as the internet is their primary source of learning both inside and outside of the classroom. As students become older and more independent learners, they are more vulnerable to a wider range of sources, including social media, and it is imperative that they are able to discern and navigate through this wilderness of information to find truth, meaning and understanding.

In her TED Talk, “Creating critical thinkers through media literacy”,Andrea Quijada searches for “that untold story” in order to deconstruct stories, or decode adverts, films or other media. (A Quijada, 2013). A student of hers said that “media literacy connects school to real life”. Doug Belshaw, in the Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, agrees that learning should connect to students’ interests and it is with this relevancy that motivation occurs. (Belshaw, 2012). He advises that both adults and students need to be motivated by their own interest rather than being enforced and, as “digital immigrants”, motivation needs to be high to inspire adults to learn something new and potentially challenging. My septuagenarian mother was positively inspiring when learning how to use an iPad several years ago to communicate and connect with family and friends.


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Thinking becomes critical

With smartphones bringing the world literally to our fingertips, we consume and interact with so many sources of information every day. From videos to news sites and diagrams to data, we must learn how to interpret and understand this new form of knowledge and information. In the article “Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century”, authors Barbara Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne Flannigan advocate for the “need to teach true literacy – skills in analysis, synthesis and evaluation” (Jones-Kavalier and Flannigan, 2006). Referring to Bloom’s original taxonomy, these skills are essential for critical thinking. With the revised taxonomy, by Anderson and Krathwohl in 2001, synthesis is replaced by creating and it is this aspect of digital literacy which moves students from consumers to creators.



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Researching digital literacy brings forth multiple models, descriptions and articles. In order to move away from a description, Doug Belshaw, in his book and accompanying talk, identifies 8 essential elements of digital literacy: cultural, cognitive, constructive, communicative, confident, creative, civic, critical (Belshaw, 2012). It is here that he explains how Remix being at the heart of digital literacies (9:12). Just as Prensky talked about doing “new things in new ways” (M Prensky, 2005), Remix is about using new tools to create new learning. In the classroom, this might mean students use blogs to share their writing or artwork, communicating and collaborating with one another and connecting with students around the world for ideas and feedback: reading and writing remixed. In my classroom, art students still create art traditionally but use Padlet to share their progress and comment on each others’ work to review ideas. The tool changes how they interact and, as well as tracking their ongoing skills and progress, they can reflect and refine their work as a result. It visually keeps a record and students can see each others’ work to inspire or encourage where appropriate. This new form of participation and communication begins the process and practice to enhance their skills in new literacies. “Every time you’re given a new tool, it gives you a different way of impacting the world” (Belshaw, 2012).


Critical Digital Literacy

As our students consume even more information on a daily basis, critical digital literacy is now one of the main competencies of modern learning and it is imperative that we embed the skills in our curriculum. According to Juliet Hinrichsen and Antony Coombs at the University of Greenwich Critical digital literacy consists of those skills, dispositions, and practices that enable one to critically read and create digital, multimedia texts” citing Freebody and Luke’s Four Resources Model of critical literacy. (1990) As a result of their research they developed a model with 5 dimensions of digital literacy as seen in the diagram below:


The 5 resources model of Critical Digital literacy by Juliet Hinrichsen and Antony Coombs at the University of Greenwich

As students struggle to decipher the wealth of real and fake news online, schools are under increasing pressure to integrate meaningful critical digital literacy into their curriculum. Kavalier and Flannigan mention that “few organisations have developed comprehensive plans that specify technical learning objectives or ensure successful integration of technology to enhance students’ digital and visual literacy”. (Kavalier and Flannigan, 2006). I would like to say that things have moved on over the past 11 years since their article but it may not be the case worldwide as some schools are still grappling with the effective execution of relevant 21st-century skill-based learning.

Just recently, Lokman Mansor wrote in the Straits Times that children in Taiwan were set to study a new curriculum “media literacy” in 2017, designed to teach critical reading of propaganda and the evaluation of sources in the hope of providing valuable training in journalism for the future but also to equip them for life in the information era. (L Mansor, 2017)

But children are not the only ones who need to learn these digital literacy skills. Many educators and administrators were not born into this digital world and also need to learn how to navigate and make sense of it in relation to their personal and professional lives.

It is with this that I am reminded of our ongoing consultation my team have been working on to articulate digital literacy across the school. This is by no means an easy task and it has taken many meetings and research to decide on the skills necessary from Kindergarten to IB.  iLearn, a 5 year programme at UWCSEA, was introduced in 2010 to integrate 1:1 laptops, and over time Google apps to GSuite and, more recently, Teamie, our dedicated online learning platform. At the beginning, much of this was new to us all but as time progressed students and teachers alike became more fluent in their use of these tools, utilising them each day as part of their teaching and learning. The articulation process is a collaboration, developing a whole school digital literacy programme to track what literacies and skills are needed to best equip our students. The focus areas we have agreed upon are citizenship in a digital world, researching, creating, communicating and collaboration with digital tools, managing and operating digital tools and computational thinking. The discussions are rich and the research invaluable in creating a curriculum with longevity, a tough task with such a changing world we live in.


But is it enough just to be competent in modern literacies?

Moving towards Digital Fluency

Resnick, Rusk, and Cooke (1998) write, “Technological fluency means much more than the ability to use technological tools; that would be equivalent to understanding a few common phrases in a language. To become truly fluent in a language (like English or French), one must be able to articulate a complex idea or tell an engaging story–that is, to be able to make things of significance with these tools” (as cited by S Niessen, 2015)


When we learn a new skill, such as a new language, we aim for initial basic understanding, followed by competence, working towards fluency and this takes time and practice. It is so with digital skills. It takes time and experiences in multiple contexts to become more fluent in using technology, to select the appropriate tools and to be able to express ideas using them.


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From consumers to creators

In order to further refine our competencies and work towards more fluency in digital literacies, we must look to develop deeper skills in our students that go beyond consuming. It is important that we allow students to learn about the why as well as the how of digital technology. Mitch Resnick, in his 2012 TED talk, “Let’s teach kids to code”, talks with enthusiasm about the importance of understanding how computers work and therefore the need to teach coding. He suggests that we move from traditional literacies to fully understand the realm we are learning in: “Read – read to learn; coding to learn”. He mentions the importance of coding to “think creatively, systematically and communication” and that we can become more fluent “by understanding it, manipulating it and creating” (M Resnick, 2012). Belshaw and Resnick both talk about moving on from “elegant consumption” (Belshaw, 2012) to creating and where Remix is the new working model of creativity.

The essential fluencies

To delve deeper into fluencies, Andrew Churches and Lee Watanabe Crockett, of the Global Digital Citizen foundation, developed the 6 essential fluencies of innovative learning. In their book, “Mindful Assessment: the essential fluencies”, real-time problem solving and collaboration are cited as one of the most needed skills in industries as diverse as mining. (Crockett and Churches, 2017) In their previous book, “Literacy is not enough”, they identified a set of skills that students would require to “become architects of a future world we can only imagine and masters of challenges we cannot imagine” (Crockett, Jukes and Churches 2011) which were based on this diagram’s 21st century skills (or essential fluencies). It is refreshing to see a modern take on fluency in education, written by educators for educators and how these can help us in developing global digital citizens.  


One can become overwhelmed with so many models, diagrams, and descriptions of what it must take to properly develop our youngsters for tomorrow’s world so we must sift through to find the best fit for our current school and context. We must weigh up the pros and cons and balance the needs of our schools with the wishes of our students. How do teachers keep abreast of new technologies to be competent let alone fluent in all aspects?

Old literacy and new literacies

In my classroom, we still work with traditional skills combined with modern technology, just as old literacies are just as relevant today as new multiliteracies. We still consume a lot of visual information and knowledge but we also look at remixing the old with the new, combining traditional forms of art with new and emerging ones. No one skill is enough to determine true fluency in art (or any other curriculum) and we cannot neglect the emergence of digital forms of art such as AR and VR. Just as Leonardo da Vinci utilised the lens as the modern technology of his era to develop the camera obscura and develop his art towards more realism, so too must we educators embrace the new world our students will be living and working within and help them to develop the necessary skills to be creators and innovators. Introducing the work of game designers, experimenting with immersive media like Teamlab, and yes, bringing coding into the art classroom may well be the new curriculum around the corner. This means we as educators must keep abreast of the new skills and needs our students require for their future careers and to make sure we are not left behind as“digital immigrants”. We must hone our digital literacies and converse with the younger generation to learn with them and thus become the empowering educators they need. To become more fluent, together we must utilise all we know from traditional literacy combined with what we now know about modern multiliteracies to best educate and equip students for the what the next 20 years will bring.


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Closing the Digital Divide

But how does the rest of the world keep up? How do children in impoverished areas develop these skills? Is the divide between the rich and poor widening with regard to digital literacy? With inequalities across the world, how do we lessen this gap whilst technology advances so rapidly? When will access to technology be free and available to all, so that consumers can become creators no matter their culture, status, age or upbringing? How could schools and communities help towards digital inclusion? (IMDA, 2017)

With the dawn of a new era of modern media, who will be left behind to widen the gap even further?


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