6.1.3 A Reflective Analysis of Digital Practices in the Project
18.104.22.168 Project participants’ attitudes towards digital literacy
One of the clear messages coming out of the reflections is that the subject of digital literacy, although not new, needed to be unpacked and scrutinized in the context of education. The enthusiasm that the project engendered in those who took part is remarkable, and the reflections demonstrate that the project has broadened and supported new perceptions of digital technologies.
In their reflections, some teacher participants talked about their motivation for joining the project; commenting on their curiosity mixed with uncertainty about new technologies. According to Hague and Payton (2008) there is relatively little pedagogical guidance on digital literacies, which might explain why teachers’ offered very positive feedback on the experience of participating in the project and receiving support from the project team, as shown in the comment below:
I am quite excited but very apprehensive as I am hoping the project will go well. It is quite difficult to balance a teaching job in a secondary school even if it is an excellent one and a project of that sort, but I feel I am well supported in this. (quote from a teacher participating in the project)
The teachers involved in the project also talked about some of the barriers they were experiencing with regard to embedding digital literacy practices within their practice; these included time restraints due to a heavy work load and the constraints of the curriculum. The teachers also commented on their anxiety of not being able to keep up with the rapidly changing aspects of digital practices and resulting feelings of incompetence, where they feared being exposed as ‘not good enough’. However most teachers involved coped with the anxiety by investing their time into learning about new Technologies and approaches, as will be explored in more detail in [cross reference to ‘digital natives’section].
Reflections were also collected from young learners from participating schools; overall, children participating in the project demonstrated their enthusiasm for the project, with the comment from a pupil at Newman Special School quite representative of the highly positive feedback from the activities related to the case studies:
This beats reading and writing any day and I wouldn’t mind working in the area when I leave school (Newman special school pupil).
The learners’ parents were similarly positive, for instance; parents attending the dissemination event at Newman Special School where the work of the students involved with the case study was shared, spoke of ways in which the project had changed their ideas about their own capabilities in technology, with one of the parents stating that well its changed my ideas… if Joe can do it, then I’m sure mum can!
The PGCE students at Sheffield Hallam University who contributed to Case Study 12 examining provision of support for trainee teachers to embed digital literacy as core element of their practice also commented positively on their experience of involvement with the project, with one of the students mentioning that although he was not yet in a position at the moment to implement the ideas within his practice but that he was banking the ideas for when he would have a class of his own.
Similarly, the reflections gathered from participants of the project regional dissemination conference on the 2nd of October (see DeFT Project Blog post) indicate that the event left them feeling inspired and ready to perhaps embrace a more creative approach towards digital literacy in their own practice:
A very valuable experience overall….introduced to many new ideas and issues to think about, which I plan to share with my fellow PGCE primary students (conference participant).
Excellent opportunity to learn from others and contribute to that learning … privilege to meet so many creative and daring people who are making a difference (conference participant).
Events like this help to provide the most valuable CPD – learning from each other, sharing innovative work, how social media is a forum for sharing(conference participant).
In conclusion, as the material collected in this section demonstrates, the reflexive approach adopted by the project team has created space for both participants and contributors to engage with ideas, discuss, share and to provoke new understandings of each other’s digital practice.
22.214.171.124 Are we digital natives?
While as mentioned elsewhere in the Open Textbook (see 2.5.3 Digital Natives) the concept of “digital natives” has been subject to a significant amount of critique, it is evident that a number of project participants found it to be relevant when describing their own level of competence and confidence with digital literacy, especially in comparison with that of their learners. In particular, a number of participants felt that children had a definite advantage when it came to handling and using digital technologies, as can be seen below where a teacher was describing the approach of the children in her class towards iPads:
Children as young as 4 in reception were using them with ease, moving between apps and the home screen quickly and without concern for the equipment itself. They were confident and surprisingly competent (teacher participating in the project).
Nevertheless, Hague and Payton (2010) point out that it is important to recognise that these skills are not evenly spread amongst all young people, and that other factors such as gender, race and nationality can point to a ‘participation gap’. While the teachers focused on how competent the children seemed with technology, the PGCE students involved with the project went as far as to argue that their learners, even though only 5-6 years younger than themselves, belonged to a distinctly different generation. A number of students commented on the perceived difference between their attitudes towards technology and ways in which their pupils approached it:
Ten years ago touch screens were amazing to us, and yet these kids kind of take it in their strides, they are much more accepting of new technology… and its normal, a kind of standard where this year, computers can do this. (PGCE student)
For them [pupils] the world is technology, technology, technology, and they can’t imagine a time without mobile phones. (PGCE student)
The students felt that they had a professional obligation to keep up to date with their technological knowledge, but were often overwhelmed by the speed at which the the area was advancing:
… previously I thought I was digitally literate, but I have discovered that there are so many technologies out there to use that you can soon become outdated (PGCE student)
This sentiment was echoed in a teacher’s comment:
These are fast moving times in the digital world. Digital technology is rapidly developing on a daily basis, both in terms of hardware – where competing manufacturers race to outperform each other; and in terms of software – where the development of new apps, instantly delivered to mobile devices is a part of everyday life. Educators need to respond. (teacher participant)
At the same time, while both comments touch upon some concerns expressed by the teaching professionals, for the most part, the teachers involved with the project chose to embrace the challenge and to actively seek out learning opportunities, such as the DeFT project. This would illustrate Martin’s (2006) argument that digital literacy is not a “threshold” that can be arrived at, but more a continuum, and that learning continues to take place according to need.
When reflecting on their involvement with the DeFT project, the teachers acknowledged that the case studies took up a lot of classroom time, did not always map neatly onto the prescribed curriculum areas and at times were quite disruptive to the classroom. The curriculum in UK schools is characterised by an emphasis on the coverage of content coupled with the strong arm of accountability, with an emphasis on print literacy within the curriculum. One of the effects of this is a reduced opportunity to embed Digital Literacy practices or to accommodate them within the ongoing routines of the classroom. Teachers also mentioned that sometimes they would have to fight for recognition of their time as meaningful in terms curriculum as projects focusing on digital literacy would not be given the same priority more traditional projects leading to print-based, more tangible outputs. They argued it was often difficult to justify taking up two to three weeks of pupils’ time where the end result would seem disproportionate to the time and effort invested in producing for instance a one-minute video. While the teachers involved with the project were experienced professionals and did not seem daunted by these challenges, they nevertheless have to be acknowledged.
126.96.36.199 Participants’ definitions of digital literacy(ies)
Overall, participants had varying degrees of knowledge and involvement with digital technologies. Furthermore, they also demonstrated a range of understandings of the term ‘digital literacy’ echoing and informing the project’s discussion of what we mean by digital literacy and how current frameworks appear to be incomplete in relation to the practice that was observed. This has been articulated in this open textbook in 2.4 Mapping Digital Literacies in the DeFT Project as an explanatory framework that located digital literacy practices.
For some, the starting point was a definition of digital literacy as a set of skills that would enable pupils to use digital technologies confidently:
In order to fulfil our aim of embedding the use of digital equipment into our practice, nursery children need to know how to look after the equipment and have the skills to use the equipment independently in a purposeful way.(teacher involved in the project)
This approach is supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering (2012) who provide guidance for KS4 computing qualifications, where digital competence is defined as:
skills that teachers of other subjects at secondary school should be able to assume that their pupils have, as an analogue of being able to read and write (Royal Society, 2012:17).
Some teachers felt that developing digital literacy skills was a means towards allowing children some autonomy in their learning:
I think that one thing you can do in teaching is to look at how digital resources actually allow the students to become independent. (teacher involved in the project)
Similarly, another teacher talked about his use of digital vide recording to help pupils with additional learning needs to improve their communication skills, arguing that competence in using digital technologies was a vital skill:
It’s the world we are preparing them for, and it’s a multi-platform world, our job as educators is to teach them…. to survive the years after. (teacher involved in the project)
This issue concerns educators of all levels. Littlejohn et al (2012) argue that it is essential for higher and further education institutions to equip students with digital literacy skills to support ‘full political and social participation in society’. The NQT survey for 2012 indicates that although there has been a slight improvement in the past year, nearly a third of newly qualified teachers feel that support in ICT was satisfactory or sometimes poor. According to a report produced by JISC (2011):
Many learners enter further and higher education lacking the skills needed to apply digital technologies to education. As 90% of new jobs will require excellent digital skills, improving digital literacy is an essential component of developing employable graduates.
One participating tutor felt that the project addressed these issues, stating that as a result of their engagement with the project:
The students had improved their digital capability regardless of their starting points.(…)They have developed their digital imaginations as well as and as much as their capabilities. The project has left them with additional classroom ‘possibilities’. (PGCE tutor).
At the same time, project participants offered understandings of digital literacy which expanded the sometimes narrow focus on technical skills, as can be seen in the quote below:
We want pupils to be literate across different media platforms but do we aim to develop ‘transferable skills’ or is the situation far more complex and (is there) the need for multifaceted rather than discrete skills? (PGCE tutor).
On a related note, other teachers expressed their concern that the skills they were exploring with their pupils should not be treated as ‘stand alone’ events and should be integrated into their curriculum. One teacher said he was keen to encourage the pupils to apply their skills to new platforms and use their knowledge in a range of contexts. Similarly, one of the PGCE students commented that pupils needed to be able to focus not solely on enhancing their technological knowledge as a crucial skill which they needed to develop was the ability to cope with “assault of various different types of information all at once’’.
In this context, ‘literacy’ is used to refer to the acquisition of a set of technical skills relating to the digital e.g. the ability to access and use technologies, to locate and organise information digitally, to navigate the internet safely and so on. The texts themselves and the emphasis on digital literacy as a social practice become less central in this definition. There are overlapping interests …
I think that some sort of hybrid position might be the most judicious to adopt in this project, otherwise we could become enmeshed in endless debates about the two different strands, with their different provenance and varied theoretical frameworks.
The Royal Society (2012) Shut Down or Restart: The Way Forward for Computing in Schools. Accessed 28/1012 at: http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/education/policy/computing-in-schools/2012-01-12-Computing-in-Schools.pdf
188.8.131.52 Social networking and E-safety
Social networking in the form of blogging was widely used in the case studies, with one of the teachers explaining her rationale for embedding blogs within classroom practice:
You are not just creating a blog for the sake of it, you are going to share this blog with three other schools (…) you can see the standard of writing that other schools are maintaining and it pushes you to write that even better piece of work (…)you know you have got an audience, and you know you have got someone judging you, so I think that would improve the quality of work (teacher participating in the project).
Teachers and students in the project used blogs to establish national and international links with other schools, and to strengthen home school links. Individual blogs supporting the case studies proved to be very useful because as well as informing parents and guardians of their children’s activity, in some cases, they enabled children to post their reflections about the project outside of school times. Although there was no evidence to support the phenomena that Davies (2011) discovered that blogging was considered not ‘serious learning’, some blogs were more successful than others in engaging with outside audiences This depended on the habitus of the surrounding community. Parents/carers of a well off urban community were more willing to post than those from an inner-city multicultural area where English was not the first language for many.
Several issues to do with e-safety became evident in participants’ reflections. A major problem that teachers faced was the responsibility keeping children safe, protecting their privacy, and yet displaying their work on the web. On the second teacher meeting, a discussion took place concerning the ethics of placing children’s work on the web:
once you put an image, or a voice, or something out there, then it’s in a public space. Now it might be private, but in the future, that might be open to manipulation, and those images and things can be used in a way that can be manipulated…(teacher involved in project).
Another teacher who worked with children with special needs, reflected on the difficulties she had in explaining the project to them and their parents and the implications that this might have on their lives. She worried about informed consent.
how can I explain to them where it is going to be used and how its going to be used. they haven’t got the capacity to make that decision I don’t think. (teacher involved in project).
A teacher who was involved with Case Study 7 where children acted as digital reporters and taking photographs and blogging about the involvement of the entire school in the Camp Cardboard project as part of Sheffield Children’s Festival, reflected on children’s attitudes towards e-safety:
In some cases I was surprised how strict some of the children were regarding e-safety. They were very aware of many of the issues relating to posting personal information and photos online, based on previous work we had done. However, some of the responses made me wonder whether we had perhaps overstated the dangers of the internet – is it possible to scare children off the using the internet? There’s a fine line to tread between safety and paranoia. However, some of the responses made me wonder whether we had perhaps overstated the dangers of the internet – is it possible to scare children off the using the internet? There’s a fine line to tread between safety and paranoia. However, I also get the feeling that some of the children were telling us what they thought they wanted us to hear! (teacher involved in project).