Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education #altc

For three days last week I participated in #altc (the Association for Learning Technology Conference) at the University of Warwick — attending in person for the first time after participating virtually for several years. It was a joy to meet so many online friends and colleagues for the first time and to take part in such an inspiring programme of events.

I was very grateful to be asked to give one of the keynotes at the conference. It was an honour to keynote along with Audrey Watters, an educator whose work, integrity, and friendship I value greatly. And a privilege also to speak along with Jeff Haywood. The innovative work being done at (and shared openly by) the University of Edinburgh in the area of online and open learning is important for all of us in higher education.

My keynote was titled Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education, drawing on a metaphor from Seamus Heaney. Links to the keynote and related items are included here.

Summary of the keynote [Medium]
Summary of photos, images, tweets [Storify]
Presentation slides [Slideshare] (also shown below)
Video recording [ALT YouTube channel]
Times Higher Education article
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Many thanks also to Bryan Mathers @bryanmmathers and Simon Thomson @digisim for creating several beautiful images during the keynote. These are included below, with links to Bryan’s and Simon’s sites. Please check out their sites for other wonderful work, both from #altc and other events.

Finally, thanks to all of the organisers, the co-chairs, the presenters and participants for such a warm welcome and for making ALTC 2014 such an enjoyable and stimulating learning experience. It will stay with me for a long time to come.

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“Catherine Cronin keynote” by Digisim is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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“Education is Changing” by Bryan Mathers (Flickr) is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

“Education is Changing” by Bryan Mathers is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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“The Learning Black Market” by Bryan Mathers is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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Enacting digital identity

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When we ask our students to share online — in a discussion forum within an LMS; in a wiki, course blog, Google Doc or Facebook group; on Twitter or anywhere on the open web — we are inviting not just online interaction but an enactment of each student’s digital identity. Involvement in or resistance to online interaction is largely rooted in ideas and beliefs about identity, privacy, voice, authenticity and power. These ideas and beliefs may be articulated easily or they may previously be unreflected, but they will be invoked each time we ask students to participate online.

As connected educators, it is essential that we think deeply about digital identity — both our own and our students’.

In previous posts, I’ve shared some of my ideas about exploring digital identities with students (Exploring digital identities, Resources for exploring digital identity, privacy and authenticity and Learning and teaching digital literacies). However, when asked recently to facilitate a discussion about digital identity with academic staff as part of the NUI Galway Learning Technologies module #cel263 (short presentation below), I opted not to share specific practices, but instead share some of the key ideas and resources which have helped me to reflect on my own ideas about digital identity and develop my learning and teaching.

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In research on social networking within education, for example, Keri Facer and Neil Selwyn (2010) found that students saw a clear divide between “social interaction” and “educational interaction” on social networking sites, based on existing educational assumptions that “learning is organised around the individual and… oriented around content rather than process”. However, this may be changing. In their review of the research, Facer and Selwyn concluded that educators might need to “pay attention to social networking sites as important for the social construction of identity, including personal, social and learner identity”.

IRL

IRL is the international abbreviation for Ireland as well as the acronym for In Real Life…

A key concept in considering digital identity is the relation between the physical world and the digital world, the organic and the technological. Nathan Jurgenson has written extensively about this, coining the term digital dualism to refer to the notion, held by many, of a clear separation between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’.  Jurgenson refutes digital dualism:

“…our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical, all at once. We are not crossing in and out of separate digital and physical realities, a la The Matrix, but instead live in one reality, one that is augmented by atoms and bits. And our selves are not separated across these two spheres as some dualistic “first” and “second” self, but is instead an augmented self. A Haraway-like cyborg self comprised of a physical body as well as our digital profile, acting in constant dialogue. Our Facebook profiles reflect who we know and what we do offline, and our offline lives are impacted by what happens on Facebook…”

Regarding digital identity and digital dualism, as educators we must be willing to critically examine our own assumptions as well as the expectations of our students. Are my online and offline identities enmeshed? Is my online identity reflective only of my professional self, or of me in other contexts as well? How comfortable am I with sharing online — with colleagues, students, an unknown audience? How comfortable are my students? How does the power differential in the educator-student relationship affect the enactment of our digital identities in online spaces? Important questions such as these must be explored. Embracing the notion of an augmented self does not preclude critical analysis of differences in the online/offline experiences of space, time, visibility, privacy and power.

Considerations of digital identity are personal and individual. Yet we negotiate them daily in the enactment of our digital identities — as individuals, citizens, learners and educators. Inviting our students to interact online is not a simple or neutral act. We invite more than just the sharing of information and opinions — we invite an enactment of digital identity in all its complexity. As Facer and Selwyn (2010) conclude:

“…learners need to practice and experiment with different ways of enacting their identities, and adopt subject positions through different social technologies and media. These opportunities can only be supported by academic staff who are themselves engaged in digital practices and questioning their own relationships with knowledge.”

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Additional resources were considered and discussed during the presentation and ensuing discussion, including the following contributions from danah boyd, Bonnie Stewart, Chris “moot” Poole, Alan Levine, Neil Selwyn, Howard Rheingold and Rhona Sharpe, Helen Beetham & Sara de Freitas (as shown below). My thanks to all.

Social Network Sites as Networked Publics by danah boyd @zephoria (2010)

Digital Identities: Six Key Selves of Networked Publics by Bonnie Stewart @bonstewart (2012)

High Order Bit by Chris “moot” Poole @moot (2011) at Web 2.0 Summit

We, Our Digital Selves, And Us – YouTube (2012) by Alan Levine @cogdog (2012)

Social Media in Higher Education by Neil Selwyn @neil_selwyn (2012)

Social Media Literacies syllabus by Howard Rheingold @hrheingold (2012)

Rethinking Learning for a Digital Age: How Learners are Shaping Their Own Experiences, by Rhona Sharpe, Helen Beetham & Sara de Freitas (2010)

Image source: CC BY-NC-ND Will Foster

Exploring digital identities

In previous posts, I have shared some of the resources I use for exploring digital identity and digital literacies with students (e.g. Resources for exploring digital identity, privacy and authenticity and Learning and teaching digital literacies). All of these resources and approaches have been developed through my work with 2nd year Computer Science and IT students as part of a Professional Skills module.

This year we are using an open course blog to share our work. Instead of preparing and posting static presentations as class notes, I prepare a blog post after class each week, summarizing what we explored and discussed. Students and others are free to comment and engage in discussion on the blog. Later this term, the course blog also will link to student blogs, as these are developed. We also have a course Twitter account @CT231 which you are invited to follow — or simply check our course hashtag #ct231.

This week’s class on Exploring Digital Identities was fascinating. Students engaged in reflection and discussion both in class and online. We were joined online (via Twitter) by Bonnie Stewart, whose excellent blog post Digital Identities: Six Key Selves of Networked Publics we analysed. The discussion continued on Twitter and on our blog with contributions from @sharonlflynn, @marloft, @tweety4bird and @fboss (so far). Many thanks to you all! Please check out our blog (link below) and feel free to join the conversation — we welcome your thoughts.

>> CT231 Week 6: Exploring Digital Identities

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Image source: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 KayVee.INC

Connecting & learning in schools: students, teachers and parents

On a sunny, blustery afternoon here in Kinvara, I’ve just returned from an uplifting meeting with teachers at our local primary school. Nearly every year for the past 8  years, I’ve participated in information evenings for parents, speaking about internet safety issues related to social networks popular at the time (e.g. Bebo, Club Penguin, YouTube and most recently Facebook) – for example Our Children Online workshops. This year, when asked to give a similar talk, I hesitated. I explained that I simply couldn’t focus on “internet safety” without also discussing social media in the context of learning – for students, teachers and parents.

So today I met with teachers, as a parent and as a fellow educator. We discussed how learning has changed enormously, particularly in the past decade, through technologies such as broadband and wireless internet access, YouTube, Wikipedia, social networking, and open access to education resources. The trend towards learning that is more open, mobile and social provides many opportunities for more authentic learning, at every level of education. Social media, in essence, breaks down the walls of the classroom – the world becomes the classroom, children can become one another’s teachers, and teachers can facilitate deep learning experiences.

Of course there are challenges. Resources are scarce: for faster internet access, for more computers and devices, and for training. None of us were taught to learn nor to teach in these ways.  We rely on our PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) for information, ideas, inspiration, encouragement and support. And we can use tools like Twitter to build those essential networks of support.

I posted a question on Twitter earlier today, inviting messages to our session in Kinvara, using the #kinedu hashtag. Our thanks to all who took the time to say hello and to send encouragement. As I explained to those of our group who are new to Twitter, just this small sample of tweets conveys the warmth, humour and encouragement available on Twitter – plenty of encouragement to begin building a PLN! :)

During our session today we explored Twitter and blogs, checking out some wonderful work by students and teachers in Ireland and beyond, including the #edchatie Twitter chat and community; @MrsBellsClass Junior Infants class on Twitter; @DeputyMitchell‘s QuadBlogging initiative; and Heathfield school students talking about blogging (a great response to this video!). A list of resources which we explored today is below. This is just a starter – please feel free to suggest other resources in the comments so that we can add to this list.

I was simply inspired by the enthusiastic response of the teachers today. “How do hashtags work?”, “How can I get Twitter on my phone?”, and “What can I do with my students on Monday morning?” were some of the questions. Our session ended with lively discussion, plenty of laughter, and promises to check out Twitter, blogging, Google Reader and more. I look forward now to meeting with parents, and to continuing to participate in these essential discussions between teachers, parents and students. We communicate, we connect and we learn.

Finally, several of us will be attending the ICT in Education Conference in LIT Tipperary (Thurles) on May 19th. The theme is “Learning Spaces” and with keynotes by Ira Socol (@irasocol) and Pam Moran (@pammoran) and workshops by many Irish educators it promises to be a great event. Hope to see many of you there!

Resources explored today (Twitter, blogs and more) particularly relevant for schools:

@SeomraRanga  |  @IrishTeachers  |  @NL_84   |  @fboss  |  @sccenglish  |  @thefrogblog  |  @Parents_GortCS 

@DeputyMitchell  |  @TheHeadsOffice  |  @ShellTerrell  |  @kvnmcl  |  @MrWejr  |  @gcouros  |  @InnovativeEdu   

Irish Teacher Blogs – aggregate of blog posts by educators in Ireland

Anseo.net – monthly magazine-style website, edited by Irish primary teachers @simonmlewis and @rozzlewis

SeomraRanga.com – blog run by Damien Quinn, primary teacher in Sligo, sharing a wealth of resources for the primary school classroom

Coderdojo.com lists all Coder Dojo clubs in Ireland and abroad – great new initiative for young people to learn how to code

NetFamilyNews.org – excellent site for advice on technology and internet safety, edited by Anne Collier

Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum – collection of resources for schools, published by CommonSenseMedia.org

A Parents’ Guide to Facebook (2012 edition) – published by NetFamilyNews.org

Great blog post by danah boyd (@zephoria on Twitter) about parents helping their kids to violate Facebook’s 13+ rule.

Stephen Heppell’s resources on using mobiles, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. in the classroom

What schools are really blocking when the block social media (DML Central, January 2012)

Sincere thanks to all of the teachers and the principal at St. Joseph’s National School, Kinvara.

Kinvara image: used with permission

Resources for exploring digital identity, privacy and authenticity

At the CESI (Computers in Education Society of Ireland) conference last weekend (#cesi12), I presented ‘Social networking with our students: digital identity, privacy and authenticity’. A number of people have asked for details of the articles and resources I referenced, so here are both the presentation and a summary of resources.

Digital identity, privacy & authenticity – #CESI12

[=> presentation updated 18/04/12]  The presentation is based on student work in a Professional Skills module, in a 2nd year BSc Computer Science and IT programme (see our Scoop.it for additional resources). The module aims to help students to improve their research and communication skills. Students gain experience in writing and presenting, both online and in class. Together we explore digital identity, privacy, social media, openness, copyright and Creative Commons.

Authentic learning is at the heart of the module. It is unrealistic to believe that students can learn or practice modern communication skills effectively in a traditional academic situation — i.e. submitting assignments individually to a lecturer, in an essentially private transaction. Communication today, particularly for IT academics and professionals, often takes place in open, online environments: discussion boards, social networks, blogs, wikis, etc. Ideas can be presented, discussed and defended; collaboration and feedback are enabled; better solutions can be found. To make the most of communicating in these different modes, in different media, a good understanding of digital identity and privacy is essential.

My CESI presentation focused on our use of Twitter, and particularly Google+, in autumn 2011 as an environment within which to discuss digital identity and privacy. Following is a summary of resources which we found useful, thought-provoking, interesting.

Search for your digital footprint
Resources

This Is Me is an excellent set of learning materials about digital identity, produced by the This Is Me project and modified by Nancy White, Shirley Williams, Sarah Fleming and Pat Parslow.

danah boyd’s (@zephoria) work is essential reading for anyone seeking a deep understanding of digital identity, privacy and social networking, with a particular focus on young people. In her 2010 paper, Social network sites as networked publics, boyd identified 4 key attributes of information which exists (about us) online, i.e. it is persistent, replicable, scalable and searchable.

The private/public debate is fascinating, and one in which students can actively engage. For example, while Mark Zuckerberg has asserted that sharing or “public” is the new social norm, 4chan founder Christopher Poole argues that anonymity allows users to reveal themselves in a “completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way”.

Helen Keegan (@heloukee) is a recognised expert in the areas of digital identity, digital media, social networking and learning. Keegan has written of the “tyranny of authenticity”, particularly in the dynamic between students and educators, and the challenge of authenticity in the context of higher education.

Videos

TED Talk: Beware Online Filter Bubbles by Eli Pariser

TED Talk: “moot” (on Anonymity) by Christopher Poole

I Know What You Did Five Minutes Ago by Tom Scott  (many of my students enjoyed this video — possibly better for older students)

Books

Eli Pariser (2011) The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You — The “filter bubble” concept is a great one to explore with students of almost any age; Pariser’s TED Talk is excellent and accessible, and the related website has useful tips.

Jeff Jarvis (2011) Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live — Jarvis, espousing extreme “publicness”, acknowledges that fear accompanies the adoption of any new technology and notes that “we will make a lot of mistakes as we develop social norms around how to treat information online”.

Sherry Turkle (2011) Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less from Each Other — Turkle has received praise and criticism for this book, in which she maintains that democracy requires that we retain a “zone of privacy” around the individual.

We’d love to hear about additional resources which you have found useful.

Students, peer learning, and Google+

Two groups of higher education students in Ireland — IT Professional Skills at NUI Galway and Emerging Technologies & Trends at LIT-Clonmel — are engaged in a collaborative project using Google+. We are now midway through the project.

As described in my previous blog post, 2nd year students in IT Professional Skills (#ct231) develop research, writing and presentation skills, but the foundation of the module is the exploration and development of digital literacies. Students explore digital identity, changing definitions of privacy, search personalisation, social media, social networking, social bookmarking, and curating information.

When I learned that Bernie Goldbach was teaching a similar module (#litet) at LIT-Clonmel, and each of us planned to use Google+, we agreed to suggest a collaborative activity to our students. Both groups of students agreed to give it a try.

We began simply by creating a shared circle and outlining a joint assignment with specific discussion questions. For the past ten days, students have been posting ideas, reflections, links and comments on topics including privacy, digital identity, useful tech tools, and the use of social media in education. Students are referencing work by danah boyd, Jeff Jarvis, Cory Doctorow, Rey Junco, Eli Pariser and Ken Robinson, among others.

The most powerful aspect of the activity is the peer learning which is taking place. The dynamic is one of conversation and exploration. The asynchronous nature of the discussion allows reflection; engaging conversations are taking place over several days. Some students post public comments on Google+, and some post only to our shared circle. Interestingly, in this activity we are both practicing and teasing out the issues surrounding online privacy and digital identity.

What do students think? Below is a collection of student voices on the topics we are discussing, as well as opinions on Google+ itself. Students will be producing their own digital media creations later in the term — I look forward to sharing links to many of these.

We welcome your thoughts, feedback or questions: #ct231 and #litet on Twitter; #ct231 and #litet on Google+.

Student voices: Privacy and digital identity

“There is considerable debate about whether or not young people care about online privacy. Well as a young person I am very concerned about privacy and controlling the information I share online. I am very specific about what I want to make public about myself and even then I try to restrict who has access to that information.”

“I decided since Jeff Jarvis took interest in our work, I would return the favour and view his opinions on Privacy.”

“Just read an article online about privacy in the digital era. It’s amazing to see how the definition of privacy differs between people, companies, marketers etc… I never really appreciated the extent of how privacy influences an individual’s online experience. Privacy in itself is a fluid concept and users are not likely to read the privacy policy for each site mainly due to its length, this means users are placing a lot of trust in sites and effecting how comfortable they are socialising online.”

“‘Filter bubble’ is a new term to me since I started the CT231 module this September… The Filter Bubble is minimising the connections we can have and minimising the information we can share and, in turn, shared with us. IMO, to truly enjoy the Internet to its full potential, we must break out of our filter bubbles.”

“Before I started Professional Skills, I had little or no knowledge of the term ‘digital identity’. As I researched the topic, I slowly realised how much my digital identity affects me and will affect me in the future.  A shocking example is how employers commonly search for your online digital identity when you are in the running for a job. This is even more evident for the IT sector, where one could imagine the employers would have the relevant know-how to search for ones digital identity.”

“I do believe though that more of an effort should be made to educate users on the importance of online privacy but at the end of the day I guess it’s up to the individual how public or private he/she wants his/her social network to be.”

Student voices: Social media in education

“I think that using social media in the classroom is a great resource for students. If a student is working on an assignment and they don’t understand something, who better to ask then to ask the lecturer who set the assignment! Twitter allows this question to be posted instantly, the lecturer or indeed another student would be very prompt in their response. Twitter allows lecturers to instantly share their ideas or websites or posts that they have just discovered themselves with students, instead of having to wait until the next lecture. It can also allow people who are not in the class to engage in the classroom discussion, possibly including sources they know about or their opinion on a topic. Twitter lets the classroom open up and engage to a world full of people with experience and knowledge.”

“I have also noticed how well this particular class have taken to our use of Twitter and Google + to complete our assignments. It definitely feels like less of a chore when doing assignments on a social media site.”

“Students are willing to take on Facebook as an educational tool as well as a social one, whereas there is a reluctance amongst faculty members to do so. [This] mirrors the actions of our first year class, where most students welcomed the group, no faculty members did.”

“I agree there should be a more prominent link between sites like Khan Academy and social media sites. I’ve no doubt that in the future more sites like this will be established for the next generation of students to ensure even greater online collaboration between them and lecturers from all over the world.”

“I find sites like YouTube offer a great step by step solution to any questions you might have where the highlights from lectures are posted and are rated based on their quality. Recently our class has begun to use more social networking sites like Facebook and tools like DropBox to share notes and keep up to date with lectures I found this to be a great benefit in studying and managing my work.”

“Schools and colleges discourage students to go on their social networking sites during college/school hours by banning the sites on their computers. Yes, social networks could be a very distracting site for students while in school, but there are also many educational values to these social networks. I have a firsthand experience using social networks for educational purposes with this module and I feel that if more colleges and schools did it, using social networks for education could potentially rise by a high percentage.”

“I have only been a Dropbox user for an hour now and I have fallen in love with it.”

“Dropbox is an amazing site which enables you to save files and easily access them online. Since I have started to use the site I have found myself relying on it more and more. Before my introduction to the site, I would continually find myself in situations where I wanted to work on a project, but couldn’t due to the fact that my documents were stored on a computer at home or in college. Because of Dropbox, I am no longer faced with this problem. I look forward using the site for other reasons in the near future also. As we will be faced with many group work projects throughout the college year, I can imagine that it will be extremely useful to be able to share a folder as a group where we upload our part of the project as we do it.”

“I think a really big aid in learning these days is video tutorials. There are countless videos available on YouTube covering every aspect of every subject. It is really useful to be able to stop a lesson/lecture that is difficult to grasp at a certain point and rewind back and watch it again. I find it way easier to pick up a new concept if I am learning it through video as opposed to through a traditional classroom setting, or from reading textbooks. There is no pressure to grasp the concepts before the lecture moves on, maybe that is another factor that makes learning through video seemingly easier. The best videos I’ve found are from Khan Academy.”

Student voices: Using Google+

“I am liking Google+, I didn’t think I would like to make the transition from Facebook to Google+ but now I’m seeing that Google+ has all the best features from Facebook and a lot more good ones from other social networks.”

“I really dislike Google+ I have been using it since beta and have found that Facebook is much easier to navigate and share information, Google+ looks clean but I prefer Facebook’s layout, it is also restrained because you cannot create events and Facebook pages on certain topics and people. There are more options with Facebook although there may be issues with privacy.”

“I must admit at first I wasn’t overwhelmed by Google+ when initially joined. Facebook has become the norm for my social networking activates and trying to change over to Google+ felt like just what it was, an assignment for college. However, over the last couple of days Google+ has really grown on me. I like the idea of separating people into circles, social circles, academic circles and Career circles. Google+ is like a crossbred social network, trying to combine all the best bits from other social networks such as twitter and Facebook.”

Google+ seems to be more universal as in people will be able to use it for a lot more than just talking to friends (like Facebook), the idea of setting up different circles for different areas of your life will be very useful.”

“When I began to use Google+ I was instantly impressed by how we could filter the information that we wanted to share through the use of circles. I felt more secure in the fact that we could post something jokingly to friends and not be embarrassed when older relatives or people it was not intended to be viewed by see it.”

Image (created for @purposeducation): CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Josie Fraser  
 

PeLC11 workshops: valuable takeaways

As described in my previous post, the Plymouth eLearning Conference (PeLC11) offered a wealth of opportunities for learning and connecting with other educators. In the month since the conference, my own reflections and conversations with others have highlighted the relevance (for me, at least) of four of the workshops. These are recorded below, for future reference.

Writing for the Web ~ Matt Lingard @mattlingard

In his practical workshop Writing for the Web, Matt provided plenty of useful information as well as inviting us to apply the ideas to our own work.  Among the concepts Matt shared were the F-shaped reading pattern on the web and the journalists’ inverted pyramid. Another takeaway was the importance of a blog post title. Most people see only this; it is the basis on whether readers will click through to read the post — or not!

eSafety ~ Simon Finch @simfin

Simon began his session with a powerful video (based on a Rhianna music video) on social media and the mixed messages received by young people. Even more useful, for sharing with educators and parents, are 3 short videos recorded by Simon at the conference on the topic of eSafety at schools: Use of Social Media and mobile devices in schools ; New teacher behaviours ; and Acceptable use policies (AUPs) in schools. Thanks for these useful and sharable resources, Simon!

Creating a Community of Learners Online ~ Lynn Boyle @boyledsweetie

Lynn Boyle from the University of Dundee spoke about her experiences in creating a community of learners online. I missed Lynn’s workshop, but enjoyed speaking with her about what she’s learned about creating community online using informal, weekly webinars. Lynn recorded two terrific videos at the conference, which I have since shared with all of our online facilitators on the online MScSED programme at NUI Galway. Thanks, Lynn — and thanks for photo, too!

Creating a Community of Learners Online – part 1

Creating a Community of Learners Online – part 2

               

Social Media Develops Academic Literacy Skills ~ Bex Lewis @digitalfprint

Dr. Bex Lewis from the University of Winchester spoke how Social Media Develops Academic Literacy Skills. The presentation was based on her experiences teaching a “Manipulating Media” module focusing on critical thinking, evaluating sources, referencing, analytical and critical writing, and self-directing learning. Social media tools were integrated throughout the module — to considerable success. This is an excellent presentation, filled with useful links for further reference.

A Digital Generation?

The first of the IT Sligo/NDLR Teaching and Learning Webinars of 2011 was yesterday’s Separating Fact from Fiction in the Digital Generation Discourse by Dr. Mark Bullen. Based at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver, Mark Bullen writes the NetGenSkeptic blog.

Bullen summarised the Digital Generation discourse, based originally on Marc Prensky’s (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants (ideas later updated in his Digital Wisdom paper, 2009). The prevailing discourse holds that young people generally have a different understanding of technology and consequently have different expectations of education. Bullen’s research challenges this. He believes that “using age or generation as a variable isn’t useful”, as it hides intra-generational differences and ignores second level digital divides. Because of these weaknesses, Bullen believes that the Digital Generation discourse should not be used by schools and higher education institutions as it has been — to inform educational policy.

Bullen did not directly challenge Prensky (whom he considers a “futurist”) but did challenge many researchers who have published work which supports the Digital Generation discourse. Bullen’s own research has not found significant differences between young and older respondents in terms of technology use, proficiency, or learning preferences. During the webinar, he cited the work of other researchers who have challenged the Digital Generation discourse including Bennett, et al (2008 & 2010), Ipsos Reid (2007), and Margaryan & Littlejohn (2008). Bullen particularly commended David White’s Digital Visitors and Digital Residents principle, formulated as a critique of the Digital Native/Digital Immigrant dichotomy, which defines a continuum from Digital Visitors (who use the web as a tool) to Digital Residents (who have an online persona which is a crucial part of their identity).

This was an engaging webinar and made me reflect on a couple of important questions: the persistence of the Digital Generation discourse and definitions of digital literacy.

While supporting Bullen’s (and others’) challenges to the Digital Generation discourse, I’ve found that many people find resonance in Prensky’s original metaphor. I’ve used Prensky’s article as a discussion starter when teaching in a variety of contexts (never fails!). In Internet Awareness & Safety workshops for parents, for example, I’ve presented the Digital Native/Digital Immigrant concept. Despite explaining that the idea is hotly contested, I’ve seen faces light up with recognition: “Ah, it’s not just me!”. The ensuing discussion can acknowledge this, while steering away from essentialist assumptions about learning and ability. Rather than age being the defining factor, perhaps it is simply opportunities for informal learning. Many young people have both the opportunities and motivation to learn about ICTs: social networking, gaming, access to music and videos, etc. Not all young people have these, of course — and this is one of the main arguments against the Digital Generation discourse. Yet even in 2011, there are still many adults who have not had the opportunities to develop a proficiency with ICTs. For these adults, the Digital Generation metaphor can be initally reassuring — they see themselves as one of many in the same boat. From that place of reassurance, a renewed motivation to learn and develop their ICT skills can arise.

Brian Mulligan, in introducing Mark Bullen yesterday, said he was attracted to Bullen’s NetGenSkeptic blog because he could not resolve the lack of digital literacy he observed in the 3rd level classroom with the prevalent Digital Generation discourse. In the first phase of Bullen’s research, the majority of respondents described themselves as having “high” digital literacy. There was no significant difference between the responses of young and older respondents. The definition of digital literacy is crucial here. Many people who might describe themselves as highly digitally literate may actually demonstrate poor literacy in the form of weak information search skills, poor critical analysis of online media, etc. I think it’s important to unpick “digital literacy” as a concept, and explore the specific differences among and between learners so that we as educators can address these.

At the end of the webinar, Mark Bullen explained that his latest work on Digital Learners is moving beyond a  critique of the Digital Generation discourse, towards exploring the relationship between social and educational uses of ICTs among post-secondary students. This sounds intriguing and valuable — I will stay tuned!

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