Digital Literacy vs. Digital Fluency

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The rapid emergence of modern technologies had drastically changed the way the world works and the way in which information and knowledge is acquired. The internet generation (net geners) have begun to absorb information in new ways and have a limited tolerance for absorbing information which they could easily find through a Google search. Growing up digital “has encouraged this generation to be active and demanding inquirers - not passive consumers of media created for a mass audience” (Tapscott, 2008, p.18). The development of of these skills has been a coping mechanism to handle the information overload in the digital age.

"If it were possible to define generally the mission of education, it could be said that its fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, creative, and economic life” (New London Group, 2000).

Effectively preparing students to be successful in the twenty-first century involves a development of digital fluencies that go beyond just being able to use digital tools - they must become producers of content and be able to take advantage of peer-to-peer learning opportunities, have a changed attitude toward intellectual property, develop the skills valued in the modern workplace, and have a more empowered conception of citizenship. So what does it mean to be digitally fluent? There seems to be much discussion about digital literacy in schools today, but I don’t hear as much chatter about digital fluency. While literacy refers to knowing what tools to use and how to use them, to be considered fluent one must be able to reliably produce a desired outcome. Just like most students arrive knowing what a book or pencil is and have some idea how to use them, they still need guidance to become fluent with the tool.

Source: SociaLens Blog
An effective way to imagine the difference between literacy and fluency is to consider language. Developing fluency is like learning a foreign language: to be literate in that language means that you have learned some phrases and can share some basic ideas. However, to be fluent means the ability to create your own story and proficiently use the language in varying situations. Digitally fluent people are able create, re-mix, and share ideas through the use of technology. 
"The key idea is the ability to produce content rather than simply use technology" (Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011).
It is important to remember that literacy occurs on a spectrum and students don't simply become fluent after a single lesson. It takes time, practice, and continuing feedback much like the acquisition of most other skill sets. The Global Digital Citizen Foundation divides digital fluency into five categories: Information, Solution, Creativity, Collaboration and Media. The organisation has developed a structured framework to model the critical skills that today's students require to become digitally fluent.
Source: Global Digital Citizen Foundation
Great - yet another set of criteria I must integrate into my teaching.  Teachers are already juggling an array of criteria that must be covered through their programs. I currently must satisfy the demands of the MYP concepts, objectives, ATL skills, a national curriculum and the ISTE Standards. The last thing I need is another set of criteria that must be infused into my program. However, what I like about The Global Digital Citizen Foundation is that the fluencies listed are easily integrated into already existing programs. Instead of restructuring my units, I simply reviewed my program with these standards in mind to see which areas I deficient in. There are many large and small scale educational activities which can be integrated into current teaching practices to promote technology competence and digital fluency. The following is a brief collection of classroom activities and technology tools I collected to encourage the acquisition of digital fluencies using the five categories identified by The Global Digital Citizen Foundation:
Curated alongside: Costello, J., Hamilton, D., Langford, C., Stigall, J. (2016)
References Briggs, C. (2012). The Difference Between Digital Literacy and Digital Fluency. Retrieved from Costello, J., Hamilton, D., Langford, C., Stigall, J. & Turple, C. (2016). Digital Fluency in the Classroom. Retrieved from Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is not enough: 21st century fluencies for the digital age. Corwin Press.  Jukes, I. (2015). Global Digital Citizen Foundation. 21st Century Fluencies. Retrieved from New London Group (2000). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures in Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures, ed. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis. London: Routledge, p 9-38.

Digital Literacy is Crucial for Reading and Writing Instruction

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Literacy is known as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently, and think critically about a language. The emergence of new technologies has brought about a need for the addition of digital literacy which refers to the ability to select appropriate technological tools and use them effectively. Though digital literacy goes beyond the use of specific tools to encompass a whole set of skills needed to flourish in today’s technology rich environment. 
The Future Lab’s report Digital Literacy Across the Curriculum defines digital literacy as having “access to a broad range of practices and cultural resources that you are able to apply to digital tools. It is the ability to make and share meaning in different modes and formats; to create, collaborate and communicate effectively and to understand how and when digital technologies can best be used to support these processes.” (1) It’s about collaborating, staying safe and communicating effectively; it’s about cultural and social awareness and understanding; it’s about being creative.
Digital literacy can be envisioned as a number of interrelated components:
The Components of Digital Literacy from Futurelab report
However, the education systems - and schools on both sides of the digital divide - have been slow to adapt this new type of literacy in reading and writing instruction. Troy Hicks (Central Michigan University) and Kristen Hawley Turner (Fordham University) offer a passionate plea for teachers to incorporate technology in more meaningful ways in their article No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait (2). They offer some examples of how teachers commonly integrate technology tools in the classroom in an ineffective manner:
Hicks and Turner claim that educators should not just focus on students learning how to use specific technology tools, but we should be teaching students how to be literate across multiple forms of media and in a variety of contexts.
Students should be able to:
  • critically consume information and share across time and space
  • co-create and collaborate to solve problems
  • persevere in light of setbacks
  • maintain flexibility

Understanding how technologies enable new literacies and meaningful communication should be a core curricular and pedagogical function of English education (3). Henry Jenkins (MIT Media Lab) calls this ability to function in online networks a “participatory culture” which has a relatively low barrier to artistic expression and civic engagement (4). Benefits of this digital culture include peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude towards intellectual property, diversification of cultural expression, modern workplace skill development, and an empowered conception of citizenship. Jenkins further claims that participatory culture is the new “hidden curriculum” in schools.

Digital literacy is a crucial component in modern literacy instruction and is necessary for today’s students to be productive members of a digital world. Teachers should focus on the skills related to digital literacy, not specific tools which will soon be obsolete in the ever changing world of technology.

1. Hague, C. & Payton, S. (2010). Digital literacy across the curriculum. Bristol, England: Futurelab.
2. Hicks, T. & Turner, K. H. (2013). No longer a luxury: Digital literacy can’t wait. National Council of Teachers of English. English Education, 102(6), pp 58-65.
3. Grabill, J. T. & Hicks, T. (2005). Multiliteracies meet methods: The case for digital writing in English education. National Council of Teachers of English. English Education, 37(4), pp 301-311.
4. Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media Education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Using the Power of the Internet to Connect People

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Online performance artist Ze Frank's discusses his "web playroom" in the video below. Traditionally, art endevours have been transmissive and do not involve the audience, whereas Ze Frank utilizes technology to connect humans to one another. What resonated with me was his pursuit "to feel and be felt." This is not a new idea, but rather a long time need for humans which has been augmented by the development of new technologies. It is a concept I think our Generation Z students struggle with on a daily basis.
I find the idea of interactive art is very common in Asia. Around the city there are frequently art exihibtions which encourage interaction from the audience. Holiday decorations are even built as small cities meant to be walked through and experienced. Last November, there was a participatory show in Hong Kong called MURS described as an immersive, interactive outdoor Smart show.
This show really hit home with me because it brought a crowd of complete strangers together in an engaging manner. In a city like Hong Kong, with one of the highest population densities in the world, a place where you are NEVER alone (quite literally unless you are in your home) there is an overwhelming sense of disconnect among the people. I still cannot believe how lonely it can feel standing in a large crowd of people. Hong Kong is a city always on the go: people are in a rush to commute, aggressive to close a business deal, storefronts and buildings are in a constant renovation cycle, and the workforce is transient. All these factors contribute to a place where no one feels grounded and are aching to connect. I think this is one of the reasons an interactive show like this was so popular, and why art which brings people together goes viral.

In my eyes this is one of the greatest capabilities of new technologies for educational purposes. Teachers can transcend the walls of their classrooms to reach audiences around the globe. I have long been a fan of Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR Model which helps educators to think about HOW they are using technology. 

Is a technology just a different way of doing the same old task or it is adding something and transforming the learning experience? 
I often refer back to this model when working with teachers to help them move up the ladder. Technology seems a bit less daunting when there are clear goals laid out to assist tech integration.

Exploring Culture, Identity, and Representation through Art Education

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Culture is understood in Anthropology as the symbolic, ideational, and intangible aspects of human societies. The “essence of a culture is not its artifacts, tools, or other tangible cultural elements but how the members of the group interpret, use, and perceive them” (1). It is the values and beliefs based on knowledge and perceptions chosen and expressed through behaviour, image, and sound. According to my students, culture is about food and religion and clothing.
I realized that these slides my students created as part of a lesson on global issues are just the beginning of an authentic exploration of culture, identity, and representation. This realization was particularly important to explore on a more meaningful level in the multicultural learning environment of my school.
How are educators to challenge the assumptions surrounding culture?
How will we decide whose voices will be heard?

One approach to facilitate learning surrounding culture and identity is through art education. Art can provide us with a tangible object to discuss intangible concepts of identity, and help bring words and understanding to such abstruse constructs. Art is experienced through the senses and acts as a window into cultural representation. The representational power of art is intertwined with the interpretation of symbols used to communicate cognitive processes that are unique to each person. The creation of art can also be used to help students construct meaning surrounding culture and identity.

As an art educator, Stacy Friedman explores issues of racism through puppetry. She has students design, create and script puppets with a commentary on conflicts surrounding identity representations. She notes that the puppets “serve as sort of metaphorical Trojan horses helping us to enter into uncomfortable discourse through a seemingly benign medium” (2). Friedman’s intent is that the puppets open up a door to higher critical thinking and have the potential to become a mechanism for exploring the thoughts and voices of others. Art is an individual encounter based on the mental filters and prior experiences of a specific person.

French artist JR’s street art toys with identity by challenging preconceptions and reductive images propagated by advertising and the media. He work can be found in war-torn and conflict ridden areas of developing countries. JR snaps black and white portraits of local people and literally pastes blown up paper photocopies of these images in the streets. Powerful images of women were pasted around a slum in Kenya, Israeli and Palestinian portraits were placed next to one another in the Middle East, and portraits lined the streets of poor areas of India. JR does not explicitly explain the meaning of his art but instead allows the audience to interpret the art themselves by collecting the stories of those featured in his portraits. He also notes that his projects aid in the construction of his own mindset regarding culture and identity.

Shouldn't students become producers of art as an alternative to the traditional 
consumption-centred model to emancipate students from media bias 
and offer a different perspective of how meaning is created?
Authorship of media texts and tangible art can be applied to forms of critical analysis that “open up alternative positions from which students can think, debate, act” (3). Not only can art serve as a surrogate of abstract ideas surrounding culture, but the “truths” about identity and culture can be interrogated and constructed through the production of artifacts.
1. Banks, J.A., Banks, & McGee, C. A. (1989). Multicultural education. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
2. Friedman, S. (2004). Responsibility and re/presentation: Reflection on digital video and puppet-based inquiry.
3. Goldfarb, B. (2002). Students as producers. Visual pedagogy: Media cultures in and beyond the classroom (pp. 57-83). Durham: Duke University Press.

Online Privacy for Students in a Digital Age

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When I taught Grade 8 English, I always had my students write an autobiography at the beginning of the year to learn more about them. This past year I added a media focus by having students design a digital poster to represent themselves. The software to be used was left wide open - students could use anything from Microsoft Publisher to online digital poster software to simple Paint. I even gave student the option to publish their work online as visual resume or an page. My intention for this online option was to encourage students to begin building a positive online presence. It was not mandatory, but rather an option and platform for the students to showcase their accomplishments.  See my lesson instructions here:

We spoke as a class about what is and isn’t appropriate to post online.  However, I received mixed reactions from parents and my peers. Was this still too much information for students to post publicly? Should students under a certain age be anonymous on the internet? Should such online behaviours be encouraged by a school?

Where do we draw the line between creating a positive digital footprint and protecting children from the dangers of the internet? 

In a school which introduced a 1:1 laptop program and supports a tech-infused learning community dedicated to the principles of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), these are critical questions to be asked. And it seemed that no one knew the answers. My classroom project sparked a lively debate among educators at my school concerning what the students should and should not be doing online. On one side, it is important for schools to protect students from the dangers of the internet. On the other side, I think we could all admit that students with their own laptops and a constant wifi connection are visiting whatever sites they wish. Instead of hiding children from the internet, I feel it’s the role of the school to educate students on safe online behaviours. We can never teach someone swim from the deck of the pool. We of course shouldn’t push them into the water with no previous guidance, but instead assist them into the water with a suitable knowledge of what to do once in the water and how to react to unfavourable situations.  From my experience, educators often prematurely give students full reign of the internet after deciding technology is a beneficial tool for education. We essentially pushed students into the deep end without the necessary skills needed to stay afloat. Students need to be explicitly taught digital citizenship and have their online actions closely monitored while they are still learning appropriate online behaviour. See my follow-up lesson on online privacy here:

Access the lesson slides here

Please feel free to use any of these resources in your own teaching of online safety.

21st Century Teaching Means Collaboration

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The information age has broadened our accessibility to information and people. As technology and consequently approaches to education advance, the roles of the teacher and learner in the 21st century are drastically altered too.  

My emphasis as an educator has always been about collaboration. Even the most dedicated and hard-working teacher is not as effective and resourceful as two teachers collaborating. Working with others increases productivity, encourages critical brainstorming and problem solving, increases professional learning and offers a different perspective of the content to be taught.  I have consistently pushed cross-curricular projects within my school and modelled my instruction after what the Ontario Ministry of Education has coined Teaching-Learning Critical Pathways (TLCPs). It is through working closely beside others teachers that I have learned the most about teaching.

When it comes to collaboration in my classroom, I foster a cooperative learning environment for my students through group activities and exploration of topics. I strongly believe that all people learn more in a social setting where they are encouraged to questions and test their ideas instead of a more traditional rote-style learning setting. Learners are encouraged to interact with one another, share ideas and work together to complete tasks and solve problems.  However, traditional teaching methods do not often incorporate collaborative learning and often it is viewed as ‘cheating’. Yet 21st century teaching requires a re-imagining of what learning should look like. If students are unable to share information with one another and discuss their ideas, then perhaps it is the assignment that is flawed and not the cooperative nature of the students. Teachers must re-evaluate where assignments lie on Blooms Taxonomy. If the sharing of answers between students defeats the purpose of the assignment, the task itself needs to be changed so students have the opportunity to analyse, synthesize and evaluate topics instead of simply regurgitating facts and ideas. 

For me, 21st teaching and learning is all about collaboration. Collaboration among teachers (in-person and online) and collaboration between students.

When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do

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What do good readers do? 
This is a difficult question for any person to answer, as reading comprehension is an invisible process for the most part. A struggling reader cannot see the reading comprehension strategies a strong reader uses when reading. Struggling readers can’t see their classmates re-read, make personal connections, visualize, or make inferences. As a teacher, it is important to make such processes visible in the classroom. Educators must model reading strategies, allow collaborative discussions about reading, and provide opportunities for repeated practice of making meaning of texts.
Recently I read Kylene Beers’ text “When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do - A Guide for Teachers 6-12” in an attempt to better my teaching practices surrounding reading.
Beers lists practical, easy to integrate pre-reading, during reading, and after-reading strategies that educators can implement in their own classroom. She draws on over 20 years of personal experience as both a teacher and reading specialist to share what she has learned and shows teachers how to help struggling readers with:
  • comprehension
  • vocabulary
  • fluency
  • word recognition
  • student motivation
See the following Google Doc for my detailed notes on this textbook.