Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What is Literacy?

So what is Literacy? Why, it's about readin' and writin' of course. Right?

Actually I think the answer is yes, but I was intrigued by the points brought out in the blogs I read and the videos I watched this week. First of all, before I define 'literacy' I want to define 'technology.' Because there seems to be some confusion in the EdTech community at large. One person in the video seemed to suggest that technology equals computers. That is wrong, in my opinion. When the pencil was invented, it was ground-breaking technology. At one point, overhead projectors were 'the latest technology.' Any tool that teachers use in the classroom is in some way 'technology.' 'Modern technology,' or '21st Century technology' refers to the tools we are talking about in this class; and the tools we need to master to obtain the degree we are studying. That's fine, but let's not dismiss older tools just because they are not cool enough.

So using technology to teach means something much greater than putting MS Word on the computers, upgrading to Windows 7, or buying an iPad for all of the students. 'Using technology' is the art of incorporating all of the available tools in the classroom, in a way that expands knowledge, differentiates between learners, and involves the parents and community. After all, that is what the students will need to do in their adult lives, right?

Sometimes, a book is the perfect tool to use. Sometimes, a worksheet is the most efficient way to involve everyone. Other times, one would be crazy not to use web tools to help students collaborate effectively. My point is there is no one tool for every one task. In fact, relying on modern technology to do our teaching for us is a critical mistake, in my opinion.

Personally -- and my experience is limited -- I like to keep the students guessing. I might use the web for a certain task, but revert to the textbook for a similar task in a different unit. To me, teaching literacy is helping students learn to use all of these tools.

Still, the foundation of reading and writing must not be overlooked. Students in the 21st Century have no lack of social media experience. They need no help in sending email, uploading graphics or commenting on posts. In fact, they need no help in searching for whatever their wondering eyes might be tempted to see on the Internet. But I digress. What students do not regularly receive are prompts on reading, comprehension, and writing skills. They know how to text, but they cannot write a simple essay. They know jargon, but too often they do not know how to communicate, especially one-on-one.

Computers draw us away from each other, into our own little worlds. This might be cool, but it can easily become unhealthy. Although we must sharpen technological skills for our students, we must make sure they are learning and understanding the importance of those foundational skills that will help them stand out from the Facebook crowd.

Yes, I'm talking about readin' and writin'. The 21st Century model would suggest that those skills can be learned on a computer; and since that is the tool they will use as adults, that is the best way to prepare them for the real world. Well, they can learn to read on a computer, but should we get rid of all books? Students can learn to type, but do we dare abandon the pencil and paper? Are these the trends of the near future? Are they healthy trends?

I think those questions need to be seriously asked and debated in the EdTech community.

Finally, I have very few man-crushes in my life, LOL. My wife tells me I have a man-crush on Adam Bellow. He is a EdTech guru from New York that is possibly the most dynamic and informative speaker on the subject. Here is 15 minutes of brilliance from Adam at a conference he spoke at in 2011. I saw his keynote at METC last year, and I was blown away. If you want to know the EdTech guy that influences me the most, it's Adam Bellow.


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  2. Hi Robert. I enjoyed reading your post. You made some really good points. I agree that the very foundation of communication is not associated with technology. However, I think you have to consider the possibilities that are afforded to students through the internet and technology. Sure collaborating with each other is possible but what about collaborating globally? I know teachers who have used Skype in the classroom to communicate and collaborate with students around the world. That isn't exactly "their own little world." I think you are referring to social networks. OH THE POWER OF USING ALL CAPS. That's where we come in as teachers and facilitators. We cannot expect our students to know the implications of leaving a digital footprint unless we teach them. And we can't expect that they will understand the global impact of technology unless we involve them. No more than we could expect to teach students to read by just handing them a book. I don't think we're talking abandonment, I think it's about embracing.

  3. Oh, the joys of evolving technology! And with that... the evolution of how we educate. I have seen some of your concerns with technology hindering a student's traditional literacy by replacing words with symbols and acronyms, or choosing video games that you communicate in a virutal world, which I guess could be called social literacy. The use of digital resources provides new opportunity to be digital, global citizens. It provides more opportunity to educate and provide guidelines for appropriateness, quality, and expectation. While students have more access to the internet and social networking than ever before, what a wonderful chance we have to influence and shape the values and skills we want each student to have when it comes to the digital community!

  4. "Computers draw us away from each other, into our own little worlds." I understand what you say this, but to play the devil's advocate, I disagree. Computers, the internet and social media specifically, have allowed students to connect on a global basis. In virtual worlds, such as Second Life ( students can use avatars to communicate, collaborate, and use their critical thinking skills and creativity to interact, build, and establish communities. Is this a bad thing? I'm thinking it all comes down to balance. I remember as a child my mother requiring 1/2 hour of piano practice before I was permitted to watch TV. Maybe this needs to be modified in our society today to include playing outside before sitting in front of any type of screen.

  5. You guys all make good points; and you all seem to agree on the global connections aspect. Skype is a great tool, but if I can I would rather bring a speaker or group into the classroom to talk to the students. You say we're making global connections, but are we really? We're talking through a computer; and to me that's not much of a connection. Is it better than nothing? Yes, I'm arguing that just because it's "new" and "cool" doesn't mean we abandon "older" tools. Also, I have to worry about equipment and bandwidth. Not every classroom or school is equipped with the latest technology. The bottom line is we're discussing it, and that is what needs to happen.

  6. Having said that let me say this: I am fully aware of the power of the Internet. I talk to people daily that I would never have the chance to communicate with if not for social media. Last year I connected with a cousin that I had never met. She introduced me to decades of family history I didn't know about. For a historian like me, that was huge. I get it. But spending hours looking at a computer screen can be unhealthy. I stand by that statement.

  7. I completely agree that spending hours in front of a computer can be unhealthy, in many ways in fact. And I agree that we cannot abandon teaching the social skills necessary to communicate and collaborate in real life. But I do believe that Skype as a tool for communication and collaboration definitely constitutes making connections. I Skyped with my son in Afghanistan for a year and it wasn't like being with him but it was the next best thing. It's certainly not like reading a letter or a blog or a text. It's as real-life as you can get without sitting next to them on the couch. That is a personal connection, I understand. But those communications, no matter how small, can give kids a sense of the whole world. I'm from a rural area and quite frankly, many of our students never leave the state let alone have the ability to communicate with someone half way around the world. I don't think we're redefining here. I think we're talking about widening the range.

    By the way, I love your "crabby teacher" look. I'm not buying it for a minute though. You have a lot to offer in this class and I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts and sharing differences. Thank you for that.

  8. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for sharing this post. I agree with you and many of the comments as well about the duality of the Internet and technology. I have always been a firm believer in not using technology for technology's sake - but rather to enhance the learning and possibilities in (and out of) the classroom. Thanks for the praise about the presentations - so glad to have a positive impact.