As part of our major project, you may recall that Jenn and I were delivering digital citizenship PD days to our Elementary and Middle Years teachers. This past week, 3 teachers and one teacher librarian from each of our four high schools came to a professional development session that our Ed Tech department offered entitled Digital Citizenship and the Balanced Approach to Teaching. Please see below for a copy of the presentation. During this session, our teachers created lessons that integrated elements of the Ministry's Digital Citizenship Continuum using our department's Digital Citizenship Lesson Planning Framework Template.
We have pretty much completed our scope & sequences for each of our 7 C's; we are now just fine-tuning them. We have also tweaked our definitions of each "C" based upon the readings we have completed for our ECI832 course and several more resources we have come across throughout the course of the semester. You can check out our definitions below, as well as a sneak peak of a portion of our "create" scope & sequence. There will be a lot of hours in the next couple weeks invested into this project, including building it in Drupal (our school division's content management system). By now, we have well surpassed 50 hours--that is for sure!
This past semester has been a very challenging and rewarding period in my graduate studies. I opted to take two courses this semester: 1) Emerging Media Literacies and 2) Health, Outdoor and Physical Education (HOPE). The former I took as an area of high interest to me, particularly in my role as a Teacher Technology Coach with Regina Catholic Schools; the latter I took as an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself… and what a challenge it has been! While I have listened to, and read about, some of my classmates struggling in the Emerging Media Literacies course and learning how to become technologically literate, I felt the struggle in my HOPE course, trying to find a way to become more environmentally literate and attuned to the outdoors. In my struggle, the topic for my (re)search paper was born; how can we support students to become both technologically and environmentally literate? Furthermore, can this transpire harmoniously?
Upon digging deeper into this under-researched question, I came across the works of some incredible individuals whom I will reference throughout my (re)search paper. What's more is I had the opportunity to connect and chat with many of these individuals via Twitter; what a profound learning experience when you can engage in dialogue with experts in the field!
"From an evolutionary perspective, just as we are drawn to nature, and need it for our physical and psychological wellbeing, so are we drawn to technologies… Technologies have conferred advantages to people that create and use them; and our minds are predisposed toward them. Thus an important area for future research lies at this intersection of children, nature, and technology." -Peter Khan
As a child and adolescent, I did not derive enjoyment from (nor a connection to) Physical or Outdoor Education. As someone who was not blessed with athleticism, those areas (at least in my personal experience) were so focused on sport and physical skill attainment that I was never able to feel successful. My skill sets have always been in the areas of reading, writing, creating, and technology; skill sets that I believe students are (wrongfully) conditioned to believe are meant for the indoors. My reason for pointing this out is to illustrate that my disengagement with the outdoors and sport did not stem from an engagement with technology, as is often the assumed culprit, but rather, I believe it stemmed from a lack of success in these disciplines and consequent feelings of inadequacy in those areas. I liken this to children who are subjected to a narrow view of literacy, experience struggles with reading, and go on to be non-readers. Naturally, we are drawn to what we are good at and tend to develop a phobia or avoidance towards what we are not-so-good at. As a special education teacher, I believe curriculum should be attainable to all students--this involves differentiating and allowing students to draw-upon their strengths. The HOPE course has taught me a great deal about the true intention of Physical and Outdoor Education, which largely centered around student well-being and educating the whole child through integrated activities. It is my "hope" that Physical and Outdoor Education programs go much beyond physical skill attainment and that technology can be considered to be one of these integrated activities or tools supporting connection to nature and well-being.
All too often I hear technology being portrayed as enemy number one when it comes to getting children outside and connected to the outdoors. My suggestion is that perhaps in today's day and age, it is possible to "connect" in more ways than one, meaning that it is possible technology can leverage our connection to nature. I hear all too often teachers banning technology on outdoor activities and excursions and suggesting that one can't be connected to the outdoors if they have technology in their hands. My question is: by banning technology in outdoor activities, are educators essentially saying that technology only belongs indoors? We already know that a vast majority of students are connected to technology and need to be in order to be technologically literate in the 21st century. We already know that children spend too much time indoors. If the goal is to get children outdoors, are we doing them any favors by sending the message that technology is an indoor activity? Likewise, are these well-meaning educators inadvertently keeping children indoors with this logic--perhaps contributing to Nature Deficit Disorder, as opposed to resolving it?
"We have to reverse our perception of technology as the antagonist…and, in fact, mobilize it to bring society and nature closer together." -Alan Keeso
I’m certainly not saying technology belongs outdoors all the time, but I feel that there is an un-tapped potential to use technology as an enabler (not a barrier), to leverage children’s engagement with, and connection to, nature through meaningful learning opportunities (which I will discuss later). Technology (believe it or not) has long been accepted in nature; for example: a compass, binoculars, backpack, flashlight, etc., but we tend to accept these technologies and welcome them into the outdoors. Today, we have technologies that combine many of these functions (and more) into a handheld device, and this is where technology is less welcomed (if welcomed at all). I believe that we, as educators, need to look for meaningful opportunities to bring these technologies together with nature, rather than operating them in isolation (which is more often than not, indoors). It is a lost opportunity to restrict learning with technology to the indoors; blogger Betsy suggests "using technology to draw you back into nature and to enhance rather than block [the] human senses."
I frequently hear that technology is a "distraction" to our students; however, a compass, a flashlight or binoculars, for instance, can also be a distraction if not used appropriately and meaningfully. The real issue is how we use technology and the value it adds to the outdoor experience. One of the largest misconceptions out there is that our students are "digital natives". Knowing how to use technology to leverage learning is not innate, as the term "native" would lead one to believe. A PBS video illustrates this point in saying that "no one is born a native speaker of 'digital' the way no one is born a native speaker of any language”, but with “context, immersion, and practice” they will learn. This is where educators come in. The "digital native" idea assumes that we don't have to teach youth how to use technology effectively and meaningfully; banning technology does just that. I believe that it is our role as educators to teach students how to use these technologies for educational purposes (even in nature) and stop hyper-focusing on "distraction". In my opinion, "No technology on field trips and other outdoor activities due to POSSIBLE distraction" is the same as saying "no apparatuses on playgrounds due to POSSIBLE injury". Instead of looking at the negative possibilities, we can focus and empower the positive ones. We need to focus on instilling digital citizenship in our students so they know how to use technology both effectively and appropriately (both indoors and outdoors), following Dr. Mike Ribble's model of REPs (Respect, Educate, and Protect). Furthermore, if we are truly worried about our students being distracted, it may be necessary to look within, to ensure our teaching is engaging, relevant and attuned to our students. We have a choice--we can dismiss the reality of our increasingly digital society, or we can do something differently (albeit uncomfortable at times) and meaningful, by harmonizing two seemingly incompatible understandings (nature and technology), for the sake of kids and their future. As the pencil metaphor below suggests, teachers need to move from being "erasers" and "ferrules" to being "sharp ones" and "leaders".
The Interconnectedness of Technology and Nature
Technology and nature need not exist in isolation; in fact, it is humans who are wedging a divide between the two, as opposed to finding ways to bring them into harmony by being mindful of their interconnectedness. Peter Khan asserts, "Just as we are drawn to nature, and need it for our physical and psychological wellbeing, so are we drawn to technologies…technologies have conferred advantages to people that create and use them; and our minds are predisposed toward them." Sociologist and PhD candidate, Nathan Jurgenson, has emphasized that “digitality is part of the everyday world, it touches everything and everything touches it"; he advocates for the dismantling of the artificial barrier that we have raised between life online and life offline, as they are irrevocably interconnected. The habit of viewing the online and offline as mutually exclusive, is what Jurgenson has coined the fallacy of "digital dualism" and the "fetishization of the offline". I was thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with him on Twitter on the topic of nature and technology. I highly recommend his IRL Fetish article for further exploration of the digital dualism fallacy. Yes, nature and technology have differences, but they are not separate, nor are they a dichotomy. Jurgenson argues that "this idea that we are trading the offline for the online, though it dominates how we think of the digital and the physical, is myopic. It fails to capture the plain fact that our lived reality is the result of the constant interpenetration of the online and offline." We should not be making students choose to be environmentally literate or technologically literate; we should nurture safe spaces where they are empowered to accomplish both. Richard Louv himself, credited with coining the condition Nature Deficit Disorder, even speaks of the hybrid mind, which will be discussed later.
Digging deeper into this "interpenetration of the online and offline", I came across the incredible work of Dr. Sue Thomas, and was also fortunate enough to engage in some dialogue with her on Twitter. Thomas contends that "there need not be an either/or choice between technology and well-being". Both Kahn and Louv cite Harvard professor Edward O. Wilson's biophilia hypothesis in their work, which suggests that human beings possess an innate affinity to nature. Thomas accepts the biophilia hypothesis and extends it. She has coined the term Technobiophilia, which she defines as the "innate attraction to life and lifelike processes as they appear in technology." Through her intensive research, Thomas has come to the conclusion that "nature and technology are already deeply interwoven in the world and moving fast towards an even closer synergy." Thomas goes on to explore all the nature metaphors of cyberspace as further evidence of the interconnection of nature and technology: Cloud, Tweet, Stream, Surfing, Space, Web, Root, Torrent, Mouse, Bug, Apple, Blackberry, Safari, Vista, Kindle, etc.
I am truly taken aback by Thomas' work and her message(s). Thomas explores the concept of digital-wellbeing and the idea of "finding a way to make peace with our connected lives". We are in the digital age--we can work against it, or we can work with it. I think it is imperative that educators, as Thomas suggests, find meaningful ways to both balance and integrate nature and technology, so to enhance the well-being of their students.
Although there is not an abundance of research into the integration of technology and nature, as it concerns youth, their well-being, and educational pedagogy, I believe, as does Kahn, that it is an important area for future research. Mark Wesson examines a small, yet growing, pool of research demonstrating the benefits technology affords when effectively integrated into environmental education programs; noteworthy is the fact that students reported increased enjoyment and engagement in the learning process. This coincides with Bronwyn Cumbo, Jeni Paay, Jesper Kjeldskov, and Brent Jacob's research that "applying technology to extend beyond the learning space of the classroom has been shown to motivate more self-directed learning and improved outcomes for a wider range of students." In keeping with the theme of motivation, Wesson notes in his research that "Parents recognized that their children are engrossed by technology and that it is a significant aspect of their everyday lives. Incorporating interesting technologies into [environmental education] programs was viewed as an effective way to engage children’s attention and interest."
"Digital technology is often considered a barrier to independent outdoor play…but it could also be an important tool for change." -Bronwyn Cumbo
Cumbo’s research suggests that the development of a "greater affinity for nature is closely linked to the level of independence children have when visiting natural areas." As illustrated in the Ambient Wood research project conducted by Yvonne Rogers, Sara Price, Geraldine Fitzpatrick, Rowanne Fleck, Eric Harris, and Hilary Smith, handheld technology can allow for this independence, with the potential to cultivate a greater affinity with the outdoors. In terms of enhancing learning, the Ambient Wood research project concluded that "digital augmentation offers a promising way to enhance the process of learning, especially encouraging the dovetailing of exploring and reflecting when outdoors…" noting that (as I emphasized earlier), "the extent to which the students achieve this depends on the design of the digital augmentation." Herein lies a significant piece of the puzzle: the design of the digital augmentation is dependent on both the technical skill level, and even more so on the pedagogical mindset, of the teacher. In my opinion, teachers need to be committed to building their technological understanding and stretching their pedagogy in order to make learning meaningful and relevant in the twenty-first century. Their commitment to this has the potential to harmonize the outdoors with technology and enhance the learning experiences of their students.
"Ubiquitous and mobile technologies offer opportunities for designing a new genre of learning experiences that move ‘beyond the desktop’. In addition to learning via computers in the classroom or at home, there is much scope for supporting people learning while ‘on the move’." -Ambient Wood Research Project
The research of Wesson contends, "Whether technology is partly responsible for children having less exposure to the natural world remains debatable, as there is a lack of empirical evidence to support the rhetoric that technology is directly responsible for kids staying inside, or if there are other trends keeping kids inside and technology is just something they then resort to." This statement, to me, means that to demonize technology as the culprit for children spending more time indoors is surface-level and myopic. Perhaps, as the National Wildlife Federation suggests, there could be other factors at play; for example, reduced or eliminated recesses, concerns about child safety, hyper-focus on risk, and overscheduled lives. It is all too easy, yet parochial, to simply protect status quo (the educational institutions we have in place) and blame innovation (technology). I suspect that the educational paradigm of school being segregated into subject areas, as opposed to taking a more interdisciplinary, holistic approach, along with the fact that some disciplines receive higher importance than others (namely Physical Education, Outdoor Education, and Arts Education taking a backseat to the core areas), are also contributing the amount of time children are spending indoors. When contemplating models to address this out-dated system, perhaps Finland's modern reform should be considered. Finland is moving away from "a subject type of learning, to what they call 'phenomenon' teaching – or teaching by topic." Instead of the segregated teaching of Math, Science, ELA, Social, Health, Phys Ed, etc, students will be learning about overarching topics (including issues such as climate change and biodiversity), effectively enmeshing these disciplines for meaningful impact and deep learning that prepares students for both today and tomorrow.
Purpose and Pedagogy in the Twenty-First Century
In his book, Curriculum is a New Key, Ted Aoki provides a narrative of his experience at the beginning of his teaching career. He discusses the dichotomy he drew between work and play. I relate his story to the perceived dichotomy in education between nature and technology. What follows is an excerpt from his narrative; I have substituted the word "work" for nature and the word "play" for technology: "I was teaching an ethic--an ethic that separated [nature] from [technology]… and sanctified the rather simple-minded attitude of either [nature] or [technology], but never, never [nature] and [technology] together. I taught naively, not understanding the hidden curriculum I was teaching" (p. 357). The concept of "hidden curriculum" is key, and ties back to my initial question(s): by banning technology in outdoor activities, is part of the "hidden curriculum" that technology only belongs indoors? If so, are these well-meaning educators inadvertently keeping children indoors with this approach to teaching and learning--perhaps contributing to Nature Deficit Disorder, as opposed to resolving it?
Ted Aoki (2005) cites the work of Developmental Psychologist, Urie Bronfenbrenner, known for his ecological systems theory of child development, who said, "If we are to take seriously the education of our youth, we must not be blind to circumstances in which we ask your young to live" (p. 359). This is of paramount importance concerning modern education. Students live in a digital age; to dismiss this reality will fail to prepare students to be meaningfully contributing citizens of tomorrow. If the dichotomy between nature and technology persists in schools and technology is prohibited from being integrated meaningfully in the outdoors, we risk being left with an education that alienates certain ways of teaching and learning, which Bronfenbrenner defines as "miseducation" (p. 359).
"A connection with nature must be part of a modern, increasingly urban lifestyle and, therefore, new technology must be embraced in order to engage people with nature. The pathways to nature connection, contact, emotion, beauty and compassion, remain the same whatever the technology that interfaces our engagement. The ubiquitous smartphone can open our senses to the wonder of everyday nature in a progressively urbanized world." -Dr. Miles Richardson
So how do we prevent this "miseducation"? Richard Louv speaks of the hybrid mind and advocates that "a central goal of modern education should be to encourage flexible thinking, to nurture the hybrid mind -- to stimulate both ways of knowing in the world: digital and direct experience." Likewise, Aoki cites theologian and scholar, Friedrich Schleiermacher, whom said, "Multifold are the ways a person relates to the universe" (p. 360). I believe that the digital and direct experience can be integrated meaningfully within the appropriate pedagogical context and design, cultivating a meaningful relation to nature. Writer and photographer, David FitzSimmons, aptly states that, "convincing today’s wired kids that nature is more exciting than technology is a hard sell. It’s better to find ways for children to integrate technology with their experiences in nature." I believe this directly relates to learning experiences as well. Technology alone is a tool, but if integrated mindfully and effectively, it creates enormous possibilities for learning, both indoors and outdoors. Again, this is not to say that technology belongs outdoors all the time; but I am saying that technology does not belong indoors at all times. In regards to the fear teachers harbour in terms of technology being inherently distracting, we need to take to heart the words of Sugata Mitra, known for his TED Talk entitled Build a School in the Cloud, who so eloquently says, "We need a pedagogy free from fear and focused on the magic of children’s innate quest for information and understanding." Technology allows for this, even within the context of nature and the outdoors.
"The thinking is that the ship has sailed, that we will never have as strong a connection with the natural world that our ancestors did. I disagree, fully, because we have something that our ancestors, prior generations and civilizations never had. We have these technologies that are increasingly allowing us to know and understand the natural world and not only in its physical form, but in forms invisible to the human eye." -Alan Keeso
I am inspired by Aoki's words in that we, as educators, must "acknowledge the grace by which educator and educated are allowed to dwell in the present that embraces past experiences but is open to possibilities yet to be" (p. 365). We live in a world that is constantly evolving; so too should our pedagogy, so that we can be open to these "possibilities yet to be". This includes the possibilities of meaningful, authentic, and enhanced learning experiences with the harmonizing of technology and nature. Instead of looking at technology as a "distraction", what if we looked at it as a tool to get students moving, exploring, interacting, and connecting with nature? When integrated purposefully and effectively, technology can leverage curiosity, inquiry and exploration. Moreover, technology lends itself well to constructivist, student-centered pedagogy, so to "extend and support active, hands-on, creative, and authentic engagement with those around them and with their world." In his TED Talk The Rescue Mission, Alan Keeso embraces the past and simultaneously embraces the possibilities yet to be in saying "technology is allowing us to go to places we've never been and learn things we wouldn’t have learned otherwise… and I think it’s increasingly true that technology doesn’t just move us away from real animals, or nature - it might give us a much richer understanding of them".
Another critical piece to the pedagogical puzzle is the resistance to segregated thinking. While it is essential to get children outdoors, I believe that connection to nature and its restorative benefits can happen both indoors and outdoors. The dichotomy between the two ought to be eroded, as it "edifies one understanding of [restoration] to neglect the other possibilities" (Aoki, p. 358). In a further effort to resist segregated thinking, there needs to be understanding that technology in and of itself is not an outcome; technology is to leverage learning to meet outcomes. For this reason, technology should not be "taught" per se, but rather, it should be meaningfully integrated into curriculum to ensure relevancy and preparedness for the world that awaits our students. Furthermore, technology cannot be seen as sedentary consumption, only suited for "indoor" activities, nor can it be seen as only fitting into only certain subjects. Technology can be used to actively create, engage with the outdoors, and lends itself to a balanced, interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning. In the same way, physical literacy and environmental literacy should be interdisciplinary as well, and I believe they can be harmonized with technological literacy. My colleague, Jenn Stewart-Mitchell, and I have been working on a project for our Emerging Literacies course that examines what we have identified as the 7 C's [Essential Skills] of Digital Fluency and 21st century learning. Together we are defining these skills and building a corresponding scope and sequence for each skill as well. To illustrate the interconnectedness of technology and nature, below is a technobiophilic diagram I developed (as a reflection of the work I am doing with Jenn) that describes a pedagogical vision of interdisciplinary technology integration with metaphors from nature.
Jana Willis, Brenda Weiser, and Donna Kirkwood, contend that "Educators can integrate technology and media with environmental education through activities that encourage children to explore, create, problem solve, communicate, collaborate, document, investigate, and demonstrate their learning about the world outside of their classroom." I wholeheartedly concur. What follows are just a few of the infinite ways technology can be integrated to cultivate a connection to nature and support student well-being.
Audio: The word "noise" is derived from the Latin word "nausea". Louv, in his book, The Nature Principle, discusses the negative effects that noise can have on wellness, including a decreased performance in learning. In our increasingly urbanized society, "noise" is difficult to escape, and natural noise is difficult to find. Many children in today's day and age have been deprived of the natural soundscape and it's restorative effects. What if we used technology as a tool to help bring the outside in? What if schools and/or classrooms had the restorative sounds of nature playing in a contributing effort to reshape our urbanized soundscape? This could be done with sites like SoundCloud, Spotify, and Songza (to name but a few). Furthermore, what if we allowed students to use headphones to listen to nature sounds on the devices they are already brining to school? We can teach them a way to use their device to help support wellbeing. There are several apps that students can install on their devices (for free) that even allow them to customize the soundscape they want to listen to, allowing them to escape to any place they wish to go to. Some apps, such as Fluid and Pocket Pond, also add a responsive visual element to the nature sounds. You can click on the images below for some examples of apps. Furthermore, technology comes recording capabilities; what if students were encouraged to use their technology to not only consume, but create? Students could create audio soundscapes to demonstrate their creativity or even tell a story. Students could even narrate stories in apps such as Book Creator or Explain Everything, and include recorded audio to add another dimension to their story (i.e. the sound of rustling leaves, crunching snow, blowing wind, etc.) The challenges they will experience in trying to record these sounds will not only be a lesson in and of itself (re: the increasing noise in our urbanized society), but also lend itself to create problem-solving skills that will get them exploring and engaging with nature.
Video: Video is another to unite nature and technology. With many classrooms lacking green elements, a live-feed video (such as Explore.org) to the outdoors is an option to consider, if not only for the restorative aspects, but the learning opportunities as well. Live-feed video of the outdoors allows for ubiquitous monitoring of the environment; teachers can even sign up for text-message alerts for when wildlife have entered the live feed. Live feeds are exciting for students; they allow them to visit anywhere in the world, and have the potential to cultivate a connection to a "place" that they may or may not get to witness in the flesh. Keeso has said that technology doesn't have to move us away from animals or nature, but rather, that "it might give us a much richer understanding of them." Keeso is another incredible source on the topic of technology and nature, who was kind enough to chat with me on Twitter as well. Concerning the restorative effects of live-feeds and video in general, in her blog post entitled, I Love My Digital Life, Thompson cites that "much of the evidence supporting the benefits of biophilia comes from pictures rather than the real thing… surely nature delivered in a digital form through computers can also produce genuinely restorative effects." Similar to audio, video enables students to go beyond consumption of technology and delve into creation with technology. Students can create videos to tell their stories in the outdoors and share them with others; this allows students to bring others into the experience. Students can also use the power of video to teach others; for example, how to plant a garden, how to identify native plants, etc. Much of what we witness in nature are beautiful fleeting moments; blogger, Dr. Miles Richardson (whom I've also had the pleasure to connect with on Twitter), speaks of his way to slow this down with the use of slo-mo video technology, which now comes standard on most mobile technology, or is a simple install from the app store. Richardson says that he is able to "watch everyday nature in an extraordinary way. The brief flights of insects have become a fresh source of beauty and wonder, forcing me into closer contact as I sneak into the shrubbery; all the pathways to nature connection prompted by a new technology." Making videos involves many 21st Century skills (namely: creation, communication, critical thinking), all of which can be integrated with the outdoors. I commend Parks Canada and their partners for encouraging students to create videos in the outdoors; they hold a contest each year wherein classrooms pick a National park that they think is extraordinary and have them demonstrate, in a 60 second video clip, why it is important to Canadians. I personally regard this as an incredible learning opportunity that gets students connected with the outdoors, while simultaneously teaching students how to use their technology beyond gaming, texting and social media (not that these things bad, but there is so much more that technology can do that educators must empower them to discover).
Photo: Photography is yet another way to engage children that blends both technology and nature. Robin Long and Marilyn Fenster are educators that have successfully integrated technology (namely, through digital photography) to connect children with the outdoors, and they assert that this utilization of technology can enhance children's fascination with the outdoors. Long and Fenster write about their experiences with this approach of technology integration, noting that it "empowered children to make personal connections and choices through the camera’s lens; provided material, in the form of photos, for sharing in the classroom or with the wider world; introduced an aesthetic component to STEM; and provided record-keeping capabilities for inquiry-based learning." Perhaps one of the most beneficial features of taking pictures with digital devices in the outdoors is that it help fine-tune one's vision. Louv illustrates this in saying, "I was startled by something I had not seen when I took the picture. Hidden in the bark was an eye, looking back at me. I’m still not sure what that eye is, or if it’s really an eye, or a pattern in the bark. The puzzle added to the experience. When I asked readers what they saw in the photo, one young boy said the answer was a no-brainer. 'It’s a dragon’s eye.'” Louv's story shows how digital photography can enable us to notice the more subtle aspects of the ecosystem and also how it can invite others into our experiences in nature, even if they were not physically there when the pictures were taken. Furthermore, his story demonstrates that the potential for telling stories through digital images of nature is infinite. Louv discusses finding images in trees; students could move around and explore in nature to find and capture images in clouds, reflections on water, etc and use their imagination to tell a story, which is certainly a marriage of environmental and technological literacy. In addition, digital photography captures and preserves experiences in nature, which makes it possible for students to save (pictures) and savour (experiences). Louv echoes this in saying, "The camera helps me slow down and look more intently than I normally would. And later, I can enjoy the experience all over again." The possibilities for using digital photography in nature are endless; for instance, students could be sent on scavenger hunts (a photo safari) to take pictures of a variety of ecological aspects. Students could also use tool, such as Thinglink, to then transform their pictures of nature into interactive ones using multimedia links. Wesson's research, in terms of using digital photography to explore and engage with nature, documents the following findings by various researchers:
Example of Thinglink
Connections: You have likely noticed that I have pointed out many people I have connected with via Twitter to help shape my understanding of the interpenetration of technology and nature. It is remarkable that we live in a time where various experts can be part of our Personal Learning Network, and we can reach out to them to engage in meaningful dialogue. We are not limited by reading a book to find answers, we can go directly to the source(s). I would like to thank Sue Thomas, Nathan Jurgenson, Alan Keeso, Miles Richardson, and various others whom enhanced my inquiry process. The same can happen for today's youth; Janis Dickinson says that “it is possible, even likely, that a new generation of techno-naturalists will document their outdoor experiences not with paper and pen but with electronic data, digital images, and video, creating new communities of action and meaning." The term "techno-naturalists carries with it so much possibility! Students are engaged in social media; what if educators empower children to discover the true potential of social networks? Classrooms could virtually flatten their classroom walls by connecting to various experts and other classrooms around the world to enhance their environmental literacy. If modelled correctly, students will likely be inspired to translate this outside of school as well. As we inspire youth to become good stewards, I believe that they can use the power of social media platforms, such as Twitter, to promote activism both in their local and global community. For example, classrooms could challenge other classrooms around the world to take action in preserving biodiversity. Another digital tool for connecting children is Skype. The possibilities for environmental literacy are endless, but to name a few examples, classrooms could go on virtual field trips, they could connect to various experts, and they can connect with other classrooms to discuss anything and everything related to nature, work collaboratively on projects, and ignite activism. With technology being so mobile, these Skype chats can even happen in the outdoors! I highly recommend watching the videos below that shows how classrooms are using Skype as a digital connecting tool to ignite environmental activism and positive citizenship (online and offline).
Virtual Reality: Although virtual reality is not a replacement for nature, it provides a special opportunity for learning. With virtual reality, students can virtually step into a picture of nature for a closer look around. Put On Your Wild Eyes is an organization that is using virtual reality to create educational and immersive experiences in nature. They have travelled far and wide, recording 360 degree HD video in one-of-a-kind natural habitats. Using a special viewer, such as Google Cardboard, allows a smart phone to be transformed into a virtual reality device that is responsive to the viewer's movements. Put on Your Wild Eyes says the experience is an innovative and engaging interaction between the viewer and their environment. For some children that have had limited exposure to nature for various reasons, this approach is just one (of many) safe and non-threatening ways to facilitate a connection to nature.
Apps: Below are just some of many different apps that can facilitate engagement with nature. Geocaching is a fantastic way to get students outdoors and exploring. It is a fun, high-tech form of scavenger hunting. You can watch the video below to find out more about what it is and what you need to get started. Minecraft, yes, I said Minecraft, is another app (with a gaming and creating element) that can integrate technology and nature. In fact, the South Australian government in partnership with Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board, have invited students to design their "perfect national park" using this block-building game, and $8.9 million dollars is allotted to bring one lucky child's design to fruition. Students have been tasked with the challenge to make their Minecraft park design inclusive of sustainable materials and resources and various design elements, such as "bushwalking, mountain biking or horse riding trails, wheelchair accessible and interpretive paths, campsites and… geocaches." This is an incredibly innovative way to have students demonstrate technobiophilia by blending nature and gaming; I believe the possibilities for the innovative gamification of learning and nature will continue to grow. Please click on the icons below for more apps that get students learning about, excited about, and digging deeper into nature:
An example of the Minecraft national park design
"What can we show students [about a] tree? Safluous censors can show students how a tree drinks from the ground. Infra-red can show students how a tree cools itself outward towards its leaves. Infra-red can also show disease and decay in the trunk as we see here. We can place a device over the top of the tree in the forest showing carbon in, and carbon leaving. In other words we can show students how a forests breathes." -Alan Keeso
Taking it to the Next Level
Students are beginning to innovatively harmonize technology and nature. A six-year-old had the desire to teach other children about weather; he, along with his father (who happens to be a meteorologist) created an app called Kid Weather. The app teacher students about local weather conditions and what to wear. The app extends and enhances children's understanding of weather, its patterns, and climatology. Another youth, named Andy Kuhlken, uses Minecraft in biophilic way. He builds landscapes in the apps that reflect real ecosystems; demonstrating an innovative approach to a game that many perceive to be keeping children away from nature. Sixteen-year-old, Benjamin Shrader (aka Commander Ben), has his own website. At his young age, he is a filmmaker who creates videos about nature, namely, educating other youth about native plants and how to fight invasive plants that don't belong in a specific ecosystem. You can take a look at the videos below to see these innovative youth blending technology and nature in meaningful ways. The more educators empower students to use their technology in ways that facilitate environmental literacy, the more examples of children taking their understanding to the next level we will have.
How does all of this Support Well-Being?
What I have discussed above gets children interacting with nature in innovative ways both indoors and outdoors, which will breed restorative effects and play a meaningful part in eroding Nature Deficit Disorder. We know that most children are engaged with technology; with the approaches explored above, we are not taking away their devices (which sends a message that we don't trust them), but rather, we are empowering students to use their devices for greater good, which will ultimately engage them. Technology allows for differentiation and increased independence as well, which can help students experience success; success is directly related to well-being and a positive sense of self. For those teachers who teach vulnerable youth who do not have opportunities to explore nature, experiences enabled by technology will give these students opportunities to connect with nature, both locally and globally, in a way they might otherwise never have the opportunity to experience. Furthermore, Louv tells us that exposure to nature increases well-being. If we create positive, engaging experiences for our students, they may relate these experiences to being connected with the outdoors and create more experiences for themselves in the future.
Technology infuses and mediates a large part of our daily experience; it is my belief that technology can play a supporting role in connecting students to nature and enhancing their fascination with the natural world… but only if we, as educators, facilitate it. We must deny the perceived incompatibility of technology and nature, acknowledge that they can co-exist harmoniously and intermeshed, and work to ignite their relationship. The key for teachers is design--it's ensuring that technology is not integrated for the sake of flashy tools and gadgets, but for the sake of deeper learning and connection. Louv, himself, says that when used wisely, "high tech can open us up to high nature". I unequivocally believe that learning opportunities are lost if we restrict technology to an indoor activity and dismiss its potential to connect with nature. I will end with a powerful quote from Barry Lopez (1986), who once said, "To bring what is actual together with what is dreamed is an expression of human evolution" (p. 414).
I welcome you to check out Jenn's blog post this week to learn about how our progress continues on our project. We are continuing to build our continuums and focusing heavily on the reasonable progression of 21st century knowledge and skills throughout childhood. I had the opportunity to look at Jillian and Branelle's project progress this past week--wow! They are still working on the content, but the organization, design and overall "look" of their project is amazing! Jenn and I also decided to work a little bit on the visual component of our project. We previously purchased icons from the Noun Project; we then decided to put the icons for the 7 C's into gears on our continuums (to match our overall image). We built 6 no problem, and were very pleased with the look. We had one "C" left to design: "connecting". Below you will see the icon we originally selected.
We went to put the icon in the gear... this is what we ended up with!
I think it looks like a scary clown (hence the title of my post). Jenn thinks it looks like a messed up Haida sun. Even my 3 year old took a look at it and got spooked! Soooo... back to the drawing board. We chose a new icon from the Noun Project and this is what our connecting visual looks like now--much better!
We have also experimented with adding a visual component to our main image of the 7 C's in motion together. Please take a look below and offer any input you have. I think it still needs a little work, but we are going to focus on the contiuums for the next little bit. We've done a ton of work, but there is still LOTS to do before Dec 14th (gulp!). Part of the "problem" (although it's not really a problem in the true sense of the world) is that we continue to find fabulous resources and they continue to shape our project!
This week we will be offering a PD session to High School teachers on the recent Digital Citizenship Continuum, effective interdisciplinary integration, effective pedagogy concerning the integration of digital tools in the classroom, and an overview of our 7 C's project in the works. Our teachers will be building lessons integrating elements of the Digital Citizenship Continuum based on Ribble's work using the template below. We hope that this will give other teachers a starting point in effectively integrating digital citizenship in teaching and learning.
This week I chose to watch The Fifth Estate's documentary entitled The Sextortion of Amanda Todd. The name Amanda Todd has become synonymous with cyber-bullying and suicide. Before watching this video, I didn't think much different; however, my thinking has been amended.
When I watched the video, the big idea (to me at least) was not cyber-bullying, it wasn't suicide, and it wasn't even sextortion. To me, the big idea was a reality that existed before Amanda ever set foot in the online world, yet it was just an ephemeral mention with no examination in the documentary. The reality I am speaking of is disability and the ensuing vulnerability it carries with it. Near the beginning of the interview, there was a brief mention that Amanda had ADHD; furthermore, it was mentioned that she way bullied offline before she got her first webcam. While the story went on, my mind was stuck on these two revelations that received zero exploration. In my personal option, the deficit of the story was the lack of attention to her Attention Deficit Disorder and the magnitude of the impact this carries both offline and online. People with disabilities carry with them a vulnerability that must be recognized. LD Online says, "Although some research has shown that young people with disabilities are at greater risk of being victims of bullying and harassment, there is little research about how these risks extend to online behavior. However, it is safe to assume that many of the same issues exist online as they do offline."
As a special education teacher, I see Amanda as a child who was a vulnerable person long before she started her digital footprint. This is not to say that other teens without disabilities are immune to the tragedy that Amanda endured (and ultimately lost her life to), but I believe it is premature to resolve that her struggles originated online. I feel like Amanda's story is hyper-focused on the digital aspect; while I agree that this was a significant part of the story, I feel that there were other indicators (such as a lack of knowledge and skills combined with a disability and social impairment) that also deserve further consideration so to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again.
LD Online says "as students spend more time online, lessons in online safety and appropriate behavior are critical… students with disabilities may be at particular risk online." I believe that educators and parents/guardians need to be particularly mindful of this fact. Children with disabilities (ADHD included), struggle with social interactions and appropriate behaviour. Like children with ADHD experience (to varying degrees), I believe Amanda experienced difficulty interpreting social cues, regulating her behaviour and inpulsivity, determining the validity of what she was told, applying cause/effect thinking, assessing the seriousness of her actions, and judging the trustworthiness of those she was interacting with. It was stated in the documentary that Amanda experienced bullying prior to her first online experience, which was likely due to these social struggles. Margalit & Al-Yagon, as cited in LD Online state that "because children with disabilities may be more prone to loneliness, they may be especially vulnerable to the harmful advances of online users who show a seemingly benign interest in their lives." It was clear to me from the multitude of videos Amanda posted online that she was looking for attention and validation. It is also known that depression and anxiety are often coexisting conditions with ADHD. It was also mentioned that Amanda struggled with these coexisting conditions. She clearly had a lot working against her.
It angers me to read all the victim-blaming and social shaming Amanda received posthumously; it is evident that these are narrow-minded individuals would rather take a reactive, as opposed to a proactive approach to these situations. It is paramount that a consolidated effort (between school divisions, administration, teachers, parents, authorities, and outside agencies) is actualized in order to effect positive change for our youth. I venture to say that we must pay even closer attention to vulnerable populations, as Danielle Maley says in her blog post, "those in weak vulnerable positions seem to get the brunt of [public shaming and bullying]." Just as children (like Amanda) with disabilities need help developing their face-to-face social skills and interactions, they also need concentrated support in developing their virtual social skills and interactions. This, I believe, is often forgotten about, but in today's day and age, it can't afford to be. If we fail to provide added support, these children will not be equipped for the digital spaces they will find themselves in.
"Digital citizenship isn’t just about recognizing and dealing with online hazards. It’s about building safe spaces and communities, understanding how to manage personal information, and about being internet savvy - using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way, and inspiring others to do the same." ~Digizen
In terms of authorities and their role to play, this is very difficult. While I understand the frustrations of Amanda's parents (I would feel the same frustrations), the internet is not a physical place where authorities can enforce jurisdictional control. It turns out the perpetrator was in the Netherlands which, of course highlights the complicated nature of online crime and the international context. That being said, it should not take the death of a child like Amanda for authorities to take action. As I am not in law enforcement, I will focus on what I am familiar with (being a parent and being an educator).
I tend to agree with Jeremy Black, in his blog post, that parents take a leading role in ensuring their children are molded into positive digital citizens. Parents need to educate themselves about the realities (both positive and negative) of the Internet and be familiar with sites such as Cyber Tip and Need Help Now. Of critical importance is the that parents talk, talk, and talk some more with their children. Of equal importance is that they model positive digital citizenship themselves. I personally believe that if parents don't have a Facebook or Twitter account and their child does, that they sign up for a profile themselves and friend/follow their children to monitor them. As issues/concerns arise (and they likely will because they are children who make mistakes no different than they did in their youth), it is important to always go back to the talk, talk, and talk some more method with their children. I also think it is beneficial to keep computers/laptops in public areas of their home. I think Amanda's online life was too private in her bedroom. That being said, with pocket technology (like cell phones) it is harder to accomplish. In any case, parents should come up with a solution that fit their child's needs. Although my daughter is only three, we have already set out rules and those will continue to evolve as she matures and as her needs change. As BeWytched states in her blog post, "Parenting doesn’t stop when our kids go online, it increases but with new rules and expectations. It’s a new age and we must learn to catch up to our kids if we want to keep them safe."
I believe the Ministry took a significant step in the right direction in terms of developing a Digital Citizenship Continuum. Jennifer and I, as part of our role and our project as well, have been working with teachers to integrate the continuum with an interdisciplinary approach. You can check out the lesson plan template we are using with teachers as well. It is key that teachers are integrating Ribble's 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship into student learning where possible, as it is foundational for student success in the digital age. While some teachers may not be tech-savvy, this is not an justification to ignore digital citizenship teaching. As my colleague, Jenn, likes to say, "A teacher wouldn't say I'm not very math-savvy, arts ed-savvy, etc; they are still expected to know the outcomes and teach them." Although digital citizenship is not a "subject" per se, it is an area of development that can be integrated into virtually all curricular areas; teachers can familiarize themselves with the continuum for their grade-level and work to integrate those knowledge and skills where they fit. It is also mine and Jenn's hope that we can create a repository of lessons (with integrated digital citizenship elements) built by RCSD teachers for RCSD teachers; in this way, those teachers who are less-comfortable with digital citizenship can have resources to draw upon in addition to Common Sense Media and Graphite, Media Smarts, I Am Stronger, Digizen, etc.
For those who aren't aware, Regina Catholic had 3 days off last week; combined with the weekend, that was 5 days off from work. I've had quite a few people ask me how my holiday was. Well... it wasn't exactly the holiday that one traditionally thinks of when they have 5 days off from work, but nevertheless, the time away from work allowed me to focus heavily on my 2 grad classes, and for that I am thankful.
During our "holiday" Jenn and I put in full days (and evenings) into our major project. We definitely didn't get as far as we would have liked, but we did make a tremendous amount of progress. When we first set out to do this project, we had the big picture in our heads, but with time a ticking before this semester comes to a close, we realize we may have bitten off a little more than we can chew! It's a very ambitious project and a huge amount of work. With the time constraints, we may not be able to get everything done that we initially planned (i.e. sample lessons, etc)--and that's okay... the project will continue after this the semester comes to an end. What we will have is: a comprehensive overview of our 7 C's vision, a description of each C, as well as a detailed scope and sequence for each C that explores essential questions, student knowledge, and a breakdown of skill-sets for K-3, 4-8, and 9-12. This is most definitely a project that we will continue to develop even after the class comes to an end. We will be sharing our project on Drupal (our revised division website, which will be live soon) and continuously adding to it. The website will be open, so you will be able to access if you are interested in following this project. We are also happy that as our project has been progressing, we've been able to integrate our project into the professional development sessions we have been offering teachers. Although the project is far from complete, we are getting teachers speaking the 7 C's language (and cultivating buy-in)--we believe this is key in successful implementation.
Below is still a rough draft of the essential questions that we are developing in order to guide us in building our scope and sequence for each C.
Collaborate (still developing):
Media is part of our everyday experience; the Institute for the Future points out, "The millions of users generating and viewing this multimedia content from their laptops and mobile devices are exerting enormous influence on culture". Incidentally, remix can become a powerful tool that allows users to engage simultaneously as consumers and creators. Michele Knobel & Colin Lankshear define remix as taking "cultural artifacts and combing and manipulating them into new kinds of creative blends." Inherent in the conversation of remix is the conversation of copyright and all it's legal implications. Larry Lessig, as cited in Knobel & Lankshear, "argues that digital remix constitutes a contemporary form of writing on the scale of a mass cultural practice and raises issues demanding serious reform of current copyright law." For instance, when 10-year-olds are being sued, (as opposed to being encouraged to create and remix culture) there is a serious problem.
Kirby Fergusson, in his TED talk, very eloquently illustrated the idea that everything is a remix. He references a compelling quote from Henry Ford, who once said, "I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work. Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable." Fergusson argues that copyright and patent laws are running counter to Ford's notion that we build on the work of others. These laws tend to ignite debate and cultivate standpoints that ideas and works are property to be owned and secured. This is extremely problematic, as it neglects to view ideas as entities that evolve from the minds of many. Fergusson encourages society to embrace remix as a form of creative expression, as "our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made. We are dependent on one another, and admitting this to ourselves isn't an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness. It's a liberation from our misconceptions" and an exciting realization that we can be readers AND writers, consumers AND producers.
It is imperative that society comes to understand that remix is not piracy. Remix is not stealing content from others and disseminating it without the permission of the creator. Remix is not claiming ownership over someone's ideas (whose ideas really only exist from the evolution of other ideas). As Lessig says, remix is about "people taking and recreating using other people's content, using digital technologies to say things differently." In fact, remix has become a means of creative expression among youth of today. Remix has empowered voice and has, in essence, become, as Lessig says, "a literacy for this generation… [for people to] participate in the creation and recreation of the culture around us." Furthermore, Michele Knobel & Colin effectively illustrate that remix is inherently endless "in the sense that each new mix becomes a meaning-making resource for subsequent remixes… [and, therefore] expands the possibilities for future remixes."
To me, remixing necessitates the application of both knowledge and the 7 C's of 21st Century Learning that Jenn and I are researching for our class project. How?
I would like to feature a couple remixes in this blog post to illustrate the 7 C's in motion. Jonathan McIntosh created a very popular remix entitled “Buffy vs. Edward”. He used the power of remix to expose gender representation in media. He mashed together scenes from Twilight, featuring a creepy, possessive, and domineering Edward, that tends to perpetuate gender stereotypes of women in passive, dependent roles; in contrast, he mashes scenes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, featuring Buffy in an independent, powerful female role. In essence, McIntosh was able to challenge culture through the powerfully contrasting remix. If you are interested in reading more about McIntosh's purpose and his reflections for this digital remix, you can read more here. You can also check out the video below:
McIntosh's video got me to thinking about a remix I did for an undergrad Social 9 lesson plan in 2005. I didn't realize at the time that I was, in fact, "remixing", but my purpose was to (like McIntosh) draw attention to gender stereotypes in mainstream media by using scenes from popular movies and television shows that sharply contrasted with one another. I did this through the structured inquiry process of concept attainment, wherein students compare and contrast examples that contain the attributes of the concept with examples that do not contain those attributes. In the video below, I provided examples of traditional/biased gender roles (labelled "Yes") and non-examples of gender roles (labelled "No"). The students were to then guess what the topic of the lesson was, followed by a discussion and activity. When watching, keep in mind this was me playing with my video-editing skills over 10 years ago. #myskillshaveimprovedsincethen
If you have the time, I strongly recommend that you watch Brett Gaylor's RiP! A Remix Manifesto, which explores the "war of ideas" and the Internet as the battleground. It examines the creative process over the product and the divide between those who view their ideas as personal property and those who want to share their ideas to contribute to, and enhance, the creative process. You can check it out below:
Does copyright limit creativity?
Can you still be creative when integrating the ideas of others?
How can we, as educators, support remix as a literacy?
Below are a couple more neat examples of remixes:
A critique of the way Arabs are negatively portrayed in the media.
A Disney princess remix that explores what happens after ever after.
And a couple funny examples:
Technology has irrefutably had a colossal impact on the entire world and is now an important aspect of everyday life. The "digital divide" is a widely known term, which is often misunderstood as a gap in physical access to technology and the information it holds. Essentially, this understanding of the "digital divide" has split the world into two camps: the haves and the have nots. This access-centric view has spawned an overwhelming focus on increasing physical access to technology. While this is an important issue, we must refrain from reducing digital inequity to such narrow terms; as digital disparities exist among those whom do have physical access. This is the larger picture of digital inequity and can drastically impact one's digital identity and digital footprint. This broadened view deserves further exploration, as it is very possible that concentrated efforts to narrow the digital divide (in terms of physical access), will widen the prevalence of digital inequity. Therefore, we must take a balanced and holistic approach when addressing digital inequity.
In today's day and age, as the Internet continues to diffuse into society, physical access is not as great of a concern as it once was. Physical access to technology (if not personally owned) is available at our schools and local public libraries. Physical access to Internet (if not available in the home) is available at the our schools, public libraries, and even our local Tim Hortons and McDonalds. Digital equity encompasses much more than simply having physical access to a device and the Internet. In fact, we can learn lessons from Thailand, India, and Peru in terms of addressing digital inequity within this narrow framework of physical access. This is not to say that physical access should not be addressed, but what is a call for concern is the digital inequity that exists among those with varying degrees of "access" in a broader sense of the word. I read an excellent paper this week that suggests five dimensions to digital inequity:
There exists, among those with physical access, inequity in the equipment they use to access the benefits of the Internet. Rob Kling, as cited in Paul DiMaggio and Eszter Hargittai's paper, highlight the importance of "suitable equipment, including computers of adequate speed and equipped with appropriate software for a given activity”, without which, inequity will exist. These limitations can negatively impact the ways in which people can engage with the Internet and develop an digital identity and footprint. DiMaggio and Hargittai point out that with the rise in bandwidth improvements, more websites require "late-model browsers to display Java applications, sophisticated graphics, or streaming audio or video." Inevitably, users without access to updated technologies will be impacted by less access to Internet content.
This reminds me of working in community schools with students who brought wifi-enabled technology to school, but were limited in what they could access with their technology, due to it being out-of-date and unable to support certain apps and content that could enhance their learning experience. I think back to students who, as recent as last school year, were bringing first-generation iPod Touches to school; while they were happy to have a foot in the digital world, they were significantly impacted on what they could achieve with their device. For example, the first generation iPod Touch could not take pictures or video, did not have Siri (and therefore voice-to-text recognition), most apps (and certain educational sites) could not be supported on their device as well. While some students enjoyed the full benefits of BYOT, some students did not enjoy the full benefits and needed to use supplemental devices from the school. For some students, this reality made their experience with their technology less gratifying. As DiMaggio and Hargittai point out, this limited accessibility could lead to students using the internet less frequently and limit their acquisition of the "skills that enable users to derive the full benefits that [full] access can provide."
I also think of the implications this issue has on a student's digital identity. With a device, such as the first gen iPod Touch (considering it is not capable of capturing picture or video), pictures and video posted to social media would likely be what others post on their behalf. In this case, they have less control of their contributions to their digital identity. These students would likely adopt more of a passive consumer role, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram posts, as opposed to actively creating a digital identity and footprint.
Autonomy of Use:
The notion of individual control over Internet use also creates digital inequities among those with physical access. Location of use (home, work, school, library, etc) plays a significant factor in the amount of autonomy one has over their access to the Internet, as well as the formation of their digital identity. Particularly when Internet access occurs outside of the home, students may be limited in their access to Internet content. For example, some schools block sites such as YouTube with the intent to prevent distraction from pointless, and sometimes distasteful, videos. However, this block also creates barriers to accessing all the credible and educational content that YouTube has to offer. Some schools have opted for filtering tools, but those, too, encourage blocking over talking. I personally believe that when we block content, particularly for older students, we are missing key opportunities to teach and cultivate meaningful citizenship (both digital and non-digital). Places of employment have also been known to place blocks on certain social media sites with the intent to decrease distraction and increase productivity. However, studies have shown that a quick break to engage with social media "can help employees clear their heads and come back refreshed to tackle projects." Furthermore, it decreases the opportunity for employees to exercise professional judgement. To add to this, employers--particularly employers of teachers--also hold their employees to a higher social standard. Jason Millar illustrates this in his article about educator digital identity and participation in social media. As Millar states, "If institutions seek to prescribe appropriate and inappropriate uses of the medium, then it seems that this will prevent educators from being able to make meaningful choices regarding authentic self-expression and self-representation"; hence, impacting the digital identity and autonomy of use of teachers.
From a home perspective, I have also witnessed parents who actively ensure that their children are not online. For instance, I had a student with create a photo-sharing account to share their magnificent sketches of anime. This was a student who did not have a social network at school (at all), but found a very meaningful social network online. They found a supportive space wherein other anime enthusiasts shared constructive feedback and suggestions for future sketches. It was evident that my student had found meaningful connections and they were starting to create a legitimate digital footprint. When the parent discovered the account, the student was made to shut it down. I cannot pass judgment on parental decisions involving their children, but what I can say is that this student did not have autonomy over their internet access and, right or wrong, lost control of their emerging digital identity.
Concerning autonomy of use, DiMaggio and Hargittai hypothesize, and I concur, that "the greater the autonomy of use, the greater the benefits the user derives."
Aim Sinpeng summarizes this digital inequity very succinctly in saying, "Inequality in skill affects if and how the Internet is used." What we can learn from failed initiatives to increase access, is that physical access means nothing without the skill to operate the technology. For instance, there must be a scaleable plan when deploying hardware and software in schools. If there is an absence or lack of teacher preparation in developing human capital, the result could be a widening, as opposed to narrowing, of the digital inequity among both teachers and students. This speaks to me quite profoundly, as Jenn and I, in our roles to develop the digital skills and pedagogy of teachers, invest a lot of time in this.
The issue of inequity in skill goes beyond the ability to log onto a computer and do a Google search. iMaggio and Hargittai cite that Dell Hymes refers to this issue as "Internet competence", which is the "capacity to respond pragmatically and intuitively to challenges and opportunities in a manner that exploits the Internet's potential." It goes without saying, as I have also personally witnessed, that a lack of Internet and technological competence has the potential to lead to a great deal of frustration with technology; even an avoidance or abandoning of it. A common explanation I hear from teachers not using certain technology is that they tried it once, and it didn't work. I believe that this heavily weighs on their likihood to attempt again. This Internet competence, as iMaggio and Hargittai state, is "related to the satisfaction users derive from the experience, the extent to which they find it stressful or rewarding, and therefore, the extent to which they persist in Internet use and acquire additional skills."
Again, this inequity in skill has an impact on the digital footprint of both teachers and students. What I am particularly concerned about is the impact that a lack of teacher technological and Internet competence can have on their students. A teacher's comfort-level with technology, more often than not, determines the amount and level of integration in teaching and learning. Therefore, if in a group of 60 students, 30 are in a classroom wherein the teacher has a high level of technological and Internet competence, and 30 are in a classroom wherein the other teacher has a low level of this competence, a digital divide will ultimately emerge between these two groups of students. This is concerning and is why Jenn and I are focusing our project on building the capacity of teachers (and ultimately, students) in the essential skills of 21st century learning.
The digital inequity of social support is closely linked to the inequity of digital skills. While skillful users continue to develop their skills and reap further benefits from technology and the Internet, those who lack skills grow more frustrated and intimidated (and likely avoid it altogether), unless they have adequate social support. Those who lack the essential skills to meaningfully reap the benefits of technology and the Internet need to be able to draw upon the skills and support of more proficient users when they reach the limits of their current ability.
Technology has impacted the educational landscape in a big way; yet there are educators that remain uncertain about how to effectively infuse it in teaching and learning, and require both technical and pedagogical support. This is a significant part of my role with Regina Catholic Schools as a Teacher Technology Coach. As the Partnership for 21st Century Skills asserts, “Today’s education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn”; as a coach, I hope to provide teachers with effective and valuable social support to keep education relevant, meaningful, and practical in an increasingly digital world. I very much believe that coaches can be change-agents to cultivate this desired transformation; in order to address the inequity of social support, I believe that more school divisions should be employing this model.
Purpose and Variations in Use:
"The Internet prophets who foresaw that the Web would empower citizens, increase social capital, and enhance equality of opportunity probably did not have gambling or pornography sites in mind when they made these predictions." I believe that the project Jenn and I are working on is addressing the issue of moving users beyond consumption of the Internet and its content. Our project is aiming to build the capacity of students to curate, connect, critically think, communicate, collaborate, create, and demonstrate citizenship in a digital landscape. In an educational context, where physical access is less of a concern, we need to ensure that all the hardware and software we provide is utilized beyond surface-level means (i.e. consumption and passive drill-and practice), to leverage the 7 C's of 21st century learning; for if we do not, we will never realize technology's full potential in educational enhancement, and we will end up further away from closing the gap of digital inequity.
Meaningful Access for Further Marginalized Users:
"As access diffuses to parts of the public who were initially excluded, dimensions related to quality of use become important bases by which the benefits of the technology are stratified." We need to be cognizant of the barriers certain users face in accessing the Internet. Joanne Weber has blogged extensively on this topic in regards to the digital inequity experienced by people who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). As a DHH educator, and a person who is deaf herself, this is a topic of tremendous passion and she writes very eloquently on the significant issues (I recommend reading her blog). Kirsten Hansen explores digital inequity within a gender context in her blog post this week. In the video below, you will see the inequity racial minorities face in terms of digital opportunities. Aim Sinpeng, in her article, mentions the digital inequity that non-English speakers face, as she states, "Knowledge of English (the de facto language of the Internet) can determine one’s likelihood of being part of the digital world. Empirical studies across non-English-speaking countries find that a lack of English knowledge can impair an individual’s online experience." I have personally witnessed this among my Spanish-speaking family members. I also think of members of the LGBTQ2 community and the digital inequity they may experience when accessing digital spaces. In the past, people seeking same-sex partners online were limited to fetish or sex sites. Digital space for understanding and engaging in supportive discourse concerning gender dysmorphia was even less accessible. It is no doubt that the offline world, while progress has been made, remains inequitable for people of the LGBTQ2 community, and this bleeds into the online world as well. That being said, I came across a good article last week that explored the positive affordances digital connections can have on identity. The article explored how social media and other apps for digital connections have potential for providing positive virtual spaces to explore and develop sexual identities in a world where their identities remain victim to stigmatization.
Although great efforts have been made in addressing the digital divide, I believe the time is ripe to broaden the scope of consideration when it comes to digital inequity. It is only when we look at digital disparities through a more holistic lens that we can make progress towards narrowing the gaps in digital access (including all dimensions mentioned above), and the formation of an authentic digital identity.
Can you think of other dimensions that should be considered when exploring digital inequity?
Do you have ideas about how we can continue to narrow the gap of digital inequity?
Teacher & Tech Coach with Regina Catholic Schools. Passion for EdTech, 21st century student-centered pedagogy, connected learning & differentiated instruction. Grad student.