Connecting voices: new mindsets, new opportunities

(Pre-reading short paper prepared for Literacy Link in preparation for the 2006 ACAL Conference)

Background

Adult Literacy has been one of the slowest fields to adopt new technologies, and perhaps rightly so. If you attended the ACAL conference in 2003 in Alice Springs you might remember the informal survey I conducted to gauge current usage and issues. While this highlighted strong interest in exploring the use of technologies, particularly multimedia, the actual take-up was less than 50%. Factors such as lack of technical support, funding, access to computers as well as a lack of confidence by individual teachers in their own ICT skills and knowledge were cited as inhibitors. But in my mind it was equally about the nature of the technologies available at that time. Why adopt something that will not benefit the learners, does not enrich our teaching practice?
From 2004 on, but particularly in the last 12 months, Digital Storytelling (http://digitales.wikispaces.com) has been taking the world of adult literacy and English Language provision (as well as VET in general) by storm. Increased access to digital cameras and the introduction of quick and easy to use software options such as PhotoStory3, has lead to growing use of the methodology as a means to both capture student stories and to provide more engaging and accessible instructional material. Digital image and sound is providing new opportunities for learners previously marginalized in a written text hungry education system. The challenge however has been how to publish and share those stories with a global audience.
Coming from left of centre, but with clear resonance with digital storytelling and what it seeks to achieve, we are seeing the emergence of a new mindset in e-learning; Web2.0 and connected learning, or connectivism as coined by George Siemens (http://www.connectivism.ca/about).

So what’s the shift all about?

For me the focus is very much about:
  • People rather than content
  • Conversations and collective intelligence
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections and linkages
  • Learning in and across global communities
  • User established and controlled spaces and self publishing
  • Shared understandings
  • Collaborative, dynamic, evolving content/ resources

We are shifting the power base from ‘techos’ with programming skills and those with the dollars to produce (often biased) content, to all users, to our students, to us, using social software tools and approaches such as:
  • Mobile phones, SMS etc
  • Blogs (online journals, conversation spaces)
  • Wikis (editable collaborative web spaces)
  • Online shared repositories and tagging (FlickR, YouTube, Del.icio.us,
  • Subscription filters (RSS)
  • Online communities (MySpace)

More than ever, knowing how to access information when needed is vital; far more important than acquiring knowledge and skills that will be out of date before we know it. No teacher can possibly stay up to date with the information and knowledge that learners require. It’s also vital to support the development of information literacy skills to remain safe in the big bad world of the internet.

In his NZ blog, Greg Carroll (http://blog.core-ed.net/greg/2006/07/the_nature_of_literacy.html) cites a post by David Warlick in the 2 Cents worth blog (http://davidwarlick.com/2cents/ )
These …. ‘emerging characteristics offer to change not only what and how we teach, but the very structure of the education experience, evaporating the definitions of teacher, learner, classroom, textbook, and all of the other firmwares of the institution, and making education an integral part of living. This, by no means, means the demise of the teacher, classroom, student, or even the textbook (though that surely must evolve into something far more networked, digital, and overwhelming). It simply means that what happens in the formal learning experience must look much more like on-the-job training, where we are helping [learners] become life-long learners.
Our indication of educational success must be much less a measure of what students know, and much more a measure of what they can teach themselves.’


How do we teach in this new paradigm, with these new tools? In our ACAL conference Friday afternoon computer lab session, Stephan Ridgway and I will introduce you to a few of the easier to use social software tools. Through use of the tools we’ll begin some debate around both uses/opportunities and issues to be addressed.

Further reading:

Web 2.0 - http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html
http://blogs.zdnet.com/web2explorer/?p=5