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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Digital Participation, Digital Inclusion and Social Learning

Digital Participation - Why?

Attended the 'Measuring the Unmeasurable: Digital Participation' Seminar at Birmingham University on Monday 19th July. I was unsure as to what to expect. My motivation to attend stems from my interest in informal online learning and how connectivist methods of online learning can be used to promote digital participation. Also interested in the notion of measuring participation. The purpose of the session was to provide a forum for discussion of the meaning and measurability of digital participation
. Key objectives of this initiative from Birmingham City University was to:
  • To start up a continuing dialogue between researchers, activists and policy-makers about issues of research and measurement.
  • To identify key concerns about the meaning and value of digital participation.
It would seem and i agree that widespread digital participation is a desirable aim for the government of any country. Desirable if you are a government that wishes to be inclusive and not have certain sections of the nation excluded from modern communication. Indeed here in the UK the topic has attracted interest because the previous government identified a goal of increasing digital participation. The new coalition Government also shares this ambition. More information can be found here at the raceonline2012 website. The importance of digital inclusion and digital participation for the Government are emphasised by Martha Lane Fox, the governments UK Digital champion:
"We need to be ambitious, ‘think internet first’ when we design services, and put the needs of the hardest to reach at the heart of industry, charity and government. There is a social and moral case to make sure more people are online but there is a clear economic case too. We will all be better off when everyone is online." July 2010
Throughout the seminar i kept asking myself why - Why are the Government pushing this, What is their motivation, What is their Vision. Martha Lane Fox offers this:

and the seminar introductory text offers this:

"Lord Carter presented the final Digital Britain report in June 2009 (. The report highlighted the need to engage a wider cross section of the public in going online; identifying that such engagement would result in the efficiencies and economic benefits expected from living and working in the digital age. It is quite a detailed report and i have not had a chance to read it yet. As part of the digital participation agenda the following were identified as important topics to address:
  • Digital Life Skills
  • Digital Inclusion and
  • Digital Media literacy

Overview of Proceedings

Speakers at this event included:
  • Professor David Macguire Birmingham University, Pro-Vice Chancellor Corporate Development
  • Paul Watson – Director, Digital Economy Hub for Inclusion through the Digital Economy
  • Catherine Bunting – Director of Research, Arts Council England
  • Alison Preston – Senior Research Associate, Ofcom
Proceedings were kicked of by Professor David Macguire who emphasized the point that we are now part of a knowledge sharing economy and that through the development of digital technology their has been an information revolution, but without effort to achieve digital participation throughout the country then we will perpetuate the digital divide that exists, whee currently 12.5 mullion out of the 65-70 million will not be participating.

Keynote Speaker Paul Watson told us about the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy
. (side) research project that looks at problems of accessibility, connection at home and in society, transport and capitalizing on the emeregence of creative industries through the eyes of technologists, sociologists, business leaders and end users to provide scalable, sustainable and economically viable solutions. This project goes much wider than just ensuring that people have access to the internet, but does encapsulate good practice in promoting a model of joined up thinking on the subject of digital participation. This short video explains the sort of thing Paul Watson and his team are researching:

Alison Pearson outlined what Ofcom who had been commissioned under the Cartrer Report (2009) to collect statistics on digital participation outlined
the approach they have taken to measuring digital participation. This included measuring:
  • Reach: Who uses the Internet, Where do they use it, How do they access it.
  • Breadth: The ranges and types of Activity
  • Depth: User contributions and Content creation.
Part of the role of Ofcom is to them measure the social and economic impact i.e. The extent to which participating online had improved social contact and economically whether savings had been made. Additionally Ofcom looked at the appetite for take up amongst non users and the reasons why some people do not have the internet at home.

Whilst the final speaker Catherine Bunting had some worthwhile incites into using cluster analysis and segmentation research methodologies to get a firm grip on who is participating in arts based events (off line) and lessons can be learned and applied to digital measurement I was much more interested in How do we get people to participate, what does participate mean or simply asking the question why should you/me participate.

Presumably others felt similarly as the afternoon workshop by Jennifer Jones on Depth
was by far and away the most well attended.

Why is participation important? - Some thoughts!
Well too me it depends on who is answering the question, but the bottom line to me is that participating online promotes social learning and learning in all its forms is a strong foundation for progress within a society. There was a strong feeling i got from our discussions on the day that one of the strong motivations was to save the government money by moving services online - which is all fine, dandy, proper and good but whoever is driving this vision must be driving with a passionate belief that being a digital citizen allows the individual and society to develop and improve both from a social and economic point of view.

If we leave the top end knowledge workers to one side, to encourage full digital citizenship there needs to be a social, life benefit to participating which will attract interest from all levels of the community. To the individual if their are benefits to be gained economically or in terms of convenience then this will indeed be one strand of the motivation. If digital participation can have a link to offline activities that foster community and social activities that would be another important and worthwhile strand. Participating online, mixing and socializing will inevitable lead to informal social learning, but there are also fantastic opportunities to support people online who are looking to learn specific skills and competencies.

So underpinning effective and inclusive digital participation will be education and especially education in the new media literacies that are required to function effectively in a wide range of activities on the web. This may require a change in teaching mentality that embraces new media technology in schools. The video below will set the scene for creating digital citizens for the 21st century.

Alison Pearson of Ofcom talked of the importance of media literacy and on that subject here is a fantastic resource from Ruth Howard one of the participants of a recent CritLit2010 worldwide online course pondering the critical literacies required for the online networked learner. A lot of links here to educators around the world that are discussing and debating how the web can foster social and informal learning.

To wrap up i would say obviously that massive investment in kids education from 5 upwards is imperative. Reading and writing would be a good place to start (and overcome the nonsense of kids in the UK not being able to read and write effectively as they move into teenage and adult life), followed by good grounding, good experience and good discussion on how to participate in a social media driven web world. On that theme Howard RheinGold's Participatory Media And The Pedagogy Of Civic Participation presentation is a comprehensive look at participatory media. For existing adults i do believe the learndirect type centers offer good potential to develop digital and community participation. Having worked in a similar drop-in style computer center for Stafford College many years ago - it was very effective in teaching the basic skills of computing and having a focal point in the community.

Development of other online social enterprises such as those run by Stuart Parker at We Share Stuff and Comunity focused Social Media Surgeries whose aim it is to take make it easier to find and run social media surgeries to support community groups, local charities and local active citizens are welcome initiatives..

Another useful website to help in upgrading basic computer skills is Online basics
That's about it from me - i think you can see that my view is that an aim to improve learning for all and develop better educated citizens is the best way to approach the aim of making digital participation inclusive for all.

I leave you finally with some interesting websites from outside of the UK that may help inform thinking on this subject - One from America The Institute of Digital Inclusion and one from Australia whose aim is to build bridges between educators and technology to help make technology accessible, easy to understand and simple to use.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Connectivist Learning #CritLit2010 #CCK09

After reading George Siemen's post on Connectivism taxonomy and John Mak's response I compared the points expressed with the critical literacy taxonomy that i had published in my last blog post and with my own views on connectivist learning. I have subsequently created a wiki page to develop a Critical Literacies Taxonomy and a wiki page that looks at Connectivist Taxonomy Linked to Critical Literacies. I'd welcome any input to develop and discuss the issues as a group from interested colleagues.

If we start with some feedback on George's proposed connectivist taxonomy. Firstly I agree with the suggestion from Brad Hodge that metacognition could come in as early as connection forming. Maybe at Praxis level metacognition encapsulates more thought about the network. As John Mak asserts maybe in the "chaos and fuzzy dynamic" connnectivist online environment it is difficult to "measure competency in a discreet manner" with regard to the development of a connectivist learner. I based my subsequent Connectivist Taxonomy Linked to Critical Literacies, on John's further proposal that a dynamic n-dimensional (mxn) model of taxonomy may be more suitable. You'll notice from the model that one further distinction i have drawn is that the connectivist taxonomy appears to progress from individual knowledge development and then move on the network knowledge development and i thought it was important to emphasize that distinction.

The other strong points to emerge for me were the 1) excellent point raised by Avi Charkam and the role of the teacher in the taxonomy of connectivist learning and 2) John Mak's highlighting of the social and emotional elements that contribute to learning e.g. emotional control, self awareness, self confidence, motivation, social skills and interpersonal skills, social elements (social awareness, ethics, intelectual property awareness etc). Perhaps a matrix model may help in this regard

On a side, but equally relevant issue these two points struck a chord with me as my in my masters dissertation i proposed a model of distance learning termed SCORE 2.0. This model was inspired by connectivism, wherby i see not just the fantastic potential of asynchronous communication to aid informal learning, but i see the interactive synchronous classroom sessions as a fantastic medium to connect people much more strongly than asynchronous alone. I see the teacher being very important in this model of distance learning - not just in delivering, but in planning the whole learning experience. Connectivist, active and social learning runs through the heart of the model and the teachers role is to engineer and support development of a connectivist mentality. It would seem that the approach to connectivist learning is that it is strongly self directed learning. I believe that connectivist learning can be viewed along a continuum from heavily supported learning to a fully self directed learning and that the teacher has the important role if giving the appropriate support at various times along this continuum.

The key findings of my masters disseration were that the online synchronous classroom when used in conjunction with varied learning activities can be a motivating and engaging environment in which to build a community of learners. Supporting ‘Web 2.0’ technologies play an important part in supporting the community of learners and in helping to develop learner autonomy. Vital to the successful implementation of the model is an appropriately trained and motivated teacher. For those interested here is my dissertation.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Network Learning: A Taxonomy of Critical Literacies #CritLit 2010

From the discussions and reflection so far in the CritLit 2010 course I set out to build on my earlier blog posts and develop my own understanding of critical literacies for the 21st century networked learner. Encouraged by Ruth Howard and John Mak i initially considered developing a taxonomy of literacies in the form of a visual model to capture the elements identified by the Critit2010 group. In considering what to include and how to represent it i started to reflect back on the course materials, presentations and discussions.

Foundational Critical Literacies

Strange as it may seem i have not seen many of the presentations related to the weekly topics, but have worked from the readings and the subsequent blog postings of others. It was good then to work my way through Grainne Conole's presentation on one of the key foundational literacies (as proposed by Stephen Downes) which came in week 1 on Cognition.
Simultaneously i was trying to appreciate the significance of what i would call the other key 'communicative' or 'signifying' foundational literacies of syntactics, semantics and pragmatics and wondering whether these foundational literacies can be worked into my proposed visual model. An example of what i had in mind can be seen is this visual model of Bloom's Taxonomy.

The importance of the other key foundational literacies of 'appreciation of context' and the 'ability to recognise and adapt to change' quickly became apparent in Grainne's presentation. Grainne pointed out that the context of education is itself changing. We have an explosion of new and ever changing technologies, ubiquitous networked access (mobile and broadband) and an abundance of free online tools and applications.Additionally learners themselves are changing - they are growing up 'digital' - i.e technologically immersed, task orientated, group based and just in time mentality and comfortable with multiple representation. This context facilitates new technological approaches that move from a content driven, transmission passive recipient model of learning to a more participative, active and social way of teaching and learning. In this context the six key foundational literacies are going to be much more important for networked learning. Grainne points out that although the technological environment in the 21st century fosters a myriad of affordances (action possibilities) for a learner - the affordances for an individual will be limited to their capabilities - i.e their critical literacies.

Grainne suggests that the technological affordances at all levels (written words and numbers, 1st wave technology - phone, radiot, tape,TV, 2nd wave technology of computer networks, mobiles, the internet) are communication, connection, interactivity and representation and that practices evolve depend on the characteristics of the users (e.g. preferences, interests, skills, context).

We can see for networked learners in the 21st century an example of how critical literacies are important when we consider Grainne's example of using the microblogging service 'Twitter". Examples of use include posting queries, commenting, gathering opinions, sharing ideas, brainstorming, maintaining social presence. We'll just consider some of the issues of using this service that were raised and how they may relate to our foundational critical literacies. Issues identified were:

i) Your 'a-ha' moment (cognition - ability to infer)
ii) is it the right network (context)
iii) your digital voice (syntax, semantics and pragmatics i.e how you communicate)
iv) Inappropriateness (syntax, semantics, pragmatics cognition, context and maybe change)
v) Personal/Private (context and maybe change)
vi) Too much twittering (cognition and maybe change)
vii) Use with other tools (cognition, context and maybe change) and
viii) A passing fad (cognition context and maybe change).

I'd be interested to hear others view on how i have tried to relate these foundational critical literacies to issues raised in twitter. At times i was not sure i could make a clear relationship. Where i feel more comfortable is in trying to align some of the practical (more tangible) literacies identified during this course and positioning these in some sort of schema, taxonomy or model that may inform the inclusion of these critical literacies as part of teaching and learning.

A taxonomy of Critical Literacies (skills) for the networked learner

I have so far collated the information below, i have put it into a semi visual format, but repeated in text format below. Still lots to reflect on, but maybe others would like consider if the top level categories need expanding/changing and what is missing from this taxonomy of critical literacies. Critical thinking skills are considered to be brought to bear on all the critical literacies from 4-7. Final thought as i write this - should these categories be referred to as skills so as not to be confused with our underlying foundational critical literacies.

1. Basic
* i) Reading/Writing
* ii) Numeracy

2. Life
* i) Management of Time, Workload and Prioritising,
* II) Self-Efficacy

3. Computer
* e.g. ECDL - European Computer Driving License

4. Web -
* 1.Managing your Digital Identity - SM
* 2.Recognizing Authenticity and Legitimate Authority - SM
* 3.Emotional and Social Intelligence (Relationship Building and Development inc trust and respect) - JohnM
* 4.Self Expression and Participation - SM
* 5.Wayfinding behaviors and Strategies in Large Virtual Environments – JennyM
* 6.Ask Questions - Think Critically! JohnM

5. Learning
* 1.Interpreting Visual Data RH
* 2.Information management - Network Student Youtube Video
* 3.Self reflection, self-directed learning (with learning agenda, experimentation & practice – JohnM
* 4.Concise, reflective expression and inquiry? . – JohnM
* 5.Appreciating the impact of Complexity Theory? – JennyM
* 6.Literacy of Memory (Storage of data/knowledge/connections –SM
* 7.Storytelling - X28

6. Teaching/ Professional Development
* to explore

7. Research
* to explore

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