Exploring Digital Literacies – Doug Belshaw

REMIXING LIFE

REmix Meme
Remixing Life

The other day, I was reading a fascinating article in International Literacy Association’s, Literacy_Daily_ entitled “Knowing the Difference Between Digital Skills and Digital Literacies, and Teaching Both”. In my opinion, it’s worth the read on a number of fronts.

First off, it reminds of Doug Belshaw’s wonderfully clear work in the area of Digital Literacy and it’s eight essential elements. There is a thorough TEDTALK summarizing Doug’s work through MEME’s and Cats.

Besides the characteristics being bang on, I enjoy the fact that the central word in the theory is REMIX! It acknowledges the fact that what is digital is meant to be messed with and mixed and blended and, well… remixed. This is evident in the kinds of new offerings that are beginning to appear in the apps stores online!

One example:
One of my colleagues introduced us, through her daughter’s fascinating work, to a wonderfully engaging & creative app called …

musical.ly app icon
MUSICAL.LY

This app, to quote another of my colleagues, is “Brilliant”! It is described as the fastest growing social video community, and it allows one to create, share, and discover short videos. I have to say that I love this app both for the shear fun it provides, but also for the possible ways it may assist students in demonstrating their understanding through the process of remixing.

Here’s a substandard example that I threw together without taking a lot of planning time. However, I did think about the song’s theme and try establishing connections between this and my action and special effect choices. I did take two stabs at it. The first going for facial expressions and the second for position so that I could more easily incorporate special effects. I actually used three apps to accomplish my product…. SnapChat for the lightening/special effects, iMovie to stitch things together and Musical.ly to publish the lot. My efforts are below (try not to judge too harshly).

Without that much effort, I managed to create a decent piece that address 3 of 8 of Belshaw’s Digital Literacies. Not bad.

3 of 8 Digital Literacies Covered
3 of 8 Digital Literacies Covered

Imagine what more capable students could do with the challenges, contests, poetry readings, rap retellings and other samplings that are available through this app. Image how students and teachers could dream up ways to critically address cultural norms in a constructive manner using music, poetry, rap, popular music with a remixed video or a mash-up of many music snippets creating a new message.

The point is, Digital Literacies are facilitated by tools around use. When teachers show student a tool like Musical.ly and how to use it we are really looking at Digital Skills. Digital skills focus on what and how. Digital literacy, on the other hand, focuses on why, when, who, and for whom.

And this brings me to a second, and third reasons the article is worth reading…

I was reminded that the teaching of any literacy, digital or otherwise, should never happen in a vacuum. Authentic learning in authentic environments conducive to learners, such as maker spaces, tinkering areas, and the like are critical for the learner to succeed. Creating “real-world” experiences that connect learners meaningfully to tasks or problems is important. For example, rather than teaching Twitter and hashtags in isolation, have students participate in an assignment where Twitter may support their learning process, perhaps as a researching or reflection tool. This creates the need to learn Twitter and hashtags among other Twitter related items.

One downside to placing students in authentic digital learning environments is that there are potential risks involved: risks to privacy, security, personal safety, bullying and the like. Some believe we need to lock students out, block every questionable websites, keep cell phones out of schools and classrooms, deny access, limit access and the list goes on. But is this the way it should be? I wonder….

Should we be teaching responsible use? The profession often talks about turning responsibility for learning over to the students, scaffolding student learning, providing descriptive and supportive feedback that moves learning forward. But when it comes to technology, especially when it comes working online and using smartphones, we enter an almost “prohibition state” and forget some of our best practices. Perhaps what we should try to do is talk openly with students about risks and how to mitigate them. Perhaps we should normalize the existence of smartphone use in schools/classrooms and allow students and teachers to leverage them for learning both on the consumption and creation side of things. Perhaps by openly talking, sharing, negotiating and critically thinking about these issues we can come to an agreement that privacy, permissions, mutual consent, lower risk behaviour, mutual respect and support for each other are quite important characteristics for digital citizens in a digital age.

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