Digital Literacy: let’s remove the fear.

On Friday I attended an English INSET at my University along with a large group of English teachers from a local federation. The day was really informative and provided a great opportunity to hear the experiences of other teachers.

There were a range of workshops throughout the day that teachers could sign up to. When I first arrived at the digital literacy workshop, looked around at the other teachers in the room and the wide age range of these teachers, I felt really optimistic. However, as the workshop went on, I couldn’t help but feel slightly unenthusiastic. Now this had absolutely nothing to do with the content, rather the audience participation. Considering this was an optional workshop, I could not help but feel that some teachers had come along with an unwillingness to embrace the use of digital literacy in the classroom and just wanted a good argument to liven up their Friday afternoon. This has stayed with me and has been troubling me so, as the name of my blog suggests, I thought I would let my thoughts on the topic out!

My main reason for using digital literacy in my teaching is that I am preparing students for their future. In doing so, they need to be equipped with the tools and skills that they will require in their workplaces. One argument I have often heard among English teachers against using iPads, laptops etc. in the classroom is that students need to write with a pen and paper. I was considering why we believe this skill to be so important in our subject. My conclusion is that students need to have the ability to write for quite some time and produce large amounts of written work in their English GCSE (and possibly A Level) exams. Now of course, whilst exams are still handwritten, this is something we need to prepare our students for. However, if all the work we produce in our subject is with pen and paper then could we not argue that we are wholly teaching to the exam. Speaking for myself, since leaving school and entering the workplace, the most amount of handwriting I do is when marking books, scribbling down lesson plans and writing my ‘To Do’ lists (which granted can often include substantial amounts of handwriting!). Therefore, if we do not like the idea of teaching to the exam and we believe an aspect of our work is preparing students for life beyond school, then should they not be using tablets, laptops, computers to be documenting their work and developing their skills?

Similarly, when students enter my classroom, I don’t want them to feel that they are stepping back in time. During the workshop, we were shown a clip from Sir Ken Robinson who suggested that technology is not technology if it came around before you were born. Therefore, for many of our students, getting their phones out to take a photo of their work is not groundbreaking stuff, just as recording their revision notes as a podcast isn’t. If this is stuff they do in their daily life then it seems obvious that we would embrace this in our teaching. In my training I have often been told to get to know the students and their interests to attempt to bridge the gap between life in school and life out of school.

One major concern seemed to be the worry that digital literacy meant a goodbye to all other forms of literacy. I personally own a smartphone, a kindle, a laptop and, when my cheque arrives shortly with my tax rebate from Mr Tax Man, I will soon own an iPad. However, I also own bookshelves full of books, stack of notepads and pens and pencils of all sorts of varieties. This may say something about the kind of consumer I am in the 21st Century; however, I think it is also telling of our current society. In today’s world we seem to be embracing the ‘traditional’ items alongside the ‘modern’ and/or ‘contemporary’ items. Many of us have made this work for us in our personal lives. I think we can also make it work in our classrooms. Tablets do not need to replace exercise books however we could look at ways of incorporating both to keep our students engaged in their learning.

Digital literacy can create endless opportunities and, as a result of this, working hours can seem endless. If students are commenting on blog posts or tweeting you images of their work at 11pm, is there an expectation that the teacher is always on hand to comment back? I would suggest that this is for each teacher to set their boundaries. I have noticed this is something I am currently useless at – I am constantly looking on Twitter, concerned in case I miss ideas. However, this is my issue. At the moment I am still far too excited at this concept of teaching and am desperate to learn how to emulate some of the fantastic teachers that I suddenly have access to through the use of social media. Yet saying this, I recently decreased my data allowance so that when I am out and about I am appreciating all that is going on around me in real time, rather than through the cyber world, once again incorporating both aspects of society in my life.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it is all about compromise. I am probably preaching to the converted here – if you are reading my blog then you are probably quite attuned to the concept of technology and digital literacy in learning. It just worries me how many missed opportunities there will be for our students, teachers and schools if we refuse to have a growth mindset on the topic.