Teachers use of digital resources: drivers and blockers

The trigger for this post – a paper on teachers’ use of digital technologies in Singapore
Earlier this week I stumbled on an interesting paper about teachers in Singapore in a recent issue of BJET. The authors were interested in whether teachers were following the recommendations about integrating digital technologies into their teaching practice.

They asked student teachers to complete a survey asking them how much they tended to comply with requirements to use digital technology, and their perceived sense of competence, value and frequency of digital technologies as a teaching aid.

Interestingly they found a negative correlation between compliance and technology use, indicating that “teachers who were more competent at using digital technologies were less likely to be compliant in the rule for using them in class, and those who were compliant may not actually apply digital technologies in their teaching”.

In contrast, a teacher’s perception of their competence and the value of digital technologies were positively correlated with how often they used technology in class.

This interesting finding suggests that mandating the use of digital technologies – telling a teacher what digital technology to use and when to use it – may not be the best way to get technology into teaching practice (surprise surprise!).

Indeed the authors state that “a more productive approach may be to enhance the competence of teachers in the use of digital technologies so that they value its effectiveness and are confident to apply it in classroom activities”.

Drivers and blockers to teachers’ use of digital technologies
This got me thinking about a review I did for Becta called “Teacher use of digital learning resources: a summary of the drivers and blockers to resource use”. It was completed in 2007 so it is getting on a bit now, but it’s worth summarising some interesting points.

After a pretty extensive review, I decided that the drivers and blockers appeared to exist one one of four ‘levels’ these being:
1. Technical (e.g. having access to the internet from the classroom)
2. Organisational (e.g. Schools promoting the use of digital resources)
3. Teacher/process (Teacher time constraints, confusion and concerns relating to e.g. copyright)
4. Teacher/emotional (e.g. not feeling valued for creating resources, fear of looking stupid in front of peers or students if something goes wrong)

Who owns a teacher’s digital resources?
The thing I found interesting was that, based on the many anonymous responses I received from teachers after posting for comments on teacher discussion forums, the most powerful blocker related to emotional issues. This was either a fear of looking foolish, or a resentment that resources would not be valued – and might even be stolen – by other staff or by their school/LEA. And yet I couldn’t find any literature about this issue anywhere! Hence why I canvased the discussion forums. Here’s a couple of quotes from the replies I received:

“I’m usually happy to share resources with people and contribute to forums such as SLN. However my HOD barely ever speaks to me or thanks me for anything I do. Imagine my surprise when I find that my HOD has copied files (without my permission) from my disk and then passed my work off as theirs for an area of the curriculum they are responsible for planning… It was my disk, the work was produced on my computer and in my own time so I think it’s mine?” TES Community Forum (2007)

”I teach in FE and have developed computer-based courses such as English for Driving…It was passed on to XXXXX by someone within my institute. It is now selling commercially and the college is making money from royalties. What do I get? Not even a drop of recognition. How do I feel? Mixed emotions.” ICTResearch Email reply (2007)

“I teach in an FE college in Scotland. My contract of employment states that the college owns the copyright of everything produced (even in my own time). Many Scottish FE colleges have the same or similar contracts. The only way to share anything is to break the contract – which many people do. As far as I know no one has ever had any problems – but it is hardly encouraging.” ICTResearch Email reply (2007)

“I’ve just resigned from working with one particular LEA… for telling me that I can’t discuss ideas and problems on lists such as this in case I say something that ‘will reflect badly on the LEA’. This clearly makes it more difficult for teachers to share anything.” ICTResearch Email reply (2007)

Makes for interesting reading, huh.

So what to conclude? In Singapore we see that teachers do not want to comply with mandated directions for use of digital technologies. They want to take ownership, to choose when and how they want to use digital resources to dove-tail into their teaching.
In my review I found that when teachers did bother to make resources, they were often told that they belonged to the school, to the LEA, and in one case to the HoD :o)

Surely if we want teachers to engage with using and creating digital resources – things that can in theory be swapped and shared and re-mixed – then we should ensure that they keep ownership, and that we train teachers about copyright issues and ways in which they can protect their resources whilst still sharing them.


A definition of digital competence

I was asked to give my definition of digital literacy (what the EU calls “digital competence”). After reviewing all that reading, previous digital literacy work, blog posts and your helpful comments this is what I came up with:

“A digitally competent person has effective ICT skills, an ability to critically evaluate information, and social awareness. That is to say, they can use the most common technologies to safely find and/or publish digital resources, commonly via the internet. They can critically evaluate what they find, remembering that people and knowledge – even with good intention – can be fallible. They understand internet ‘etiquette’, and consider the appropriateness, consequences and longevity of information before broadcasting information online.”



Email propaganda and digital literacy

The other day I came across one of the best examples of email propaganda I’ve seen in ages. It was a round-robin email and it was sent to me by a friend – himself a very ICT competent man in his 60’s, a senior pilot, currently working abroad teaching adults in a flight simulator environment.

He had, to my mind, done two things that are quite naive in terms of digital literacy (reminder: digital literacy = ICT competence + critical thinking + social awareness).

First, he’d forwarded a round robin email. Surely I can speak for us all in saying that this is just not done! To my mind this showed a lack of social awareness. And yet, having asked several friends and colleagues, this seems to be a frequent pastime of the over 55’s. (Why is this? Suggestions please!)

Second, he had forwarded it without noticing some interesting phrases, sentences and words that I considered to be clues that all was not as it seemed.

Take a look at the email:

This is what I thought:
“Wow, very emotive and evocative language describing her methods of rescue. Very passionate about the cause. Hang on, why mention Al Gore so rudely? Winning the Nobel Prize for a ‘slide show on global warming’? Bit harsh. Hmm, and why mention Obama’s middle name (Hussein) before having a go at his Nobel Prize?

It smelt fishy.
So I did two things: I Googled some of the key facts quoted, and I searched for any previous Web mentions of this email. And do you know what I found?

This email originated as part of a subtle email smear campaign against the Democrats during the US electoral campaign. Hence why it first appeared four years ago (the US elections) and why it’s doing the rounds again.

The story about Irena Sendler is a vehicle to get our attention, the rant about Gore and Obama is a subtle dig to influence our opinion.

In addition, the facts about Irena have been skewed with emotive language and incorrect data – perhaps to manipulate our behaviour and maximise the likelihood of a person forwarding the email.

For more info’ about Irena there’s is a film about her, called “Irena Sendler, In the Name of the Mothers” – for which the filmmaker recorded over 70 hours of interviews with Irena before her death. You can also read more about this email from another blogger (Sept 2010) here.

So what was my conclusion? This example happened to have attributes that raised my suspicions, but there have got to be loads of examples which I don’t notice. Makes you think about the power of good marketing and social influence huh.


What does it mean to be “digitally literate”?

Today I was asked to describe what it means to be digitally literate.

I decided to take a risk and to do this without reaching for a book or a previously written report or article. I also tried to describe a component of digital literacy that I haven’t mentioned in previous talks or reports – something I’ve here called “transformational skills”. This is an evolving concept and might be totally rubbish – so bear with me!

Anyway, this is what I came up with. What do you think? What have I missed? Do you agree/disagree? Please feel free to add your descriptions below.

A description of a digitally literate person
A digitally literate person is someone who can integrate and communicate in the digital – particularly online – world. They have the following four qualities: basic ICT skills, the facility to critically evaluate information, a good level of social awareness, and transformational skills.

Let’s look at each in turn:

1. ICT skills:
A digitally literate person should have a sound knowledge of the most commonly used technologies, ICT software and hardware resources, and a knowledge of how to use such resources to e.g. access the internet and find/publish information online.

2. Facility to critically evaluate:
A digitally literate person should ask themselves about the origin of digital information they find: to question the author, the medium of publication, and the possible reasons for publication. They should consider the time, place and cultural context that the information was published in, and the likely effect it had/will have when people are exposed to it. They should consider checking key facts and/or searching around the information for other sources and points of view. They should be aware that people and knowledge – even with good intention – can be fallible.

3. Social awareness
They should know how to interact appropriately with other people via digital technologies. They should consider the impact and longevity of digital information that they are considering publishing, and protect others from being mis-interpreted (whether it’s posting embarrassing photos of colleagues to Facebook, or blogging pictures of your child with a visible name and school uniform logo).

4. Transformational skills
A digitally literate person should be aware that the pace of technological change and quantity of information in today’s society is so great that they are unlikely to ever be master of any single skill or subject. They stop thinking about success only in terms of mastery, and instead also include facilitation and communication.
They are self-motivated to seek and share information, to learn new skills, and – at least initially – experience new information with an open mind. They are not only aware of things that they do not yet know about, they are also aware that there are even more things that they ‘don’t know they don’t know’. They are prepared to evolve and transform themselves through their lifespan.


Digital Literacy in a EU context

Having first started work on issues relating to digital literacy in 2008-9 I’ve tended to focus at a national (and mainly schools-related) policy level. When I completed a review on digital literacy for Becta in 2009 I had no idea that the EU was about to start a two year project to investigate what they call ‘digital competence’.

I’m chuffed to have been invited to Seville at the end of this month to talk to the EU project officers. In preparing for this I’m learning a lot about the EU’s perspective on digital literacy. I thought it might be handy to blog some of this, not least because it’s helped me to get to grips with all the policy and acronyms!

EU policy, digital literacy, and the eight key competences
In 2000 the EU Council concluded that a European framework should define the new basic skills to be provided through lifelong learning, as a key measure in Europe’s response to globalisation and the shift to knowledge-based economies. They emphasised the need for us all to realise that now – and for the foreseeable future – “people are Europe’s biggest asset”.

Member states developed the idea of ‘key competences’ as part of their lifelong learning strategies. They envisaged that such competences, once identified, could become embedded within the educational policy of all member states – both within initial school-based education, teacher-training, adult and work-based learning, and in support for the disadvantaged.

In 2006, after what I can only imagine to be hundreds of hours of meetings (!) they identified 8 key competences which “all individuals need for personal fulfilment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion and employment”. The 8 competences are as follows:
1. Communication in the mother tongue
2. Communication in foreign languages
3. Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology
4. Digital competence
5. Learning to learn
6. Social and civic competences
7. Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship
8. Cultural awareness and expression

It is the fourth of these – digital competence – which encompasses what we call ‘digital literacy’. They broadly define digital competence as “the confident, critical and creative use of ICT to achieve goals related to work, employability, learning, leisure, inclusion and/or participation in society“.

Once identified, the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) were tasked with completing work packages to clarify the issues relating to each competence. Digital Competence was given to the JRC’s ‘Institute for Prospective Technological Studies’ (aka the JRC-IPTS!). Specifically, the JRC-IPTS have been asked to identify and validate a Europe-wide definition, a key components ‘framework’, and implementation roadmap for digital competency.

The EU “Digital Competence” Project is ongoing. They have completed a thorough literature review, and have published a summary document which also proposes a ‘conceptual model of digital competence’.

Phew! OK, so where do I come in? Because in 2009-10 I completed a very similar (smaller!) project for Becta…

The Becta v EU project structure
The Becta (2008-10) and EU (2010-12) projects were/are very similar: both started with an international review of current thinking (links here to summary, full review, catalogue of evidence), and both wanted to create a framework/model that describes how to teach people to become digitally literate.

There are some slight differences between the projects: Becta’s focus was to then create resources for schools, developed mainly by Sarah Payton and her team from Futurelab – for example see their “Digital Literacy across the Curriculum” handbook and Professional Development resource page. I also created a couple of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 introductory packs for teachers and students (see separate blog post).

The EU project is instead focussing at a policy level; aiming to identify how to implement this framework into formal and informal education in practice – hence why they have organised a consultation between digital literacy folk and policy holders.

Do you have anything you want to say about the EU Digital Competence findings so far?
It’s this EU consultation that I’ve been invited to at the end of this month. I’m currently trying to review the UK’s current status in this regard, for example by talking to the Jisc team about their ‘Developing Digital Literacies’ project, and Sarah Payton about her British Library ‘Digital Pathways’ work.

I would be really interested to hear any thoughts you might have about the EU Digital Competence work. My aim is to act as a facilitator, and I hope to create links between the EU project and initiatives/people here in the UK.

(To ease any furrowed brows, I hear-by publicly promise not to nick any ideas and pass them off as mine own – this is an altruistic process!)