Digital Considerata

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At first, I considered calling this post “Digital Desiderata,” but then opted for the current title – “Digital Considerata” – which seems far more fitting of my intentions for this #LiDA101 post. And, although both titles would make sense and I suspect both words are potentially related, in some way, I have opted for the latter – a more closely engaged reflection.

It is not unusual for me to pause and think, sometimes at length, about word origins. And, although I have been invited to reflect upon what terms like “digital literacy,” “digital skills,” and “digital fluency,” the seemingly natural thing to do is ponder the qualifier – “digital.

It seems to me that the shift from fingers and counting and such to things related to more contemporary technologies like computers, mobile devices, and embedded tech is a messy one, but one that is rooted in a particular cultural framing of number. After all, not all cultures represented number using 10 symbols. The early Babylonians used based-60, for example. This is a seemingly complex number system, but clearly does not represent how many fingers (and toes, perhaps) that human beings have. That said – and, it has been a while since I’ve read about this number system – I suspect that this number system has nothing to do with those kinds of “digits.” All the same, the connection between numbers, counting, and calculating all reveal some rather complex connections to the word “digital.”

No, I shall not count the ways. And, unlike the ways that Barrett Browning may enumerate the ways in which she swoons over her love, I’m not sure that one could count – or, perhaps better, enumerate – the myriad connections that make for a complex history of term “digital.”

So much for my pondering. But, I feel, the shift away from numerals, numbers, counting, and calculating is seemingly evident at this time. And, I suspect that most people would not consider the bits and bytes that fly around upon networks, visible and invisible, physically and wirelessly connected, as having anything to do with anything remotely related to counting in some sort of digital calculus. Most of the world has moved on from the days of using stones to count. And the abacus, although it still can found, here and there, has generally been replaced by the modern day computer.

And, so, for all of this (brief) pondering, I’m not closer to understanding what “digital” means, I think I recognize it when I see it. Or I think I know what I’m thinking or talking about when I use the term. Perhaps the historical/etymological tracings only make the word more (unnecessarily?) complex?

For now, however, I have the terms “digital literacy,” “digital skills,” and “digital fluency” to consider. And, I so I do a quick search and find Clint LaLonde’s blog (https://edtechfactotum.com/) and an entry he made, well over a year-and-a-half ago, on this very matter where he reflects upon fluency versus literacy. And, he suggests that literacy is necessary to becoming fluent.

Clint LaLonde. https://edtechfactotum.com/digital-fluency-vs-digital-literacy/

Pedagogically, I wonder if distinguishing any “real” differences between the two might be helped with some consideration about “kinds of learning.” Let’s say…cognitive vs performative learning outcomes…where the former might align with the notion of literacy and the former might resonate well with fluency. That’s the analogy that I am suggesting.

To be digitally literate, then, is a kind of cognitive learning outcome. And, to be digitally fluent is to be able to demonstrate, performatively, what one may know and be able to do and value.

The move through these stages – from the lack of digital skills to becoming digitally literate to becoming digitally fluent – seems like a manifestation of how we might learn. For me, it resonates with a number of learning taxonomies. And, over time and space, the shift from one stage to the next (or one might even go back, say, when new technologies emerge) announces important quantitative and qualitative changes – at least conceptually.

As I think about myself over the past few months, working from home, I can see that I have learned a number of new skills related to, and knowledge of, online teaching and learning. Those things have grown immeasurably! (I cannot count the ways.) But, I’m not sure how I would recognize that shift into fluency. How would one recognize it? Does it “feel” different, all of a sudden, now that I have learned about a number of new platforms, tools, and ways of thinking about online teaching and learning?

Have I acquired enough of the “know-how” to open that door into the world of online learning so much so that I cannot ever “return” to my past life when teaching for me was – largely – face-to-face? I think my mentors would call these “threshold” concepts.

Is the distinction, should there really be one, between digital fluency and digital literacy, all about the number and kinds of connections that I’ve made about all things digital?

What Did I Just Do…?!?!

I keep thinking to myself, “What the heck?!” But why am I soooo….surprised? shocked? scared? excited?

Why am I experiencing any of these feelings? It’s not like it was a hard thing for me to do.

After all, I just tossed aside my course outline for a course that is going to begin in a couple weeks!

I simply invited the few students who had signed up for my course to consider designing a course – a personalized learning plan – for themselves for this coming term. Then, I hit the Return key on my computer and the email went out to them.

I’m waiting for responses. Any response, really. Was this an absurd suggestion to make? Are they up for it? Am I up for it? Does the invitation appeal to any of them? Will they all withdraw immediately?

I don’t know. But, I do know this: I’ve never done anything like this before now!

aerial photography of three people skydiving
Photograph by Filipe Dos Santos Mendes on Unsplash. Para Club Aérodrome de Namur, Suarlée, Belgium

I’m not a throw-caution-to-the-wind kind of guy. I plan. Over-plan, actually. Most of the time.

This is not to suggest that I plan to put things into place before I actually do what is almost always a a semblance of what I had imagined. As if I could. And, somewhere in that idea is this picture of me trying to herd cats. As an owner of two cats, I should know how successful one could be attempting to do that.

brown tabby cat
Photograph by Jae Park on Unsplash. Bean the cat.

Maybe God put cats on this earth to amuse himself – while he watches us, he laughs.

To be sure, this course planning obsession is for me. It helps me to think through possibilities. It’s a place for me to practice my craft…in advance…in my head. Not quite like theatre…although maybe close to “guerilla theatre.” Surely, this isn’t too odd: in the past, I’ve often suggested to my preservice teachers that course planning was a little like trying to picture a movie before it happen.

I know I am supposed to “teach” this course this Fall. And, right now, it looks like I am likely to have but a handful of students – not nearly enough to engage in meaningful activities. So, I’ve suggested that each of them is invited to imagine a personalized learning plan – a course of their own design and desires. A course, to be fair, that would be aligned with the course learning outcomes that justified calling this course that I am teaching called “Theories of Individual and Collective Learning.”

It seems fitting that I anticipate them turning that learning lense back upon themselves, as both subject and object, for their inquiry into learning.

Clearly, I am not directing any of these movies! There are no scripts. No formal parts. No backdrops or scenes. No budget to speak of! But, here we are….

Can a model or a framework be a plan? I do have some ideas. I’ve facilitated processes for learning before now. I know about backward planning, learning-centredness, and constructive alignment. How will we put this “thing” together – for each of them? Will they – we? – enact this model for teaching and learning that I have in m head – the one I’ve been enacting for many years now? We need learning outcomes, learning activities, and learning assessments.

Done.

That’s constructive alignment. That’s what I’ve learned. That’s what I’ve been taught.

It was always – in a manner of speaking – a solo activity (not to be confused with the SOLO Taxonomy). Because now there are a few different pairs of relationships at play here.

It’s like dancing. (I don’t dance. I feel awkward just thinking about it.) But I have to dance. i don’t know my dance yet. And, somehow we have to figure how to dance…in the absence of a set of dance steps to follow. Do I really have two left feet?

https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1513882891304-216f3fc9a0be?ixlib=rb-1.2.1&ixid=eyJhcHBfaWQiOjEyMDd9&auto=format&fit=crop&w=1950&q=80
Photograph by Dolo Iglesias on Unsplash. Fundación Juan March, Madrid, Spain

Naturally, none of this is about sky diving, dancing, herding cats, or making movies. So, what is this? I guess we’re just learning.

This is 2020.

But do I need my/a course outline? Do we – me and my students – need a course outline?

Here’s an interesting question: how much can this approach scale up?

How big could this class be that I take out sky diving…together…for the first time? This might be my first time sky diving, but it may not be the first time for my students. So, let’s go!

Growing a Network: A Declaration

Learning is a funny thing. Not “funny” as in “ha-ha,” but “funny” as in “intriguing.”

But it’s also messy. Or, at least, it can be.

Learning has a kind of growing quality about it. And, so, here I am, posting my first post to my own blogging page on my own website, which I started before the pandemic. It was hard to make blogging and reflecting a regular part of what I did on a regularly basis. Then again, I don’t think I thought much about my digital presence within a framework that went beyond “shouting” out into the “void” about silly things, stupid things, thinks that annoyed me, and, well…things. That said, I can say that I often thought and told friends and colleagues that the reason why I was on social media was because i felt it was like my own classroom; it was just another place where I learned.

I still find it odd that I just described my own learning in terms of a place – a “where.” And, “where am I?” sounds like a bizarre question to ask myself as I sit at my desk, typing this set of reflections…although I am also trying to process how I’m going to create two different blogs, i.e., reflections on two different pages on WP. (Clearly, I need to focus on one thing first.)

There are many things that I find odd about this little side trip I’m on right now. Am I just distracted? (yup.) Avoiding course planning and prep? (probably.) Taking a break? (fer sure.) But one thing I is for certain…this is my own “thing.” This is my website. These are my ideas that I am sharing. These are my connections that I building and initiating. In fact, it is kind of poetic…as the word, poiesis (ποιεῖν), suggests that I am making something that did not exist previously.

But what am I making? If a tree falls in a forest with no one around to hear it…or something like that…you may know that saying. How will I know that I have made anything?

For now, the best that I can do to answer that question is to say that I’m making me. A more-than-human me? A larger-than-life me? Or…”just” me?

#LiDA101

A Pandemic Pause

I suppose, like so many other people who write in personal blogs, that keeping up with posting entries to one’s own blog can be challenging. There are, after all, so many hours in a day and many things that could be going on to pause long enough to reflect and put down some thoughts, profound or otherwise.

To be sure, there is some ambiguity to the title of this entry. It could be a noun or an adjective. As the latter, and in the moment that I began to type the title, I actually was reminded of the phrase “pregnant pause.” And, I suppose that might make some sense. Except this is not some sort of comedy routine where you all are waiting for me to make some grand, comical remark. Although, I’d say, plenty of time has passed since my previous entry in these series of reflections. This pause, however, is followed followed by anything the least bit funny.

All the same, God may be laughing. The Yiddish phrase seems to be appropriate, here: “Der mentsh trakht un got lakht” (Man plans, God laughs.) I catch myself smiling as I type that but not laughing.

I’m a rather extreme introvert – although many people find that hard to believe. It isn’t hard for many introverts to believe that – and understand what it means. Personally, being an introvert is challenging for me in terms of “what I do for a living.’ I teach, of course. But, I tell you, it’s exhausting being in a classroom with lots of other people.

Now, so that I don’t lose you, here’s where I am going with this. Kinda.

For the past few months, I have been working at my dining room table preparing and planning to teach online for the coming year.

YEAH?!?!?

This move to online teaching and learning is, as many of you will know, for so many a shared response from educational institutions to the global COVID19 pandemic. (Wave 1…in case there are subsequent waves to come.)

And, so, to bring a bit of a break in my thinking about learning outcomes, learning activities, kinds of assessments, the need to be caring and ethical, worry less about technology and be more concerned about learning, and so on and so on, I’m doing the my WordPress updates and writing this entry.

But it is often challenging for me NOT to think about all manner of thing related to teaching and learning. On my walk, today, I was thinking about the place and importance of “communication.” And, this is how I shall end this post.

Communication. With every OER book that I download, teaching and learning video that I watch, and audio podcast that I listen to, I hear about how important “communication” is.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t think it’s important – and, especially important in the apparently “new world” of online teaching and learning. For so many of us, “pivoting” to online teaching is something we have never done before now! But I find this word – “communication” – troubling. That is, some of meanings and associations are troubling. Merely…conceptually troubling?

So – because I like etymologies – I look up the word.

COMMUNICATION

early 15c., “act of communicating, act of imparting, discussing, debating, conferring,” from Old French comunicacion (14c., Modern French communication) and directly from Latin communicationem (nominative communicatio) “a making common, imparting, communicating; a figure of speech,” noun of action from past-participle stem of communicare “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in,” literally “to make common,” related to communis “common, public, general” (see common (adj.)). Meaning “that which is communicated” is from late 15c.; meaning “means of communication” is from 1715. Related: Communications; communicational. (https://www.etymonline.com/word/communication)

And, clearly, we can see a number of references to acts like “imparting,” “discussing,” “conferring” and “sharing.” And, yet, I see nothing about “transmitting.”

You see, I carry around with me a sense that “communication” is about “transmitting” something. And, metaphorically, transmitting does suggest something like taking the ideas that Person A has, re-presenting those words into sounds, words, or pictures and such, and finding those things entering into the very being that Person B. Somehow.

I shan’t use this space to critique such a concept – others have already done so, like Michael Reddy – and more recently George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. But I can help but feel that when one talks about “communication,” the act of communicating seems rather static and like it is about the actions of one person – the “sender.”

But, what about the “receiver,” the person at the other end of the metaphorical “conduit”?

I feel that this where my discomfort continues. not only is the metaphor problematic. Not only is the experience of being the “receiver” seemingly no where to be found, the whole experience of communicating with another person – to say nothing about this “online class of students” I will face this Fall – truly just falls short.

I am not lamenting the loss of being able to do what I do in a face-to-face environment: do not mistake me for being sentimental or any such thing. Or anything else, for that matter. But, rather, what is the experience that me and my students are going to have this Fall as we sit in front of computer screens or even smaller devices…READING!

I write. They read. They write. We read.

This to me, if I must relent to this kind of activity, related as they may be, is possibly a kind of communication. But, it is, most assuredly, different.

Well, this is all fine and dandy, some might say. “Stanley! You haven’t exactly written anything particularly novel…or interesting.”

Perhaps.

What I would like to argue, here, is that we might do well to think but a little differently about this thing so many others are calling “communication.” For the most part, we all will be doing a tremendous amount of writing and reading. That almost seems like a given.

So, when I am planning for – and latter engaged in – my “teaching” for this Fall, I am attempting to understand what that experience is going to be like for a group of people, distributed here and there, to be writing and reading. And, so, for me, as I continue to create even more bits of text – instructions, directions, responses to questions, feedback to assignments, etc. – what is this experience like for the readers in my class?

Because it is as “readers” that I can begin to imagine the people at the “other end”…even if they are thinking, “What is he is trying to say?!?!” or “What does he want me to do?!?!”