The last post defines digital literacies as the ability to
- to comprehend information in a variety of digital environments
- to create and remix content
- to communicate appropriately in digital contexts
- to develop more confidence and comfort in online participation
- to be able to evaluate and critique resources. (Belshaw, 2011)
This post will examine how to cultivate digital literacies:
To cultivate digital literacies involves creating a certain degree of chaos that mimics that in the real world and guiding learners to learn and navigate in that chaos. There are three crucial ingredients – 1) the connectivist-MOOC-like environment and 2) open educational resources.
1) Adopting connectivist-MOOC-like environment
Connectivist MOOCs, or cMOOCs, as opposed to Coursera-style MOOCs, feature a distributed, networked learning environment. At the outset of the course, the facilitators provide an infrastructure to deliver content, the course schedule for synchronous activities, and means to communicate with the participants (Siemens, 2012). For example, in 2011, a cMOOC organized by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier featured video conferences delivered live by many professors, researchers, instructional designers from September 2011 to May 2012. While the course syllabus, schedule, and weekly required readings were posted on the course website, the course delivery and interactions among participants were supported by different technologies. The participants, novices and experts alike, were encouraged to use different platforms such as blogs, Tweeter, Diigo social bookmarking, and Facebook to connect with one another. To further support the interactions, the course facilitators sent a daily email to participants, which included an aggregation of the blog posts and tweets from participants that are hashtagged #change11.
The design of cMOOCs has two main advantages. First, although novice learners tend to feel overwhelmed initially due to the amount of information delivered on multiple platforms, learning this way can help learners develop critical thinking and information and ICT literacy skills (Guardia, Maina, & Sangra, 2013). This is because learners will have to use digital tools and networks to filter out information irrelevant to their learning needs while managing important information. They will also need to evaluate the relevance and credibility of the information. Second, cMOOCs create an ecology for the development of new literacies, including the ability to connect, communicate, create and share knowledge in an distributed networked environment. This environment further helps to develop learners’ agency, self-directed learning capacity, and collaboration skills (Steward, 2013).
At this point, you may question the feasibility of adopting this learning environment to an EAP course. For many EAP programs, in which learners need to achieve a clear set of language proficiency outcomes in a short period of time, cMOOCs may not be the most effective means of doing so. Also, you may be concerned that having multiple platforms will be overwhelming due to an increase in cognitive load. Thus, finding the right balance of familiarity and chaos becomes important.
In the next section, we’ll examine how the use of open educational resources may help.
b) Utilizing open educational resources
Today, our learning landscape is marked by an increased availability of open educational resources (OERs). In terms of the open textbook movement, Saylor currently offers 278 courses for different disciplines. Connexion, likewise, features “tens of thousands of learning objects called pages, that are organized into thousands of textbook-style books in a variety of disciplines, all easily accessible online and downloadable to almost any device, anywhere, anytime.” There is also the Canadian counterpart, BC Campus.
In fact, these textbooks operate under an open license allowing users to compile, revise, delete and build upon the existing content, having the potential to improve instructional materials and transform teaching and learning. They are also a form of disruptive innovations in Clayton’s sense that may one day render the traditional textbooks obsolete. In addition to textbooks, educational companies like Coursera and EdX host thousands of ready-made university courses offered by top universities. Open lectures are also available on iTunes U or Youtube.
Because of the availability of open resources, with some guidance from the teachers, learners can discover, evaluate, and compile their own learning resources. With the use of OERs, multiple learning and collaborative platforms, learners can become more self-directed and active in terms of deciding their goals and finding resources to fulfill those goals. These resources further help to fill the knowledge gap of the instructors. In addition, having participants to explore these sites may have long-term impact as they study in university. In terms of familiar with the vocabulary they can also use these situations.
Taking these ideas together, click the following link for a sample learning activity, which combines the use of multiple platforms (including Diigo social bookmarking, Google Docs/Wikis, a centralized course website that hosts the instructions) and open educational resources (including open courses and open textbooks):
Feel free to try it with your learners and let me know the challenges you face.