Whole Language and It’s Relation to Modern Learning

The whole language method of teaching language involves teaching only the relevant piece of language to the student at the time they need it – closely relating it to the method most of us learn to speak. Of course, there’s a difference between the codified rituals of writing to convey meaning and speaking, although in deeper thinking about it, I don’t think there’s that wide a gap between the way we learn to speak and the way we learn to write. Whole language is rooted in constructivist thinking, certainly drawing a parallel to redefining teachers as guides or facilitators. The idea is certainly tied to how we learn when self-directed; for instance if I need to know how to fix a sink and I don’t know anyone to ask, I turn to YouTube and watch videos, look at some web tutorials, use some critical thinking skills and fix a sink.

The problem is that some critics of whole language look at reading and state psychologically that it is a skill that unlike speaking, is something that has no instinctual basis. In other words, reading and writing has to be learned. Which is the parallel for 21st Century Literacies. You can draw the conclusion, but I don’t think anyone has said (outside of perhaps Prensky) that this generation has a second sense of computers and information on computers. I think educators need to be very careful how we assume people learn, and that people learn a holistic and varied foundation of skills which they can then scaffold as they become more familiar with the technology at hand. Much how many people decry the basic literacy skills of many first year students in post secondary, we may be decrying the basic information literacy skills of everyone in the future.

Silent Running

So I got a work vacation (an unwanted one) from the college, but I’ll be working again soon. In the meantime here’s what I’ve been working on:

21st Century Literacies course: I laid out the weekly breakdown and scheduled a meeting with the co-ordinator of the department that wants me to deliver it. I’m mulling over how the course will functionally work – I suspect I’ll show people some media related skills (Photoshop, Premiere) and then let them take it to the next step and apply it to their projects. Need to think of the small stuff – short hashtag for the course would be slightly important.

Brushing up on Distance Ed: I think my next direction will be in the Distance Education delivery – so I’ve been reading some theory (courtesy of Tony Bates and Terry Anderson’s writing). Also been applying at a couple of Toronto based colleges and universities. I don’t have a degree (yet), so I’m banking on almost a decade of experience with LMS’s helping out.

Smart Mobs

Last month I finally got around to reading Smart Mobs, which is, admittedly a little late. Published in 2002, the book mostly covers ground that we’ve already surpassed, which is what makes it a great read. To read a then-future possibility, and recognize it as being a modern fact of life, is really startling. After reading, and thinking about what I’ve read, the book is really about trust (and networks of trust). You can see the foundations of Howard’s current work in this book as well – certainly his pillars of 21st Century Literacies are bubbling underneath the surface of some of Howard’s discoveries about social networking in a mobile culture. It would be really interesting to revisit these ideas now, although I’m sure Howard is already ten years into the future, and other people have picked up his mantle.  Has trust changed because of the explosion of mobile media? Has community changed because of YouTube? What about the civility within communities?  I suspect that they have.

Reflections on ETC 2010

So here’s a few ideas that I got out of the ETC 2010 conference. Digital literacies aren’t even on the road map for a lot of people at this conference, which is a shame but also an opportunity. Anytime I brought up in conversation that there needs to be a digital literacies course for students (and faculty as well) that looks at evaluating information online, as well as developing skills for creating media in this new paradigm, people thought it was a good idea, but weren’t sure how to proceed beyond that.

Adobe is seriously making a play to solidify their position in education in a smart way – from the student’s perspective. They’ve given away their software to students at several institutions, presumably as a loss-leader, pitching it as an enrollment perk to attract students. The other thing is Adobe’s really good at analyzing a market and identifying gaps, which their new ePortfolio tool somewhat addresses. ePortfolio is part of the Acrobat product, and allows you to grab a folder of stuff (really, they claim any file will work) and import it into ePortfolio, and it will export it as a PDF. So your SWF? Plays in PDF. Your 3D drawing from AutoCAD? Imports and acts as a 3D object in the PDF. First thing I thought was that this was a way around the Flash issue on the iPhone, but after asking a few questions it seemed like it wasn’t the goal. It’s a neat side effect though, if it works.

There was a lot of talk about time management, filtering, how to manage information and information overload (or filter failure as Will Richardson said). Both keynotes made mention of it, but neither talked about tools to help you aggregate information in any depth. A missed opportunity in my presentation, would have been to pick up that thread and go with that angle. I did see a presentation that did the opposite of that, which was about search engines that were not Google and video sites that aren’t YouTube.  I’m not sure if people want more information, that’s why they stay with Google or YouTube, those are the trusted sources. It’s going to be very very hard to fight against those properties because of the entrenched nature of those two sites.

Something that I overheard, which was “we’ve been told that Wikipedia is a bad source for years!” That statement seemed a bit odd, seeing as we’ve seen a study saying that half of the people who edit wikipedia have a Master’s degree or better. We’ve also seen that corporate entities have sanitized their pages as well. I think Wikipedia is fine as a starting point, but really the interesting discussion to have is about what it means when everyone is a consumer and a producer, and even more importantly, what happens to what is good in this new paradigm.

Digital Divides

Stephen Downes posted over at the OLDaily list the article about worst uses for ICT in the classroom – which lead me to another article at the same blog called The Second Digital Divide. That article basically says that there’s not only an issue with those who have access to digital technology (and those who have not) but the haves and have-nots of skills to use the digital technology. There’s also a third digital divide, those who have the proper mindset of the affective domain towards technology. The first two divides can be lessened by throwing money and time at it, but the third divide, requires a shift in attitude. That requires an approach like the Elaboration Likelihood Model to persuade those who think technology is useless, or not for them, away from that model.

At times you get students, often second career students, who have no use for e-learning, no real concept of using the computer for anything other than word processing. Most of the time these students are open to new challenges. Then, there are the few who are stubborn in their refusal to learn anything related to the computer. Then there’s people who are in the middle, scared of identity theft, trying to make sense of old-world media that are often no more reliable than the current offering on Twitter and blogs. They’ve been partially left behind by the changing media landscape, not quite in the background, not in the foreground – but in the middle (just out of focus).

The Future Is Now?

Been a busy week so far, but I’m rounding out my teaching here at the College – no more XML, Fireworks or Searching courses for me. I’ve been thinking about putting together a course about 21st Century Literacy using online resources, free and open sources and in general making the course as open as possible. Of course, this won’t appear overnight, and will probably take a long time to cull and gather into themes. Here’s a quick list of topics that might be covered:

  • Evaluating website information (CRAP method, 5 journalistic questions method)
  • Searching strategies (how Search Engines work)
  • Tools that aggregate information (RSS)
  • Methods to collect/sort information (not exclusively tool based, some cognitive)
  • How authority is challenged in (by?) the new paradigm
  • The art of the remix (video capture, editing and narratives) and what it means for the end user

Am I missing something? I’m sure I am – let me know if there’s something crucial that I’m out to lunch on. I want this to course to be 50% theory and 50% practical skills… understanding the why and the how.