I’m a cheater

Smartphones - making cheating easier?I just read this post, where it is stated, that “smartphones are the next classroom computers”.

I definitely agree that using smartphones in education is one of the viable paths we should currently be exploring. These tiny, yet powerful “pocketable computers” provide us with a wide array of possibilities, which, if used cleverly, can obviously contribute to more dynamic, authentic learning scenarios. This presupposes a willingness to challenge existing structures, though. If we just cram smartphones in the classroom in support of current practice, little will be achieved.

Technology is not the ultimate saviour of education.

People, using available tools in creative and reflected ways, are.

The above was not, however, what said post really made me think about.

No cheating?No, it inspired me to think about cheating, by promoting this as one major problem in using smartphones:

Because of the negative ways students use cell phones in class, like cheating or texting, some teachers say they’re wary of the idea.

We all know of this concern.

When the walls of the classroom are broken down, ignored as they are by especially digital media, the traditional ways of thinking about and assessing student progression is fundamentally challenged.

When everything can be found on Wikipedia, how do we test our students?

Does "helping" equal "cheating"?

For several years, the “solution” has been one of creating artifical borders. We’ve been desperately clinging to our old ways, creating a classroom that is becoming increasingly isolated from the surrounding world, and all in order to be able to test and measure students. We’ve been forced to do so, because of the predominant “if we can’t measure it, it’s worthless”-dogma.

Use appropriate tools!I can’t help but think about how I myself work and learn. I see no borders, no boundaries. I use the tools available to me, find the information I need and solve the problems I’m faced with. I may read a blog post, which I stumbled upon via Twitter, where I afterwards return to discuss said post. I visit Wikipedia to get an overview, before I may even find a relevant book on the shelf. I mail a friend, we talk on Skype and perhaps I write something here.

No problem, no learning process exist in isolation, and I’m thus always involved in an informational ecosystem much, much larger than whichever situation I’m currently finding myself in.

If I were still in school, I would clearly be accused of cheating, as I’m not really adhering to any particular set of rigid rules.

In many ways, what is considered “cheating” in school, is considered “creative, innovative problem solving” outside school.

I don’t have any glorious solution to this problem, yet I’m urgently aware, that we must revise our idea of cheating. When students are “cheating”, they are very often only doing what every single one of us would do; only difference is, they’re in school, we’re not.

They’re using a wide array of “tools” to solve problems.

Instead of our ultimately doomed attempts at preventing this, we should be actively encouraging it. We should be designing learning contexts, where the old notion of cheating is no longer valid, but where the learning process requires students to use tools interactively (after all, that is considered a key competence by OECD and others).

simoncrookWe generally need to shift our focus. That which can easily be googled (by cheating) may not be the most interesting in a learning perspective. On Twitter, simoncrook recently wrote, that “if students can Google the answer, rethink the question”. If we pose questions which can be answered by a simple Google search, we pose the wrong questions. Why not shift the focus from factual knowledge towards using tools to solve interesting, relevant problems, which approximate real world problems? Or better yet, addressing actual real world problems.

But administration demands us to maintain the rigid testing, you say? Let’s be creative within existing structures, but let’s simultaneously work to change those structures.

Nothing is carved in stone; it’s all just a matter of perceptions, and perceptions can change.

Don’t just repeat; rephrase!

I’m doing all kinds of stuff, both when working and when trying not to.

It often proves hard to find a common denominator encapsulating my activities; to briefly explain what I do.

One attempt, however, might emanate from the idea of challenging the “established order of thinking”.

This is not to say that things “established” never work or only work partially. It is just that I consider it important to seek new ways, to explore new grounds, and to attempt to approach problems from different angles.

I would probably offend no-one by stating that traditions and habits die very hard in the world of education. Many processes are carried out as they are because that’s what we’re used to. Again, some habits are valuable and should be maintained. Others, however, are no longer appropriate, and should be substituted by something else. I try to work out what the “substitutes” could be.

Don't just shout it out - recompose the message (credits: view from 5'2"' http://www.flickr.com/photos/viewfrom52/)

Last summer I was talking to this Finnish girl living in Denmark, who complained about a pattern in her communication with Danish people. Now, she’s actually quite good at Danish (for a Finnish girl, that is), yet from time to time, words or sentences got lost in translation, and she naturally asks for a reiteration. The crux of the matter is, that most people just repeat what they already said – the same all over again, even though it’s exactly what caused the confusion in the first place. All right, but faced with the fact, that the message is not yet understood, the most patient of people try again. The same thing, repeated like before – this time only LOUDER.

I’m not making this stuff up. Please, enlighten me, what should it help to shout things that were not understood when spoken?

This conversation made it unmistakably clear to me that the alternative path is the solution. In the specific situation, alternative words, phrases, synonyms; approaching what was not understood from a different angle, combining words in new ways in order to convey the message in a more understandable fashion.

This seems like a valid metaphor to me; when something is broken, or just not working as it’s supposed to, don’t simply do the same thing once more.

Be creative – do something else.

Don’t just repeat yourself; rephrase the entire message, deliver it differently (or stop talking altogether).

Anything else is just a waste of energy.

A model for digital literacy

I have previously written about digital literacy, and will surely continue to do so, as the importance of this new literacy is hard to overestimate.

At the moment I am writing a paper for 4th European Conference on Games Based Learning on developing a special subdomain of digital literacy, namely that of games literacy or ludoliteracy, as it is dubbed by American researcher José P. Zagal.

Even without moving into this more specific area, talking about digital literacy might easily become muddled and lack a clear sense of direction. What do I, for instance, mean, when stating that digital literacy is important?

Bloom's taxonomy - revised edition

First of all, I – and most people in the field – maintain, that digital literacy must be about much more than basic functional skills. Being able to use digital media is important, of course, but these skills must be supplemented by higher “cognitive levels of complexity”, refering to Bloom’s widely known work on a taxonomy of learning. Without entering a discussion on the validity of the taxonomy, it probably makes sense to see the progression described herein as parallel to the progression required in developing a more holistic digital literacy. As in the taxonomy, being digitally literate requires more than “applying” digital media.

Digital literacy across the curriculum

This is the basic premise of a new handbook from Futurelab called “Digital literacy across the curriculum“, wherein the authors make a very qualified effort to turn the pompous discussions into something a bit more concrete and down-to-earth.

They do this by focusing more on practice than theory, by relating to concrete examples, and by asking questions like the following:

What does digital literacy look like in the classroom? And how can teachers go about developing it within school subjects?

Another part of their approach is to list (some of) the discrete components of any overall digital literacy, as they state that ” it can be helpful to think of digital literacy as made up of a number of inter-related components or dimensions”.

I absolutely agree, and deconstructing the concept might help demystify it by showing “what’s inside”. Such a take may also consequently force us to acknowledge the multimodality of a comprehensive digital literacy consisting of skills, knowledge and competencies on different levels.

Even so, one might argue that the process of breaking a digital literacy into smaller bits and pieces can never result in a fully comprehensive understanding, as any relevant literacy must be inherently dynamic. In addition, a critic could object that isolating components indicates an internal independence between said components. Both points are overly academic, however, and not really relevant in this case. Models work to simplify complex phenomenons, thus making it possible to actually work with them in practice, and this is what’s relevant.

Enough talk, here’s the model in all it’s simple glory:

A model for digital literacy - from Futurelab

The model illustrates the necessity of broadening our scope, and approaching digital media from a number of different perspectives and with different goals in mind. Hopefully this model along with the handbook in general (and all the other tools and publications available) can support the ongoing tendencies towards a more diverse inclusion of digital media in education.