ICT Literacy: An Attempted Definition

If your reading this, you are most likely considered literate in the English language in the form of written literacy; you can read and probably write in the English language (If you are using a translator, or text to speech software, hat’s off to you, because that is awesome!). Furthermore, this is the characteristically used definition of the word “literacy”; the ability to read and write in your chosen language. It is in fact, the primary definition of the word in the dictionaries that I took a look at. This definition also applies in other languages too, but I’m writing in English, so I going to try and keep it simple and only talk about it in that context. Literacy also has a secondary definition, which often reads: knowledge or competence in a specific topic or content area.

This is where things get confusing in teaching; how do you differentiate about what definition of literacy your using, when you say literacy? Unlike some other words there is no case sensitive versions that differentiate between the two definitions (example Aboriginal vs aboriginal); using the term literacy often requires a lot of context. In an educational context we like to talk about literacy as literacy and other literacies, with the term other literacies refereeing to areas like computer literacy, media literacy, visual literacy and so on. Confused yet? Hopefully not.

In this context, I am going to be talking about information/computer technology literacy, which I will just call ICT literacy for the sake of ease of typing. I have been thing about ICT literacy a lot recently, as at my school we have been looking at classic literacy across the whole school recently, as a PD focus. English is also one of my teaching methods, though I am not teaching it at the moment, so my brain has been in “expert” mode during these sessions and this has really got the metaphorical wheels turning. ICT literacy and literacy are very connected; they are not the same thing, but have an interesting relationship.

I have begun to examine the necessity of basic literacy skills to even access a computer. I realized that computers are built around the assumption of a user having a basic level of literacy; the ability to read (at a really basic level) is an essential skill for computer use. Computer interfaces are built around text and the ability to respond to that text. Think about the first thing you have to do after the thing is turned on; enter a password. We think of computer interfaces as being completely graphical, but they in fact are not. Text (and words) are integrated into the graphics to such an extent that we no longer realize they are actively present and being interacted with. Think about your desktop for a second. Every icon has a name. We use the visual cues provided by the icons to be efficient, but we typically read the name when we focus on one. And this is just on a surface level; think about what you do on a computer. Email, social media and browsing the web, are all text based interactions; we communicate with written language when using most computer technology. ICT literacy is built upon a foundation of literacy.

At this stage, I will concede that people can rote learn to use a computer, if illiterate, but find it very difficult to do anything beyond simple tasks. There are also alternative interfaces to assist the blind, but this is not the same as being illiterate, as to use them you need a different form of literacy that is far more complex and nuanced. But with this said, it does not take away from what has been presented so far.

This leads me on to a more complex question; what then is ICT literacy?

Within my education paradigm, many define it as the ability to use a computer and associated programs effectively. I think this definition is quite limited. For me, ICT literacy is more complex than that. I tend to expand the definition. For me ICT literacy is “the ability to use computer technology in an effective manner in order to communicate and express oneself. It is the ability to learn new software and adapt to the ever changing face of computer technology. It is about thinking critically and imaginatively about information. It is about meaningful communications using technology. ICT literacy is an extension of literacy into the multimodal world of information technology”.

I’m the first to admit it, but I am still not happy with this definition. It still seems too small, for such a big concept, but I will keep working on it. Some same ICT Literacy is one the “most important 21st century skills”. I tend to agree, but have begun to think of it as more of an extension of classic literacy than a entire field of its own.

VR as Immersive Story Telling

It is amazing how different people see the different potential in any given technology. The perspectives and approaches are so varied that you could almost mistake them for being related to something else.

One of these approaches, that has intrigued me, is the idea of creating immersive films. I came across if via an this article from the Tribeca Film Festival, which discussed how VR is changing film.

The article discussed how there are two forms of storytelling emerging using VR technology; immersive and interactive. From my perspective interactive storytelling is an extension of the existing game based storytelling that is already exists and is already moving into the VR realm. The idea of immersive storytelling has fascinated me.

Immersive storytelling has the potential to connect a reader/viewer with the story in a way that we have never been able to truly achieve before VR. The idea of truly being in a story is both appealing and frightening at the same time. I imagine that the emotional connection you will make with this form of media will be quite deep.

Some Thoughts on STEM in Aus

I was reading this post by EdTech and the first line really jumped out at me.

“Many high-demand occupations require a solid grounding in science, technology, engineering and math.”  EdTech

Despite this article being about America, I believe that their statement applies to education here in Australia. We are living in a technological society, and our education system is struggling to catch up with it. After years of funding cuts, we have become very disconnected from “Industry Standards”. Education has been about literacy, numeracy, and developing thinking skils for the last half century or so (give or take).

We really wanted people to be able to read and think, giving them the skills to be productive members of society and chase their dreams. This is as true today as it ever was. It is a fundamental purpose of education and that should never change. BUT society has changed. We need new additional skills and ways of thinking. Technology has experience exponential grow in the last 30 years and the way we interact with information has changed. We are quickly moving away from an industrial society, transitioning into a knowledge based economy, where what we know how to do and how we know how we think are becoming more important than our physical capabilities. This social /economic shift is already happening, and our education system is trying to adapt and grow with it, providing students with new skills and knowledge to empower them in the future.

STEM is the hot topic in education at the moment, but we are playing catch up to the needs of industry. We need students to understand the concepts and thinking skills the STEM disciplines need. In all honesty though it, might be too late for many of them; some students don’t have enough time left in their secondary education for this shift to have more than a small impact on their skills. They are not a lost cause or anything like that, but they might not have the same opportunities that will be presented to the secondary school generation that follows them.

I love how STEM, and with it Computer Technology, has become a driving idea of education. There is lots of talk, but from what I have seen and heard, very little action. The government has been talking big about STEM; promising to allocate millions to education. So far this money has not eventuated, with vast sums going to “development initiatives” which seem to exclude actual schools. I hope they will deliver, but odds are it will be too little too late and complicated by the usual bureaucracy which will waste the majority of funds.

On a plus, the action around STEM seems to be happening at the school and teacher level; teachers are doing what they; making use of what limited resources they have to shoot for the best learning outcomes they can conceive. It is what we do (imagine that I have inserted a winky smiley face here). I love the energy that the push of STEM has caused; the recognition that science, technology, engineering and math are key areas for the future, has breathed energy into the subjects. If the chips fall right, the funding materializes, there is a potential of a paradigm shift in education; one that will align our educational goals with what is needed in our technological society.

I now have a Vive of my own.

Big news from my little corner of the internet. I have got my hands on an HTC Vive. Luckily for me, I am an avid PC gamer, so my computer is already at spec, with no upgrades needed to get that Steam VR ready test to max out into the green. (If you know what I mean, then you understand my joy; If you don’t it does not really matter anyhow). With some quick ebaying, I have acquired a pair of tripods and some ball mount; found a cheap protective case filled with pluck foam at Bunnings (very similar to a pelican, but only $60) which together which makes my VR setup nice and portable.

After a good few days of playing around with it, I have taken it to my school and run a few demo sessions for other staff members. The reactions have been fantastic! Lots of people are familiar with the headset VR and have been expecting something akin to it, and when it blows the headset VR experience out the water people are gob-smacked. I highly suggest that if you are curious, go to the effort of finding a place to try it. The experience cannot be put into words that do it justice. Room Scale VR is one of those things where you “have to be there” and try it for yourself.

Besides the level of fun and coolness of it, there has also been really good discussion. The talk has been around how this technology will be changing the future; in education and social interaction. We are in the first iteration of the technology; imagine what it will bring as it goes mainstream over the next 5 to 10 years? Everyone who I have spoken with, in a post demo debrief, has asked two questions; 2) how can we get this into the classroom? 2) where do I get one?

The second question is easy, as I just tell them to google the HTC Vibe and go to their website, as it is the only retailer. I then offer to help them setup a computer to spec. The first question, usually leads to some good discussion, as I don’t have an answer that is easy. I don’t believe that room scale, will be classroom ready for years (Take up of Classroom VR), but the discussion about what we could do with it as teachers is fantastic.

The debrief typically follows the standard pattern, usually found in most discussions of VR and education. The idea of virtual field trips is almost always talking point one. I can’t think of a teacher who won’t love to be able to take a class to an immersive experience of ________ (insert location here) without having to leave the school. The discussion then typically moves onto creating things and experiencing things in VR. Virtual dissections, modeling projects, art, etc. We then start talking about VR as social space and how it will change the way we interact with each other. It is amazing, how diverse the thoughts on these topics are; there is so much diversity of ideas.

I’m going to leave it here for now. Over the coming weeks I am going to be running more demos for staff and friends. Not sure where or who, as I have to give it some thought. I might need to reach out to colleagues at other schools and see who would be interested. I want to hear what people think about VR and how it relates to the classroom.

Why Code?

I’m referring to computer programming, not creating complex unsolvable codes (which are cool in their own right). Teaching IT, I get asked a version of this question quit often. Why do we need to learn to do this; Why are we learning to program; How come I have to learn to program, I don’t want to be a programmer. Occasionally I answer, because it is what your being taught, but that is only after they have asked far too many times, and never once listened to my answer.

The truth is, I teach coding, because I believe it is an important to learn. Not as important as basic literacy and numeracy, but nipping at their educational heals. I believe this for a number of reasons. First, it develops problem solving skills and complex thinking skills. Secondly, it pushes students understanding of how the world works into new places. Thirdly, it is 21st century skill that is becoming more important every day. Fourthly, it is engaging and allows students to be creative in ways that are unique as they are. Finally, I personally think it is fun and enjoy teaching it.

Those 5 reasons are my answer to “why code? ”. I can expand on them, but I’m not going to. I think they are pretty easy to understand. Instead I’m going to share something with you that happened to me this week.

Three of my Year 7 classes are working on a project in Scratch. They have finished the basic tutorials, and before being set free to their own ideas, they are making a game that I have specified. The game they are making is a simple racing car game; a car goes around the track. It has to be able to turn, accelerate and stop based on a player controls. Pretty simple, everything they need to do is within the tutorials found in Scratch itself (thank you MIT!). Students were progressing along quietly, when suddenly someone called out, “how do I get it to turn smoothly?”.

The reaction of the class was amazing. Everyone, started talking to everyone else. They moved around the room. Everyone was working with everyone. Small groups formed, then broke up and reformed with new members. It was true open and honest collaboration and teamwork. There was no negativity. It was all positive. I was speechless as I watched it happen. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but it is how it happened. Watching Year 7 solve the problem of how to make a car turn smoothly has been the highlight of my week, maybe my year. I watch a class transform before my eyes. The different solutions that they came up with were remarkable.

In the end, they figured out about 4 different ways to do it. Some of them are still working on alternatives methods too. The collaboration and sharing was electric. It was a good week to be a teacher. I got to experience one of “those” moments that validate everything you have worked for.

For me, it was the embodiment why code and that is why I believe we should be teahcing it. Also it is now  part of the curriculum here in Victoria, but I just think of that as a win, not as reason, since I would be teaching coding anyway without it.


Revisiting The Digital Divide

Someone I follow on twitter, re-tweeted a post by @LeungAsh which brought up this topic the other day and got me thinking about it again. Back in 2009 while studying to be a teacher, I ran across the idea of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (Prensky 2001). This then lead me to Dave White’s (@daveowhite) concept of Digital Visitors and  Digital Residents (University of Oxford 2009).

In 2009, he presented his ideas in a video on the Tall Blog for Oxford University. In 2011 when I stumbled upon Dave White’s ideas, I had already drunk the metaphorical cool-aide and wore my badge as a Digital Native, despite being born in 1979 (I was an IT teacher, damn it!). I proudly adopted adopted the badge of Digital Resident and continued on my way, thinking (and probably writing ) about it. I about to graduate from being student teacher to teacher and was intent on teaching Information Technology and changing the world (well a little tiny section of it, as my wife had already been a teacher for the last 4 years, and I knew what the reality of it was, or so I thought).

Then life got in the way; I jumped into the trenches of teaching, which was the followed by having a child. I became focused on developing my teaching in a hands on, why are they not listening to me way. I finally got a handle on that (on good days) when parenthood shook up my universe. 5 years on in 2016, I find myself once again exploring the education theory landscape. Ash Leung’s twitter post (@leungAsh) yesterday really got me asking myself “how has this idea evolved in the last 5 years?”

So as any resident or visitor would do, I did a google search. Dave White seemed to of answered my question;

In 2015 Aaron Davis  wrote a great piece called Mapping the Divide: Visitors and Residents on the Web. I found the above video there. He (Aaron Davis) summed up movement from the idea of Natives and Immigrant to Resident and Visitors elegantly.

I did notice something though, much of the information and discussion on this topic seems to have changed little in the last few years. I actually don’t feel like I have missed the last 5 years of this idea evolving and growing. I think that, my growth as a teacher and digital resident has kept me in the loop somehow.

Our technology has evolved and has become more integrated than ever before, but as people there actually hasn’t been much change in how we engage with the web. Yes social media is everywhere, but it it does not feel anymore prevalent now than it did five years ago, there is just more variety.

And this got me thinking. In fact it has triggered a whole lot of thinking. For me thinking leads to googling, which leads to reading, which leads again to thinking and so on, until I decide to write some of thoughts on this blog. I want to know how this idea fits into my school and how others approach integration of technology into the classroom. For me, it is seamless and without thought; I choose what will engage my students and achieve my desired learning outcomes. For others, it is a burden and makes things more work than before. The idea of Residents and Visitors, is very applicable to teachers; we quite literally can fall into these categories; there are those who use it when they have to and those who use it as an extension of what they are doing. 




Take up of Classroom VR

Another article, based upon a pretty cool infographic produced by the minds at Samsung. I still don’t see their device as true VR, as it is more about creating immersive video than interactive experiences. I like the info they presented, but they missed the mark on one key element that is keeping the VR uptake in schools low; COST. Yes cost. as with most things in life (especially with technology  One key point that is constantly missed is that in the classroom we need multiple devices to make it an effective teaching tool.

NOTE: I have decided that when I am writing I’m going to divide VR headsets into two categories; Headset VR (phone based headsets) and Immersive VR (HTC Vive, Occulus Rift, etc.)

Headset VR

In reality, we cannot rely on students owning specific models of phones or having specific apps for that allow them to use Video VR headsets. This means that to ensure use, schools need to provide the phones and the headsets. Class sizes in most classrooms is between 27 to 30. Which means we need, at minimum, of 15 devices. This is still not ideal, since you really want one to one, with a few spares for “technical difficulties”. I would estimate this at around $400 a set, as a phone that is capable will run you about $300. This is a low ball figure, which I suspect in reality is much higher.  The cost quickly adds up; a set of 30 headsets would cost $12,000. And that for one class set. At my school, we would need more than one set, for the technology to be actually taken up; we have between 7- 9 classes each at year 7, 8 and 9.

Immersive VR

This is a completely different kettle of fish. The headsets themselves run from $900 to $1500 AUD  Each headset requires a high spec gaming computer, which is in the range of $3000. So using some dodgy rounding, we are looking at approximately $4000 a set. Immersive VR also requires a fair amount of open space, about 2.5m by 2.5 is the minimum. Lets ignore this factor though, as room setup for VR is now going to be a topic for future blogging (maybe! Eventually I might do it). Ideally, again you would want one to one, so this time we are looking at $120,000 for a class set. Even at a ratio of one headset for 4 students, your are looking at $30,000.

Final Thoughts

I love the idea of VR in the classroom. The potential that is there is amazing. I don’t think it is financially viable at the moment. Immersive VR, as a classroom tool, is out of reach. You would need a purpose built area for it, besides the massive cost of setup. at the moment, the best option we have will be Headset VR.

There are still a few barriers to get it into the classroom, but these (according to rumours and the internet) are coming down. The reality is we only need one thing; cross platform software that allows any device to be used. This means we can buy a set of generic headsets that fit any phone, with maybe a couple of spare devices.

#teachICT #edTech #VRed

Whiteboards, Projectors and TVs in the Classroom

I was reading this article about replacing white boards with TVs, and it got me thinking. I really don’t like the idea of it. I’m not a constant white board user, as an IT teacher, but do use it on occasion. I use my laptop, projector and OneNote instead, as I am lucky enough to have a touch screen and a digital pen. I get to distribute my scribbling to my captive audience, and they can focus on the discussion instead of trying to copy my notes.

But that is me. Not everyone has the resources or inclination to adopt this approach. Not everyone wants to. Yes HD is nice, 4K more so. Yes TVs are easy to use and work much better than projectors in a bright space. But I would still rather have a projector any day.  Until TV are the size of a whiteboard, a projector will trump them. I’ll finish with a question “What would you do if the power goes out, and you had no whiteboard?”

BYOD: Yes or No

I was recently asked for my thoughts on BYOD programs. If you do a quick google, you will find heaps of discussion, debates and arguments about BYOD. There are people on both sides of the issues. After reading a number of these articles and discussions, it became clear to me that there is no answer that will not be contentious. What it really comes down to is personal opinion. So here I go……….

For me, BYOD is reality (if not a necessity) within the current education funding model. Here in Australia, like many other countries, we do not receive the funding we need to do things like 1 to 1 computers. The reality of information and computer technology is that it is;

  1. Expensive to buy in the first place
  2. Expensive to maintain
  3. Becomes outdate quickly

In the corporate world, funding for computer technology is linked directly to financial outcomes and benefits. For example; we will be more productive with the current version of software; our computers are too slow, so it is time to upgrade. By spending money, they often generate money. I know this is a simplistic view, but I cannot be bother going into more detail in regards to corporate economics and mentalities.

In schools, we make do with what we are given. Funding is limited and constantly being cut. It is a reality of our education system. In Victoria we blew something around $200 million dollars on the failed ultranet project (I’m not going to go into why, I prefer not to remind myself of that debacle.). Coming back to BYOD programs, school like them because it puts technology in the hands of our students, that we don’t have the funding for. It is as simple as that. As educators, we know students need school computer skills, more now than ever before in history. BYOD allows devices to get into student’s hands, making them more likely to become digital residents.

I guess it the geek in me, but our current students are growing up in a world where the use of technology is embedded in everything around us. Technology is not going away, and skills with it will be essential in the workplace of the future. When I say the future, I mean tomorrow, not some distant place years and years down the track. BYOD programs help us educate kids, and not just in the use of technology itself. By having a device worth hundreds of dollars which is the student’s personal property, we instill thing like “taking responsibility for your belongings” and “the value of money”.

I know BYOD sounds expensive, but in reality there not that bad. A reasonable laptop computer sits around $500 to 600 Australian. It seems like a lot. But ask yourself, how much did you spend on that shiny smart phone? Or your kids PlayStation or Xbox? Or iPad /tablet? We routinely spend money on electronics that’s entire purpose is entertainment. I do. You probably do.

The second we (royal we, in this case a given school) tell our student body the “you need to buy a computer device for school”, we get push back and a thousand questions (yes that is a cliché and hyperbole, but you know what I mean). This is fair. We pay taxes and expect schools to provide everything. A long time ago schools did. Once there was a time, now lost in history, when schools had money to invest in their facilities and tools. We could access money to build and buy resources, by justifying the why. Now we cannot; this is the reality of education at the moment. Funding limitations dominate, over shadowing the resource needs to achieve our mandated outcomes.  BYOD has come out of this environment; it is a child of a social change (the rise of computer technology in everything) and a decline in funding. Ask yourself “what I could do with half a million dollars in my school, if they said here, use this to improve your technology”.

Personally I like BYOD programs, because I don’t see the funding model changing. I would love to hand students a new laptop every 2 to 3 years. I lie to myself about this occasionally, but know that in truth, it is not going to happen; I am a realist.  BYOD is our solution at present. I think of BYOD as chance to help prepare students for the future. Make them responsible for something that they need to have and will find it really frustrating not to have. Give them a tool that will let them research and develop the skills they will need in the world.

I’m a yes for BYOD, until there is a better solution.

First Impressions- HTC Vive

Wow. I never thought I would say this, but I have experienced a bit of tech that will shift paradigms. The potential of this technology is game gaming. I was very impressed, as the experience far exceeded my expectations.

Now that my gushing is out of the way, it is time for me to say something with substance. I was lucky enough to spend some time in an HTC Vive over the last few days (about 4 hours so far). This thing is amazing. The environments are so clear and immersive, that I easily lost track of time and my physical location. I have used Google Cardboard and Samsung VR, but my experience with the Vive has changed how I define what true VR is.

Phone based VR, is OK. It doesn’t need to be knocked about or down; it provides a immersive experience and some level of interactivity. It has limitations though. With phone VR you get to be inside an environment, but I have found, that you never loose the sensation of viewing the environment, always feeling apart and disconnected somehow from the experience. I have found you never “feel” fully immersed in phone VR.

I was expecting only an extension of the phone experience when I put on the Vive. I was wrong. I soon found myself feeling completely immersed in the environment, the illusion only broken by the chaperone system, when I strayed too close to edge of virtual “play space”.  This happened to such an extent, that at one stage, I tried to pick a virtual object off a virtual table, and ended up falling through the table. I had forgotten that nothing, that wasn’t me, was not physical and could not actually be touched.

So what does this mean for education?

I think the classroom use has enormous potential. I am struggling putting what this means into words, but will give it a go. VR is a new medium for artists. It is a way to see and experience most anything. It removes the limitation of physical location from the classroom. You can visit anywhere, in any time period (once someone makes the content that is!) You can also view things in a way that it is just not possible to do so in a classroom. Scale is what you decide and perspective is determined by you.

Imagine seeing the whole solar system at once, in scale. Now walk through it, to find earth. Now make earth so big, it fills the room. Step back and realise, that the sun is off behind you, huge, but in scale to your enlarged earth. Your between them.

Sounds a bit like a commercial, but I did that last night. It was my wow moment, when I saw the potential in VR to change the world.