In February I got to help write a course called Applications of Digital Literacy. As Jill, from Staff development, and I sat down to get things started, we discussed the fact that really we were developing a course that would hopefully be redundant in 5 years… because students by then would be coming out of Middle School with all of the necessary skills already. For now, I think this is a very valuable course and one essential for students at the new Inquiry Hub. Although this is now a board approved course that I’ll soon be offering online through Coquitlam Open Learning (COL), the first students to take the course will be Inquiry Hub students.
This course and one on Foundations of Inquiry, which will be taught by our Principal, Stephen Whiffin, were developed specifically because we decided that inquiry learning and digital media literacy skills were essential for students at the Inquiry Hub, but we should not assume that student will come to the school ‘pre-loaded’ with these skills.
I still work 4 days a week out of the COL adult learning centre, providing upgrade credits and graduation credits to adults and older teens who are trying to graduate. But the centre is closed on Fridays and that’s when I join the Inquiry Hub to teach my course and provide an almost full day of prep coverage for our teachers (who also have some online hours for the COL courses they teach).
Friday was my first day at the HUB, and I decided to tackle two learning outcomes from the course outline: (I’ll be sharing the full course with you later this week.)
- Demonstrate skills essential for safety and security in the digital world; protection of passwords, personal privacy, privacy of others etc.
- Participate in online discussions in a value-added manner – reinforcing not repeating, constructive and thoughtful criticism and feedback, offering new information and alternate perspectives
Basically, it was a lesson on the permanence and reach of digital text, and the importance of being respectful… followed by (what was supposed to be) an online discussion that would help us develop our expectations about how we conduct ourselves online as a school (as a mere extension of how we conduct ourselves in our school and in our community).
So, I started them off with a tube of toothpaste! In groups of 4, I had them gather their resources: a plate, some toothpicks, and one tube of toothpaste per group. One student then emptied the entire contents of the toothpaste tube onto their plate and the task begins: Without damaging the toothpaste tube, the object of the task is to get all of the toothpaste back into the tube. Students can use only the resources provided.
It’s generally a messy activity! A few key points for anyone interested in trying this:
1. The toothpicks are generally a red herring and have little purpose
2. Students will eventually figure out that the best way to do this is to but the toothpaste in their mouth and use their mouth as a funnel – if they ask permission to do so, I generally reply “use the resources you have” and let them figure out that it is acceptable
3. Don’t use mint toothpaste unless you want a room full of tearing eyes, and as I discovered this time, cinnamon toothpaste deters groups from putting it in their mouths
4. Take pictures! (Our notices to parents about using student images have not been distributed yet, so my images don’t show faces)
5. Have paper towel ready, and speak to students about being respectful to the caretaker before they start going to bathroom to clean up… and completely clean the room & tables before going on to the next task!
Once things were cleaned up, (and fun was had by all), I squeezed the toothpaste back out of the tubes to see which group was most successful, though obviously it is impossible to get all of the toothpaste back in. From this point I read them a story before we discussed the point of the activity. The very short story is called ‘The Bad Temper‘ and if you go and read it then I really don’t need to explain how it is related to the toothpaste activity. With the story setting the tone, we had a discussion about how the activity and story relate to digital communication, as well as the ‘permanence’ and mobility of digital text (versus a written letter or even graffiti).
Next we were going to move on to our digital part of the lesson, after all, this is a course on digital literacy! However, a construction crew at our board office accidentally cut the fibre optic line leaving the entire district without internet for the day. At least I new this in advance. So much for the wiki groups and discussion forum I created for the lesson! Out came the chart paper.
I must admit that I truly believe the lesson was hindered considerably with the lack of digital sharing both for reasons of making the point of the lesson, and also for the richness it can provide for students to be held more accountable to their peers for their work, and for cross-pollination of ideas between groups. A gallery walk to see what others have done is a lot different than students accessing pages online – and I think the adding of ideas from others would have been much richer.
Beyond this, instead of the notes being tucked away in my bag, they could have been further added to over the weekend by students. Yes, I could have taken pictures of the images, but a) that’s different than text, images tend to be seen more as ‘on display’ rather than something you add to; and b) The morning was intended to start with them getting signed up for the course, so they couldn’t even access the course if they wanted to right now.
Reflection: There was actually one more thing that hindered the lesson. I gave them prompts to discuss. I used my ‘Blog rules‘ which I actually suggested were ‘guidelines’ – Respect, Inclusion, Safety and Learning – and provided these terms to the students. My thinking was that I’d provide the students with a starting point, rather than blank pages. However, this was far more guided than it needed to be. It’s a big shift moving to inquiry-based learning, and one that will involve letting go of control and of trusting in the process. It’s not that I’ve never done these things, but rather it is making the process habitual that will take time.
Overall, I think the lesson was well received, but now I have to figure out how best to transfer what we’ve done into what I’d like to be a liveable document that we use to guide our online (and community) expectations.
Coming soon: I’ll share my entire course (or at least what I’ve planned so far), and openly ask for your help and suggestions.