Sunday, 20 February 2011

Week Four in Multiliteracies: The Sociopolitical Lens

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Image on Flickr by D Sharon Pruitt

I am still very late with my Multiliteracies homework. And, yes, I am aware that the session is now officially over. However, one of the many good sides of online courses is that they remain online forever.

Week 4 looks at Multiliteracies through a sociopolitical lens. Everything we do has sociopolitical consequences, I suppose, especially if we distribute our content over the internet for millions to see.

Are millions going to see what we have distributed? Or is no one going to see what we have distributed? What is the real impact of what we are doing?

The fear that amateurs are going to destroy our beautiful planet's culture and education by writing in bad English (or Spanish, or German, or whatever) and by trying to pass their mediocre work as art is, in my opinion, unfounded. Nobody is going to read your content if your content is bad. On the other hand, the chances of you winning the Nobel Prize for literature for your blog are... Well, what do you think?

Chances are, you'll end up talking to the people who share your professional interests, your hobbies and your passions.

Enter www. For, those people could be living on the other end of the globe and the chances of you meeting them would have been next to nothing 20 years ago. Now you can cooperate with them and learn with them. You can even create together.

What is the impact of this on education? These are the questions asked in the Multiliteracies wiki:

  • What key literacies should we be teaching students in a digital world?, but also
  • To what extent is it the responsibility of educators to teach/coach these literacies?
  • Are there any drawbacks or dangers in teaching/coaching these literacies?

I am not sure I know the answers to these questions, so I will just think out loud here. I have always seen teaching as a two-way process. I learn something new every day from my students. The other day, for example, I found out that Rene Magritte's The Son of Man was a self-portrait. One of my students surfed to Wikipedia on his mobile phone and found that out. I had never asked him to do it (we were simply discussing the painting), but the way he found that information was completely natural.

Watching him do it made me think of something and that made me say out loud what I was thinking of:

Is it still necessary for us to fill our heads with lots and lots of data, when we have all the information we might need at our fingertips?

And what should we be teaching instead?

I am not one of those pessimists who think teachers are an endangered species and will become extinct once students learn how to create their own PLNs and PLEs. Because, to learn how to get the most out of their PLNs and PLEs, they need us, their teachers to teach them how to sift through information, how to pull the content they need and how to connect to the right people. In the other words, we need to teach them how to be multiliterate. I don't think digital natives are born with these skills, nor do they develop these skills through connecting with their friends on social networks.

However, if the teaching species is to survive, we need to evolve. I love new technology, but I know a lot of my colleagues do not share my enthusiasm. This is all right, you don't have to spend four hours on the internet every day to be multiliterate. The wonderful thing about PLNs is that people will support you even if you are not there all the time.

Teachers are adaptable and love learning. There are a lot of teachers online and our profession has really benefited from new technologies. Why, then, do we see no change in the way schools and universities are organised?

This is where the concept of edupunk comes in.

This is what the Mulitliteracies wiki says about edupunk:

And now for something complEATly different. The concept of edupunk suggests that there are issues regarding new technologies not being addressed by institutional learning, and it also suggests an 'in your face' approach to resolving some of these issues by stepping around the established authority and just doing it. This week we'll consider what some of these ill-addressed issues are, and we'll ask: when is it justified to simply take off on one's own tangent on the assumption that this is best for one's students? What are the up- and downsides to such an approach? In what way is this a multiliteracies issue? Participants should enjoy addressing the question: Do you feel that you, or anyone for that matter, is, are, or should be an edupunk?

I will try to answer the questions here.

When is it justified to simply take off on one's own tangent on the assumption that this is best for one's students?

Well, see, I am not a rebel. I use prescribed books and follow my school's curriculum. There is nothing bad in that. If I decide to do something more for my students and with my students, I am sure nobody is going to object. As for the second part of the question ( "on the assumption that this is best for one's students"), I don't take that for granted, either. It is their learning process, not mine. My role as the teacher is to offer, but I can't learn instead of them. I learnt this in my early internet days. Back then, I tried to get the students blogging and I was a little too enthusiastic about it. They saw blogging as additional workload and just ignored me.

Nowadays I just present my wikis to them and wait. Some of them decide to join me, a lot of them never do. I teach adults, which means that my students are not digital natives and some of them are actually technophobes. It was worse three years ago, but now people are catching up. I think the fact that I am not pushing this into their faces helps.

In what way is this a multiliteracies issue?

I don't think wanting to change the educational system is solely a multiliteracies issue. As I have said somewhere in this post, technology is just a tool. However, being blind to technology and refusing to admit it is there is not a good idea if you are an educator.

Educational institutions and educational policies have always been behind what happened "in the real world". They have also always been behind what ordinary teachers did in their very ordinary classrooms. I know, my mother was a teacher too. One thing I learnt from her is that, in order to be a good teacher, you need to break a couple of rules. I don't believe that institutions will change overnight but, by the time they do, the teachers will be more than ready.

This post has taken a ridiculously long time to write. I tried to work out my answers for the questions posed in the Multiliteracies wiki. I guess I don't have the answers. One of the reasons for this could be the fact that I never thought about the bigger picture when I got addicted to online learning. I still can't bring myself to think about the bigger picture. The global ELT community is like a village now. Everybody knows everybody else and you keep bumping into the same people over and over again. What we are doing here is just a ripple in the ocean, but it is a start.

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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Why I Love Digital Storytelling

I am going to try and kill three birds with one stone. Or rather, do three pieces of homework with a single blog post.

Because everything is connected. I might be making a generalisation here, but I believe everything we do on the internet these days boils down to digital storytelling.

Let's look at it this way: we spend hours on the internet blogging, tweeting, posting images and audio files. We talk to each other and we listen to each other. We tell each other stories.

Week 3 in Multiliteracies was about digital storytelling. And Week 4 in Digital Storytelling is the Grand Finale of the course - the point where we actually get the chance to tell our story.

Where does Teacher Challenge come in? Well, Challenge Number 6 was about adding multimedia to your blog. Multimedia were compared to the nerves of your blog, the way images were compared to the eyes of the blog.

I have to confess that I was deliberately stalling with my homework both in Multiliteracies and in Digital Storytelling so that I could wait for the time that I had some stories of my own to share.

When we are talking about adding multimedia to your blog, what we are really talking about is digital stories. They can be in different formats: video, audio, slideshows, cartoons. Multimedia can serve the same purpose images do. They can illustrate the post, or inspire you to write it. They could be the centre of the post. You can try out an application and write a post explaining how or why you used it. The multimedia shared in your blog do not have to be created by you, but it feels great if they are.

Is digital storytelling different from ordinary storytelling? If so, how?

Digital storytelling uses multimedia. Stories are told in different ways - you can use images, or video, or words, or music, or any combination of the above. There are so many tools to choose from. In his 50+ Ways to Tell a Digital Story Alan Levine told the same story using 50 different tools!

Digital stories are short and succinct. Everyone attempting to write a digital story should bear in mind that the attention span of his or her readers is short. They land on your page, scan the text and they might or might not click on the multimedia. The shorter the story, the better your chances are. But then, your responsibility is to make the story really powerful with the little time you have.

Which brings me to another point: Digital stories are embeddable. Most of Levine's 50+ stories are embedded right there in his wiki. Digital stories can be shared in blogs, wikis, on Twitter and Facebook. If your friends like them, they might share them further.

Digital stories can be written by one person or a group of people.

Digital stories are multicultural and digital storytelling is truly democratic. It gives power to everyone to express their talent.

It seems that whole new genres are being born almost daily and there are probably thousands of ways you can tell your story.

I chose two. First I decided to bravely read a poem of mine, so I started looking for tools that linked audio to a single image. I tried out three, but liked Fotobabble best (really easy to use, good sound quality) and I am going to share the Fotobabble version of my poem here:

Then, I decided to learn how to use Prezi. I had tried once before and it seemed too difficult. This time I watched all their tutorials and it actually isn't difficult at all. I chose another poem and started copy-pasting it into Prezi

Prezi can turn plain text into beautiful images (a bit like Wordle), which gives it great potential for publishing 'digital poetry'. I am not very gifted for visual arts (even photography is difficult for me), so I felt not having to worry about images was great.

My poem is called Stop Drilling. It has nothing to do with practicing boring grammar in class:) You see, I live in a flat and two years ago one of my neighbours decided to redecorate his flat. He kept drilling and knocking down walls. Finally, I learnt how to sleep through the noise, but the silence would always wake me up. The poem got completely out of control. It rebelled on me and decided to turn itself into something completely different. Time you people saw my dark side:

Keep hitting the Play button to read on.

I believe digital storytelling is something I might devote more of my time to in the future. I am even toying with the idea of starting another blog, just for poetry. What do you think?

In the meantime, I am packing my bags. I am going to a beautiful mountain with my family and we will be away for a week. I will have to press the Pause button on this blog and on all my workshops, but I will continue where I stopped as soon as I am back.

Your comments are very important to me. I won't be able to respond until I return, but I'll get to you as soon as I can.


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