Professional Development-Improving Digital Literacy through Peer Modeling

It shouldn’t be a surprise that experts support the idea of incorporating technology into new and existing learning models to facilitate deeper and different skill sets than those taught by conventional methods today.  The biggest push for more technology adoption in education is to move the educational system away from antiquated models developed during the industrial revolution to a system that reflects today’s society and workplace. I particularly enjoy Sir Ken Robinson’s argument for changing the education system because we are living an an era where we are trying to meet the needs of the future with old methods designed for a different society than the one we live in now, (RSA, 2010).  Robinson stresses that we need to adopt new models that redefine the idea of “academic” versus “non-academic” and accept differences in thinking in regards to what it means to be “educated”. Part of the reason for this push is that today’s children are exposed to information stimuli which capture attention and change learning needs, (RSA, 2010).  

Incorporating 21st century skills requires introduction, implementation, and use of technology at all levels of education. Considering the importance of developing these skills, it is also important to understand the reasons behind creating a paradigm shift, particularly as we prepare students for the real-world in higher education. The New Media Consortium (NMC) published a report looking into the key trends that would promote and accelerate technology adoption in higher education. NMC identified and classified these trends in terms of length of time needed for implementation as well as difficulty, (NMC, 2017). Figure 1.1 summarizes the six key trends for technology adoption.

Infographic summarizing the key trends for accelerating technology adoption from NMC
Figure 1.1 NMC’s Key Trends for Accelerating Technology Adoption

What’s interesting to note about the trends above is that they not only focus on types of technology, or ways that technology is used in the classroom, but also on important skill sets and new ways of thinking that elevate technology use to a different, more meaningful level.  

Because the primary responsibility of a higher education institution should be to prepare students for the real-world, understanding the technology implications behind each of these trends call us, the professors, to reevaluate our technology use in the classroom. Despite these conversations on the need for technology adoption in higher education, several challenges continue to slow the rate of adoption.  NMC summarized six key challenges that significantly impede the process of the aforementioned trends. The challenges were classified from “solvable”, meaning the problem is well understood and solutions exist, to “wicked” where the challenges involve societal change,or,  dramatic restructuring of thinking or existing models, where solutions can’t be identified in the near future, (NMC, 2017). Figure 1.2 describes these challenges in more depth.

Infographic on the six challenges to technology adoption by NMC
Figure 1.2 Summary of the Six Challenges to Technology Adoption.

While experts look into the challenges that require more investigation and assessment of impact, I’d like to focus on one of the solvable challenges: digital literacy. Digital literacy has a broad definition which include a set of skills that “… fit the individual for living, learning, and working in a digital society,” (JISC, 2014). While mostly thought of as the ability to use different types of technology, the definition expands to include a deeper understanding of the digital environment, (NMC, 2017). Successful components of digital literacy include accessing, managing, evaluating, integrating, creating, and communicating information in all aspects of life, (UNESCO, 2011).  The UNESCO Institute for Information Technology in Education argues that digital literacy is basic skill that is equally as important as learning to read, write, and do math, (UNESCO, 2011). Interesting, when students are taught digital literacy and are allowed to use technology in learning, they grasp math and science more readily and easily than students without this skill, (UNESCO, 2011).

While it is clear that digital literacy is an important skill, during a departmental assessment conducted for another class, digital literacy was one of the biggest impediments to adopting technology. Faculty were only adopting technology only in response to industry need.  Many professors were eager to learn but not sure how to start using new technology, while others simply did not see a value in spending time and energy in implement new learning methods. Among the biggest barriers explored were time, knowledge deficit, and lack of professional development on digital literacy. Therefore, improving digital literacy will prove to be crucial to promote more tech adoption in the classroom. Professional development would need to include a conversation on what literacy looks like for each discipline and should not only include online etiquette, digital rights and responsibilities, curriculum design built around student-facing services, but also on the incorporation for the right technology for each context, (NMC, 2017).  

The ISTE standard for educators (2c) states that modelling is the, “identification, exploration, evaluation, curation and adoption of new digital resources and tools for learning” that can be used in professional development, (ISTE, 2017). So the what are effective methods for modeling and facilitating good digital literacy as part of faculty (formal or informal) development?

Peer modeling has been suggested as an alternative to traditional professional development or inservice. Among the reasons for peer modeling success is the fact that peer modeling is personalizable and actionable.  Faculty can choose the various digital literacy topics they are personally interested in, receive one-on-one training related to their knowledge gap and needs while receiving hands-on application, (Samek, et. al, 2016).  George Fox University piloted a peer modeling project after reviewing key data related to a digital fluency mentorship program that utilized tech solutions and the pedagogy to support tech use). The program was initially developed to address faculty desire for one-on-one training.  From faculty feedback survey, the program developers learned that faculty are more likely to adopt a tech solution if they see it in action (actionable examples) and are given evidence of positive student learning outcomes. Due to the success of the program, the university has expanded its efforts to other collaborative development, (Samek, et. al. 2016).

Learning from George Fox’s example, universities could build resources to offer similar professional development on digital literacy to improve technology adoption. What I particularly like about this idea is that it is a different way to look a professional development where the mentor can be the expert but it could also later transition into a co-learning model to increase ownership and interest in technology adoption. This model goes beyond professional development to focus on the real-time needs of each faculty member and work on existing classroom components. Above all, peer modeling improves digital literacy to increase technology adoption to further develop the 21st century skills of students and teachers alike.

References

JISC, (2014, Dec. 16). Developing digital literacy. [website]. Available from: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-digital-literacies.

New Media Consortium, (2017). Horizon report: 2017 Higher Education. [pdf].  Available from: http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2017-nmc-horizon-report-he-EN.pdf

RSA, (2010, Oct 14).  Changing educational paradigms [Youtube Video]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U.

Samek, L., Ashford, R.M., Doherty, G., Espinor, D., Barardi, A.A., (2016). A peer training model to promote digital fluency among university faculty: Program component and initial efficacy data. Faculty Publications, School of Education. Paper 144.  Available from: http://digitalcommons.georgefox.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1143&context=soe_faculty

UNESCO Institute for Information Technology in Education, (2011, May). Policy brief. [pdf]. Available from: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002144/214485e.pdf

Digital Storytelling and Creative Communication: Does One Help Develop the Other?

Alan Alda, from M*A*S*H*, knows how to tell a story.  In one of his presentations, he asks a young woman to the stage.  Alda then asks the young woman to carry an empty glass across the stage.  She stares at the him awkwardly and does it without much fanfare. Alda then walks to her with a pitcher of water.  He pours water into the empty glass and fills to the brim. He asks her to carry the glass to the other side of the stage. “Don’t spill a drop of water or your entire village will die.”- he says.  The young woman, slowly, deliberately walks across the stage. She carefully gauges the level of water in the glass as she takes each step. The audience is silent, enraptured in the backstory of the overfilled glass.  They are interested and invested in the story. (Watch Alan Alda explain the importance of storytelling in his video: “Knowing How to Tell a Good Story is Like Having Mind Control.”)

Stories are powerful. Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of communication that we have.  We are attracted to stories because they are human, (Alda, 2017). Stories relay information about human nature, accomplishments, challenges, and discoveries. They make us feel part of a community and help evoke empathy, (Dillion, 2014).  According to Alan Alda, we like stories because we think in stories, particularly if the story has an obstacle. Like in the example above, we are interested in listening to the attempts overcoming the obstacle, (Alda, 2017).

Stories can also be powerful in the classroom.  A good story helps shape mental models, motivates and persuades others, and teaches lessons, (Dillion, 2014).  There are many ways to deliver a story but I have been gaining significant interest in digital storytelling. Technology is not stoic but rather highly personalizable as people are discovering unique ways to learn, entertain, network, and build relationships using technology, (Robin, 2008).  It is not surprising then that people are using technology to also share their story. Digital storytelling is technique that I discovered as I was exploring problem based learning (PBL) to develop innovation skills.  In that blog post, I explained that digital storytelling was one mode students could employ to “solve” a problem in PBL by creating an artifact. I realize that this wasn’t directly related to my inquiry at the time, because problem-based learning is more focused on the process of problem-solving rather than the artifact itself.  Despite this, I found the idea of digital storytelling interesting and wanted to revisit it. “Storytelling” in particular, is a buzzword that circles back in unexpected mediums. For example, my husband attended a conference that explored storytelling through data, in other words, how to design graphs, charts, and other visual representations of data that share a story without any significant description or explanation. Yet these graphs communicate important information. That then got me pondering about how digital storytelling can be used to teach students to creativity communicate information either about themselves or about a topic using technology.

So then how can students use digital storytelling for the purposes of creative communication? This question relates to ISTE Student Standard 6: Creative Communicator in which, “students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.”  Digital storytelling is one vehicle in which students can use to express and communicate clearly.  Interestingly, the idea of digital storytelling isn’t new, it was originally developed in the 1980’s but is experiencing a renaissance in the 2000’s, (Robin, 2008). Not only can digital storytelling be a medium for learning, but also different types of information can be relayed using this technique including personal narrative (what most non-ed professionals use), stories on informing/instructing, and lastly, stories that examine historical events, (Robin, 2008).

Stories must be well-crafted in order for them to be effective and memorable. Students can deliver a story by investigating a topic, write a script, develop their story, and tie it all together using multimedia, (Robin, 2008).  Blogs, podcasts, wikis, and other mediums like pinterest can be used to convey a story simply,(University of Houston, 2018). To help students get started, the University of Houston’s Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling webpage offers great information such as timing, platforms, and examples of artifacts.

Figure depicting the digital storytelling process.
Figure 1.1 The Digital Storytelling Process

Before diving into a story, the most important elements are explored in its theoretical framework.  This framework includes the seven-elements needed in order for each story to be impactful. Figure 1.2 below summarizes the seven key elements.  

Infographic describing the 7 elements of digital storytelling
Figure 1.2 The 7 Elements of Digital Storytelling

Just as Alan Alda explores in his video, the seven-elements emphasize that good stories must capture the audience’s attention, explore obstacles or serious issues that the audience can connect with, and must be personal in order to enhance and accelerate comprehension, (Robin, 2008). By allowing students to engage in digital storytelling, they are also developing crucial 21st century skills: digital, global, technology, visual, and information literacy.

Tying it all together: How does digital storytelling fulfill the requirements for the ISTE student standard on creative communicator?

As Robin alludes to, it can be challenging to distinguish the various types of stories because oftentime they overlap, particularly considering the personal narrative, (Robin, 2008). A good story is relatable, we can put ourselves into the shoes of the protagonist.  The use of technology is just another medium we can use to communicate our stories. By implementing digital storytelling in the classroom, it would allow for transformation (SAMR) of existing assignments and lectures.  Here are some additional thoughts on how this technique can help students become creative communicators:

  • ISTE 6A: “Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication”.  Platforms such as blogs, podcasts, in addition to tools such as cameras, and editing software are all components of digital storytelling. Allowing students to evaluate the various platforms and tools in relation to their desired outcome, they would be developing digital, technology, and visual literacy.
  • ISTE 6B: “Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations”. Though the most common application of digital storytelling would be to create an original artifact, Robin provides an example of remixing in recreating historical events by using photos, or old headlines to provide depth and meaning to the facts students are learning in class, (Robin, 2008). By curating and remixing existing artifacts, students would develop global, digital, visual, and information literacy.
  • ISTE 6C: “Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations”. This idea goes back to the example I shared of storytelling using data (graphs/charts/figures) but it can also include infographics. Depicting complex data through an interesting visual medium engages digital, global, technology, visual, and information literacy.
  • ISTE 6D: “Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences”. The basis of storytelling is that it is meant to be shared with others.  If the story doesn’t match the audience, it will not be impactful or important. This is a point the 7-elements of digital storytelling stresses. Understanding and crafting stories for a specific audience demonstrates digital and global literacy.

Good digital storytelling can allow students become creative communicators.  Using technology can reach audiences in many ways never thought of before while still sharing the human experience.  As Robin puts it, in a world where we are receiving thousands of messages a day across many different platforms, stories become engaging, driving, and a powerful way to share a message in a short period of time, (Robin, 2008).

Resources

[big think channel]. (2017, July 18). Knowing how to tell a good story is like having mind control: Alan Alda. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4k6Gm4tlXw

Dillon, B. (2014). The power of digital story. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-power-of-digital-story-bob-dillon

International Society for Technology in Education, (2017).  The ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students.

Robin, BR., (2008). Digital storytelling: A powerful technology tool for the 21st century classroom. Theory into Practice, 47: 220-228. DOI:1080/00405840802153916

University of Houston, (2018). Educational use of digital storytelling. Retrieved from: http://digitalstorytelling.coe.uh.edu/page.cfm?id=27&cid=27&sublinkid=75

Effective Tech Tools in Content Curation for Research

The search for technology solutions that build 21st century skills to empower students continues with the concepts of “knowledge construction” and “content curation”. The ISTE standards for students defines knowledge construction by the ability of students to, “…critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others”, (ISTE, 2017). This means that students use effective search strategies to investigate meaningful resources linked to their learning, critically analyze information, create a collection of artifacts demonstrating connections/conclusions, and explore real world issues, developing “theories and ideas in pursuit of solutions,” (ISTE, 2017).  Unlike any other time in history, students today face an enormous challenge of receiving, processing, and using countless bytes of content per day.  Understanding how to decipher useful vs. unuseful, relevant vs. irrelevant, credible vs. not credible information is an incredibly important 21st century skill.  Some are even saying that “content curator” and “knowledge constructor” will be job titles of the near future, (Briggs, 2016).  

Knowledge construction is a facet of the sociocultural theory using a social context for learning where students develop a better understanding of content through collaboration. Students work together to gather information and develop solutions to real-world problems, effectively forcing students to move past their existing knowledge of the world, (Shukor, 2014). Using real-world problems peaks students’ interest of assignments and allows them to put their own spin on a probable solution. This problem-based model allows educators to promote learning through activities that acknowledge what students already know, consider what students need to know to create a solution, and cultivate ideas to solve the problem, (Edutopia, 2016).  To successfully run a problem-based classroom, the focus must shift from evaluation of final products (i.e. correct answers on a worksheet) to evaluation of the process in which the answers were produced and the content that the students cultivated.  Because of this, the final product or assignment is more variable from group to group based on the results of the collaborative process, but should reflect knowledge attainment, (Edutopia,2016).  Shifting focus to a problem-based learning model has benefits beyond the content that students construct through their group work. Students are exposed to more skills such as planning, monitoring, synthesizing, organizing, and evaluating, (Shukor, 2014 & Briggs, 2016). While content curation may not be the main focus of an assignment, understanding how to arrange information in a purposeful way builds information fluency.  According to education leader Saga Briggs, content curation is defined as placing purpose and intention on information that should then be shared (perhaps via social bookmarking), used towards the creation of an artifact or final product, and the content curator should provide their own contribution to the body of work, i.e. provide something of value to their target audience, (Briggs, 2016).  

Developing information fluency, or clearly communicating purpose of information, is a key 21st century skill for students. One problem that students face with information fluency is with current student search strategies. Students miss out on the critical analysis portion in information selection, (O’Connor & Sharkey, 2013). It is difficult, or even impossible, to communicate purpose of information without first critically analyzing the information for relevance.  Figure 1.1 summarizes O’Connor & Sharkey’s depiction of the current state of student search strategies.

Diagram Summary of O'Connor & Sharkey's Current State of Student Search Strategies.
Figure 1.1 O’Connor & Sharkey’s Current State of Student Search Strategies

 This search strategy depicts a vicious cycle. The educator’s ultimate goal is to get students to conduct higher level investigation (i.e. critical analysis), but most students never move past the “grazing” or the background search.  This problem is further exacerbated by educators who do not provide feedback (see my previous post on formative feedback). Therefore, there is a need to teach students how to interpret, synthesize, and construct new concepts through effective search strategies, (O’Connor & Sharkey, 2013).

Putting the Theory into Practice: The Content Curation Investigation.

When challenged to develop a personalized question addressing information fluency, my nutrition research class resurfaced. These researchers-in-training need to develop content curation skills as an essential part of conducting research.  One assignment in that course reminded me of the O’Connor & Sharkley conundrum.  Students are required to conduct a literature search through the university’s library on a topic related to a food or ingredient they wish to experiment on.  From this literature search, students create an annotated bibliography whose goal is to gather information on what work has already been done with a particular food or ingredient, understand the key concepts and/or patterns that emerge from that body of work, and help students refine their own work by analyzing and concluding what is still left to investigate.  Historically, students “graze” through this assignment, missing that critical analysis piece.  Although students do receive feedback, it is summative and not formative. Keeping all of these current issues in mind, my question began to unfold:

“What simple tech tool can effectively be used to help students better annotate and organize scientific literature when conducting a literature search?”

Resource Search. When investigating possible annotation tools to help students better curate and organize information from scientific literature, three main criteria came to mind. The tool must: 1) offer annotation features; 2) allow for organization of literature and/or annotations; 3) allow for collaboration and sharing. Annotation is the skill of focus for the assignment.  Being able to cultivate useful information via annotation from scientific works will allow students to create connections through the practice of active reading. The goal of annotation in this sense means that students are reading to not only review what information already exists, but also analyze that existing information to infer what may be missing (i.e. literature gaps), and connect their work to the existing literature.  A tool that aids in organization will also help fulfill the ISTE standard for students on knowledge curation by thinking about the literature as categories to better extract information from each resource, thereby helping to also develop their information fluency.  How students classify their information will help them organize their ideas and later their final artifacts.  Lastly, the ability to collaborate and share their annotation/organization is important to receive formative feedback.

My investigation began with a google search using “social bookmarking for education” and “web annotation tools for education” as keywords. Several articles from edtech sources listing the top favorites were reviewed, resulting in over thirty different types of tools and apps.  To narrow this selection, I applied the three criteria above which produced five possible options.  A summary of each option is provided in table 1.1 below.  

Table Comparing 5 Social Bookmarking Websites
Table 1.1 Social Bookmarking Website Comparison

Resource Comparison. From this investigation, Diigo, Mendeley, and Scrible fulfill the three criteria above without interface issues, currency issues, and are still available.  Crocodoc is no longer available (R.I.P. Crocodoc), and A.nnotate’s user interface looks dated and does not offer all of the added features found on the other three websites. In fact, when searching for reviews of A.nnotate, the latest one I could find dates back to 2008.  Comments in that review article suggest using Google Docs or even Microsoft Word as an alternative to A.nnotate.

Diigo offers a library that supports multi-source uploads including pdfs, images, screenshots, and URLs into their library (see Figure 2.1 below).

Diigo Library Screenshot
Figure 2.1 Diigo Library Screenshot

The highlight feature of this app is the ability to organize and categorize resources using tags. These tags can be easily searched for quick access to a specific category or categories. The user then has the option to annotate the resource which can be shared with a group that the user creates (the assumption is that group members also have Diigo)  or through a link the user shares. Other features and benefits are explored here.  Diigo is a free service, or rather at sign up, the user must choose a package, the most basic is free. The free version allows up to 500 cloud bookmarks and 100 webpage and pdf highlights. The downside, the free version doesn’t not allow for collaborative annotation.

My initial impression of Mendeley is that it is very research-focused. Upon further investigation, my impression was correct as the website is a partner with Elsevier, a parent company to many peer-review journals. In the profile creation process, the user is asked to fill out a short survey on intended use and level of use (i.e. undergraduate v.s. graduate research).  Like Diigo, the library allows for uploading pdfs, or articles directly from the web. The library can be organized into folders, but does not allow for tagging.  See figure 2.2 below.

Screenshot of Mendeley Library
Figure 2.2 Mendeley Library Screenshot

The annotation feature offers highlighting and sticky notes (comments).  Articles can be shared via emailable link for individuals who do not have a Mendeley account or the user may elect to create a group to share documents to peers with accounts.  An interesting feature of Mendeley is the desktop version of the website that saves permanent article copies to the user’s desktop to allow for offline work.

Scrible seems to be a fairly new website. While the purpose of this site is to allow for social bookmarking and web annotation just like Diigo and Mendeley, it also has a classroom feature. Educators can upload resources that all students can access. Scrible can also be incorporated into an existing Google Classroom. Students can appreciate a seamless integration with Google Docs and as an added bonus, the site will automatically create citations and bibliographies.  Figure 2.3 shows the Scrible library.

Screenshot of Scrible Library
Figure 2.3 Scrible Library Screenshot

The downside of this website is that while the classroom, the google doc integration, and the citation features are free for K-12 classroom use, it is not free for higher education use. Higher ed users are given a 30-day free trial and then the program converts to the basic plan which offers the exact same features as Diigo.

Conclusion. Diigo and Mendeley are easy to use, offer sharing features, and connect to social media for collaboration though neither support collaborative annotation in the free versions. In addition to the features mentioned above, Scrible does allow collaborative annotation in the basic package. Diigo seems to be optimized for websites and web articles while Mendeley is optimized for research articles, with Scrible somewhere in-between.

Since all three websites offer the same desired features, all three score highly on the Triple E rubric: 5 points on engagement in the learning, 6 points on enhancement of learning goals, and 5 points on extending the learning goals. Therefore all three would fulfill the assignment goals. In order to pick one appropriate for this assignment, I would need to consider the students. Mendeley, designed specifically for research articles, is not only a good fit for the assignment, but students could  continue to use this website should they go to graduate school. Diigo is focused on web articles and could be used by students in their other classes or other aspects of their professional lives. Scrible, having more of a focus on education, may not be equally as useful outside of the classroom.

The Next Steps.

Though any of the three websites would be suitable for the annotation assignment, I do not teach this section alone. I’ve enlisted the help of the university librarian who co-teaches literature search skills for this course. She was quite enthusiastic at the thought of web-tool integration with this assignment and we will be adding another criteria addressing seamless integration with our library website and resources to make our final decision.  

References.

Briggs, S. (2016, July 27). Teaching content curation and 20 resources to help you do it [Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/content-curation-20-resources/

Edutopia. (2016, November 1). Solving real-world problems through problem-based learning. Edutopia. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/practice/solving-real-world-issues-through-problem-based-learning

International Society for Technology in Education, (2017).  The ISTE standards for students. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students.

O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J. (2013). Establishing twenty-first-century information fluency. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 53(1), 33–39.

Shukor, N. A., Tasir, Z., Van der Meijden, H., & Harun, J. (2014). Exploring students’ knowledge construction strategies in computer-supported collaborative learning discussions using sequential analysis. Educational Technology & Society, 17(4), 216-228.