Notes from my recent Cetis keynote:
I’m very happy to have been invited here to speak today, on this important anniversary – the 10th annual Cetis conference. JISC and Cetis – the UK’s Centre For Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards, are organisations many countries in the world are rightly envious of. Cetis, with it’s focus on establishing interoperability specifications, standards and application, and on the implementation, effective use and adoption of open learning technology specifications and standards is just as relevant, and even more vital a national resource today than it was 10 years ago.
It’s also great to be speaking in and supporting Open Education Week, and to be part of a worldwide community who are committed to promoting and creating open education opportunities for all, through free and open education networks, learning materials, open data, open standards, and open source, to making the most of technology to increase access to education globally, and to supporting those who need and want to learn to be able, across a range of circumstances.
While the numbers of high quality open learning resources and opportunities online are increasing, we shouldn’t take for granted that this will always be the case or underestimate the significant barriers that exist in terms of access. There are many, many issues around access. Infrastructure, connectivity, devices, skills, confidence.
Today I’m going to focus on digital literacy and in particular, digital citizenship, as critical agendas in terms of supporting access and protecting gains in open education, and enabling participation in society.
I’m also going to be talking to you from the future 🙂 Cetis’s remit focuses on the post 16, Further & Higher Education sectors, but I’m going to be specifically looking at school level education – young people under 17 year old who we want to support in continuing their engagement with education successfully.
Some of you will have children, and many of you will have been to school. Some people here today may have even been young people at one point- so hopefully there will be something of interest to you.
Mark Hurst recently posted on the spectacle the development of Google Glass technology raises of an electronic Stasiland – an invasive surveillance state freed up of the need to employ spies on mass by the wonder of technology. Always on, undetected recordings that are live streamed, stored and synced across services, and can be trawled by facial recognition programmes. Mark Zuckerberg, a big fan of variable definitions of both privacy and openness, is apparently enthusiastic about developing Facebook Glass apps.
However plausible you think Hurst’s concerns are, web-based, mobile and gaming technologies are already integrated into mainstream social life, and represent mainstream culture. From being in utero to dying, and even after death – our lives in all their varieties, shades and complexities are already mediated, shared, constructed and lived out online. Rather than the internet representing a ‘virtual’ world, or virtual space outside of ‘real life’, in post-industrial countries lack of connectivity, devices and online presence is in many ways already a marker of social exclusion.
I also think we already have significant, pressing problems now around the issues Hurst raises – rights and laws relating to privacy, identity, reputation, surveillance, consent and ownership in digital environments. The integration of web-based, mobile, and gaming technologies into everyday life means that new social norms are emerging and being fought over now. Rather than being problems we can look forward to, we already have a weight of issues to deal with around information people put online about us, the information we are putting online about ourselves, the information that services collect about us and the ways in which that information is being used.
This is a picture of Matt Britten tempting delegates at the UK’s 2010 National Digital Inclusion Conference with the kinds of savings that might be made by moving services online. Leaving aside historic Government adventures in technologies for economies of scale – one of the key issues with online only or predominantly online services is also a key issue for open education – that is, that the people who are most dependent on those services – in the case of Government services, and the people who could potentially most benefit from access – in the case of online education – are typically people facing the biggest barriers to access. Infrastructure, connectivity and device ownership aside (and that is a pretty big aside), one of the biggest barriers to being able to engage with, take advantage of and be an active citizen in online environments is digital literacy, and lack of digital literacy education for all.
How do we ensure every learner has access to the knowledge and skills necessary to make to most of technology in terms of educational, social and economic opportunities? While they are at school, and when they go on to employment, training or further education? This is a key issue I’m trying to address in practical terms in the work I’m currently doing in Leicester right now. One of the key ways is by ensuring all school staff – leadership, teachers, learner support and library staff – have the skills and confidence to support learners.
As part of Leicester City Council’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) Programme ICT strand, I’m working with schools across the city, and framework lead Lucy Atkins (our Digital Literacies Research Associate) in partnership with De Montfort University, supported by Richard Hall (Head of DMU’s Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology (CELT)).
The two-year project will produce and review the results of a self-evaluation city-wide survey of secondary school staff. Fundamentally, the project seeks to do three things:
- Drill down on what digital literacy looks like, and what the key knowledge, skills and practices are in terms of secondary staff classroom and school based practice
- Identify what current the strengths and gaps are across city schools in relation to this
- Support staff in developing their digital literacy skills and confidence levels, in the context of their practice, wherever they currently might be
We are being explicit about the important role open education plays within the context of what digital literacy looks like in a school setting – particularly in terms of the ability to find, create, build on and use open educational resources, and in connecting to, participating in and creating open learning networks. And the framework itself is going to be available under open licence for others to make use of, build on, or adjust for their own settings.
Since we know young people routinely make effective use of mobile and web based tools and technologies – particularly Google, Wikipedia and Facebook – for learning, why do we need to worry about digital literacy?
Ofcom’s Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report, released in October 2012 draws on a range of large scale quantitative and qualitative surveys carried out across the UK. Some of the headline findings include that nine in ten 5-15 year olds (91%) live in a household with access to the internet through a PC, laptop or netbook – with internet access at home in financially better off families being close to universal (98% for AB households, and 97% for C1 households), and with internet access for children in poorer households (DE) continuing to be lower than the levels across all other socio-economic groups at 81%.
Half of all 5-15 year olds surveyed had mobile phones, and 3 in 5 of all 12-15 year olds had smart phones.
46% of parents surveyed agreed with the statement “My child knows more about the Internet than I do”, which increases to 67% for parents of 12-15 year olds.
While some young people might have great access to mobile and web-based technologies, and high confidence levels when it comes to navigating sites and using services, the report highlights some of the gaps that exist in terms of critical engagement – rather than passive consumption – with digital environments, services and information. The slide above, for example, looks at 12-15 year olds understanding of results listed by search engines.
Less than half (45%) of the 12-15 year olds in the 2012 survey evidenced a basic critical approach to evaluation of online content, agreeing that “I think that some of the websites in the list will show truthful information and some will show untruthful information.” was the statement closest to their opinion. This represents a slight (4%) decrease since 2009.
A third (31%) of 12-15 year olds most closely agreed with the statement “I think that if they have been listed by the search engine the information on the website must be truthful.” 17% of 12-15 year olds agreed most with the statement “I don’t really think about whether or not they have truthful information, I just use the sites I like the look of.”
Being aware that some website content might be misinformed, misleading, or biased is pretty fundamental to developing skills to evaluate web content, to verify information, or to identify how information might be factual but still presented in support of particular points of view. The ability to judge the validity of information, or to at least not just uncritically accept it, is an important skill for everyone.
The Ofcom Adults media use and attitudes report (March 2012) looks similarly at 16-65+ year olds who use search engines about their attitudes towards the accuracy or bias of the websites returned by search. More than half (57%) agreed most closely with the statement “I think that some of the websites in the list will be accurate or unbiased and some won’t be.” With just over a third (38%) saying that the uncritical statements (‘it’s online so it must be OK’, or ‘I just like the look of it’) were closest to their opinion on search returns.
So how are we addressing basic digital literacy issues for all learners?
In February 2013, Michael Gove, the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Education, announced the public consultation on the reform of the national curriculum for school children in England, which closes in April.
In one of the few references to young people as active social agents, the draft Computing Programme of Study (PoS) purpose of study statement opens with “A high-quality computing education equips pupils to understand and change the world through computational thinking”
Digital literacy and e-safety make an appearance in the National Curriculum, with self expression and use of ICT for employment and civic participation explicitly linked to and framed within the context of a computing education. I’ve previously written about the limitations of this approach, although I am happy that some elements of digital literacy and e-safety are included somewhere as important components of school level education.
The draft computing PoS for Key Stage 2 (7-11 year olds) includes learning about how search engines work, how to to use them effectively, how to evaluate information online. They are also going to be taught about intellectual property, and how to keep themselves safe in their use of technology.
There’s some further development of knowledge of the technical aspects of search engines at Key Stage 3 (11-14 year olds), and some continuation of digital literacy, in terms of “create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital information and content with attention to design, intellectual property and audience.” Given that both that digital literacy and e-safety are linked to practice – to how young people engage with, learn and socialise within digital environments, and given that these practices are very different for young people at 7 than they are at 11, or 14, or 16, the expectation to ensure they are “responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information communications technology” seems insufficiently supported within the draft PoS.
The future of citizenship education as an entitlement for English secondary school pupils looked uncertain during the period of review, but it’s inclusion was confirmed in the draft curriculum. The draft curriculum defines the purpose of study as helping “to provide pupils with knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society.” I’ll leave aside the fact that children and young people do already, and can’t really avoid already playing a full and active role in society – as citizens, as family members, as members of school and local communities, sometimes as carers themselves, as consumers. The scope of draft aims are to ensure young people have an understanding of UK governance and how citizens engage in democracies, the role, production and implementation of law, understand the importance of and develop a commitment to volunteering, and personal financial management.
The table above is taken from David Kerr’s guide for the Citizenship Foundation on the implications for citizenship of the draft curriculum.
Politics, democracy, and government have been retained from the previous PoS, as have the justice system, law making and elections. The role of the Monarchy, personal finance and volunteering have been added. There is more emphasis on Britishness, less emphasis on rights and freedoms. Topics that have been removed include the media, actions to impact community or environmental change, local/national conflict resolution, public services/third sector, Human rights & freedoms and the struggle for these, employee/employer/consumer rights & responsibilities.
Teachers will address the final programme of study as they’ve always done – flexibly, framing their teaching and their exploration of topics around their learners. Even given this, I’m not sure why learning about key critical human rights issues – for example the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, to which the UK is a signatory, isn’t embedded.
What’s also missing is the role of digital. If “Citizenship education is about enabling people to make their own decisions and to take responsibility for their own lives and their communities,” and if we acknowledge that digital tools and environments play a critical role in how lives are lived, in how communities engagement takes place, in legal and political process and protest – that the internet is a site of active political life, it’s very difficult to see how issues relating to young peoples use of technologies can be left out.
Many of the issues addressed through citizenship education are inseparable from the use of technology and digital environments, and I’d like to see citizenship within the curriculum reflect the realities of learners lives. Although it depends on the teacher delivering the curriculum, typically citizenship schemes of work and lessons don’t address rights and responsibilities in digital environments, or political and legal issues online, or identity, conflict, and communities in online environments.
The draft computing PoS at Key stage 3 (11-14) proposes one of the things pupils should be taught to be able to do is to “create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital information and content with attention to design, intellectual property, and audience”
Young Rewired State (YRS), a network of software developers and designers aged 18 and under, is an organisation that models how this can be done, very effectively, in the context of solving real-world challenges.
YRS runs an annual Festival of Code, that introduces Junior and Secondary school aged children and young people to open data sources and helps them develop real world applications for the use of open data, working in teams to design and produce prototype web services and apps that use open data over the course of a week. The young people involved are a mix of ages and experience – some had never coded before, most hadn’t been through the kind of rapid scoping, design, development and pitch process.
The Festival of Code 2012 winning projects made use of open data about house prices, crime rates, employment and education statistics.
My favorite prototype project from those that won awards – and there were many brilliant projects that didn’t make it to the finals – is Way to go which provides local accessibility information for people in wheelchairs and with limited mobility. The design team ensured users could also contribute to the project by rating the accessibility of locations and by this feedback being available to other users. The project was explicitly designed to increase options and access – “hopefully this will help people get around and find new places instead of going to the same places because they know it’s accessible”, as well as ensuring the people who are the experts on accessibility can share their knowledge to help continually develop the tool.
These projects combine a huge range of skills with coding- working with data, identifying, defining and addressing real world issues, identifying work goals and sharing these within coordinated teams. YRS demonstrates what well supported young people are capable of learning and achieving, and enjoy learning and achieving, in an extremely short period of time.
If digital literacy is “those capacities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society”, what is digital citizenship? I see digital citizenship as a distinct but overlapping area in relation to digital literacy. Digital literacy is the ability to use, critically engage with and make use of digital tools and environments – it’s not just about supporting learners to understand and engage with the world, but about enabling learners to challenge, shape and change their worlds. Digital Citizenship for me addresses social, political, economic and legal participation in relation to the use of technologies and online environments. It isn’t an ‘add on’ to the area of citizenship as a whole, but a recognition that technologies and digital environments are a part of the real world, and they mediate all aspects of UK life: from meeting partners, finding jobs, contacting the local council, protesting, organising, developing our social and professional networks – the list goes on. Some of the areas I’d specifically draw attention to as relevant include digital access, inclusion and exclusion; legal and illegal economics relating to data, digital services and goods; the use of technologies for mainstream and grassroots political organisation and representation; the use and abuse of technologies and data for governance and decision making; freedom of speech and censorship in relation to digital communications; digital copyright laws, privacy and data protection; data ownership, management and security.
These are all issues that impact on young people’s lives in the UK and their everyday use of technology that we aren’t addressing.
The world is facing extremely difficult social, economic, and sustainability issues – and it’s unlikely that these will be addressed through the power of computational thinking alone. In terms of citizenship, restricting our ambition to teaching people how to”behave well” in digital environments is a dangerous proposition, particularly if we aren’t addressing the context of the societies we live in. The point of citizenship is not just to understand and
do what you are expected to do by your community and by law, but about equipping young people to actively and
critically engage in the local and national agendas and decision making
that affect their, and their communities, lives. The Citizenship foundation defines citizenship education as “enabling people to make their own decisions and to take responsibility for their own lives and their communities.” and quotes Bernard Crick on the critical role citizenship plays “Citizenship is more than a subject. If taught well and tailored to
local needs, its skills and values will enhance democratic life for all
of us, both rights and responsibilities, beginning in school and
Openness and diversity aren’t merely pleasant things to have access too, or easy principles to support or work with. A commitment to the principles of openness and to right of access to education is about ensuring that we make the most of the talent and contribution of all. A commitment to making information, discussion and participation available to as many people as possible, regardless of their personal or social circumstances.
Democracies need active, informed and responsible citizens; citizens who are willing and able to take responsibility for themselves and their communities and contribute to the political process.
“Democracies depend upon citizens who, among other things, are:
- aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens;
- informed about the social and political world;
- concerned about the welfare of others;
- articulate in their opinions and arguments;
- capable of having an influence on the world;
- active in their communities;
- responsible in how they act as citizens.
These capacities do not develop unaided.” – What is citizenship education? – The Citizenship Foundation
Children and young people grow up and develop their identities in both physical and digital environments. While they might be confident users of mobile and gaming technologies, and online sites like Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Google, it doesn’t follow that they are socially and politically aware and engaged citizens in these spaces – just as simply being in the physical world doesn’t guarantee they have the tools and self confidence to understand their rights and responsibilities, and to take an active part in their communities and in governance.