From WoW to wow!

I can’t believe how close we are to the end! Just one more class to go – it’s amazing how time flies. It feels like just a few weeks ago we were reading about actor-network theory and World of Warcraft. Now, we’re talking about access and equity and projects I can’t even begin to describe. Crazy.

I originally envisioned this blog as a sort of beacon, a place to call for and justify the need for information and media literacy. However, I quickly came to realize two things:

1. As a student who is involved in writing many, many other things, I don’t always have the time to sit down and write out a polished analysis or argument.

2. I don’t always want to write about media and information literacy! Sometimes, I find other topics to be equally if not more interesting. It’s very difficult to write about the same thing each week.

That being said, thank you (to my small in-class readership) for indulging me in my half-formed thoughts and musings about all things Massive-related. I didn’t realize blogging could be so rewarding!


The Second Digital Divide – a Gap in Media Literacy

I loved our readings this week – I feel like I’ve been waiting to talk about issues of equity and access since the beginning of the course! I’m wondering, though, how best to address these issues in writing this week – I feel like the ideas and worries are so big, and the solutions so elusive, that I don’t even know where to start. The idea of the second digital divide – the notion that it’s not just the access to technology, but the ways in which we use the technology that is creating a rift between the haves and have-nots – was really salient to me, and rang true to me in a way that few of our other readings have. As you may know from my past blog posts, I’m a big proponent of media and information literacy, which not only encompasses how we locate and evaluate information, but how we use it – and accompanying media tools – thoughtfully and effectively. This second digital divide is essentially a gap in media literacy, which can be traced back to the the quality of an individual’s learning experiences with computers (both at home and in the classroom).  Thus I’m puzzling this week: how can we address this is schools?  When I think back to my own students, I had those who were in both camps, and those who were somewhere in-between – and meanwhile, I only had three computers in my classroom, and only myself to oversee students in the lab. Students did have a technology special once a week, but I don’t know that that’s necessarily enough – and that still isn’t giving students sustained time with technology, let alone time to work with the single adult in the room. None of this is to mention the kinds of programs students are using in school – which vary wildly depending on school budgets, philosophies, etc.

I know I haven’t fully fleshed out the issue (not by a long shot) – and I apologize for not presenting it better – I’m rather swamped this week and I think my brain is starting to short-circuit! All the same, I’m wondering if other people are thinking about this as well? Help me work through the muddle!


Visions of the Future

This week, I’m choosing to forgo a traditional blog post in light of one of our class assignments, which is to create a dramatic rendering of a dystopian future arising from the misuse of technology in education (think MOOCs, flipped classrooms, etc. meets Big Brother – the 1984 one, not the TV one, although that would be pretty messed up too.) This whole assignment intrigues me, so I wanted to give myself time to explore it. A first attempt:


I may create more visions, so keep an eye out! I can’t wait to see what other people come up with.


To MOOC, or not to MOOC?

That is the dilemma of the week.

Totally deviating from the norm today – not going to talk about information literacy OR about Massive. (Not directly, anyways).

I’m thinking about taking a MOOC!

There’s a course on EdX called Intro to Game Design that started yesterday – incidentally, the same day I had a sort of revelation that I might want to build learning games for my career. (I’m not completely ruling out a return to the classroom, but I’m completely fascinated by the concept of play as a more authentic form of learning, of promoting growth by working to build and sustain motivation through feedback and fun!)

My biggest concern is being able to handle a MOOC on top of my current courseload – anyone with experience taking MOOCs have any insight to offer on this? I’m completely excited about this course, but I don’t want to make myself crazy.



Information Literacy in an Era of “Backpack” Funding

This week, we read a great deal about the finances of digital and online education, from the cost effectiveness of implementing MOOCs in various postsecondary settings to the roadblocks of funding hybridized public and charter school programs.

As a former K-12 educator, I was particularly struck by one author’s proposal for promoting technological innovation in schools through the unbundling of school services and funds. Broadly, his idea is to alter funding systems so that the money follows the students, rather than the institutions, creating a sort of “backpack of funds” that could then be used to purchase various types of instruction and services throughout the educational life of a child.

While this sounds wonderful in terms of the scope of possibilities available, I find it problematic on two levels: it potentially perpetuates the advantages held by the wealthy in terms of educational options, and it requires a great deal more consumer literacy and/or fluency on the part of parents when choosing educational packages for their children.

Let me explain.

In terms of the wealth/opportunity/achievement gap, I worry that a system in which parents pick and choose options for their children would be biased towards those families that could afford better and/or additional options. Sounds a lot like our current system, right? If educational services were further unbundled, creating a sort of educational marketplace, would it be possible to use the money provided by the state as well as purchase additional packages out of one’s own pocket (thus creating advantage for the wealthiest to purchase the most in-demand/expensive options without sacrificing supplementary curriculum).

I just worry about any new system that doesn’t improve on existing issues of equity and access. Presumably any child could be educated by any school or instructor of their choice, but the attachment of price tags to public educational services is problematic to me.

I also worry about parents’ ability to choose the best educational packages for their children. Would there be a set curriculum that someone, somewhere, would oversee? Would there be a checklist of components for parents to follow? How would parents become informed and capable of evaluating various programs without training in educational methods (as well as marketing and advertising gimmicks?) I think such a system would require a whole new level of consumer and financial literacy in order for parents to make good choices, and while I think this could be reached eventually, at the outset this could be a huge problem. How would we teach this kind of literacy?

In addition to the problem of making good choices, there’s also the problem of continuity, especially if poor choices are made, and children are yanked from one program to another. I wonder what it would do to familiarity, comfort, motivation, or even achievement.

Just some thoughts on the readings – obviously not a comprehensive response, but a few items that bothered me. If you have ideas or clarifications on these issues, let me know!


Appearances Matter!

From the response to my last blog post, I’m gathering that the presentation of information is important when assessing its validity – does the website look good? Is the format clear and easy to follow? Does it look “polished” or illustrate thoughtfulness/intentionality in its design?

The underlying assumption here, I think, is that one wouldn’t go to such lengths to present false information? Or perhaps that organizational skills are related to knowledge/competence? Or perhaps good presentation speaks to caring about the information? Or to money and resources?

I’m really trying to unpack this, because I agree – what a site LOOKS like has a strong impact on my reaction to it. So, my question for this week: what specific elements of presentation suggest quality information? which elements raise red flags? Why?


What Makes Information Good?

I’m going to break away from my norm a little bit here, and instead of connecting course readings to information literacy, today I want to ask what seems to me a big question:

What makes information good?

To break it down a little bit, I might also ask:

What kind of information do you look for and/or consume most frequently? (News, ideas, how-tos, scholarly or research articles, opinion pieces?)

What is it that gives information credibility? (What do you look for when assessing the veracity of a source? Are there some sources you trust automatically? Why?)

One of my goals is not just to create content, but to curate it, and to learn from others online. I’m interested in knowing what and how people think about information, so please leave your feedback in the comments!


Skills, Not “Stuff”: A Case for a New Kind of MOOC

This week in class, we spent a good deal of time going over the ins and outs of various practices used to assess online learning, including Item Response Theory (IRT) and other forms of computer-aided assessment, such as Automated Essay Scoring (AES), and peer grading. While the former two practices don’t relate explicitly to information literacy (at least not in any way that I could generate), problems inherent with the latter speak clearly to and in fact echo some of the problems I perceive with current educational practices: a failure to develop real, practical skills – specifically, the ability to effectively evaluate and communicate information.

Let me back up a little bit, and explain what I mean about the problems with peer grading. While it can be a useful tool, especially with proper training and practice, the argument against peer grading rests mostly on its shortfalls. Specifically, the major problem with peer grading is that oftentimes, it isn’t constructive – it doesn’t always generate the quality feedback necessary to promote growth and learning. As Jonathan Rees said in his case against peer grading, “Learning . . . comes not through the process of grades, but through the process of students reading comments . . . that’s how students find out how to do better next time.”  Rees goes on to explain that without consistent feedback and monitoring, there is no systematic way to help students to grow in their ability to think and construct an argument.  And yet these are vital skills, the capacity not only to learn but to perpetuate learning by communicating with others. I agree with his argument that “teaching these skills is much more important than teaching any particular . . . fact” (Rees, 2013). Although he was talking specifically about reading and writing skills necessary to develop an argument in an historical paper, I think it is fair to say that the underlying basis of these skills –  discernment and communication –  are in fact closely related to information literacy skills. I find it problematic that MOOCs – which by their nature necessitate the use of the web – leave little room for developing these abilities to evaluate and communicate content. Of course, I’m generalizing here – not all MOOCs have such poor feedback systems (check out an example of a better system here, which I’ll explain shortly) and not all learning occurs in MOOCs – it is possible that students can learn these skills elsewhere. Further, peer grading offers an alternative way to learn skills through critical self-reflection. One interesting take on peer grading is the opportunity it provides for students to, in the process of examining the work of others, make comparisons and reflect on their own work. One MOOC provider implemented a system whereby students qualitatively describe the peer work they evaluate, a “mirroring” practice which allows the original author to determine how effectively they communicated their ideas and met their goals (Wiggins, 2014).

As wonderful as self-teaching and learning sounds,  I do think it is important for students to get expert feedback in addition to peer feedback.  It’s difficult to be critical of one’s own work, and unless your peers are particularly skilled in an area, they may or may not know what constitutes good work or how to improve it. Moreover, even if your peers can give you a good “mirror,” a reflection is only as useful as the action you connect with it. This is called reflective practice – it can be powerful, but only if you know how to engage in it. I don’t know that all students necessarily have this level of self-awareness – in Harvardspeak, if they are that “meta” about their learning.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that I’m not sure that MOOCs possess the same capacity to teach information literacy skills that a teacher or professor can. Perhaps the lesson here is that we need to address these things more specifically in K12 education (college and career readiness, anyone?) but as it stands, much of the learning associated with research – and much of the learning done online – is relegated to higher ed. There are xMOOCs, that are about the “stuff”; cMOOCs that are about the people and connections; but where do critical evaluative and communication skills come in? How can we better foster them in online communities?


Information, Innovation, and Participation

Maybe I’ve just been tired this week, but I’m feeling a little bothered and uncertain after several course readings, videos, and activities related to innovation in the context of digital learning environments. The general impression I’m getting is that while innovation is the ideal, we aren’t doing a good job of it.

I’m wondering: what exactly do we mean by innovation? What is its purpose and what is its function? What are our intentions when we innovate, and in what manner should we do it?  Is innovation deserving of the effort we put into making it happen?

Put another way, I wonder: Are we innovating at the expense of educating?

I suspect that the reason innovation is such a hot topic right now has to do with the ever-increasing amount of information available to learners, as well as the growing number of ways in which that information is disseminated, mediated, and interpreted by media users. As Livingston points out here, we live in a time in which societies are constantly mediatizating: negotiating our relationship with technology even as we allow it to mediate (shape, act as a lens to) our experiences. As such, we exist in a sort of in-between state, eager to use new technologies and consume the media it affords us, but hesitant to truly interact with it, uncertain of the potential. We simultaneously reach out and constrain ourselves. This is the complaint of the would-be innovators: we aren’t pushing enough. Progress swirls and eddies as we look backwards to inch forward.

Holland, in interviewing leaders of various universities and other learning institutions, found that innovation was something that was aspired to, yet unrealized by many institutions as they attempted to move into an “uncertain future.” A number of interviewees described the so-called “innovation” of many MOOCs as nothing more than the rediscovery of things already known by educators and researchers of the earlier online learning era. Groom and Lamb similarly lament the lack of innovation inherent in higher education, citing restrictions placed on learners by learning management systems which are rigid, isolating, and falsely constrained – ironically, in their calls for progress, they mourn the passing of earlier versions of web interactions.

My point here isn’t that looking backwards is bad, nor that pushing forward is good – simply that in our attempts to innovate we keep being drawn back in some ways to the past. While this may seem somewhat counterproductive, I really think this past-anchoring may be more valuable than we tend to realize. If we push forward blindly in our attempts to innovate, we risk overlooking the context in which our ideas and practices are situated. Context is powerful – it can make or break a new technology by shaping the ways in which we see and interact with it.

Perhaps instead of pushing for innovation, we should put more emphasis on learning to think critically, connectedly, and contextually – using the information at our disposal to engage problems more fully and fairly. True innovation, I think, would follow.


Information Literacy and Connectivism

I’ve been reading about both deschooling (Illich) and connectivism this week, and I’m fascinated by the ways in which these ideas address the need for information literacy as an essential component of learning in ways that other theories (behaviorism, constructivism) do not.

Let me start with a brief explanation of connectivism: according to Stephen Downes, one of its preeminent proponents, connectivism is “at its heart . . . the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and that therefore learning consists of the ability to construct and transverse those networks” (Downes, 2011). In other words, connectivism is about acknowledging the ways in which information is everywhere, and how it is intertwined with other information. For connectivists, then, learning is about navigating and participating in the systems in which knowledge exists, like a spider working to reinforce and build out its web (except a little less solitary).

So connectivism is definitely about navigating networks, for which information literacy seems like it would be a useful skill, but how, exactly, would it be used?

George Siemens, in explaining connectivism, stresses the fact that information and knowledge are constantly changing, not only in terms of content, but in terms of where they are located and how they are distributed (stored). As knowledge evolves and grows, it is important that learners have “know-how and know-where” to access it, as well as the ability to evaluate the importance of that information and to direct it to the right places to be most effective (information flow). Ultimately, the goal of connectivism is currency – the construction and use of accurate, up-to-date knowledge, in networks, so as to “[amplify] . . . learning, knowledge, and understanding” (Siemens, 2004).

This is information literacy both at its most basic level- locating, evaluating, and effectively using information – as well as in a greater context: the sharing of accurate, relevant information among people and technology so as to promote learning and utility. I think Siemens might go a step further with regards to information flow and to whom the information goes (getting it to the “right” people who need it) but I’m not sure that this is necessarily the purpose of information literacy – I think perhaps the greatest value is for the self, and the satisfaction of knowing one’s information is “good” and rooted. It adds to the foundation of learning by building the confidence of knowing – and knowing how to learn.

Illich, in taking what may be seen as a more radical approach to learning, argues that the best educational systems should do three things: make information and resources more readily accessible to learners, encourage individuals to share information with peers, and allow them to do so broadly. If this sounds like an advertisement for a MOOC, that’s because it kind of is. Illich argues the importance of networks in learning – networks of resources, networks of peers, and networks of “masters” from whom to learn skills. (If you’re interested in learning more about how this might look, check out his work here.) Although Illich doesn’t say so explicitly, embedded in his vision is the necessity that individuals know how to know – that is, if they are going to pave their own path of learning, they need to be able to independently discern what it is they want to learn, locate the correct resources (things, peers, or masters) to learn it, and then be able to evaluate the quality of what it is they have accomplished. once again, a need for information literacy.

While more current educational models (behaviorism, constructivism, cognitive theory) in place in schools today might necessitate the use of information literacy skills in tangential ways (looking up information for a report, etc), they do not acknowledge them as an integral part of the active process of making meaning, like connectivism and a deschooled society do. Information literacy is so relevant today, and I think it’s worth considering in the context of these two ideas – they really highlight why it is so important.

What do you think?