Big Data and Literacy

In my last post I wanted to try to pin-point some ideas that seemed important to me in reference to the discussion going on at ETMOOC and with Mozilla around digital literacy and web literacy. It has been really engaging with some great discussions on these topics with people via ETMOOC, and through the Webmaker network, and via Twitter as well.

There is so much more I'd like to say on the topic of digital literacy and web literacy. I should maybe also mention that a book on the subject has recently been written by Mark Pegrum in Australia, who as a teacher to myself and others during teacher training college in 2009 was instrumental in opening up this world and the wider world of education to me. More information about his work can be found on his wikispaces here and his new book is here.

But for now, I feel I want to introduce another aspect to the discussion, which relates directly to what the web would look like if everyone was participating to build a better readable and writable web.

That aspect is data. I think your personal data is an important place to begin in literacy. The second lesson most illiterate adult learners discover, once they can write and read letters and sentences - is that those letters and words serve most often to be used somewhere to fill in a form. They are essential of course, because they give access to rights, privileges and freedom. It gives a person the capability and ability to find a postcode and to send a letter for example.

Although it isn't always that simple. That form might equally be used by the government of an oppressive regime to deny you those very same basic human rights and privileges as well. It is no wonder then that the young Eritrean adult learners in my refugee classes, seemed often to look at my exercises based on form filling in class with a slight degree of suspicion. They were well aware of where all this learning could lead them, despite my own idealistic intentions as they had witnessed how their own government had systematically used schooling and the education system as a means to oppress and dominate its citizens.

Although the fact that this has been going on and has been well documented by Human Rights Watch since 2009 seems not to feature highly in the press. It certainly seems to be of little interest to the UK, Australian, Canadian and Chinese mining companies who are rushing in to try and grab a piece of the profits from exporting Eritrea's largely untapped mineral wealth.

It has been selected to be the most repressive nation on earth by Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch, with the highest number of journalists jailed per capita. Afewerki regime's has effectively turned the nation into a giant prison. It has become one of the top ten refugee producing countries in the world.

So I think as I had mentioned in looking at literacy before, the limits of discourse around it as a tool tend to also reflect the concerns of those who hold power over others. That may be due to the state's need to control its citizens, or due to a religious movement's need to control its faithful. So sudden periods of mass expansion of literacy have often been linked to turbulent revolutions in the past. Good examples of this might include the Protestant reformation or the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia in the early 20th century, who orchestrated at that time one of the most effective drives to expand basic literacy in the world.

In my post on digital literacy I also mentioned that it seemed to me that we need to bear in mind the context in which we are speaking of literacy today. In the current shift in economic terms towards human capital becoming the new currency it is less important that you be able to operate within the formal bureaucratic structure of the state, to use the right language to fill in forms and to lift yourself up to work in a white collar job.

You are not just the ward of some state anymore. It is quickly becoming clear that the networks themselves rather than the organs of the state have become the nodes of control and also the new commodity, and you are situated within them in one way or another. A worker's new value is to be flexible and to be able to learn all that they need to learn as they go, to serve more effectively as the intersection between ever expanding and powerful networks. This is also why we require a new form of 'literacy' for the digital world.

That is also why your data and your use of data as a 'digitally literate' person is important and why it is increasingly becoming evident that the state does not really hold its traditional monopoly over it any longer. In sum, information as Doug Laney the originator of the discipline of infonomics has clearly announced, has become an essential asset for companies, intangible as it may be. Big data in this discussion will continue to draw increasing attention as it focuses on opportunities to deploy information in transformative ways as Gartner's 2013 research agenda is seeking to realize.

The World Economic Forum recently summed up some of its thinking around the emergence of personal data as a new asset class in these terms on its website:
"Personal data is becoming a new economic “asset class”, a valuable resource for the 21st century that will touch all aspects of society... to unlock the full potential of personal data, a balanced ecosystem with increased trust between individuals, government and the private sector is necessary"
The key questions that have been brought to the discussion here by the World Economic Forum have been seeking implicitly to leverage personal data, and indeed information itself for economic growth. Some of the questions for example posed in their recent report, Rethinking Personal Data: Strengthening Trust are:
  • Who owns personal data?
  • How do we protect individual privacy?
  • How should rules for usage be formed and what is the role of context in establishing permissions?
  • How should organizations that use personal data be held accountable, both for securing data and for adhering to the agreed-upon rules?
  • What is the role of regulators given the global flow of personal data?
And so logically a framework around digital literacies has implications for how emerging information-related skills and practices should be planned, considered and and acquired. It also has implications for how data will then be distributed, transformed, managed, consumed and produced by these new digital skill bearers and literates through such practices.

If you see what I am getting at here. If we are going to talk about web-literacy and digital literacies and about (re) making a better web, it is going to be essential that we do not lose sight of this in the background. The key principles that will serve as the anchor points for global digital governance of the future web will fundamentally change our understanding of web-literacy and digital literacy as well.

And if you think that this should be something that people should have a lot more say about, then I think you would not be wrong. The World Economic Forum however has kindly congregated a useful network of experts to conduct a methodologically sophisticated exercise to suggest a pathway for solutions to begin to be articulated, which is described in this short video clip about the topic here:

This all brings to my mind so many questions and considerations that I think I would not do much justice to here for now. I would point out though in the clip the prominence of data literacy in the thinking of our experts.

Of course I would absolutely appreciate it if people did have any feedback on this, and to share their ideas or to critique the ones I have put forward as well.

This post also I hope points forwards towards the next topic that will feature in the ETMOOC adventure next week which will be the wider Open Movement and Open Access, and Open Educational Resources.

I look forward to continuing the discussion then :)


Digital Literacy Exemplars, Resources and Curating Tools

This just a quick post to follow on from the ideas that I was running with before, with some little clips or exemplars and snippets. I will sort of summarise the ideas from my longer post on literacy and will add some little bits.

1. I think that models or theories of literacy such as transactional or functional literacy and others that are more transformational (eg such as conscientization or critical consciousness.) have had their place in different historical moments. I made out in my post that these can often be tied to political projects, or discourses around investments in education, access to information and the control of knowledge.

Exemplars: Critical thinkers like Freire, Giroux and many other key thinkers such as Dewey in education.

2. I think that often the more critical perspectives on literacy tend to stress that the educator or teacher plays a key or important role but value the more participatory, social and ethnographic aspects / process of literacy learning. They also tend to focus on the role that educators and education can play in reversing social inequalities.

Exemplar: Nichole Pinkard founder of Chicago's pioneering Digital Youth Network (DYN) in this video describing how her organization empowers young people with critical digital literacy skills that make them academically and professionally more competitive.
3. I think that resistance and claiming space to create, build, participate in and 'tinker' with legitimated codes of public knowledge is the underlying and often disruptive movement from below which in the case of ideas about web-making for example, has deep roots in the tech world in the open movement and the structure of the web itself.

Exemplar: Joi Ito who was the Chairman of Creative Commons could be quoted:
" 'education' is something people do to you, whereas 'learning' is something you do for yourself,"
Here is more from Joi:  http://www.jisc.ac.uk/inform/inform31/Jol-Ito-Education.html 

4. But also obviously the technological structure of the web has altered the dynamics of economic production and consumption with a massive influence on other forms of production, (art, media, knowledge etc.) and interaction (social, linguistic, cultural etc.). This has implications on what it means to 'participate' and also on the how people see and experience participation. Specifically in schools this changes how different subjects might be taught and the kinds of skills and capabilities that are required by teachers and learners for the future.

Exemplars: Future Lab looks at development of digital literacy in subject teaching in schools in the UK.

Awareness, Play, Creativity, Repertoire are highlighted as important to building a conscious, critical approach to the use of digital technologies on the JISC e-learning blog
5.  I think that we could possibly say that literacy has gone from structuring a state-based hierarchy and consequently benefiting the individual in certain ways as a primarily the subject of the state and its economy to being a capacity benefiting the group or the network enabling the individual to operate within that network.

Exemplar:  Harold Jarche suggesting that learning is how work gets redesigned in the network era
Given that we are talking about connected learning this seems to me a good opportunity to delve into some tools for sharing and curating resources on a subject or topic. They are used in the examples below to curate some resources on digital literacy. If you have not used some tools for curating content before these are some really useful ones to play with !

1. Scoop.it: (Social curating that is really effective)

2. Slideshare: (still really handy I find)

3. Pearltrees: (I love this interface - it is awesome looking)
Thanks for all the comments, it has been great to hear people's feedback and ideas!


Towards Web-literacy and Transformative literacy

Literacy and Web-literacy

In anticipation for next week and for the discussions around literacy and web-literacy I think there are a few things I am thinking about both as a literacy teacher and an edtech person. Unfortunately this is going to roam into the realm of the academic banter on literacy. But this might be interesting to spark off some ideas for next week..

From my own experience I often remember working in the library with teenagers who had come to Australia as refugees. For them literacy was hard, it was not incredibly exciting either. They would have to sit down and learn the things that every other kid was taught as a child or just knew because of their background. They had to learn everything from the a,b,c to the meaning of a contents page in a book, how to find things in the library, how to use a dictionary, how to turn on a computer. The lot was learnt from scratch - this was because many had never been to school really at all after living for years in refugee camps for long periods of time (often as long as ten years on the Thai- Burma border).

As a teacher you could see that every day made a difference, it was slow but it made a big difference. I remember one day teaching them to use the Yellow Pages and the telephone directory. At the end of school a few of them were running home. The next day they told me that was because they had wanted to go and teach their parents, who had never learned to use these before how to find information. It is staggering to me to think how important this simple act could be. 

So the point I am going to make is that literacy is a great responsibility, it is often hard and often gets looked down on a bit and gets overlooked by the establishment but it is where great change and transformation comes about. To talk about this, it would make sense to refer to a fundamental thinker on literacy, Paulo Freire who coined the concept of conscientization or critical consciousness.

Essentially Freire developed a theory of critical pedagogy around the ability to ask questions. This was a theory which challenged "normal" forms of knowledge that were ubiquitous and deeply embedded in discourses about the social, cultural, economic, and political contexts of knowledge production and dissemination. For Friere pedagogy was about liberation from oppression, or to quote him directly: 
"The role of an educator who is pedagogically and critically radical is to avoid being indifferent, a characteristic of the facilitator who promotes a laissez-faire education. The radical educator has to be an active presence in educational practice. But, educators should never allow their active and curious presence to transform the learners' presence into a shadow of the educator's presence. Nor can educators be a shadow of their learners. The educator who dares to teach has to stimulate learners to live a critically conscious presence in the pedagogical and historical process" (1)
Freire's ideas about literacy in the 1970's in South America were also embraced for a time globally by bodies such as UNESCO in what became a big push for literacy. But in the 1980's after the USA withdrew funding, as it has also recently again to UNESCO along with pressure from bodies such as the World Bank, Freire's influence was replaced with ideas of 'functional literacy' which was essentially required for basic needs and importantly for work.

To relate his ideas to web-making and web-literacy draws me back to questioning and critically putting the norm of web-consumption and use into a context that makes it seem unfamiliar and questionable.. The role of the educator here to me seems to reach beyond but also to disrupt the norm and to draw out the space for creation and participation that allows learners this level of critical consciousness. It is to encourage learners not just to consume education and the information on the web as an essentially laissex-faire activity, but to go out and swim upstream against established experience and dogma. To do this however, also requires important tools - such as a critical and enquiring mind.

So from this perspective you can see where a bit of the punk / hacker / maker attitude to learning and web-making fits in. I think literacy does become an act of claiming a space, to have the right to say and do what you say in public forms of expression and in legitimated codes of knowledge. (often whether people like it or not )

So I think there is underneath this activity what often gets called for want of a better word - a movement of resistance. Henry Giroux, describes the importance of this in his work on critical theory:
"Theories of resistance become useful when they concretely provide ways in which to articulate knowledge to practical effects mediated by the imperatives of social justice and uphold forms of education capable of expanding the meaning of critical citizenship and the relations of democratic public life” (2)
To elaborate, web-literacy and web-making could then be seen as a way to transform undemocratic social practices and structures, and it is this energy that to some degree I think does infuse it with a degree of 'resistance' to norms. Often this gets brushed off to the side, especially in teacher training colleges where increasingly we are moving to train teachers to learn from practice and not from theory. I am just saying, it makes sense that this will come from the spaces outside and from within the structures of the web itself with the wider open movement. 

Finally literacy studies (just to round off this massive loop ) contains many theories about literacy of course and there are different ways of talking about it. In fact a continual broadening of the restricted view of literacy towards that of a modern or post-modern world has taken place. In “Literacy in the New Millenium” (Lonsdale & McCurry, 2004) the authors attribute this move to a shift from a state-controlled Fordist economy towards a ‘knowledge economy’ and a globalised and borderless world.

In the construction of the modern world the authors explain, there was: “a sharp division on the mental and manual aspects of a job…workers were interchangeable and management was both centralised and hierarchical”. They explain how literacy went from being associated with ‘being a good citizen’ in the 19th century or even before that with religion towards a deficit model assuming an association with the development of cognitive skills, where literacy is not taken for granted just as the embodiment of 'citizenship' but instead becomes associated more with schooling or "transactional literacy” and being part of the economic hierarchy between different classes and different functions.  

In contrast in a post-modern world the authors state that there are multiple cross disciplinary literacies and that diversity and plurality are more valued, workers need print and electronic literacy and ways to learn how to learn independently throughout their lives, workers need to be multi-skilled and flexible. Finally, the authors suggest that “human capital is the new currency and networks and knowledge have become a commodity”.

From this perspective it would seem that literacy has gone from structuring a state-based hierarchy and consequently benefiting the individual in certain ways  to being a capacity benefiting the group or the network enabling the individual to operate within that network.

Essentially, literacy is about power and sits in a particular relation to production and the economy but I think that on an individual human level importantly we should remember that it is a human right. Unfortunately I think it often tends to get politicized often to bear the stamp of each epoch of political thinking and the discourses of those who hold power to control knowledge. The responsibilities and rights that are elaborated within this space and the structures that govern it are what we should bring our attention to when we speak about literacy.


1. Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 65, No. 3 (Fall, 1995) Breaking free: The transformative power of critical pedagogy.

2. Giroux, H. (1983). Theory and resistance in education. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey.


Digital Storytelling and Popcorn

Digital Storytelling

I have really enjoyed seeing some of the digital storytelling examples and the sessions, like the awesome one on GIF's as well. I think that taking stock of the ways that storytelling can fit into different spaces is a perfect idea for learning about connections and new tools. I particularly liked the reference in Wikipedia of its use in participatory development initiatives too. I think this kind of approach is naturally better for development, for teaching but not just in education.

So my story - I have been messing around and here is the result of my encounter with the awesome web-based film making tool Popcorn from Mozilla. If you have not had a go it is a must - it is loads of fun :)
My mashup was is made for Valentines day today! Enjoy :)

It stars my dog Luna and her not so subtle new suitor, Dexter !

Connected learning

Connected Learning

This is going to be a longish - but first of all I just wanted to thanks everyone for helping me get going and getting stuck in. I have been really enjoying looking at other people's work and have been really inspired by reading around.

Digital storytelling seems like the best place for me to start here for now as I sort of have to hit the road running. But beforehand, two points about connected learning. Three things about being a 'connected educator' that I notice, as a secondary teacher.

1. CONNECTING: I think of a connected educator as someone dynamically going in between the local space and the on-line or distant spaces outside of that, between the new tools and old ones. A connector is for me then someone who can often end up blending in new and old ways of teaching and can place something fairly 'new' cleverly into different contexts in schools (digital storytelling, social curation etc..) in a way that helps others to 'join up' and redesign different practices.Yeah, I know that sounds an awful lot like instructional leadership. I guess I don't think that connected learning should be presented as if it should mean being totally hooked into the 21st century and living in a totally on-line world. Intercultural connectivity, and learning to live together are similar forms of interconnecting that should be included in 'connected learning'. 

2. TIME: One point that I think policy and educational gurus can miss when it comes to teaching and teacher development, is the most obvious one. Teachers are busy (as a rule) and easily become overwhelmed with delivering courses, marking and managing programs in a busy high school. Being in a connected learning space for me involves being in a space where you can be productive, conducting energy and creating content and experimenting with the tools. As a teacher that space and time comes at a high premium - and that learning space will extend to the limit that it can in different contexts, but beyond a certain limit the 'transaction costs' make any activity less productive to invest time in learning, and high energy development learning becomes a hard grind. People need time to work around ideas and tools. Creating identities through practices that also build up around shared tools takes time too. However, at the same time I see there is no point in waiting for the late adopters to give the nod. The sort of apprenticeship model of 'joining the profession' of practitioners and old-timers has its benefits for the young teacher but it is also frustrating and has its share of problems. Joining up teachers and creating communities where sharing becomes part of the glue that makes educators 'connected' is important, but sometimes it also makes it hard to introduce new tools and practices. It does takes time, but you need to get innovators to bridge that chasm.

3. TEACHER DEVELOPMENT: Connectivity for educators I think is a missing element in many school teachers' professional lives. Beyond the staffroom a professional teaching career can become stuck in a sort of no-fly zone, where departments and choices become limited, circles get small, decisions have limited scope, opportunities are too limited and schools are too inactive for some teachers to grow and develop and find their 'groove'. Academics in Higher Education have the luxury of being placed continually in communities of practice that drive them to develop excellence and to innovate, but I think as a teacher I often felt a greater need for ways to overcome this isolation. Professional learning and its scarier bureaucratic forms of performance management too often are merely administered through procedural channels. There is a need for professional learning communities that I think fit this need for development, that this kind of course can fulfill.  

Introduction to ETMOOC

This is a quick post to introduce myself and to kick things off with ETMOOC.  I might make a quick intro video to go with this but the simple bits are here.

I am not sure if this is too late but I hope it is not.

My reasons for asking to join in were that I wanted to get involved in this course as a teacher to learn better how to develop and extend my own tech skills and also to try to get a better understanding of some of the ways that teaching is changing in different areas of practice. At the back of my mind I am bringing with me to this some questions about working as a teacher principally as that is my background.

The short version is that I am a teacher / researcher in education. The longer version is that I specifically look at education in development (working in poorer countries). I am also interested in social entrepreneurship too, but that is not quite the topic as I understand it here. My interests in technology tend to span across these three areas and often seem to bunch up around the same issues about change and innovation in each area (or teacher development and training ). In fact I am a bit out of practice with the classroom since I have been studying policy stuff for the last year at uni for my MA.  My subject area is English and ESL (secondary) which I previously taught in Australia in Perth. I had a lovely job working with refugees and limited schooling kids there.

From my understanding a lot of the course will involve talking about what technology can bring and do for education and educators and what that means for them. I am hoping to listen in to some discussions on how we can build new models and ways of learning and teaching. I am totally down for the pedagogical stuff. But I also hope to maybe hear a few things also from the perspective of some tech entrepreneurs who are out there too maybe, on how engaging with teachers and educators more widely makes them think about their work.

At the moment I am doing some work on mapping Open Education Resources around the world. If you want to see a link to this then it is here:


I am also interested in the work that the Mozilla Foundation is doing on creating a generation of Webmakers and trying to learn about some of the awesome ideas that are coming out of this about web-literacy, open badges and building a better world wide web. I have written a summary post on my blog about this if you are interested too.

So with this pretty long winded sort of introduction, I hope to try to use this experience to reflect practically a bit on my experiences. These are a few of the questions that I would be more than happy to explore if people want to do that too along the way.


Mozilla's Webmaker Project is awesome!

In the last few months I have been following and listening to some amazing groups of people who are working at the Mozilla Foundation on the Webmaker project.. 

And before I continue, - I realise that I have never learnt the art of the short post. But in my defence I don't usually post up here that often, but at the moment that is partly because I am also working on an open education resources mapping project, but right now there is a lot to shout about going on in the world of Mozilla.

It is hard to describe this project without getting really excited as I am both engaged in literacy, languages and at the same time open education as well. The goal of this project is nothing less than, to quote Mozilla’s page breifly:

“To help millions of people move from using the web to making the web. As part of Mozilla’s non-profit mission, we want to help the world increase their understanding of the web, take greater control of their online lives, and create a more web literate planet.”

In a nutshell the potential is huge for learning and for changing how we use and understand the web. This is obvious when you actually see the amazing tools that have been created for it by Mozilla. Three big tools are developed already that are simply loads of fun and are also extremely accessible:

  1. Thimble: https://thimble.webmaker.org/en-US/
  2. Popcorn Maker: https://popcorn.webmaker.org/
  3. And X Ray Googles over here: http://hackasaurus.org/en-US/goggles/

      And lots of cool things have been happening – not least in 2012 the launch of these tools at Mozfest in London which was simply epic J  - http://mozillafestival.org/

And while I was there I came across the fabulous Mozilla Open Badges initiative, and the gang at GoCodery working on Badge Bingo for the festival, which you might ask is what?

Well as part of this big project to change the how people see and experience the web, open badges are a key element.  For the sake of simplicity the badges team explain it like this:

“Learning today happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. But it's often difficult to get recognition for skills and achievements that happen outside of school. Mozilla's Open Badges project is working to solve that problem, making it easy for anyone to issue, earn and display badges across the web -- through a shared infrastructure that's free and open to all. The result: helping people of all ages learn and display 21st century skills, unlock career and educational opportunities, and find new life pathways. “

As a teacher I can see the need, and there is so much potential too. Particularly for teaching young people to become digitally literate and learn to code and use the web in a totally new way. You can go and try them out for yourself: http://openbadges.org/en-US/

The purpose of this post is to share and encourage people to get involved in this. There is information here for those who are keen to do this: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges

At this point there are some exciting conversations going on about localisation and about translation of tools like thimble which people can get involved in. For more info see here: https://l10n.mozilla.org/

But for those of you interested in ICT for development, I think also check out some of the groups and communities in countries that have already been working hard with the Mozilla gang to get involved:

As you can imagine the potential is there to do really good things that are really empowering socially as well. The development community is one community that can reach out to people in majority world non-English speaking countries who might want to get involved. That would include teachers, coders, literacy specialists, kids, community groups, after school groups, libraries and …well the list is endless.

The side of the project dealing with this part of the work is called Nemo. Which is here:

As the Nemo page says this is about taking the message of Mozilla to people irrespective of their place and language. reaching out to new kinds of people – students, educators, filmmakers, journalists, scientists, artists or it can be any reader who is a normal Internet user and who might care about their online life.

For those of you who are really also interested in the thinking going on behind this all educationally and what the Mozilla gang are doing to build a model for web-literacy you need go no further than check out +Doug Belshaw  on Google+ with his blog posts which are being distributed in a kind of crowdfunded way to make a book on the subject. 

If you are interested in checking out a summary of ideas so far then also go to his blog where a presentation is posted up here and to follow either subscribe or follow his musings on twitter on @dajbelshaw

Of course feel free to leave comments here about information in this blogpost, and go and check out more info on twitter @OpenBadges or search with these hashtags on twitter: