Unit 6: Moving beyond the how

The concept

Excuse us for coming over all meta, but this unit is about how we understand what we’re learning to do online, and why. It’s not about how to use this or that tool, but ways in which we can acknowledge, sift and transcend instructional learning and move onto genuine innovation.

Let’s look at a similar process. When you first learn to speak a language, you treat words literally, and you miss the complexities that make communication such a magical thing. Sure, you can buy a coffee and chat about the weather, but you probably won’t be able to make a joke, understand cultural references in a newspaper, or write a story.  We need more than translated words and concepts to be fully fluent.

The good news is, as we  progress from literate to fluent, we move beyond the basic building blocks of language and are able to be more creative. As Mitchel Resnick puts it:

To be truly fluent in a foreign language, you must be able to articulate a complex idea or tell an engaging story; in other words, you must be able to ‘make things’ with language.

Rethinking learning in the digital ageMitchel Resnick

The terms literacy and fluency have also been applied to the use of digital tools. ‘Digital literacy’ has come to represent our ability to operate online, and ‘digital fluency’ is now seen as the progression towards a deeper understanding of how to make the most of digital tools and operate in online spaces.

Unsurprisingly, there’s also been a debate about the difference between being digitally literate and digitally fluent (even amongst members of the PLN team – we’re all still working this one out). Have a look at this attempt by Christian Briggs from SocialLens to explain the differences:

Another analogy, this time of a person planning to build a house. They obviously have the tools, and the fluent result is that they build the house correctly. In the literate result they build what looks to be a house, but it doesn’t have a roof or isn’t as sophisticated. And in the non-literate result they have merely stacked the wood into a haphazard pile – or maybe they tried to build the house but it fell down. Oh the shame!

Does this analogy work? Perhaps not. It’s not easy to sum up a whole range of skills and abilities into a couple of simple terms (or a picture). But in the article, Briggs offers us a description that more effectively sums up the differences using how, what, when and why?

He characterises the literate person as:

“perfectly capable of using the tools. They know how to use them and what to do with them, but the outcome is less likely to match their intention.”

In contrast, the fluent person is:

“comfortable with when to use the tools to achieve the desired outcome, and even why the tools they are using are likely to have the desired outcome at all.”

The Difference Between Digital Literacy and Digital Fluency

Now we’re seeing something that’s a bit easier to follow and apply to learning. There’s a progression occurring in the range of skills, and it’s taking us further towards the ability to create rather than merely consuming, absorbing, copying or repeating. The progression might be summed up like this:

  • How: What do I do to achieve this outcome?
  • What: What materials or tools do I need achieve the outcome?
  • When: In which order should I complete each task and use these tools and materials to achieve the outcome?
  • Why: Why do I want to achieve the outcome?

Once you get to the point of knowing why, all the other steps are much easier.

Much the same can be said of progression from digital literacy to digital fluency. If literacy is the ability to use technology, fluency is about creation, innovation and nuance. Like all progressions, one skill leads on to another.

As with any form of literacy, the first step is understanding the basics – only then can you begin to see past the functional to explore and create.

In the digital world there are basic patterns and phrases that most platforms use. For example, what do these three buttons mean?

Most of us know that the buttons will either make our text bold, italic or underline. These icons are repeated in similar forms across a wide range of software and web tools. The SAVE option tends to mean the same thing whichever tool you are using, as does the LINK option. So when we learn this knowledge in one tool, we add to our basic digital literacy and we can apply it in other areas.

Likewise, if we focus on the concepts related to a tool or platform, rather than the tool itself, we build up a deeper fluency.

So if, for example, you use Edmodo with students and look at the elements of being a good digital citizen, hopefully they will also apply those elements to their use of Facebook, or Tumblr, or whichever social network comes along next. If we focus on the fundamentals of organisational skills using, say, Evernote or Diigo, then students can apply those principles to other research tools. As their fluency grows, they become more able to independently decide on the how, what, when and why of any project. That’s what we’ve tried to do in this course, too.

But the how, what, when and why model is missing out on an important element. It forgets about the who. A fluent learner understands that to achieve an outcome they might be able to use the skills of others. If the person building a house doesn’t know how to use a hammer, but they can call on others who have the skills required, then that makes them fluent in other ways. This is the value of our learning networks.

Ultimately, digital fluency empowers us to engage with the web critically; fully aware of its problems and strengths, and still able to create and transform how we engage with each other and information.

The task

If we now have a simple spectrum for outlining the progression from literate to fluent, let’s consider some of the capabilities you’ve already accrued in this course and apply it to our how, what, when, why spectrum.

Of course, the areas we’ve addressed so far are just a fraction of what you can do online, but take a moment to sit back and think about your own skills.

So, the skills we’ve looked at so far are:

  1. Writing blogs and publishing for the web
  2. Organisation information and structuring your workflow
  3. Connecting with others and networking
  4. Assessing the value of teaching & learning tools
  5. Refining the web and finding what we need.

Let’s apply this to the spectrum. Your range of skills in each category could be:

  1. I am unable to complete these tasks
  2. I know how to complete these tasks
  3. I know how to to complete these tasks, and also can choose the best tools to reach my goal
  4. I know how to complete these tasks, which tool to use and I am able to choose when each task should be completed to reach my goal.
  5. I know how to complete these tasks, which tools to use, the best schedule for completing the tasks, and I am able to articulate why these tasks are valuable.

Let’s use that scale to assess your skills before the course and now. Don’t worry if the descriptors don’t completely fit your current skill level. You might prefer to use them as a starting point to write your own.

But for now, we’d like you to fill out this Google Form that assesses how you have progressed during the course. For each capability, assess yourself with a grade from 1-5. As you complete the form, keep a record of your own self-assessment, it will be useful when you come to write your reflective post for this unit.

It will also help the PLN team reflect on the value of each unit, and gives us some ideas of the areas that we might be able to provide you some extra support. Feel free to also indicate this in your reflective blog post for the week – where would you like to go next and how can we help you?

Once you’ve filled out the form and hit Submit, you can go on to the next task – Citizenship.

Or go back to the Unit 6 overview