Transformations & Intellectual Empowerment

Well, it has been an interesting ride since my first blog last summer when I began the graduate certificate program Teaching & Learning in a Knowledge Society.  As the final course in my first year of graduate work comes to an end, I am charged with the task of reflecting back own what new literacies I have developed, and how my learning and teaching practices have been impacted.  Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 6.22.33 PM

I have certainly gained new knowledge on a number of aspects of teaching and learning in the twenty-first century:  knowledge about learning theories like Connectivism and Socio-constructivism, and the t-pack framework for content, pedagogy and technology.  I have developed a better understand of the power of social media and Web 2.0 tools like twitter, wikis and blogs, and know how to use them to collaborate digitally on a project with someone living in a different province.  I have expanded my knowledge of the benefits and challenges of technology in teaching and learning, and the elements of digital citizenship that I need to both practice and teach.  But is it accurate to call these new literacies?

Belshaw (2011) points out that “Equating literacy with knowledge is relatively unproblematic if the latter is a static concept.” (p.56).  I don’t believe that knowledge is static. Belshaw also highlights the perspective that “digital literacy is not a ‘fixed’ attribute, and that not everything worth measuring can be measured.” (p. 29).  I would tend to agree, seeing all forms of literacy as dynamic processes that are not easy to assess.


To state that I have developed ‘digital literacy’ or ‘visual literacy’, could be misleading.  The word ‘developed’ is a past tense term, that can hold some connotations about being finished, as when we used to have photos developed. If I have learned anything at all about teaching and learning in the 21st century, it is that we are never finished.  New tools and contexts place us in a perpetual state of developing new literacies.

Belshaw (2011) arrives at a definition of literacies which includes the phrases “intellectual empowerment” and  “transformation in human thinking capacities”. (p. 90).  If this is true, then what transformations have occurred in my thinking capacities as a result of my learning experiences this past year? How do I view the processes of teaching and learning differently than before? In what ways do I feel intellectually empowered?

Here are some key concepts and phrases that reflect a few of my transformations and feelings of empowerment:

  • Teaching and learning is about building and fostering connections – between people, ideas and contexts.
  • We don’t have to know it all, at least not today!  But we do need to know how and where to find it, evaluate it, and apply it. (And cite our sources!)
  • Being a digital citizen comes with rights and responsibilities that we must acknowledge, embrace, and intentionally teach.
  • My two worlds, personal and professional, don’t have to remain separate or collide. They already exist together, as two sides of the same coin.  
  • Going forward doesn’t mean leaving the past behind.  We just need to bring it with us!
  • Most importantly, it is ALL about literacy!

Belshaw’s description of literacy cited earlier also includes the notion that literacies are “only meaningful within a social context”.  How have I made use of new literacies? By welcoming students’ own digital devices as learning tools in the classroom, in facilitating the use of a Web 2.0 tool for a staff PD activity, I have made meaningful changes in my practice.  Looking ahead to next year, I am already planning ways to incorporate blogging and elements of digital storytelling in my Grade Six classroom.

I have have engaged with some aspects of digital literacy, tool literacy, media literacy, and transliteracy, but I think the biggest literacy I am developing (present tense intentional) is the literacy of learning.  After 15 years as a teacher, it has been great to be truly back in the role of the student once again.  In learning about digital learning by being a digital learner, I feel better equipped for Teaching and Learning in a Knowledge Society.

But I’m certainly not finished.


Belshaw, D. (2011). What is ‘digital literacy’? A pragmatic investigation. Retrieved from

Grandmont, J. (2005) Self portrait in the darkroom. (image). Retrieved June 19, 2013 from

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Teaching literacy through Literacies…

As I continue to try and build a personal understanding of literacy in the 21st Century, I find myself on a pendulum, looking on one end of the trajectory for a simple and concise understanding before swinging far to the other side, striving to fully comprehend the vastness of what it really means to be literate in today’s world, and the implications this all has on my teaching practice.

When I first began teaching, I saw literacy, the ability to read and write, as a basic skill required to function successfully as adults. Our education system strives to ensure that all students achieve an acceptable level of being literate. This is evident in the standardized tests and formal assessment requirements to evaluate whether or not a child is reading at grade level.

Now, new uses of the term ‘literacy’ have emerged, which have muddied the waters. Digital literacy, visual literacy, global literacy, health literacy, nature literacy… The list seems endless. Lankshear & Knobel, as quoted by Belshaw (2011, p. 185) differentiate between literacy with a lower case ‘l’, which they denote as the process of using words and symbols to read, write, view, listen, manipulate images and sound, and forge connections between different ideas, and Literacy with a capital ‘L’, which refers more to how we make use of language to generate meaning and take action in some aspect of life or being in the world.

While I find this framework for understanding literacy to be useful, I am still left wondering how to best teach both literacy and Literacies to my students. There seems to be so much more for us to teach. Is this because increased access to unlimited information and global opportunities has ramped up our perception of the number of discourses in which students will need to be fluent? How can I best teach my students to read and write the multiplicity of text forms using the vast array of tools, many of which I am unfamiliar with myself?

The results of a poll conducted by the National Council of Teachers of English (2009) suggests that the majority of educators believe basic literacy skills should be fostered within the context of developing discourse Literacies through cross-disciplinary, project and inquiry based teaching and learning experiences which incorporate significant aspects of student choice. If so, then perhaps the real work lies in adjusting our education system to better align the structures and resources in schools with this approach to teaching and learning.


Belshaw, D. (2011). What is ‘digital literacy’? A pragmatic investigation. Retrieved from

National Council of Teachers of English (2009). Writing between the lines and everywhere else. Retrieved from

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Literacy in the 21st Century

What does it mean to be literate in today’s digital society?

I have recently had the opportunity to spend a week with my seventy-seven year old father, whose primary use of his laptop is to check the forecast and play solitaire. He would be the first to consider himself digitally illiterate, unsure how to set up or check email, or install software updates that perpetually pop up on the screen. Yet his lack of technological knowledge has not been a hinderance. He pays his bills through the mail or in person, and checks in with us kids by telephone every few weeks.

Citing Warschauer, Misfud (2005) notes how “becoming literate has always depended on mastering processes that are deemed valuable in particular societies, cultures and contexts”. (p. 133). As I grapple with what it means to be literate in today’s digital society, the importance which culture and context play seems paramount. My father’s lifestyle and livelihood is not dependent on digital fluency. He is fully literate in the context and culture of his life.

Clearly, the ability to read and write represent only a portion of what it means to be literate in today’s society. The Partnership of 21st Century skills, as cited by Belshaw (2011) employs a framework around the “four Cs’ of ‘critical thinking and problem solving; communication, collaboration; and creativity and innovation.” (p. 42). While Belshaw seems somewhat critical of the lack of definition applied to the various types of literacy that the Partnership heralds as important, I myself am less concerned with defining the notion of literacy, and think that the real focus should in fact be on developing skills necessary for these four C’s across all areas of an individual’s culture and context.

Misfud (2005) states that “viewing literacy through the affordance lens means that digital literacy becomes personal and not universal.” (p. 136). When I consider individuals like my father, I see the validity in her statement. Yet the skills required to problem solve and think critically and creatively, to collaborate and communicate effectively, are universal. While I am not yet sure how I would define literacy, helping students to develop these skills seems most imperative. If we can do it well, they will be able to transfer them to whatever contexts and cultures they encounter.


Belshaw, D. (2011). What is ‘digital literacy’? A pragmatic investigation. Retrieved from

Misfud., L., (2005). What counts as digital literacy: Experiences from a seventh grade classroom in Norway. Retrieved from

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The moral of the story…

Reflecting on my learning over the past twelve weeks, I asked myself what is the moral to this story? How will I move forward in my teaching practice to integrate technology in an effective manner that encompasses all that digital citizenship entails? Borrowing some familiar words from Aesop, here are a few of the lessons I have learned about Digital Citizenship:

1. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

The term ‘Digital Native’ does not equal ‘Digital Expert’. Growing up ‘wired’ and ‘connected’ does not mean today’s students will automatically become effective and ethical users of technology. I need to explicitly teach students how to appropriately use technology to create, share and analyze information.
The components of digital citizenship, must be an intentional part of my teaching practice.

2. Birds of a feather flock together.

Hollandsworth, Dowdy, & Donovan (2011) ask, “Who represents the village for our youth, as it relates to digital citizenship? Will it be parents, teachers, administrators, academics, technology professionals, media specialists, or students?” (p. 37). The answer is all of us. Teachers students, parents, the global community – we must work collaboratively, building relationships based on reciprocity, to develop all of our digital skills and literacies.

3. Look before you leap.

Student needs, teacher professional development, cost, privacy, equity of access, available infrastructure… there is much to consider before implementing the use of digital technology in the classroom.
There is also a great deal for our students to think about and understand, such as digital etiquette, copyright laws, safety, security and health. All of these areas require critical thinking skills. We must model critical thinking and teach our students to be thoughtful when using technology, taking into account the potential impact of actions and decisions on ourselves, each other, and the environment.

4. Slow and steady wins the race.

Perhaps most importantly, I have learned the importance of patience and perseverance. “Real and meaningful change, and real and substantial learning, require realistic and extended investments of time and resources.” (McGrath, Karabas, & Willis, 2011, p. 21). We must keep going, one step at a time, towards responsible, well-informed and active citizenship in the digital world.

What lessons will guide you in promoting digital citizenship?


Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., & Donovan, J. (2011). Digital Citizenship in K-12: It Takes a Village. Techtrends: Linking Research And Practice To Improve Learning, 55(4), 37-47.

McGrath, J., Karabas, G., & Willis, J. (2011). From tpack concept to tpack practice: an analysis of the suitability and usefulness of the concept as a guide in the real world of teacher Development. International Journal Of Technology In Teaching & Learning, 7(1), 1-23.

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Time Travel

At the beginning of his 2010 TedTalk, The danger of science denial, Michael Specter asks if given the chance to travel through time, whether you would choose to go into the future or return to the past. My response would be to go back to a simpler time, a time before technology had busied our lives and caused such harm to our environment. Our consumption of energy and disposable lifestyles have without question had a negative impact on our environment. The realities of global warming, water shortages, e-waste and many other forms of pollution, make for an uncertain and not so promising future.

Yet this week, as I explored the topic of technology and the environment, I began to shift my perspective. Advancements in technology are helping to improve recycling processes, enabling us to recover various materials using less energy consumption and without the side effects of harmful pollution. (Mianqiang, Jia & Zhenming, 2012; Kasper, Bernardes & Veit, 2011). As highlighted in The Nature of Things episode The Nano Revolution: Will Nano Save the Planet?, nano technologies make it possible to clean arsenic from contaminated groundwater, make solar power more efficient and affordable, and remediate contaminated soil.

Technologies have indeed caused many of the problems we are facing, but they most definitely have the power to help us solve problems too. Certainly we must proceed with care and attention to the possible side effects of new technologies. Every effort must be made to reduce our negative impact on the environment. Education and increased awareness are imperative “ help prepare students to live and work in an eco-minded yet increasingly complex technological society.” (Dickerson & Kisling, 2009, p. 58). But if we can educate and inspire our students to become engaged thinkers, ethical citizens, and innovative entrepreneurs, they will find ways to make tomorrow better than today.

So on second thought, maybe I would set the destination dial to the future after all. What about you?


Dickerson, J., & Kisling, E. (2009). Global and electronic waste: information in business education. Journal For Global Business Education, 951-60.

Kasper, A., Bernardes, A., & Veit, H. (2011). Characterization and recovery of polymers from mobile phone scrap. Waste Management & Research: The Journal Of The International Solid Wastes & Public Cleansing Association, ISWA, 29(7), 714-726.

Mianqiang, X., Jia, L., & Zhenming, X. (2012). Environmental friendly crush-magnetic separation technology for recycling metal-plated plastics from end-of-life vehicles. Environmental Science & Technology, 46(5), 2661-2667.

Specter, M. (Feb. 2010). The danger of science denial. [Video file]. Retrieved from

The Nature of Things. (Mar. 30, 2013). The Nano Revolution: Will Nano Save the Planet? [Television series episode]. Retrieved from

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Educating Global Thinkers

What does it mean to be a citizen in the global context? How can we effectively educate our students to be global citizens?

Economic, political and cultural realities from around the world are merging together in the process of globalization. Advances in technology are the driving force behind this blending of societies to form a global entity. Improvements in transportation and communication industries have allowed for fast and efficient exchange of goods, ideas and information between nations continents apart. Social media “..allows messages to reach a global scale in a split second and hence enables mobilization of resources across the world. It heightens situational awareness and helps to tap volunteers from around the globe.” (Laad & Lewis, 2012, p. 13).

What are the implications of globalization for educators? Some districts have developed intentional curriculum to promote local and global thinking and participation. The Deliberative Capabilities in School Age Children (CADE) project described by Fonseca & Bujanda (2011) is one such example. The project aims to develop students skills to engage in public deliberations, develop good dialogue, make thoughtful inquiry and take “..socially shared actions aimed at improving collective life.” (P. 246).

Projects like this one highlight the need for educators,to expand our students learning beyond the four walls of the classroom. We must intentionally teach them to become informed and critical thinkers. We must embrace technologies to provide rich and authentic experiences for our students to engage in the real world.

Organizations such as Free the Children ( promote student self-efficacy by enlisting youth as a powerful force in tackling issues such as child labor, sanitation and clean drinking water, education in countries around the world. Through our school’s involvement in this organization’s WeDay campaign, I have witnessed first hand just how eager our students can be to get involved and make a difference. Perhaps our biggest job as educators is to let them!


Fonseca, C., & Bujanda, M. (2011). Promoting children’s capacities for active and deliberative citizenship with digital technologies: the cade Ppoject in costa rica. Annals Of The American Academy Of Political & Social Science, 633(1), 243-262.

Laad, G. & Lewis, G. (2012). Role of social media in crisis communication. Retrieved from

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Engaging relationships

What is student engagement? Why is it important? What role does technology play in engaging students in learning?

The Canadian Education Association describes student engagement as participation in the social, academic, and intellectual dimensions of school life. (Dunleavy & Milton, 2010, p. 6). Other use a more simplified definition of engagement as “.. active participation in class and with the subject matter.” (Cole, 2009, p. 143). Regardless of how engagement is defined, what does seem to be clear is that there has been a shift from viewing engagement as a classroom management strategy designed to keep kids in school to a change in pedagogy for how to provide students with skills required for the 21st century.

To foster engagement in learning, suggested classroom experiences should include opportunities for student interaction and exploration, relevant subject matter, challenging instruction, and authentic assessment. (Parsons & Leah, 2011). Speaking from my own experience, I can attest to the increases in student engagement lessons and activities are planned with these in mind.

Technology is an effective tool for promoting all of these elements of engagement. As noted by Metri Group (2003), “Technology serves as a bridge to more engaged, relevant, meaningful, and personalized learning— all of which can lead to higher academic achievement.” (p. 12). Social media and collaboration software foster communication between students. Assistive technologies help scaffold and extend learning activities to match the level of each learner. Access to the internet using computers and mobile devices connects learners to timely, relevant and authentic subject matter. Perhaps most notably, students are generally eager to make use of these technologies, which can offer a greater sense of control and independence in their learning. However, as illustrated by a study of wiki use amongst university students, simply providing the technology will not ensure engagement. (Cole, 2009). As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water (or in this case a well planned, collaborative, authentic learning experience that provides choice and access to technology) but you cannot make it drink.

In describing engagement, Dunleavy &Milton (2010) add “..when the relationship between teacher and student, and among students themselves, is both reciprocal and generous in spirit,” as an essential component. (p. 8). I would absolutely concur. Fostering positive relationships for students is for me the most powerful and important work I do in the classroom; relationships with their teacher, each other, and most importantly themselves. It is through positive relationships that we can truly become engaged in learning, and in life.

Cole, M. (2009). Using Wiki technology to support student engagement: Lessons from the trenches, 52(1), 141–146. Retrieved from:

Dunleavy, J. & Milton, P. (2010). Student engagement for effective teaching and deep learning. Canadian Education association, 48(5), 4-8. Retrieved from:

Metri Group (2003). enGauge 21st century skills: Literacy in the Digital age. 1-88. Retrieved from:

Parsons, J., & Taylor, L. (2011). Student engagement: What do we know what should we know? University of Alberta, 1-59. Retrieved from:

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