West Midlands Group Meeting: Critical Digital Literacies

Post by Lynne Taylerson, Kerry Pinny and Pip McDonald

At the last West Midlands group meeting, it was decided to adopt a new approach and write a collaborative blog. People were invited to write about what they thought about the day, what stood out for them, and what they would take away?

Lynne Taylerson

I think for me the key questions were around practitioner identity, whether as an educator or learning technologist. An insightful opening presentation from Teresa MacKinnon challenged us to consider our core purpose(s) in our roles and ask whether the frameworks we work under speak to our sense of professional identity.

Image from Pip McDonald

It was fascinating to receive the group’s discussion feedback as part of my presentation on the Education and Training Foundation’s new Digital Teaching Professional Framework (DTPF) which sets to frame the digital skills that teachers need to deliver new curricula such as T Levels. It was encouraging to hear that many in the room welcomed such a flexible framework which invites practitioners to examine 7 key teaching roles and decide whether they are a digital ‘explorer’, ‘adapter’ or ‘leader’. I’d agree that it is useful for teachers to declare themselves as just setting out to ‘explore’ some aspects of digital teaching while being able to conclude that in other aspects of their professionalism they may be ‘leaders’. Perhaps this encouragement to consider a spectrum of competences might invite a more nuanced approach to professional learning than a binary, tick-box ‘I can / I can’t’ use technology.

That said, the issue with any standards framework, I would say, is that its authors tell us by default what should be considered important by virtue of what they include and by what is neglected, or minimised. The discussants certainly appeared to think that more emphasis might have been placed on the competencies at the end of the DTPF, namely equality and diversity, accessibility,  learner and teacher wellbeing, management of digital identity and development of pedagogy and reflective practice. Other competencies appearing earlier in the DTPF appear to put a focus firmly on future employability, work-readiness and industry skills as the core purpose of education. Discussants appeared to favour adopting a more holistic approach to their roles, considering the ‘whole learner’ and their place in family, community and wider society as well as the workplace.

I think that a final key question related to our discussions of the DTPF was ‘how will we be judged against it?’. Participants quite rightly, I believe, expressed concern on whether or how well inspectors would be briefed on the new framework’s nuances and its use and whether managers would provide appropriate development opportunities for those just beginning to ‘explore’ use of technology. Others raised an issue so broad and significant that it probably merits an entire group meeting of its own, namely ‘exactly how will impacts as a result of digital pedagogy and the use of educational technology be properly measured?

Definitely a question for future debate, I think.

Image from Pip McDonald

Kerry Pinny

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about our conversations. Teresa’s opening presentation really resonated. Transparency, dialogue and debate were clear themes throughout the day. As Teresa rightly said, the key to tackling Critical Digital Literacy (CDL) is one of time and space. Time and space to talk, to challenge and share.

Image from Pip McDonald

I have one question that I cannot get out of my head: How do I apply this to my context?

I am a supplier of software and services. I am, to some extent, part of the decision making process. I am paid to encourage people to use software and digital tools. There are many people like me. How do I balance what can be two opposing modes? The critical practitioner who wants to engage in critical discourse, and the employee who has to do certain things despite their personal feelings. I think this area is a hole in the CDL discourse which needs to be filled. How do we balance criticality and practicality?

Lynne also raised a really interesting point around frameworks. That they dictate what is considered important in education. Frameworks attempt to confine the complexity of human beings and learning in to simplistic, tickable checklists. There’s a lot to be considered here. We use frameworks to drive consistency and quality, but have they become the killers of creativity in education?

Image from Pip McDonald

The meeting also prompted a conversation with my colleague, Amber Thomas, about conscious choices we make when using technology. How many of us read the terms and conditions? How many of us check how data is to be used? Very few, I imagine. With all the negative press around Facebook, how many of us have stopped using it? We make conscious decisions when we use technology. The individual decides what they are willing to relinquish. Using the Facebook example, consider someone who has no other means of keeping in touch with family, friends and local events. Should they give up that connection with humanity because Facebook is unethical? Some would say yes but we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume that we know best for other people. We can make them aware so that they make their own informed choice.

We had a great day and I hope to see you all again soon at the next meeting!

Lynne Taylerson is director of independent training provider Real Time Education. She is a teacher educator, mentor and leadership trainer in FE and HE specialising in educational technology. Lynne holds CMALT, tweets @Realtimeedu and is currently studying for a PhD in education around educators’ use of social media communities for professional learning.

Kerry Pinny is a Senior Academic Technologist at the University of Warwick. She is interested in digital capabilities, enjoys GIFs and tweets incoherent ramblings @KerryPinny.

Pip McDonald is a Learning Technology Project Manager at LAL Language Centres and is currently based in London. She is interested in Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL). Twitter: @PhilippaMcDona3.

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