Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Very Brief Proposal

Empowering the Potential of Digital Citizenship in Teachers through Narrative

My Foundational Question:
How do we live well together in a knowledge society?
Some would say we should to do this by participating as digital citizens. What is the role and responsibility of schools in this society? If education is a social function to make for a brighter future, do we as a democratic society have a clear request of teachers?

Problem: Building a theory
As governments and school boards move to embrace the demands of the knowledge society, teachers are being called upon to radically change their practice and to embrace a rather abstract notion of digital citizenship. I see a tension for teachers. A gap between what they are expected to provide and what they actually are able to impart. They find themselves on the front line of preparing students to be digitally connected in society as critical thinkers and ethical participants, yet they themselves do not appear to have much experience as digital citizens and have little opportunity to talk to each other about it. I believe that we will not get students to learn well by making it difficult for teachers to learn. How can we best support teachers take ownership of the learning required to make this change? I also believe it is possible that teachers could be the key agents for change if given the chance to be reflective practitioners? I wish to invite teachers into such a conversation.

The purpose of my proposed study is to explore in narrative with veteran teachers as they live the experience of becoming digital citizens after years of experience in the classroom. Following Dewey my goal is to look for connected experience, not to go chasing after certainty but to tell a reflexive story that others can imagine themselves in. Dialogue seems to me to be the right place to start but not the right place to stop. The hope of the study is to describe for others the possible tensions and triumphs that teachers face as they attempt to create learning environments that allow students to connect and participate ethically in a digital age.

Emerging Questions:
How does your schools digital citizenship strategy impact you and your teaching?
What is digital citizenship?
What do you feel you are a citizen of? Why does this matter?
How are you introducing it in your classroom? How do you want it to look like?
What supports will you use to expand your knowledge?
How are you able to share your understanding of it with other teachers?
How do you connect or interact in it?
How has your understanding of global citizenship changed in the last few years?
How have you come to understand this?
How important is it for your teaching for your students?
What skills do you think your students need in the future? How will you support them?
What do you think Canada’s role is in a knowledge society?

Please add to my list of questions!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Storytelling in a digital landscape

We are a storytelling people and we live in a story telling landscape. That is if we choose to participate. I first noticed this when I was a young mother and I would tell my childbirth experience to other mothers, they always came back with an interesting story of their own. Over the years I have heard many stories each of them weaved and connected with shared experience. We live our life stories like bubbles blowing in the wind, floating between all alone yet never far always seeking each other. In the nod of a head we may gently cradle fragments of each other’s story in relationship for brief moments and connect what is similar our lived stories. “There is a reflexive relationship between living a life story, telling a life story, retelling a life story, and reliving a life story”(Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 71). Following Dewey my goal is to look for connected experience, not to go chasing after certainty but to tell a reflexive story that others can learn from. With my inquiry I want to be active or rather participate with my own curiosity. What makes me curious is my confusion. Teachers are being asked to become digitally confident and to create learning environments were students could develop fully as digital citizens. What confuses me is how teachers are expected to gain confidence when many teachers report that their students know more than they do about the digital landscape. When teachers have no personal experience with technology they also worry about the time to learn something new. They also complain that it takes so long to get IT help when the network goes down and they are not able to personalize computers by adding new applications when they feel they need them. There are many barriers for teachers using technology in the digital landscape but none more frustrating than attempting to give something you do not have. I hope that my research may reveal possible paths to smooth the crumpled tension I believe many teachers experience daily as they endeavor to teach digital citizenship to students.

The place I wish to situate my research is in a reflexive landscape because I believe in the power of lived knowledge best described in experience. Yet I fear that standing in the middle of this ever-changing vista may cause me to loose my balance. As a reflexive narrative researcher I expect an unending negotiation to maintain my flexibility and openness. I think it best to settle in, to work alongside teachers and make myself useful. I risk perhaps putting myself out on the edge like an uninvited guest, while I explore the gap between the teachers narrative experience and my own. I understand that the negotiation of the most precious research relationship is ongoing and unending throughout the whole inquiry but in the end is only a snap shot, a brief moment in time. “Good narrative working relationships carry with them a sad and wistful sense born of the possibility of temporariness”(Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 72).

Clandinin, D. G., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

How do you become a participatory citizen in a digital society?

(Updated from last week)

The tools of technology have built a system, “a house” around us (Franklin, 1999, p.1). I believe it has become a place with potential, a “fixer upper” provided we keep the renos up. Just as I live in my house on my street it is a place we may or may not want to participate in, regardless it is there all around us. A participant is not only a citizen that inhabits a place but also one that socially engages in activities that benefit all people that belong. Before this house was built you had to physically be there in order to learn and interact with others. With this technological network there are many other ways to “be there” and learn from each other. Almost one hundred years ago Dewey (1916) wrote about his philosophy of the importance of democracy and education. He believed that schools and its teachers were responsible for building a productive and responsible democratic society. He spoke about communication as a way in which we discover what we have in common in order to form a community. “Any social arrangement that remains vitally shared is educative to those who participate in it” and that the very process of “living together educates”(p.6&7). With that in mind I wonder in the year 2010, in a digital community, how do we live well together? Is it really all that different than what Dewey described oh so long ago? How is it different for teaching and learning? How do we teach students how to participate well, if we ourselves have no experience in this newly renovated house? Who will tell them to pick up their socks? What concerns should we have as parents and teachers if our children live and grow up in a house without us? I am reminded of an old Star Trek episode “Miri”(McEveety, 1966) in which children known as “onlies” (a contraction of only ones left) grew up without grups (“grown ups”). Their life without parental influence had devastating consequences. Dewey speaks of a self-renewal process that he believes occurs in education largely in transmission through communication. What effect would muted voices have on this self-renewal? Dewey would say that life goes on in continuous sequence and the continuity of life means a constant re-adaptation of the environment. Those that do not readapt die out. I am not saying we are in danger of dying out but rather we are in danger of disconnecting with our students and missing the opportunity to participate in an important part of their social lives. I believe we, as teachers need to be there with our students participating as digital citizen for without us how does our wisdom pass on?

This is all well and good yet I do not believe that even if teachers want to learn to become digital citizens that it is easy for them. Teachers are not comfortable not knowing. There is a stirring as if something has disturbed the water. It is in this potentially empowering yet scary place of tension that I want to explore in narrative with teachers as they live the experience of becoming digital citizens.

Dewey, J. (2005). Democracy and education. Stilwell, KS: Publishing.

Franklin, U. M. (1999). The real world of technology. CBC Massey Lectures (2004th ed.). Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc.Google Books

McEveety, V. (1966, October 27). Star Trek: The Original Series. Miri. Retrieved from

Until we do it for ourselves...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What is Digital Citizenship?

Empowering the Potential of Digital Citizenship for Teachers in Narrative

As I sit with my colleagues in our staffroom and listen as the new digital citizenship strategy is revealed, I see a wave of fear and confusion slowly spreading across the faces of the teachers in the room. What is it we have to do now? What is this digital citizenship stuff people ask? Why can’t kids just get up off the couch and talk to each other? They’re going to bring computers from home? Who’s going to fix it when it doesn’t work? I don’t know how. Being an educational technologist I am quite familiar with all of the terms but the others are not. They are uncomfortable and confused as to what is being asked of them.

On it’s website the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) states that it is committed to helping its students thrive in the 21st century and that digital technologies are a key component for students to reach their full potential within the CBE and beyond. That digital citizenship should be practiced in every course, throughout the school and at home.

Given the reaction from my staff I wonder how teachers have come to experience what the CBE is calling digital citizenship in their professional lives? As teachers what opportunities do we have to personalize our learning? Are we able to choose who and how we collaborate with other teachers? Much research and effort has gone into examining the barriers for teachers in using technology in their classroom but have we really taken the time to explore the tension that is creative for teachers when we ask them to give something they have little experience doing? My experience as a classroom teacher and a doctoral student has opened an awareness of the need to describe the lived experience of teachers as they endeavor to create these safe, personalized and collaborative learning environments for their students within a digital landscape.

The CBE and the university of Calgary are currently involved in a research project around digital citizenship and mobile learning that are similar to my interests. So while the CBE’s research focus questions are:
1. How can the use of mobile devices inform the CBE's digital citizenship strategy?
2. How might mobile learning support the personalization of learning?
3. What impact on student achievement will these devices have?

I wish to explore possible tensions between what teachers are being asked to provide for students and what they have experienced for themselves regarding the democratic use of technology in their classrooms. My research questions would highlight the teacher’s experience and voice:
1. How does the digital citizenship strategy impact you and your teaching?
2. As a teacher what you feel you are a citizen of?
3. What ways do you use technology to collaborate with other teachers?
4. How are you able to participate and personalize your learning what digital citizenship means?

I will bring many voices with me on this journey but the theoretical landscape in which this work lives has grown out of the work of John Dewey in experiential learning and democracy in education. To fully uncover the stories teachers have to tell of their experience I believe will best be told through narrative inquiry.