I wonder if we (and by this I mean everyone who teachers) realize that teaching is not only concerned with the written word and text-based materials? Its been a slow move towards understanding that visual images are as powerful as the written word. When I first started teaching words were paramount – teaching and learning involved words, language, text and visual images were the domain of the visual arts teachers. I used be quite envious of them and the different ways their ‘content’ or information could be presented, it never occurred to me that I could use visual images. One of the great advantages of living in our current context is that we have stepped away from text-based communication, visual images have been proven to be just as valuable in teaching and learning. As new tools and technologies emerge, there are new ways for presenting information in a visually enhanced way. Learning theories have evolved and visual learners are now understood and include din classroom practices. We keep unlocking more information and understanding about how we actually learn, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to any of us that we learn in a variety of ways – visually, physically, via our senses, textually…..this list is endless. What is exciting for me as a teacher is knowing that I can use all of these different approaches and I will be a more effective practitioner.
One of my favorite tools (at the moment, which changes constantly) is Piktochart – what a great way to present information in a mode that merges text and visual tools into one – I often use these when introducing a new topic to a class, or as a summary tool – students can create them for projects or assessment (have a look at one I made recently on Blogging). They can be used as tools to support oral presentations (wonderfully helping us to avoid death by power point boredom…..). i was recently preparing a poster for an upcoming conference and I used Piktochart – it was much more interesting and looked more professional. It forced me to be succinct and less wordy and really consider what images I could use to support the message. Interestingly it took me longer to prepare than usual, as an infographic is not an easier or lazier way of presenting information, it requires careful thinking and pondering of how text and visual images can work together to present your message. Watch this space though, whilst I am raving about Piktochart at the moment, I may discover another rather handy infographic tool shortly……..and it will be history!
I have a serious addiction to wearable technology. I make all sorts of excuses as to why I need them (the be healthier……..a better version of myself…..to be more efficient) but if I am honest, I love a new gadget. So each year when the BBC reports on the Consumer Electrics Show (CES) I read it with bated breath. I love to see the new technologies that will be coming our way soon – the curved TV’s…..wow who would have thought? The new Apple watch……too exciting for words. I loved my Fitbit, was very tearful when it stopped working, replaced it with a Polar band, not liking it as much…..but between that device, my sport watch, heart rate band……working out it becoming quite a complicated experience. Anyway, this year there were more health monitor straps released, lots of touch-screen watches, but what is apparent is that they are becoming invisible. No longer will you see them strapped to wrists, they are morphing into stick-able devices that you apply to your chest, wear in your shoe or under your shirt. It will read through your skin surface and collect all of the information it needs. Pretty impressive. The idea is that wearable technology should integrate into the persons life seamlessly and not be attached or separate to it – its seems there is a growing backlash against wearing wearable technology (make sense?). I don’t agree, I think these new devices are incredibly smart and still get excited by the thought of what is to come. part of this show is also dedicated to speculative or innovative technologies – one caught my attention, a smart ring with a computer built inside – this one was demonstrating how it could be used to go on twitter and facebook – its called the Mota ring, keep your eye out as it looks like a lot of fun.
One of the consequences of living in a digital age is that all of my different roles, parts of my life and pursuits are starting to converge. I hesitate to make any statement beginning with “my generation” but the reality is that when I first started working my private life, my interests and hobbies and my professional life were all very separate. They were much more physically tied to specific places – such as where I spent free time or what I liked to do in those moments were not at all connected to a device nor were they online. Now, these different aspects of my life are tied to different digital devices; I have a work ipad, desktop computer and other digital tools – when I go home I have my personal ipad and laptop. Some of devices are used in both spaces, such as my iphone and laptop but its what I am doing on these devices that has made me think about the blurring and convergence that is happening. Time is a big issue, the separation between these two spaces is no longer constrained to being a ‘working day’, I rarely leave work at work. The sense of being connected to that part of my life is constant, either through email or databases or even just Googling a particular topic or idea. How I spend my leisure time is increasingly digital – I have a huge addiction to games, love them in all forms, video, music, apps – I find it relaxing and addictive. I also seem to have been using more web-based tools to replace things I used to do ‘physically’ such as bookshops replaced by virtual libraries, book by ebooks, my personal trainer has been replaced by an app and smart device, tv by the web, going to a shopping centre and walking around replaced by online shopping…..its all quite endless. The nature of my work has started to closely resemble my personal life and how I spend it – I feel like my worlds are converging, no longer do these feel like separate spaces. This isn’t a bad thing, I don’t regret any of these changes, in fact I think it has made life much easier as the skills I need and constantly use keep improving making both spaces easier to use and negotiate around. Not sure if many would agree with me, but I think the convergence has been a really interesting side effect.
There has been much criticism lately about teachers and pre-service teachers who are apparently illiterate. I have a big issue with this position,as we are basically stating that our school system and higher education providers are essentially doing nothing, that when we engage in formal study we learn nothing. We know this isn’t true, we know that after we finish a course, such as a four year undergraduate degree we know more than we did when we began, we have new skills and we have been successful enough to graduate anyway. So how can we describe people as being illiterate? I think the whole crux of the discussion is that we all have different views or definitions of the term literacy – the critics view it very traditionally, and probably see it as grammar and parts of speech. These are important, we need to know the correct grammatical structure of our own language, but viewing literacy as being only these skills is redundant. The digital age we live in requires much more literacy than we have needed previously – its not limited to text-based communication, its visual, its about negotiating your way around digital information, websites, information streams, understanding memes, messages, writing short messages, multitasking and multi communicating. This is all pretty literacy related skills. We tried to capture this by calling it all multi literacy, OK this was a start, how about some others to consider…..transmedia literacy? multimodal literacy? Perhaps what we need to do is decide on the set of literacy skills we need in this current age, all agree on a definition or term and then we can make informed judgements about peoples literacy skills.
A few weeks ago I was lucky to be able to meet Jeff Gomez from Starlight Runner. Listening to him talk was a like a light bulb switching on, he had managed to articulate all of the ideas and thoughts that had been swirling around in my head for a few years now into a ‘thing’ – he called it transmedia storytelling – I’m thinking this term might have already become redundant (more on that in another post). Transmedia storytelling has been picked up by the entertainment industry, a multi-pronged approach to building up excitement about a new movie and continue it beyond the release date. The cynic in me feels its probably to sell more product, test to see if a sequel might have legs…….regardless, its almost an expected part of the big Hollywood blockbuster experience these days. A great example of this is James Cameron’s Avatar. What really grabbed me was the importance of the grand narrative, the story that ties all of these different platforms and multimedia experiences together – he reiterated the idea that the story needed to be expanded beyond the initial narrative, that it needed to be more complex, engage the reader in a new way. This go me thinking, how could we use this in education? Imagine learners who are so engaged that they move beyond, they engage beyond the expected level. This sounds exactly what we aim to achieve in our teaching, inspire students to move beyond the surface level of a topic or lesson, and to really engage with the topic. I could see us build a multi-platform approach to teach maths, English – any subject. It would engage, stimulate and not necessarily require technology expertise – programs like Scoop.it might enable a really basic version of it. Things to ponder, how we deliver online learning might be about to change.