My purpose in this paper is to reflect on my experience in the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy in terms of how the learning experience impacted my role as an educator, digital storyteller, and as a leader engaged in promoting innovation processes in my pedagogical practice with teacher professional and digital literacy development. In my roamings within my original academic field of study, Cultural Anthropology, as well as in my existential rumblings through adulthood, I have embodied my life experience around the theme of story, inspired by the concept of bliss, as proposed by american Mythologist Joseph Campbell. Campbell traces back the notion of bliss to the Sanskrit phrase sat chit ananda, which he translates as being, consciousness, and rapture. He articulates his interpretation of this transcendental phrase in his famous quote (2004), and one which has been a source of personal and professional inspiration:
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”
Campbell talks about one-to-one conferences with his college students and how he was able to notice a student’s eyes light up when an idea or theme sprang up into the conversation. He would make a point of encouraging his students to pursue those ideas further, to allow themselves to be driven by their curiosity and follow their bliss. Thus, it is in pursuing a journey of inquiry, driven by themes that enrapture our senses, our intellect and spirit, that we perceive value in our existence. People are not seeking the meaning of life per se. What we seek, according to Campbell, is an experience of being alive. We create meaning from acting on our experience, and also from reflecting on the consequences and the value that results from reflecting on experience. (Dewey 1916, 92) In that sense, I would like to explore the meaning making that is achieved in the process of storytelling by sharing some of my digital literacy learning background, for it is in the process of creating and sharing our stories, our own personal myths with others, that we gain a deeper sense of identity, confidence, and purpose. Importantly, reflection on experience, as expressed in stories, operates change in how we view ourselves and in our being in the world. We change, therefore, we learn through sharing our personal experience of embodied life with those around us.
My central thesis in this reflective piece is that digital storytelling is a rich means for empowerment, playing a critical role in scholarly, professional and personal identity formation in educators. My story as an inhabitant of the digital universe began in 2014, when I explored the concept of rhizomatic learning in participation within a community of global educators in a cMooc (connectivist massive open online course) called Rhizomatic Learning: the Community is the Curriculum. At the time, the feeling was that of diving into the deep end of the digital literacy swimming pool. Driven by my curiosity and a longing for interaction in a new learning space, I immediately began engaging with other members of this rhizomatic community, who responded to Dave Cormier’s course provocation-assignments in the form of blogs and digital art, which were also shared on Twitter via the hashtag #Rhizo14. My first digital creations took the shape of writing in my own, then newly-created blog, and also in interacting with other participants in their digital spaces on their blogs and on social media. This was the year I began building my professional learning network on Twitter, which plays a critical part in my everyday digital literacy and professional learning habits.
Notably, the more participants engaged in collaborating to cocreate new meaning by commenting on one another’s blog posts and tweets, the deeper our appreciation for collaborative inquiry became, which is one of the three core design elements of the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. My Rhizo14 cMooc experience was intense, generating dense human connections, despite the fact that it was fully online. One of such strong bonds were with Egyptian scholar Bali Maha, whose prolific digital scholarship has been an inspiration in my own learning in digital spaces.
My digital literacy learning journey both in Rhizo14 and in SIDL have helped me increase my confidence as a digital creator and storyteller, for they were both instances which enabled me to exercise my voice and choice. Indeed, my sense of agency as a learner was increased in such inquiry-driven, collaborative educational contexts. After all, it is:
“(…) by choosing how to creatively express ideas and create media, as well as explore different ways of taking social action, (that) learners may explore their identities as citizens who can improve their communities and society.”(Hobbs et al. 2019)
The intensive face-to-face dimension of SIDL brought to the fore the interactive and relational aspect of digital creation. The minds-on, hands-on work with my dyad partner, Carla Arena, and the interplay between our different modes of collaboration (I am a “southwest” and she is a “northeast” as identified in the compass points dynamics we engaged in during SIDL) shifted the focus from skills with digital tools to interpersonal and time management skills in managing the complexity which naturally emerged from our collaboration. Furthermore, our knowledge with the digital tools used in our design studio project shifted our challenge focus from digital skills to digital literacy, in the sense that we were concerned with how the audience of our project – educators – would engage and make meaning with the digital artifacts we were creating together. In other words, we found ourselves more focussed on the who, when, where, why and how learners would make sense of the digital materials we were engaged in co-creating. This is the difference between digital skills and digital literacies:
“We often hear people talk about the importance of digital knowledge for 21st-century learners. Unfortunately, many focus on skills rather than literacies. Digital skills focus on what and how. Digital literacy focuses on why, when, who, and for whom.”Maha Bali (2016)
Another core design element of SIDL is motivation as a primer for learning and development. A powerful connection with motivation is the concept of the ‘Golden Circle’, as proposed by Simon Sinek. Agency is heightened by a clear sense of purpose, and that is what we experienced in the SIDL opening event. Participants were prompted to create their own meanings of digital and media literacy, and share those with other participants and faculty members in order to spark communal dispositions among all people in the learning space. Moreover, the Digital Learning Motivation Profiles list supported participants in making connections between their educator identities and their motivations for engaging in digital and media literacies developmental work with learners. This horoscope-style self-assessment served as a catalyst for people to orbit towards others with similar motivations, fostering further connection among participants, who also felt valued and respected in their diversity of motivations in approaching the work of digital and media literacies. Importantly, this illustrates the very nature of the digital literacy mosaic created by the engagement of people coming from multiple knowledge areas and interests.
The third design element at the core of SIDL is the most powerful, and the one which most resonates with my work as a change agent and social practitioner in the field of innovation in education. As an advocate for human-centered innovation, I share the concern expressed by Hobbs et al. (2019) with regards to the reduction of digital literacy pedagogies to the practice of the so-called personalization of learning which is driven by software algorithms. Such device-centered approach to digital literacies development disengages and disenfranchises both educators and learners, promoting a dangerous power shift which puts the machine in the center of learning, rendering the human element of the experience less important and peripheral in the essentially human process of learning though meaning making and the construction of understanding. Rather than personalized, learning is personal in that it is built in inquiry-driven cooperation among people. According to Dewey, as argued by Dyehouse, “shared understandings are the consequence, not the cause of cooperative action.” Dyehouse continues citing Biesta (2006, 30):
“For Dewey, education is more basically a matter of ‘those situations in which one really shares or participates in a common activity, in which one really has an interest in its accomplishment just as others have.”Dyehouse (2016, 175-176)
These are the participatory situations in which successful collaborative activity results in learning and understanding. Dyehouse concludes by saying that “(…) for Dewey, the real key to understanding is in doing things together.”
This view of making learning personal validates the networked and collaborative practices I have adopted in the design of professional development opportunities for educators both with my dyad partner Carla Arena in Amplifica, and in my role as innovation specialist in my school, Casa Thomas Jefferson. In the first Amplifica seminar for educators, in which I participated as a presenter in 2015, my talk was titled “The Power of Connections”. This was an inspirational talk in which I shared the design principles informing the technology integration and digital literacy development practices adopted in one of my early projects as technology integration coach in my school. Similarly to Hobbs et al. (2019, 408), I believe that the work of digital literacy development requires the intentional design of professional development opportunities that:
“(…) foster teacher agency so educators gain confidence in designing their own lesson plans and instructional units for inquiry-based digital learning. We see teachers as eminently capable of supporting and scaffolding student learning through inquiry and collaboration.”Hobbs et al. (2019, 408)
Bali (2016) mentions the 8 elements of digital literacies proposed by Belshaw (2014). Interestingly, she points out the element of confidence is an important one among the elements. Belshaw explains that the element of Confidence requires a slightly different approach to its development in comparison to the other elements, for Confidence is a transversal element to all others. He refers to the process of Confidence development in digital literacies as the act of connecting the dots. According to Belshaw (2014, 52):
“Developing the Confident element of digital literacies involves solving problems and managing one’s own learning in digital environments. This can be encouraged by the kind of practices that work well in all kinds of learning experiences. Namely, self-review focusing on achievement and areas of development, paired with mentoring. I believe P2PU’s ‘schools’ to be an extremely good example of an arena in which the Confident element of digital literacies can be developed. Not only are learners encouraged to reflect on their practices, but to form a community. Such communities can help build confidence.”Belshaw (2014, 52)
Finally, in SIDL, we had the opportunity to experience the Personal Digital Inquiry model proposed by Coiro et al. (2016) scaffolding our knowledge building and the development of participants’ digital literacy skills. The PDI model was clearly articulated throughout the SIDL immersive learning experience, its power notably evident as the Design Studio unfolded. Dyad partners dove deeply into the inquiry process by wondering and discovering, accessing, analyzing and evaluating knowledge and ideas in collaboration and discussion, then taking action and creating digital artifacts with which to promote learning. Reflection pushed us forward and back into the PDI Framework for Teaching and Learning, eliciting the refinement of our final projects. Keynotes and workshops in SIDL were instances of teacher-driven action quadrants illustrated below the (green) line of inquiry in the image, in the giving and prompting stages of technology for knowledge building. We were then gradually released into the upper, learner-driven quadrants of making and reflecting as the inquiry was sustained until the end culminating event where dyads proudly shared their learning artifacts with the whole community.
Circling back to the element of confidence in the development of digital literacies, I find myself wondering about the interplay between one’s process of confidence development and the development of one’s leadership persona. I am intrigued by the inner workings of the identity formation of a digitally literate individual, learners and educators alike, in such collaborative learning environments.
The experience of exploring imagery that would represent ourselves as digital literacy leaders in our own contexts was a very powerful one to me, in particular. I gravitated towards a picture of a mystic crossing the threshold of visible reality in order to unveil the inner workings in the backstage of the universe. This symbolic exercise provided me with new language to articulate how I sense my calling to lead change in my educational context. I was left feeling a sense of potency and intentionality with regards to the leader in me. Interestingly enough, I am now engaging in the design and facilitation of a leadership academy for middle managers in my educational organization. Ever since my experience in SIDL, I have gained a renewed sense of agency, self-efficacy, and even courage to tackle this great challenge. SIDL has made feel validated in my rhizomatic and communal approach to learning, leaving me with a sense of belonging and sustained curiosity for what is to come.
Bali, Maha (2016, February 3). Knowing the Difference between Digital Skills and Digital Literacies and Teaching Both. Literacy Daily. International Literacy Association. Retrieved from <https://literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2016/02/03/knowing-the-difference-between-digital-skills-and-digital-literacies-and-teaching-both>
Belshaw, D. (2014). The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. Retrieved from <http://digitalliteraci.es>
Campbell, J., Kudler, David, editor. (2004) Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation.
Coiro, J., Castek, J., & Quinn, D. J. (2016). Personal inquiry and online research: Connecting learners in ways that matter. The Reading Teacher, 69(5), 483-492.
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education.
Hobbs, R. & Coiro, J. (2018). Design features of a professional development program in digital literacy. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. DOI: doi: 10.1002/jaal.907
Hobbs, Renee, editor. (2016). Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal Narrative. Temple University Press.