A digital what…?

Earlier this week I was approached and asked to run a short session on Digital Citizenship as part of a staff professional development day.  My first inclination was to run for cover! Still, I allowed myself to be talked in to it and was then faced with the challenge of defining what a digital citizen was…..http://internetsavvy.wikispaces.com/

Of course there are lots of definitions out there – one I liked came from here:

Digital citizenship is the norms of appropriate, responsible technology use.

But that didn’t seem to be quite the full picture and it didn’t help me much when I was looking for a framework to explain the ideas to a group of people for whom even using Moodle (my institution’s LMS of choice) could be a step too far into the digital world.

A light bulb came on when it occurred to me that I would have much less of a problem in discussing what ‘citizenship’ was – so what was it about the ‘digital’ word that made such a difference?  That lead me to re-visit my own ideas around digital natives/immigrants and the improved concept of digital visitors/residents that has been suggested as an alternative.

In trying to imagine different categories of behaviour that might be of value in assisting understanding of the digital space, I came up with four:

  • Tourist  – a person who is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure
  • Visitor – a person who visits, for reasons of friendship, business, duty, travel… (where visit is defined as a stay with (a person or family) or at (a place) for a short time)
  • Resident – a person who lives somewhere permanently or on a long-term basis.
  • Citizen – a person recognised under the custom or law of a state that bestows on that person the rights and the duties of citizenship. (That may include the right to vote, work and live in the country, the right to return to the country, the right to own real estate, legal protections against the country’s government, and protection through the military or diplomacy. A citizen may also be subject to certain duties, such as a duty to follow the country’s law, to pay taxes, or to serve in the military.)

Although it may be difficult to define all the subtle differences between these terms, I believe instinctively we have an understanding of them.

To me, a tourist is a superficial visitor to a place – someone who from within a fairly safe bubble can observe, get a taste for a place without needing to get to grips with any underlying issues and then leave.

A visitor on the other hand is someone who either has a specific purpose in being in a place or has some personal connection to it.  Although the stay may also be fairly short, the visitor may well have the chance to step beyond the confines of the bubble for a while to view the place through the eyes of those who have a more permanent connection.

A resident of course is someone who lives in the place and enjoys many of its benefits as well as being aware of underlying issues, tensions or concerns.  Many residents will have a rich and varied experience within the community and make their own contribution to its success.

A citizen is generally also a resident but one who not only contributes to their ‘place’ but also carries a number of responsibilities, such as voting, military service, jury duty etc.. for its success. In return, the citizen can expect protection of their human rights.

So how does this transfer to the digital space – in fact does it provide a meaningful framework?

  • Digital tourist  – a person who is ‘visiting’ the digital space for pleasure, perhaps an occasional user of Facebook, or a news site.
  • Digital visitor – a person who visits the digital space primarily to connect with ‘real-life’ friends or who is required to visit for business (even though they may prefer not to!) In general it is one who views the digital space as a collection of tools. Such a person may well be aware that there are issues but not feel confident or knowledgeable enough to discuss them.
  • Digital resident –  a person who views the digital space as primarily a social community of which they are a part.  Someone who contributes to the social space with people who may or may not be ‘real life’ friends and treats the digital world as an extension of their physical world. Such a person see the tools merely as a means to an end and will generally experiment with new ones.  They are likely to be aware of many of the issues related to the digital space but not feel they have a role in addressing them.
  • Digital citizen – a digital resident who is aware of issues and concerns of importance to the digital community but who also takes on certain responsibilities within it.  This could be moderating a public forum, an editor of wikipedia or wikieducator, being active in digital pressure groups or educating others about them.

Interesting questions for me are: What kind of ‘digital’ are you? What kind of ‘digital’ would you like to be?

As Michael Feldstein notes , what is important:

 is the link between your decision to be either a resident or a visitor and your ideology of education.

dewey-quote1and as he goes on to suggest:

If you believe that education is private affair between you, your books, and your professor, then you’re not likely to see the value of Facebook, Twitter… or some other social networking platform in furthering your education….It seems to me there’s a reason why there’s a high degree of overlap between people who are attracted to social networking, PLE’s and the like, and people who are interested in supplanting traditional pedagogies and institutions with more self-directed networked learning… I used to think that blogging, Twitter, and Facebook were all idiotic, narcissistic wastes of time….I came to realize how the utility of the tool is not so much in what it enables me to do but in how it changes the way I want to be. I learned new behaviors and habits that I found to be productive and fulfilling…I think it’s no surprise that people who are digital residents also tend to see technology as a catalyst of educational reform.

Do these definitions make any kind of sense for you? Do they help us to understand the relationship between our ‘real’ and our ‘digital’ lives? I would love your comments to help me refine my understanding and to assist in providing useful and meaningful definitions.

Finally, I would like to ask: What kind of ‘digital’ do you think we each need to be to be an effective 21st century educator?


Making eCommunities Work

Over the last couple of weeks I have got rather (too!) heavily involved in a competition that requires active social media participation from a real life community.  In other words, the final winner is going to be the one who has managed to created an active, vibrant online community powered by social media from an existing real life community that is largely disconnected.  That is a huge challenge but a very interesting one.
Beginning with a Facebook page and a small number of committed individuals, the online community is gradually beginning to grow and that has prompted me to think about how that is happening and what particular things are helping.

I know there is a lot of advice out there about building eCommunities and I am sure there is a lot of academic research too which I haven’t had much time to pursue but the most sensible statement I came across is this:

Communities on the web function much like real-life communities; they unite around a specific focus and often pursue common goals.

It was this that set me thinking about the importance of having someone inhabit the virtual spaces in which the community will function.

GigatownNSN (1)

Imagine this:  Your local paper has an article on an issue that you feel strongly about and gives details of an initial meeting of interested folk.  You go along to the meeting to find an empty hall  – a couple of people are busily arranging the furniture and chatting to each other but they ignore you apart from a perfunctory wave in the direction of a chair.  You sit and wait for a while and gradually others drift in and sit in various corners of the room…….. No matter how interesting the subject matter, if you leave the meeting having had no meaningful individual interaction with others you are unlikely to pursue an active role in this community.

Exactly the same is true online.  Tweeting or commenting on a Facebook page is like calling out in a darkened room – if you are ignored enough times you will retreat to a safe corner or leave the room altogether – never to return!  You need to know that your voice has been heard, that you are saying appropriate things and that your contribution is valued.

Building a successful community, certainly in its early stages must recognise the importance of this.  There has to be someone who will respond very quickly to any interaction – a thank you for tweeting to a particular hashtag or a welcome to a Facebook page post – those things make a HUGE difference in engaging that person with the community you are building. They have to know that the room is not empty, that people are actively listening and want you to be there!

I have been doing my best to play that role as we build our GigatownNelson community.  So far it is paying off for the group but also for me personally, I can already see the new friendships and strengthening of tentative ones that are going to develop over the next few months.  It is exhausting and time-consuming but if the end purpose is worthwhile I know I will be well rewarded with friendship and a sense of having made a difference.  And to me that is what community, real or virtual is all about.

Giving students an A+ …..

Fairfield Bridge, Hamilton

I recently attended the annual CITRENZ conference, held this year in Hamilton, New Zealand and hosted by Wintec, the Waikato Institute of Technology.  This is the primary local conference for those of us in the tertiary sector who are either teaching Information Technology or researching in IT education.  Although primarily an academic conference it also attracts a number of local IT industry people, particuarly those who have an interest in graduate recruitment.

Many of the academic papers relate to the teaching of IT and the education of work-ready IT graduates.  This year I was presenting a paper on innovative strategies that my colleagues and I had used to improve student engagement with a compulsory first year degree course.  This paper described how we had altered the delivery of the course sessions but more importantly how we had radically altered the assessment.  Inspired by the ideas of Benjamin Zander, we gave all our students an A+ in the first week of the course, subject to only two requirements.  The full paper is here and I would love to hear your comments about it – I may well provide a blog post giving more details too.

Benjamin Zander

For several years I have been interested not just in the innovative delivery of courses but also in the mechanisms we use to assess student learning.  It seems to me that despite what we might say, students realise that what we REALLY value is what we assess.  For example, no matter how much we may stress that we (and employers) value team work and collaboration, if our assessment requires individual assignments or exams in which sharing and ‘plagiarism’ is penalised students readily pick up the embedded message! What we were trying to do in the particular course under discussion was to remove unnecessary stress from a course that really wanted students to explore and enjoy the whole field of IT in their own ways, rather than being fed an arbitrary collection of ‘facts’ that they needed to memorise.

But the real driver behind this post is my disappointment in the lack of reaction from my peers at conference.  There were a (very) few who talked to me after my presentation and expressed a wish to follow our model but were sceptical that they would have institutional backing to do so but for the most part there was no reaction at all.  This surprised me.  I had expected negative reactions.  I would have liked the chance to argue that this was not a gimmick, nor a failed experiment; that it was a thought out response to a particular set of challenges and that it heralded a way of re-thinking our assessment values.  Of course, my presentation could well have been at fault, I perhaps focussed on the wrong things and didn’t make clear the deeper purpose behind what we were attempting to do.  Perhaps the presentation was lightweight and I shot myself in the foot.  The prezi of it is here if anyone wants to look for themselves.

Whatever the reason, I feel as if the need to reassess our assessment practices is still unrecognised and I will have to try harder to bring it to people’s attention.  Have you tried to change your assessment practices? I would be really interested in hearing from you as I am keen to understand both the obstacles and the drivers.



Fascinating fractals


Just come across and watched this incredible film from 1994 on the discovery of the Mandelbrot set and fractal geometry.

As Arthur C Clarke explains in this film, we could never discover the equation until the creation of computing technology because of the millions of iterations that are needed to construct the set.  Interviews with Stephen Hawking and Mandelbrot himself are incredible and a Pink Floyd soundtrack to set it all off too!

The fractal nature of everything is something that has always fascinated me – not just the wonderfully satisfying and aesthetically pleasing images but the whole notion of recurring complex patterns extending infinitely.  The basic notion of complexity theory – that interesting things happen where order and chaos meet – seems somehow bound up in this too.  I have the intuition that profound philosphical understandings will eventually spring from this work.

The OpenCulture website is a great collection of free resources of really interesting material and definitely worth checking out for some real classics.

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