Developing Digital Literacies. #4: have a safe place to experiment.

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

4. Have a safe area to experiment.

Schools are safe places to make mistakes. As the behaviour co-ordinator, I have several incidents throughout the year were children make mistakes and then I try to teach them ways to avoid the making that mistake again. Examples include: using an angry tone of voice; responding violently or aggressively to a stressful incident; using inappropriate language. If an eight year old can be taught to respond to stress without using violence, then that will help them immensely when they are older – the violence a 14 year old or a twenty year old could perpetrate is potentially a lot more harmful than that of an eight year old.

Surely the same is true of online communication.

When children at my school email each other insults, it gives me a chance to talk to them about losing their temper online. We use Google Apps at my school and the system is set so that children can only contact other members of the school – any mistakes are kept within the school online environment, just as mistakes on the playground are kept within the school. This means I can educate children about the dangers of losing their temper when their fingers are near a keyboard; or taking a playground grudge online – such things are recorded. I would far rather children make these mistakes using Google Drive and Gmail within the protection my school’s domain than when they’re older on Facebook and Twitter, or indeed on a public Google Drive or Gmail account.

There are many other alternative safe places to Google Apps that schools can use – Edmodo, Frog and J2E are just some examples that I have flirted with in the past.

Developing Digital Literacies. #2: yearn to be literate

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

2. Yearn to be literate.

A few years ago I was a rather jaded IT co-ordinator. I had fallen out of love with an area of the curriculum that I once thought could change the world. The reasons were many and varied: underfunding; cynicism amongst IT technicians; the monolithic nature of IT services within my city; a disillusionment amongst fellow teachers about the impact of IT; the lure of senior management.

And then I heard Ewan McIntosh speak at a conference.

He showed a simple visualisation of his contacts – there were about 6000 at the time and about a quarter were teachers. Yet nearly all links to the teachers looked different on the visualisation from everyone else because they did not contact him – they only listened.

The teachers were either too busy or too scared to talk. Too busy or too scared to do any kind of two-way communication. Too busy or too scared to be literate. His point was that just at the time when students were grappling with growing social media, teachers were shying away from it – choosing to be illiterate in an area where their influence could be really beneficial to society.

It was at that point that I started yearning to be digitally literate with ‘new stuff’ like Twitter. I got an account and started tweeting. I followed some key people from whom I heard about something called the Google Teacher Academy. I applied and, by the miracle of telekinesis, I got in. I carried on communicating, debating in education, growing my digital literacy. I started to blog. I made some videos.

This rubbed off onto my school. We now have a team of Year 6 who make videos each week. Children in Key Stage 2 create wikis and websites. Children set up email groups and email each other about things that interest them. And for those of you thinking standards, standards, standards – our children have ‘outstanding achievement’ in English and maths – so it’s not as if we drop the essentials just to do the fun stuff.

Nor can I say that it has been all ups. Sometimes I have lost my ‘yearning’. Like a few days ago when I posted this. Sometimes I question whether it is all worth it – let’s just teach spelling, punctuation, grammar, reading and maths I say to myself – after all, that’s all we are measured on. I suppose we all have our moments of doubt. But then I remember (or someone reminds me) that the children deserve more than that.

You have to believe that being digitally literate is important for yourself to make it appear anywhere on the priority list at school. I started to believe it was important and I believe this has impacted my school in the long run too.

Developing Digital Literacies. #1: Be out there

Having been challenged by Steve Wheeler that maybe primary schools do have a role to play in digital literacy, I’m now thinking about what we actually do at my school to encourage, or even teach digital literacy.

1. Being Out There.

Schools have got to have an online presence. Aside from the legal requirement, by being online you show your online parents that you care. A study by Weber Shandwick shows that company bosses who use social media are 10% more likely to be seen as open, honest and respectful. If this is true for business, surely it is true in education too.

The legal requirement, I hear you ask? Yes, there is now a comprehensive list of things that are required to be published online, including the school prospectus, how school spends the pupil premium funding and how school spends the new sports funding. A more comprehensive list can be found here.

In my own experience having a Facebook page for my school has drastically cut down the number of cyber-bullying incidents that were happening two to three years ago. Instead of it being a regular distraction to the business of school, there is at most one incident per year – just on a time-saving basis this has been worth it, but add to it the negative impact on learning and the emotional hurt of cyber-bullying and I would say that having a Facebook Page for a school is a must. I would direct you to my school’s Facebook page, except that I know of a better one – my colleague Chris Talbot at Broadmeadow Junior School has a better one than mine.

Of course in small schools, managing an online presence can be painful and time consuming, or expensive. You’re already spinning thirty seven plates and now you have a website and social media to think of too. Myself I’ve cut down the time and expense by using ifttt.com. Using this service I write one post on Google+ and it automatically posts to Twitter and Facebook, so instead of having to write something in three places, I can write in just one.

Schools that are being digitally literate are encouraging their students to be digitally literate too. It’s a role modelling thing. Take Lyndon Green Junior school for example. Their Twitter stream is full of content that it must help their students and parents improve their digital literacy.

So be out there. Be online. Be on social media. If professionals at schools can’t do it safely, how can we expect our communities to do likewise?