Gone Digital

Shortly before leaving for the NCTE conference, I found out that I need to develop a course on reading and must include digital literacy. I am so glad I discovered this BEFORE the convention, because I was able to attend many sessions on digital literacy and come away with an entirely different view of what digital literacy is and can be. The course I now want to design is so much more interesting than the one I would have designed if I hadn’t attended the conference.

One of the problems with teaching digital literacy is that I am only so literate myself. I wanted my students to use a wiki a couple of years ago and I had to abandon the idea because I couldn’t figure out how to use one myself. (How hard did I actually try? Let’s see. I recall staring at some instructions online, trying to download something onto my work computer, getting a message about how I wasn’t authorized to download anything onto my work computer, and I abandoned the whole thing. I have very little resilience when it comes to technology.)

I sort of specialize in not being able to figure out how to do things tech. I have a blog (obviously) and I teach online (in the Sakai LMS and now in Canvas) and I am on Facebook and I send lots of emails. The End. I don’t have a smart phone, and even though my institution gave all faculty members tablets last year, mine mostly sits in a drawer. I read a million blogs but I don’t even know how to use an RSS feed. Even Power Points scare me a little bit—and now we’re already on to Prezis. If I couldn’t manage a Power Point, how can I possibly create a Prezi?

I’m not that teacher who fumes, “I hate technology.” I don’t. I like technology. I am in awe of the digitally literate. I want to be like them. I have long wanted to leverage digital tools to do what I do better, and now I’m starting to have a sense of how I could leverage them to do things differently, which is more important. But I feel helpless with technology.  

One of the big takeaways for me from the NCTE conference is this one: nobody is going to sweep in and make me less helpless with technology. I can’t read a book about going digital and suddenly be digitally literate. I can’t watch somebody else using their tools and suddenly know how to use mine. I am not going to attend an iPad training and suddenly feel empowered with my iPad. The only way to figure out how to use a tool is to get in there and use it myself. Only I can figure out how I want to use digital tools in my work and my classroom.

There are a few faculty at my institution who are not using their tablets, and they/we complain that we need training before we can use it. Trainings are scheduled. I go to the trainings, and I listen attentively and I leave, still knowing almost nothing about how to use my iPad.

I realize that I am clinging to a model of learning that I don’t even believe in: I want to be the empty vessel and have the expert transmit all their knowledge to me. I want to sit back and somehow learn passively. I am your bank: deposit knowledge, please.That’s especially ironic given the very active metaphors of digital literacy: hack, make, and play (from Bud Hunt’s wonderful “Report from Cyberspace.”)

The way to learn how to use digital tools is to jump in and start using them and figure it out as you go.

I don’t ask my students to learn how to write by sitting around thinking about writing or reading about writing or talking about writing or watching me write. We do all of these things around writing, but the core of their learning comes from actually writing themselves. They have to do the thing to learn how to do the thing. How is it that I know this in my teaching life but always forget to apply it to myself and my own learning?

And another big takeaway:  I can’t figure out how to use the tools myself and also how I might use them in my classroom all in one day. I don’t have to know everything. I only need to take baby steps. (Thanks to Liz Holman’s presentation and The PaperGraders for the idea that baby steps are good.)

So. Here’s what I have done so far, and here are the next steps of my plan:

Today I brought my iPad with me to work. I haven’t turned it on yet, but at least it’s not in a drawer!

I joined Twitter, which is actually amazing for professional development. I had no idea! I am thankful for Maggie Peterson’s NCTE presentation on using Twitter with her preservice teachers and the “Report from Cyberspace” session where Troy Hicks displayed the #reportfromcyberspace twitter feed and I could see what interesting things were happening as people commented and questioned.

I participated in my first Twitter chat (about book lists) on Sunday night.  It was so fast-paced that I ended up feeling a bit motion sick as my eyes struggled to track all the messages flying by, but I ended up with a list of new books I want to read and some new blogs to follow and I felt like I had found a community where I feel at home.

I tweeted about one of my blog posts and created a bitly for it!

I joined GoodReads.

I am blogging regularly.

I figured out how to create links within my blog.

I used my iPad to take two photos I want to post on my blog.

I am thinking about how to use some of these tools in my classes next semester.

I’m reading Because Digital Writing Matters, The Digital Writing Workshop, Bringing the Outside In, and Learning in the Cloud. Because my preferred way of learning and thinking is probably always going to be reading a book about something.

Small things to do next:

*Figure out how to use an RSS feed to streamline my blog reading

*Fill in the blanks of my blog (header, about, blogs I follow, etc.)

*Figure out how to upload photos from my iPad onto my blog without the additional step of emailing first so I can access on my laptop

*Figure out how to actually use GoodReads

*Explore Google Docs for potential use in collaborative writing assignments next semester

*Figure out hashtags on twitter

One baby step at a time.

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