Digital Literacy elements of PELeCON ’12

Last week, I attended the Plymouth Enhanced Learning Conference, or PELeCON for short.  I want to summarise the bits I felt most relevant to ‘digital literacy’ here, on the Digitally Ready blog.  I will post it in two parts…

The conference frequently has 3 or 4 strands running at any one time, which means it isn’t possible to attend all of the sessions.  Usefully, the PELeCON team had put up abstracts of the sessions on their site, in the form of blog posts.  Although these had probably not attracted as much pre-conference discussion as might be hoped, it did mean it was easy to cross-check to see which sessions were going to be of interest.  Many, if not most, of the delegates at the conference use Twitter, and the #pelc12 hashtag was used to great effect throughout the conference.  There is a mixture of critique, sharing, dialogue and humour on this hashtag, which adds extra dimensions to the experience.  On top of that, many delegates have already blogged about the conference, and how much they got out of the sessions and the excellent networking opportunities built in to the timetable. 

1st session – distance learning

I attended a great couple of talks about distance learning, one from Jason Truscott talking about The Hydrographic Academy, a project putting a ‘Virtual Learning Environment’ on a USB stick so that it can be used at sea, where, it turns out, the internet connection may not be all that good ;-).   I was a little concerned, initially, when the presenters were talking about the need for branding, but having seen some of their materials, they have handled this well – a clean, clear, crisp style which does not detract from the learning materials.

Claire Spiret, (@shibby_savvy on Twitter) from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) presented on her work on the KTP project (with Prof Shirley Williams, @shirleyearley on Twitter) with the University of Reading, developing an online version of the their Leadership course.  WAGGGS works in most of the countries of the world, and there is obviously a range of issues relating to the IT infrastructure available, as well as issues with connecting with people both synchronously (due to time zones) and asynchronously (due to cultural expectations of response times).  However, the asynchronous mode of communication allows for people who do not speak English, Spanish or French as their first language to translate and for everyone to reflect before responding.

I left this first session fondly remembering my work in hydrographic surveying (and land survey, come to that) and wishing that the WAGGGS leadership course could be rolled out across a much wider audience.  Plymouth can be proud of both these projects, I believe, as Claire studied there.

2nd session – Writing and Blogging

Julia Skinner, on Twitter as @100word talked about the 100 Word Challenge, aimed mainly at young writers and encouraging them to engage in creative writing.  This particularly caught my attention not only because of the marvellous range of contributions it attracts from school children, but because the project has an ongoing need for people who will engage with the kids and give them positive, constructive feedback (within a framework provided by 100wc).  It struck me that this would be a useful activity that students at Reading on the RED award scheme could get involved in, and which has the side benefit of helping them develop their practice of contributing to other people’s work and thus building their own, positive Digital Identity.

David Mitchell, (@deputymitchell on Twitter), told us about his Quadblogging initiative, which provides a ready made audience for pupils at schools who are using blogging as part of their practice.  I was really taken by David’s initial response when a pupil asked for their own blog – the kneejerk “No” I think so many of us are used to hearing.  David, though, thought the issue through, with the help of some timely interventions by the children in his school who were side-stepping the restriction, and realised that it is better to provide the service than drive it underground.  This is especially true for school age children, of course.

My main take homes from these two talks were chiefly about providing opportunity and motivation for participation.  There is a tendency for institutions to be risk averse, and yet these two initiatives show clear models which provide great ways to help students develop their writing, and incidentally, their digital skills.

Plenary – Something Better Change!

Simon Finch, (@simfin on Twitter) kicked off with an inspiring piece involving audience participation, getting three of us up on stage to be his sample ‘learners’, harking back to the days before all the whizz-bang technology we have now and the slogan “Something Better Change”.  Simon’s always worth listening to – he challenged the Digital Literacies programme by pointing out that if we always chase after the next great piece of technology that will make education ‘better’, we are rather assuming it wasn’t good to start with – he exemplified this by showing some of the teaching and learning techniques he used before the tech was widely available.  He also, rightly, I believe, challenged the notion that politicians are in a position to sensibly dictate how teaching is done.  I’ve even forgiven him for making me try to juggle (I can’t) on stage!

Day 2 – Alec Couros keynote on open learning

I can’t really add much to Vanessa Camilleri (@veecam on Twitter)’s excellent summary, partly because Alec crammed his presentation with so much, I will need to watch the video again to be able to capture all the stuff about thinning walls to promote communication, and community projects and to be able to really do some deep thinking about two key questions he asked:

  • How are you making learning visible?
  • How are you contributing to the learning of others?

These are both important aspects of open learning – guiding others to learn by leading by example.  Both are things I seek to do in daily practice, but quantifying the ‘How’ is actually a bit tricky at times.

Digital Literacy

Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw on Twitter) introduced the JISC Digital Literacy Programme, nicely serving as a warm up act for my presentation on Santa’s Letters, exploring how we encouraged staff to open up about the issues they face with using computing technology through a “Bring your own whine” session.  I was struck by the connections with previous speakers, as I focussed initially on communication barriers and facilitators, and the need to try to engage with communities and where necessary, form communities.  I shall leave it to others to review the session!

I went on to run a workshop on designing suitable curricula to help teach digital literacies when your target audience can have any level of experience, skills, needs and aspirations.  It was a small group, so we ran it as a conversational ‘think-tank’ (thanks to Lyn Boyle for providing support) rather than a full-blown activity based workshop.  It was fascinating to see the diversity in the group, from those who ‘just use’ the tech, to those who explore it and try to find new ways to work with it for interests’ sake.  I need to reflect further on this session.

The next post on PELeCON will cover Keri Facer (@keriileef on Twitter), and her keynote emphasising the changing nature of the world and encouraging a love of learning, a session on Media Literacy policy and it’s potential as a harbinger of things to come for Digital Literacy, Leigh Graves Wolf (@gravesle on Twitter)’s focus on play, Helen Keegan (@heloukee on Twitter) and her inspirational keynote about an Alternate Reality Game she ran for her students, and Jane Hart (@c4lpt on Twitter)’s keynote on smart learners, with a specific focus on learning in the workplace, but with plenty of parallels for HE.

About patparslow

I am a researcher in the School of Systems Engineering, working in the fields of social media, digital identity and learning. I have previously worked in IT training/education, land survey, civil engineering, IT support, and as a software engineer.
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