Literacy Now

Digital Literacies
ILA Membership
ILA Next
ILA Journals
ILA Membership
ILA Next
ILA Journals
    • Digital Literacies
    • Teaching With Tech

    Building an Open Narrative With Open Learning

    By Verena Roberts
     | Aug 31, 2018

    Open NarrativeEarlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands with other PhD candidates from around the world who are interested in open learning and open research through the Global OER Graduate Network. At the end of our seminar, our leader, Bea de los Arcos, asked us, What does open research mean? How can we, as open researchers and educators, describe how to support open learning?

    In that moment, our group struggled to come up with clear examples of how to describe what open research and learning looks like, sounds like, or feels like. However, in the last few months, I have had the opportunity to interact and learn with others, hear others’ perspectives, and fully reflect on the possibilities of open research and learning. Now, I think I have a better answer; open learning means being part of the open narrative and open research means describing the narrative.

    Open research is the narrative in which we express ourselves as educators and researchers. Openness is not just a language based on sharing texts, images, or mediated artifacts. Instead, it’s a means of communication which follows the Butterfly Effect theory that any action, word, sound or visual has the potential to influence others across the world or across the room in synchronous, asynchronous, and serendipitous ways. Open learning is a mindset, an epistemological belief in the potential to share and build knowledge together.

    Building on Catherine Cronin’s definition, I believe that open educational practices (OEP), in K–12 contexts, describes an intentional design that expands learning opportunities for all learners beyond classroom walls and across cultures through collaboration, knowledge sharing, and networked participation. According to Leo Havemann, learning technologist at Birkbeck College, University of London, it is essential to note that, “Open is not, after all, the true opposite of closed; rather, open indicates some degree of difference from closed. On closer inspection, openness is better understood a matter of degree or quality, rather than one half of a binary.” Open is not the opposite of closed—it is a continuum and different for everyone.

    What does open learning look like, sound like, or feel like?

    When I consider the divisive perspectives and voices in K–12 educational contexts today, I think about the need for me to open my own practices with others and to trust my students so that they can trust me and we can start building a shared narrative. They should feel included in the process of learning.

    For example, as I prepare to teach teachers this fall, I am considering how to include their voices and perspectives in our online learning environments. When considering how to build open narratives in your learning environments, there are many aspects to consider.

    Create safe learning spaces

    To begin, I have considered how to create safe open learning spaces. It is essential for learners to feel like they can be open, share ideas, and be a part of building learning opportunities. In their book Learning Spaces: Youth, Literacy and New Media in Remote Indigenous Australia, authors Inge Kral and Robert G. Schwab suggest some key design elements when considering safe learning spaces:

    • Design principle no. 1: A space young people control
    • Design principle no. 2: A space for hanging out and ‘mucking around’
    • Design principle no. 3: A space where learners learn
    • Design principle no. 4: A space to grow into new roles and responsibilities
    • Design principle no. 5: A space to practice oral and written language
    • Design principle no. 6: A space to express self and cultural identity through multimodal forms
    • Design principle no. 7: A space to develop and engage in enterprise
    • Design principle no. 8: A space to engage with the world

    Building relationships and trust is an essential aspect of any open learning context. Really, what story ever began without some kind of relationship?

    Consider digital privacy and data

    However, it also essential to consider how openness can also hurt learners. As Jade Davis, director of digital project management at Columbia University Libraries, so eloquently described in her Digital Pedagogy Institute keynote, it is essential to consider the fact that not all learners can be fully open, especially marginalized learners. As an educator, always design for openness, which includes choices and options for all learners to be and feel included—and safe.

    Building culture through collaboration

    Remi Kalir, assistant professor of learning design and technology at the University of Colorado, Denver, uses, an annotation tool, to weave a narrative with his students and to encourage them to share perspectives, listen to other perspectives, and collaborate to build new perspectives. Alternatively, Whitney Kilgore, cofounder and chief academic officer at iDesign, fosters human interaction through student-centered learning. She suggests how this kind of learning could look, sound, and feel in her recent keynote.

    Open narratives also develop through collaborations and interactions that build culture.  Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown describe this new culture of learning as one where culture emerges from the learning environment (as opposed to the culture being the environment) and in which learning happens by engaging with the world.

    The possibilities for global collaborations are described by educators such Tracey Poelzer, who organized the "CAN-BAN connection" project, a virtual exchange between her Canada classroom and a classroom in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Similarly, Laurie Ritchie's E-book, California Dreamin, describes how her university music class in the UK collaborated with David Preston’s high school English class in California. Preston describes the potential for open source learning in a wide variety of contexts that involve sharing and expanding learning environments.

    As I continue to build my open narrative, I look forward to the relationships I started with my colleagues in the Netherlands that now reach all over the world.  As I start this new school year I know that I am never isolated in a classroom; I am part of a learning ecosystem with multiple communities and networks that connect me and my students to real people all over the world.  My new open narrative involves examining an open learning design intervention to support open educational practices, which start with building relationships. How will you start YOUR open narrative? Let the stories begin.

    Verena Roberts is a doctoral candidate, sessional instructor, and research assistant at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

    Read More
    • Classroom Teacher
    • Literacy Coach
    • Digital Literacies
    • Literacy Education Student
    • Job Functions
    • Digital Literacy
    • Literacies
    • 21st Century Skills
    • Foundational Skills
    • Topics
    • Teacher Educator
    • Reading Specialist
    • Other/Literacy Champion
    • Teaching With Tech

    Using Cloud-Based Apps for Planning, Writing, and Publishing Texts

    By Kimberly Kimbell-Lopez, Carrice Cummins, and Elizabeth Manning
     | Aug 24, 2018

    Technology IntegrationThe start of a new school year is a great time to revisit some cloud-based digital tools that can be used when writing and publishing texts. Our students have such a vast array of digital media tools they can use to create a digital text that incorporates hyperlinks, digital images, video, animation, voice narration, and other features. By pairing innovative teaching with powerful technologies, we can transform our students’ understanding of tools that can be used when moving through the writing process.

    Brainstorming and organizing

    Students can begin the writing task by creating a storyboard/textboard in Google Slides or Google Docs, which can serve as a map of critical elements they want to include in their text, depending on the type of writing assigned. For example, the three types of writing identified by Common Core State Standards Initiative are as follows:

    • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. 
    • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
    • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

    According to the type of writing assigned, students can include the key structural information as part of their storyboard/textboard. For example, if students are writing an opinion piece, they can state an opinion and identify the potential arguments/counter arguments. This information establishes the plan that students will follow as they continue their writing.

    For brainstorming and organizing what to write about, Popplet can be used to create a graphic organizer where related topics are grouped together. Students can incorporate text, pictures, and video as part of the graphic organizer. Ideament (formerly Idea Sketch) is another graphic organizer app students can use to brainstorm what they will write about, illustrate a concept, or create an organizational chart. Students can opt to display the info in diagram or outline form. A third option, iBrainstorm, enables the user to add a note, then drag and drop it anywhere on the iPad's screen to create a desired order or pattern.

    A great way for students to start the school year is to write an “All About Me” informational text. Students can use Google Docs to list key categories they want to include in the text (e.g., family, hobbies, etc.) and then use one of the graphic organizer apps to make a web that adds key information for each category. They can complete this same task in Google Docs. The graphic organizer app allows information to be displayed in a more visual format.

    Drafting and publishing

    There are a variety of digital media tools that can support students as they begin drafting. The initial draft can be written using Google Docs—students can add text, pictures, audio, and hyperlinks as they flesh out their writing. Once the initial ideas are down on paper, they can begin exploring what format they want to use to share the work. For example, Google Slides, Prezi, and Slideshare are presentation tools where students can insert text, pictures, audio, video, hyperlinks, and the like. Students can also opt to share their writing using Glogster, which allows users to create a poster format to share key information about a topic. They can incorporate text, pictures, video, audio, and hyperlinks with this app as well.

    Students may also choose to post information using a blog format, consisting of dated entries with pictures, embedded videos, and links to external information. As part of their blog entries, they can post links or embed work they created in Slides, Prezi, and Slideshare. For example, students can post an entry that summarizes their “All About Me” piece and insert the link or embed the presentation as part of that entry. Regardless of the tool used, students can share their story by blending text, pictures, and voice narration.

    Although this is not a comprehensive list, it can serve as a reminder about possible digital tools we can use in the classroom. As a bonus, these tools enable writers to collaborate with others either through coauthoring of text or providing suggestions and feedback to authors for works-in-progress. The fact that their work can be shared with an audience also makes the writing task more authentic. There are so many cloud-based digital tools that students can use as they write in the classroom, so just give them a try and see what works best for you and your students! 

    Kimberly Kimbell-Lopez is a professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. She has been an educator for over 30 years, and her areas of expertise include literacy and technology. 

    Carrice Cummins is a professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. She has over 40 years’ experience as an educator with primary areas of interest in comprehension, content area literacy, and teacher development. She served as the 2012–13 president of the International Reading Association.

    Elizabeth Manning is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. A veteran K–8 teacher of over 25 years, her areas of interest include content area literacy, writing workshop, and curriculum design and development.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

    Read More
    • Digital Literacies
    • Teaching With Tech

    You and Your Selfie

    By Carla Coscarelli
     | Aug 17, 2018

    2017-literacyTaking and sharing selfies are common acts in today’s digital world. People take pictures of themselves alone or with their family and friends in many different places and situations. Apps and social networks often ask users to add a profile picture.

    As a result, we need to talk to our students about the act of taking selfies and the impact of sharing selfies with others. Students need to know that the pictures they take and share communicate a lot about them. More specifically, students should consider the following questions before sharing their selfies on social media:

    • Am I allowed to show (exhibit) this place that’s pictured?
    • Am I exposing anyone in a negative way? Will this picture hurt anyone’s feelings?
    • How am I representing myself?
    • Is this the image of myself that I want to convey?
    • Is this picture appropriate to share in this context?

    Talking about selfies

    There are steps we can take as educators to help promote students’ abilities to think critically about these issues. One activity involves asking students to choose a selfie to bring to class and then discussing the following topics as a group:

    • Where were you when it was taken?
    • What were you doing in that location?
    • Were you having fun, or were you working?
    • What is your facial expression, and what feeling does it express?
    • What does this picture say about you?

    Students may also take time to reflect on issues that occur with selfies such as when they are taken in irrelevant situations or when selfies are used just to impress others or to create a false reality (e.g., taking a selfie that depicts a rarely experienced activity and misleading others to think that the activity is a part of his/her everyday life).

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking selfies for fun, but when we share them publicly, it’s important to consider how others may react to the picture and how it may inadvertently (or purposefully) reflect elements of exaggeration, exhibitionism, ostentation, or the desire to escape from reality. All postings should be made with an awareness of these critical issues and a sense of respect for those both in the selfie and those viewing it.

    Learning more

    If you’d like to learn more about selfies, there are many online tutorials available, including “How to Take The Perfect Selfie” by Michelle Phan. You may also ask your students to create a few tutorials on how to take different kinds of selfies, such as a funny selfie versus a professional selfie.

    Your students may also enjoy developing projects or sharing other inspiring stories depicted in selfies. For instance, you and your students can watch and discuss a Ted Talk in which Christina Balch, a multimedia artist, talks about an empowering project she founded titled "Selfies and Seeing Ourselves: One Artist’s Look in the Mirror."

    Another successful selfie project was developed by now famous “vlogger” Rebecca Brown, who took a daily photo over the span of six and a half years while fighting Trichotillomania, a compulsive hair-pulling disorder. Her story, on BBC Trending, is titled “Trichotillomania: 6 Years of Selfies.” 

    After these kinds of reflections and critical thinking activities, your students will be better prepared to take many meaningful selfies.

    Carla Viana Coscarelli is a professor at the School of Language Arts at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil, and coordinator of Project Redigir at UFMG.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

    Read More
    • Digital Literacies
    • Literacy Coach
    • Classroom Teacher
    • Teaching With Tech
    • Literacy Education Student
    • Teacher Educator
    • Job Functions

    Using Virtual Reality to Motivate Writers

    By Kristin Webber
     | Aug 10, 2018

    Virtual Reality The classroom teacher announces that it is writing time and is immediately met with a chorus of groans and the typical student response: “I have nothing to write about!”  Does this sound familiar?

    Classroom teachers daily face the struggle of engaging students in writing. One reason students may struggle with writing is lack of background knowledge. Research has shown that background knowledge is essential for understanding text; if students have not developed sufficient background knowledge on a topic, it will be very difficult for them to write about it. Wide-reading, simulations, experiments, videos, and field trips are all traditional ways teachers can build background knowledge and, with today’s technology, virtual reality can also be a means to build background knowledge and motivate students to write.

    Recently my department acquired some virtual reality equipment and students in my literacy foundations undergraduate course were curious to see the impact of virtual reality on the writing of fourth graders at a local elementary school they would be teaching at. Together, we planned a mini-writing experiment that involved a writing lesson with and without the use of virtual reality. With the help of the classroom teacher, we chose two high-interest topics to develop integrated reading and writing response lessons: wild weather and sharks. Both lessons were structured the same and consisted of activating prior knowledge, vocabulary development, reading a text, and a written response to the text, however, during the second lesson (on sharks) we added a virtual reality experience before asking students to write. Using Google Cardboard googles and the Discovery VR app, the fourth-grade students were able to see a 360-degree view of sharks swimming, just as if they were in the water with them. Needless to say, they could not contain their excitement.

    Upon debriefing after teaching, we looked at the writing from both lessons and noticed that most of the writing from the shark lesson was longer in length and contained more description than the writing from the first lesson. The teacher candidates also stated that the fourth-grade students were more engaged and motivated to write. One candidate reported that a student whom he had to heavily prompt to write one sentence during the first lesson was able to write several sentences on his own in the second lesson. The virtual reality experience also enabled the students to build cooperation and collaboration skills. Since we only had one virtual reality headset for each small group of students, they had to practice turn taking skills. We worried that this could be an issue, but students readily took turns with the headsets and, when they were not viewing the sharks, they composed their writing and discussed their experiences with one another.

    Virtual reality is a great option to help students build background knowledge and assist students in their writing. Teachers can take their students anywhere in the world without having to leave their classroom, thus widening their experiences and building background knowledge. There are several virtual reality apps that are free to download and can be used with or without a headset, such as Discovery VR, Google Expeditions, and Google Street View. Integrating virtual reality into the literacy curriculum allows for deeper understanding and retention of content as well as the enrichment of literacy skills. The immersive nature of virtual reality improves the quality of students’ language and the immediacy of the experience is particularly beneficial for students who struggle to think of what to write.

    Kristin Webber is an associate professor at Edinboro University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in reading, technology integration, and teaching methods.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

    Read More
    • Teaching With Tech
    • Digital Literacies

    Helping Students, Teachers, and Parents Make Sense of the Screen Time Debate

    By Ian O'Byrne
     | Aug 03, 2018
    Screentime DebateNearly a cliché after two decades of development, it is clear that the internet has profoundly changed the ways in which we read, write, communicate, and learn. Given these sweeping changes, one significant conversation centers on the use of internet-enabled devices as they relate to school policy, teaching practices, and the well-being of children. Current conversations about screen time often reduce the discussion to a simplistic debate: How much time should youth spend on devices? Although many scholars argue that web-based inquiry, multimodal creation, and communication of ideas in web-based environments support the development of fundamental skills of digital literacy, conversations about screen time in education, medicine, and mass media focus predominantly on the time youth spend on devices. These discussions overlook fundamentally important questions about what youth are learning by using digital devices, with whom, and for what purposes.

    Although research over the last two decades has shown that reading and writing in digital spaces requires complex skills, literacy development is often not addressed in conversations about screen time. Instead, articles focus on the damage that screens may cause to developing brains. For example, in a Psychology Today article, Victoria Dunckley opens with the claim, “Addiction aside, a much broader concern that begs awareness is the risk that screen time is creating subtle damage even in children with ‘regular’ exposure, considering that the average child clocks in more than seven hours a day.” This article cites information from the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2010 report. Although all the data she presents are from studies of internet- and video game-addicted youth, she encourages parents to “arm yourself with the truth about the potential damage screen time is capable of imparting—particularly in a young, still-developing brain.”

    Making sense of the debate

    To address these concerns, a nonprofit organization, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development helped prepare a special report for the Pediatrics journal. The supplement is the result of a collaboration of more than 130 recognized experts in the field from a diverse background of disciplines, institutions and perspectives organized into 22 workgroups. Research spanning the fields of psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, pediatrics, sociology, anthropology, communications, education, law, public health, and public policy informed this work. You can read more about the key findings and takeaways, as well as frequently asked questions here.

    As part of this supplement, I worked with Kristen Turner, Tessa Jolls, Michelle Hagerman, Troy Hicks, Bobbie Eisenstock, and Kristine Pytash on a piece titled “Developing Digital and Media Literacies in Children and Adolescents.” In our article, we talk about the tension that exists as digital and media literacy are essential to participation in society. We make recommendations for research and policy priorities as we ask questions about the ability of individuals to have access to information at their fingertips at all times. Specifically, we ask, What specific competencies must young citizens acquirein this global culture and economy? We examine how these competencies might influence pedagogy. Additionally, we consider how student knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors may have changed. Finally, we present guidance on the best ways to assess students’ digital and media literacy.

    We believe these questions underscore what parents, educators, health professionals, and community leaders need to know to ensure that youth become digitally and media literate. Experimental and pilot programs in the digital and media literacy fields are yielding insights, but gaps in understanding and lack of support for research and development continue to impede growth in these areas. Learning environments no longer depend on seat time in factory-like school settings. Learning happens anywhere, anytime, and productivity in the workplace depends on digital and media literacy. To create the human capital necessary for success and sustainability in a technology-driven world, we must invest in the literacy practices of our youth.

    Problematizing our own practices

    Soon after our article was released in the Pediatrics supplement, many of the authors began to examine our own relationships and practices as they relate to the topic of screen time. We examined this from our roles as educator, as researcher, as parent, as friend, and as neighbor. Those who are parents considered the role of screen time in our relationships with our children. We considered the times we were asked by family members questions about how much screen time is safe for children. We considered the times we questioned whether or not time spent coding online counted as screen time, and whether it more “valuable” than simply watching YouTube videos. We considered the times we were asked by family and friends about the appropriate age for children to own their first mobile device. Across all the questions, in all of these contexts, we were left dumbfounded. As the “experts” in these spaces, we knew what the research suggested, but many times it looked different in our own practices and relationships.

    These questions and inconsistencies led a group of scholars to begin reaching out to other educators, researchers, developers, and parents to see if they also had many of the same questions and concerns that we did. They promptly indicated that they too had the same struggles and recognized that there was little to no comprehensive research on the topic.

    There seemed to be a lot of hysteria from various news and media sources as parents and educators were left afraid about the overall impact of screens on youth. Finally, there was little to no discussion happening across different spaces to allow people to ask questions, have discussions with experts in the field, and inform their practices.

    Make your voice heard

    Together with Kristin Turner, I have started a research project, titled “Beyond the ‘Screentime’ Debate: Developing Digital and Media Literacies with Youth and Teens,” This project builds on work done by the Digital and Media Literacies workgroup of the Children and Screens Institute to address these challenges and create a discussion space to unite the varied perspectives that are impacted by these questions. This research project seeks to explore and redefine the definition of screen time, to connect it with digital literacy skills and dispositions, and to explore complex, dynamic, creative digital learning as antidote to the atrophy we all fear.

    Our main focus in this research project is to create dialogue across spaces to help examine and unpack the questions in this debate. We want to know how you define screen time and what it looks like in your lives. We want to know more about some of the challenges and opportunities you face with the use of screens. Finally, we would like to know about any tips, tricks, or habits you utilize in relation to screens in your role as an educator, parent, employee, or human being. This research project refocuses the screen time debate by asking: What digital and media competencies must young citizens acquire? How do these competencies affect school policy and pedagogy? How are students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors transformed by engaging with various forms of media?

    Anyone can get involved in this research project by joining the open public forums on our website. We’re using FlipGrid for this open research project, and you can go directly to the topics at The password to get in and get involved is “Screentime.” The topics and questions on FlipGrid are the same ones that are on our website. Our goal is to provide a space for all individuals to discuss the future of our youth, and the role of screen time in those futures. We look forward to having you join this screen time discussion.

    Ian O’Byrne is an educator, researcher, innovator, and activist. His research investigates the literacy practices of individuals in online and hybrid spaces. Ian’s work can be found on his website. His weekly newsletter focuses on the intersections between technology, education, and literacy. Ian is an assistant professor of literacy education at the College of Charleston.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

    Read More
Back to Top


Recent Posts