Connect, Collaborate, Communicate: Learning and Knowing in a Digital Age

This past year I have taken on a new role as teacher librarian at Sacred Heart Community School. I felt like I needed a change from being a classroom teacher. As a classroom teacher I was able to encourage my students to become networked students, but I felt like I was in a rut and was not engaging as I had in previous years as a networked teacher. I was looking to connect with others within the school and take on the role as an educational leader. I thought the role of teacher librarian would be a perfect fit.

As a Teacher-Librarian I have the unique opportunity to:

  • manage library services while working closely with students in a variety of capacities
  • implement technologies in our learning areas and be proficient in those technologies in an instructional environment
  • plan collaboratively to enable students to explore and answer questions, connect with each other and the world (create instead of consume)
  • encourage a love of reading and support the development of reading literacy skills
  • become an instructional leader

The role of the TL supports the and is evolving to embody the ideas explored this week in the course readings about the pedagogy of abundance, the theory of connectivism, rhizomatic learning, and the evolution of 21st-century social media literacies.

Networked Teacher by Alec Couros

A Pedagogy of Abundance

As I am new in this role and open to change as a person, I think the pedagogy of abundance is a very positive shift in our education system; however, I know many TLs are finding this shift very challenging and troublesome. The pedagogy of abundance breaks down the four walls of the classroom AND the library. The library is evolving from a place where you go only to consume information to a place where you can also create information. TLs are no longer the keepers of information, but rather engage with teachers and students in resource based learning, problem based learning, and inquiry projects. While engaging in learning, students are encouraged to develop and modeled information processing abilities while sifting through excessive abundance of information. The ultimate goal is for students to develop multiple literacies, and teach students how to use technology to find information and with the information the ability extract and synthesize it to formulate new meaning.

Theory of Connectivism and Rhizomatic Learning

As students are engaging in learning through an abundance of information, they should also be making connections and collaborating. This is important because not only do we learn inside ourselves, but also outside ourselves. Allowing students to participate in rhizomatic learning and personal learning networks, such as we are in this course creates an authentic experience that is adaptable to personal contexts. Connections and learning takes place in a variety of communities both online and offline, such as blogs, cooperative learning groups, Twitter, conferences, etc. One of the most important things to remember when thinking about connectivism is the tools themselves are not as important as the connections made possible by them. By collaborating, creating, and sharing, we are allowing our students to be successful as a 21st century learner.

“Formal education no longer comprises the majority of our learning. Learning now occurs in a variety of ways – through communities of practice, personal networks, and through completion of work-related tasks.” Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age by George Siemens

21st-Century Social Media Literacies

As I stated above, the 21st century learner, teacher, and school is more than tools and technologies. Essentially, we are modelling and teaching students digital skills and multiple literacies. Howard Rheingold describes the social media literacies as attention, precipitation, collaboration, network awareness, and critical consumption. These five literacies are interconnected and when fluent in the literacies, students and teachers, are able to interact with the abundance of information and be connected in their learning communities.

I am so glad I took a step out of my comfort zone this year and became a teacher librarian. Although the role has been challenging and demanding at times, I believe it is a key proponent in transforming education to meet the needs of the 21st century learner.

The wheels are starting to turn

This week has been a huge progress week for me as I tackled some “big idea” questions for my final project. I was fortunate to attend two very relevant PD sessions this week within our school division which have helped guide the way I would like my final project to go.

Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools
The Nine Elements of Digital Citizenship via Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools

The first session was on Digital Citizenship and the Balanced Approach to Learning. We looked at the role of digital

technologies in education, the essential skills for 21st century learning, and the digital citizenship continuum. We then had a chance to create a lesson that integrated 21st century essential skills and digital citizenship concepts and skills. As I was looking through the digital citizenship continuum, I thought this would be a perfect place for me to start with my lessons for my final project as I could integrate the 9 elements of digital citizenship with my transliteracy lessons. With permission from Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell and Genna Rodriguez, I am able to use the lesson plan format they created to create the lessons for my Transliterate Librarians Website (which is still very much a work in progress… Stay tuned for a draft publication!).

I am very excited about this breakthrough because I believe by collaborating with other professionals in our school division, we will create resources that will have a purpose and be used and shared with others within the school division. The lesson I created (Boutilier – Digital Citizenship Lesson Planning Framework / Animal Research Report), ties in directly with the inquiry and research section of my website. It is an expository writing lesson (for grade 2) which uses online databases to research an animal and write a report.

RCSD 21st Century Skills
RCSD 21st Century Skills via RCSD Digital Consultants

The second session was our TL EdCamp. This was my first year participating in the TL EdCamp, but I came out of the sessions feeling renewed and refreshed! It is so great learning from your peers and being able to participate in a conference in a non-traditional way. I went to a session on Genius Hour/ Maker Space where we focused on the book Invent to Learn.  The next session was on a new resource from National Geographic Learning, which focused on 21st century reading: creative thinking and reading with TED Talks. We looked through this resource and connected it to the Saskatchewan curriculum. I am really looking forward to working with teachers and this resource. The next session was Social Media in the Library. This session had some heated debate on digital citizenship and whether using social media in the library and in schools was ok or not. We also talked about the media release form and how perhaps it needed to be updated to reflect social media. The last session was about using tools such as Kahoot and Quizizz to engage students in review.

This week has helped me kick start my final project… I am excited to see how it progresses over the next month.

“Digital Citizenship is more than just a teaching tool, it is a way to prepare students for a society full of technology.”

– Dr. Mike Ribble

Digital Citizenship is for Everyone

For the past couple of years, the dangerous term digital natives has been used to describe people under the age of 18. The reason I refer to this term as dangerous is because there was/is an assumption that young people were natives to technology, the internet, and navigating online. Nevertheless, just because they are brought up in a digital world, does not make them digital citizens. Being literate in the digital world and with media should be looked at like continuum, there are varying degrees of use.

Often when we think about digital citizenship and media literacy we tend to think of schools and children. However, digital citizenship and media literacy is not just for kids. Cyberbullying and online shaming is one of the issues faced by kids and adults alike. One of the earliest instances of this online shaming happened in 1998 by Monica Lewinsky. Although social media was not in the picture as it is the today, she lost her reputation on a global scale instantaneously through the power of World Wide Web.

Fast forward a few years and the online shaming is worse off. The creation of social media, such as, Twitter, gives a voice to the voiceless, but in some ways it has created a sub culture of online shaming. We are now turning to the online world for social media shaming. For example, Justine Sacco lost her job, reputation, and much more with one tweet:

Justine Sacco's Tweet
Justine Sacco’s Tweet

Although this tweet is racist and should not be tolerable, the response to her tweet from others on twitter are just as intolerable. Ronson quotes Meghan O’Gieblyn from the Boston Review saying, “This isn’t social justice. It’s a cathartic alternative.” Because we are hiding behind a screen, many rush to judgement or speak before they think and with the internet this can have harsh consequences. Sometimes through this public shaming we are losing site of the big picture.

The problem of cyberbullying is a growing issue.  It is so easy to rush to judgement, say hurtful things and post online without thinking. Because the online world is our augmented reality and is so intertwined with our offline lives, we really need to think critically about what we are posting, sharing, and creating. Another example of not thinking before posting is Geris Hilton’s racist post about his coworker’s son. What upsets me the most is the ongoing jokes and comments in the sidebar. I have much respect for Cayden’s family in trying to focus on the positive and sharing what a beautiful child Cayden is through the hashtag #HisNameIsCayden.

Geris Hilton's Facebook
Geris Hilton’s Facebook

It is important to think of the following questions when you are online:

Would you say what you are going to type to that person in real life? Would you be ok with posting this in a public place for others to see? Does your post have a purpose?

I think we need to use our “common sense” when online, just as we do offline.

But let’s remember the positives too… there are positive impacts on social relations, it allows us to teach authentically through project-based, cooperative learning, and inquiry-oriented approaches, and it allows us to connect globally with limited costs.

Photo Credit: aa1083 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: aa1083 via Compfight cc

“School is the exact place we should be teaching students to live one responsible life as a citizen, in the digital world and the physical world.”

It is all worth it and it is so important to teach and model how to be a digital citizen. The future is unpredictable and changes very quickly, but the one constant is us as humans. How can we use these dramatic changes to enhance and transform the way we do things? Are we making time for conversations? Are we having conversations around digital citizenship? Is our time spent online, time well spent?

Our Mediated Online Identities

Social media has allowed us to make connections with family, friends, and online communities like never before. Many people find extreme comfort and life-long connections with people they have met online. People are able to make connections with others far away, join chat rooms or forums for support, and reach a greater audience. This is impacting our online identities and offline relationships.

This is impacting our identities and there is a shift from having two identities (online and offline) to one augmented reality. Our public life is being shared through various SMSs to represent the person we want to be. This an referred to as an ambient intimacy. An ambient intimacy argues that even though we are sharing snippets of our lives, all the snippets add up to create a bigger picture. I agree partially with this idea as I enjoy seeing small updates of my family members who are too far to communicate with on a regular basis. But I also have a critical eye when viewing these shared moments.  

The main challenge I see with sharing our online identities is how mediated they are. People (myself included) tend to share only the “perfect” pictures or “highlight” moments. I know I am guilty of untagging myself in a picture where I don’t like the way I look… or taking a photo MANY times before posting it online… or recording a video many times before posting…. AND I am sure you are guilty too.


So why is this a challenge? Although I see our augmented reality and ambient intimacy as a positive as it is allowing us to connect with others, I often think it is warping our sense of reality. What is real? Body image was a huge topic of discussion when I was growing up and how models were portrayed on magazines and in movies. I feel like now everyone is able to access filters, Photoshop, lightning, etc. to achieve a flawless photo. I can see this being an issue with vulnerable youth who are trying to achieve something that is enhanced.

What’s the purpose?

Through the past few classes we have been looking at an introduction to media literacy, through that we have explored how the online world has changed over the years and how it is allowing us to be more connected. We are so connected online, the virtual and physical world are intertwined causing an augmented reality.

However, with more connections, it has left many of us wondering the pros and cons with being living in a connected cultulre. In Cortney Leonard’s blog on My Thoughts on Foundational Theories and Media Education, she talks about finding the balance in our lives between being connected online and being present in the moment. Jennifer Stewart-Mitchell has similar thoughts in her blog, Me… Programmed?? Are we Substituting Digital Connections for Real Connections?, asking the readers if being connected is changing the way we act. She continues to talk about our obsession over over-sharing our activities on social media. In addition, “the urgency to have someone else connect…” (Stewart-Mitchell, 2015).

Jason Howle via
Jason Howle via

These changes are causing educators around the world to educate themselves on media literacy and digital citizenship, which is why many of us are taking this course. On top of changing the way we act and trying to find balance, many people are using media in ways to spread negative messages, which is mentioned in Kirsten Hansen’s blog post, From Cyberbullying to Veneration and Homage. People haven’t been taught how to use digital world as responsible digital citizens.

My question to you is what is your purpose in online spaces? Is it just to make connections or is there a bigger picture?

Often as educators, we look to technology to serve as a resource, to make connections around the world, to answer questions quickly, and the list goes on. We turn to social media making tweets or posting just to make that connection. In my personal life, I browse Facebook, check Instagram, and write/respond to emails. But are we using online spaces to the fullest potential?

If we look at the Saskatchewan Digital Citizenship Continuum from K-12, there are three main elements RESPECT, EDUCATE, PROTECT. I feel that we as educators really focus on the EDUCATE and PROTECT strands, but often forget about the RESPECT strand. We have so much potential with the online community to change the world and to start modelling this to our students, but we often shy away from it. As Katia Hildebrant said in her blog, In online spaces, silence speaks as loudly as words, “I have a responsibility to use my privilege to speak out and use my network for more than just my own benefit or self-promotion; not doing so is a selfish act.” (Hildebrandt, 2015).

We can create change within our school communities. We can develop upstanders in a digital world. We can connect in meaningful ways. We need to talk about Social Media. We should continue to make connections, but how can we use those connections to make the world a better place?

Media Education

Taking a big step out of my comfort zone by creating a vlog for my second post! (Nerves set in a few times, so please disregard me saying critiques instead of critics!)

Ideas are based and formulated from this weeks course readings as listed below:

  1. Do “Digital Natives” Exist? (PBS – Watch until 5:34) – This video from PBS presents an excellent overview of Prensky’s “Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants” framework including the evolution of the idea and the common criticisms.
  2. Visitors and Residents (David White) – David White from the UK provides an alternate view on Prensky’s framework, useful for understanding the continuum of digital engagement.
  3. “Social Media Sites as Networked Publics” (danah boyd) – boyd discusses the emergence of social networking spaces as networked publics, and examines how they have emerged to replace and augment our traditional concepts of public space.
  4. “The IRL Fetish” (Nathan Jurgenson) – Jurgenson introduces an important concept around the common obsession with binarizing online vs. face-to-face spaces and giving less value to digital spaces and communication.
  5. “YouTube and You” (Michael Wesch) – Wesch discusses YouTube as a cultural medium; he describes the context collapse that occurs in online spaces as well as the effect on issues of identity and self-awareness.
  6. Excerpt from An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube (Michael Wesch) – This short clip from a longer Wesch keynote describes the spread of one of the first popular digital memes and how this represented new forms of collective expression and celebration.
  7. Transmedia: High quality, no captionsLower quality with captions (Henry Jenkins) – Jenkins discusses the concept of transmedia and how youth (in particular) are reclaiming digital spaces from corporate and institutional power.

Thanks for watching! I challenge you to try a vlog!