Marking a Digital Decade

Ten years ago in April, I posted on my blog for the very first time. What a significant decade… a transformation not only for me but for all of us, as we moved from primarily being physical world citizens in local communities to become digital citizens on a global scale.

Highlights of my Digital Decade

Exploring virtual worlds

Shortly after starting my blog, I entered virtual worlds for use as a library and information science professional. Life in networked culture became the main focus of my blog and virtual worlds (for education) became my research focus. I earned my PhD in Library Science in 2012. DrHillatGraduation

At first, I found virtual worlds a unique and almost unbelievable experience. After meeting the librarians in Second Life, I used the experience to enhance my academic journey and my dissertation was “Factors Contributing to the Adoption of Virtual Worlds by Librarians”.

Observing students in my school library, as well as individuals everywhere on digital devices in coffee shops and on streets, I began to realize we all live in virtual worlds– whether or not we enter them with an avatar.

Building a PLN

Even the brilliant experts of computer science and metadata are struggling with concepts of cybersecurity, privacy and digital citizenship.  Currently, the FBI is working on how to get through encryption to fight crime, parents are concerned about the future for children in a world that is dependent upon digital information, and the tools we use are constantly changing.

The benefits of networked society are huge but so too are the problems it presents.  A PLN (Profession or Personal Learning Network) has become imperative to understanding life in digital culture.  I wonder, though, if we put too much emphasis on following our PLN blindly.  When I click “agree” to the lengthy TOS (terms of service) on apps, I justify my lack of knowledge about the legalese and shrug it off thinking, “I know Mr. X, Ms. Q, and Mrs. K Teacher all use this app so it must be okay.”

I have found most people are generous, helpful, and willing to share knowledge and information.  Twenty years ago, my learning community was a small local group but today it is gigantic and spreads across the globe. Do we really understand the enormity of this?  I don’t think it is possible to realize the consequences of toppling of the information hierarchy which happened so abruptly at the close of the Gutenberg Parenthesis.

The Power of Twitter

Currently, Twitter exemplifies the power of connectivity in digital culture. Everyone has a voice.  Through key words (hashtags) those voices can be heard instantly across the planet.  Very few people have had any training at all in using the power of Twitter and (IMHO) most of the content is trivial, disposable media, such as humorous memes, gifs, and witticisms.  The potential to utilize the power of networked culture for high quality deep learning and edification is buried under millions of tweets. Digital citizens are challenged to dig for buried treasure.

What will the next decade bring?

Sometimes, when I discuss digital citizenship, I see fear in the faces of parents or learners who see themselves becoming “addicted to screens”.  It is certainly too late to put the Internet cat back in the bag!  Networked connectivity happened without providing a training.

My tips for coping with “the online sea of chaos” over the next decade:

  1. Take digital citizenship seriously
  2. Strive to share only positive meaningful information
  3. Continue building a PLN both for learning and teaching
  4. Recognize the need for time to unplug, reflect and appreciate the physical world
  5. Seek solutions that always provide hope and reduce fear

Here’s to the next decade: Less fear- More hope! 

fear

https://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2013/10/21/08/10/fear-198933_960_720.jpg

 
hope

http://www.picserver.org/images/highway/phrases/hope.jpg

Wait!! What? Everyone is “Elsewhere” Conversation in the Digital Age (Part Two)

My review of Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation continues with the concept of avoiding boredom or anxiety in our lives by “going elsewhere” on our phones. Those “boring bits of life” and worries that may come into our minds can be escaped by scrolling our news feeds and connecting with our online networks. Turkle suggests we consider the value of contemplation during brief moments of boredom and anxiety because as humans this “thinking through” leads to problem-solving and creativity. A lull in a conversation gives us time to reflect on the people around us. But today– our mobile devices tug at us to go “elsewhere”.

And when we get to this other place on our devices, the activity is nonstop. It’s become acceptable to back channel through conferences, business meetings, events and even mealtime. Interruption is now considered simply another mode of connectivity. Our brains love the stimulation of endless diversion but we never feel we can really keep up. Turkle says, “Only half joking, people in their teens and twenties tell me that the most commonly heard phrase at dinner with their friends is “Wait, what?” Everyone is always missing a beat, the time it takes to find an image or send a text (pg 37)”.

Certainly, the constant companionship we carry in our pockets can be used for good and I remain hopeful that the future can bring positive uses for technology in our daily lives. Stay tuned for more of the warnings we may need to heed as presented in this book and the possible solutions we are urged to embrace before it is too late!

Part of digital citizenship (and information literacy) is giving ourselves a healthy information diet. Just like our bodies will have consequences if we eat only tasty junk food or sweets, so too our minds are at risk in an age of constant digital intake and interruption.
meme-zombies-cell-phones_large

photo from http://weknowmemes.com/2012/07/whats-the-point-of-being-afraid-of-the-zombie-apocalypse/

Information Literacy in Minecraft

The library as a makerspace is really nothing new! Students have been building and creating in libraries for as long as I can remember. But, today there are new digital tools that provide exciting opportunities for creativity. Instead of simply reading about a topic (not that reading isn’t awesome), students can enter virtual spaces together to learn and interact with content.

For example, 5th grade students in my school library are embedding digital citizenship (an important concern for 21st century learners) into a virtual environment in Minecraft. The project is entirely designed and built by the students and includes a library with other buildings and spaces for hiding clues. Younger students will enter the game, search for clues and answer questions to earn their digital citizen award. The students’ roles include game designer, project manager, coder “red stone electrician”, builders, writers, and testers.

115_1260

Why Minecraft? View the slides below for some background on how information literacy is changing and how students can create in new ways.

The Ethridge Minecraft Club met after school in the Ethridge library. Younger students will soon be challenged to earn digital citizenship by entering the Ethridge Minecraft Digital Citizenship Game.

(Pictured from left to right: Travis, Emmanuel, Matthew, Julian, Drew, George, Annabelle, Ella, and Dr. Hill)

Information Infatuation: Big Data is Big Daddy

The concept of algorithms providing us all with instant information access is fairly common since we all rely daily on Google. For the past few years, I have come across predictions about Big Data changing our lives from experts in the field of information technology, such as The Horizon Report.

I just finished reading Big Data by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier which provided an overview of the pros and cons of our “continuing infatuation with data” (Wall Street Journal). My biggest take-away is a phrase which was repeated throughout the book– we are no longer seeking causation as much as correlation. In other words, it doesn’t really matter why things are a certain way — just what they are! As an information professional I am struggling with that statement and several other ideas in Big Data.

bigdata

Benefits
Anyone who has ordered books through Amazon realizes that “Amazon knows what I like!” Recommendations for titles through Amazon can be amazing and enlightening. So too, other sales companies can access our preferences and bring just what we want to us –instead of making us search for things. On a snow day (teachers love those!), I spent some time searching Zappos.com for a pair boots. Shortly after that, I noticed boots kept coming up on my web searches on many different computers. Google, Amazon, Zappos, and all the web companies are already utilized big data and collecting our personal preferences. This can be a time-saving convenience.

Consequences & Disadvantages

The authors of Big Data are concerned that algorithms can predict behaviors. An example is the father who was shocked that a company was sending his teenage daughter coupons for diapers and baby products only to find out that she was indeed expecting a baby! The company had access to big data before the girl’s father was told. These predictions might also be shared with law enforcement agencies to give them a “heads up” about potential criminals. This raises questions about privacy because a person cannot be arrested for a crime that has not yet been committed.

Big data is changing mathematical statistics and may bring about the “demise of the expert” (page 139). One human being’s intuition and a lifetime of wisdom cannot compete with millions of algorithms. In fact, the idea that correlation is more important than causation could bring (in the words of the authors) the end of theory (page 70). We live in an age that values convenience more than quality and “settling for good enough” trumps our “obsessing over accuracy” (page 191). The authors believe that “big data is transforming many aspects of our lives and ways of thinking” (page 192).

As a librarian, I value personal privacy and respect for intellectual freedom. When I read about eBooks capturing massive amounts of data on readers’ preferences- how long they spend on a page and how they highlight or take notes in a book (page 114), I was appalled at how readily we give up our privacy as readers. I don’t think the average person realizes that big data has already taken much of our privacy away.

Mayer-Schonberger & Cukier state, “If big data teaches us anything, it is that just acting better, making improvements–without deeper understanding–is often good enough”. This clashes with my educator’s philosophy and pedalogical paradigm of critical thinking and information literacy. “Good enough” is not the goal in education. The goal is excellence. Perhaps this book is slanted toward commercial business rather than education, but the changes big data will bring are on a global scale and impact all fields.

Because my research has been in virtual worlds and because education is rapidly integrating technology at all age levels, I am concerned about big data’s role in participatory global digital culture (where my students now live). The authors of Big Data believe “What we are able to collect and process will always be just a tiny fraction of the information that exists in the world. It can only be a simulacrum of reality, like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave”. Virtual worlds can and must provide high quality “simulacrum” and settling for less is not something I am willing to hold as acceptable. Weeding out the millions of data hits that are “not so desirable” is the challenge of information literacy each of us now faces.

Mayer-Schonberger, V. and Kenneth Cukier(2013). Big Data. New York: W.W. Mariner.

Nudging the 5 year old and the 65 year old

Today I helped a kindergartener and a 65 year old do the same thing: find what they wanted to do on their iPad.

450px-Ipad_mini

The five year old kindergartener wanted “Big Cat’s” microphone to record his voice (on a child’s app) and it wasn’t working.
The 65 year old wanted to share a Facebook post to specific friends on his iPad FB account.

Both the 5 year old and the 65 year old sat beside me (one during school hours and one after school) with their ipads on a day which was overwhelmingly spent solving iPad issues. Some of the issues I encountered were update needs, restriction issues, apps not working, wifi settings wrong, locked-out passcodes, and numerous emails about iPads. Tech issues with iPads has overtaken my job as a school librarian. But that is not the point here.

I sat beside two individuals today who are 60 years apart in age. I had the same feeling, as I sat with both of them. I felt a sense of “please help” and I felt a sense of “this is so important to me”.

Who am I to judge their information literacy needs?

Well, actually, I am an information literacy specialist. So, I suppose this is the topic I could write on for hours; however, information literacy is rapidly changing as we move into digital culture- whether at age 5 or 65.

Shall we play a game? Share a youtube video? Shall we critically evaluate our information intake with meaningful purpose using best research practices?

Learning….the quest for life.

Caring for the individual….where they are in life.

I shall remember doing what my colleague, Kristin Fontichiaro, would call “nudging toward inquiry.”

Revisiting Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: a Tribute to Marc Prensky

Many of my colleagues and I have cited Marc Prensky and his “digital natives and digital immigrants” for over a decade. After spending years striving diligently to keep up with innovative technology trends, I have never felt like younger people knew more or were more adept at technology than myself. I admit, of course, I am a “digital immigrant” when one defines the term to mean someone born before the Internet and digital life became commonplace.

Today, I saw something that re-opened my eyes to the difference between the two– the natives and the immigrants. I had been struggling (between classes , paperwork, and other tasks) to conquer the server issues to start a MinecraftEDU club in my school library. After several attempts and a few emails to the company, I still was unable to get into the MinecraftEDU world. Lacking time, I delegated a 5th grade boy as sidekick to start the club. He eagerly entered the library after school, where we sat down and were able to get it up and running in less than 5 minutes.

Of course, I have experienced the “two heads are better than one” method of troubleshooting technology countless times before. Often two of us can solve an issue simply by tackling it from two different perspectives. So, I am not saying that I am not smarter than a 5th grader! However, I underestimated a 5th grader’s ability to navigate server issues and ip addresses. I stood there in awe as I watched him effortlessly click numerous settings at the speed of light.

I write this post as a tribute to Marc Prensky because it was only today that I fully understood my personal immigration status and that simple moment reminded me that we have only begun to understand the toppled hierarchy of information (and learning) due to digital culture.

This global information community in which we live, continues to inspire, alarm, challenge, and intrigue me each day. Last week, I got a message that Marc Prensky was following me on twitter and I felt honored! It is a small (yet huge) world we live in….a world full of opposites: oxymorons and formulas, scientific facts and wild imagination. Today, I am honored to be followed by the guy who introduced us all to digital natives and digital immigrants and also honored to be leading a digital native who is helping me realize that I am but an immigrant to a new land. I am both teacher and learner. Sometimes we can know something for a long time before we actually comprehend it.

In Praise of My Teacher Colleagues as They “Change”

Quit bashing teachers! Quit saying “it is time for a change in education.”

My teachers are awesome…..Enough said!

If it is time for change– Go ahead and change. I already have. So have my students. So has our world.

I work with an amazing group of educators. Every day I see how much they care for students. They go above and beyond expectations by listening to each student, providing materials and projects, laughing with them and crying with them. As a school librarian, I am fortunate to see everyone and I can say firmly, from personal observation, my school has amazing, outstanding teachers. Yet, we hear in the news “we need better teachers” and “education needs to change”.

Education has always been full of change. But now there is something even more radical than changing pedagogies.

What’s the big change?

The change is us. All of us. Society is now driven by user-generated content instead of content created by experts in various fields. We now create our own content. We now are prosumers (both producers and consumers of content).

What do I mean by that?

We can be journalists by blogging (blogs are more popular today than newspapers). We can be film-makers (upload it to YouTube). We can be content curators (Scoop-it). We can be artists and musicians (there’s an app for that! Have you tried garage band or Voiceband?). We can each be a librarian (Pinterest? or tons of other curation sites?) But wait– is intellectual property still relevant? Is there a problem when we all think what we create is simply wonderful? Is there a problem when we follow those with similar interests and beliefs and never challenge our opinions by bouncing them off the perspectives of others?

If you are still reading along, and the odds are you are not because most blog posts are short (average of 12 seconds on each page hit by a user), you may be confused when I call this radical change “the toppling of the information hierarchy”. We are witnessing a moment in time that is as important as the invention of the Gutenberg press. This toppled hierarchy of information means we can no longer teach the students skills for learning in the old hierarchy. How do we teach them survival skills in (what I refer to as) the sea of online chaos?
Having considered this topic for a few years, perhaps I can share a few tips for teachers.

1. Care for your students. Wow! That is still top priority and that is what I am fortunate to see every day. This genuine love for students and love of learning is more important than the following points. Yet, I encourage you to read on for survival of the online tsunami.

2. Strive to promote 21st century information literacy. What you learned in your academic career no longer applies. The new literacy (transliteracy- if you want to think in a new way) includes physical, virtual, and augmented content. Information literacy is now an ongoing personal responsibility instead of a skills-based checklist. YOU must decide who to learn from (who to follow online in the new hierarchy) as an educator and as a digital citizen living through the digital revolution. As a teacher, you must also instill that personal responsibility in your students. Digital citizenship is as important as physical manners, some may argue even more so as it impacts a much greater community.

3. Balance the pendulum. What is that? Balance has always been important, since education began. But now we must balance the physical with the virtual– tradition with innovation– teamwork with individuality — privacy with free speech –personal voice with crowd-sourcing — and the list goes on.

4. Do not be afraid. Some will cry, “What is this world coming to?” and some will say, “I wish we could go back to the way it was.” Don’t listen. Go back to point 2 and seek out those people who can help you learn 21st century information literacy skills, whether in person or across the globe (I have learned from many virtual colleagues). Then, reread point 3 and take a deep breath as you balance your steps on this amazing journey we call human life. Each one of us breathing, growing, and learning. Rather than fear the future, I choose to be hopeful and joyful. Dare I mention what gives me hope and joy? Dare I risk someone reading this to the final last word that nullifies all fear and all bullet points in any educator’s presentation on the latest Web 2.0 platform?
Faith

I Can’t Keep Up (a poem)

I can’t keep up

with who to follow on twitter
with tech trends and Web 2.0 tools (a new one every time I turn around)
with reading literature in my research area
with art- to observe or to create (reading is inhalation- writing is exhalation)…music, multi-media, poetry, literature

I can’t keep up with all I want to learn- augmented reality is next-
the best practices of education
with digital citizenship, digital footprints, hackers and new media after the hierarchy of information came tumbling down

I can’t keep up with the past, the present, or the future
and all the apps that just came out
and the upgrades and the software

with all the blog posts I want to write
(Blog post Idea #52: research is poetry- the restraint of required formats and the incredible condensation of words into the essence of meaning)
with all the hyperlinks from the intelligent people I follow, the conversations I want to join and contribute to

I can’t keep up with what to have for dinner tonight…a minor yet important thing

But I take a deep breath

and say OK

because all I need to do is take a step forward

just one step forward

in awareness

in appreciation

breathe, drink, eat, learn, smile, share

We Are Not Gadgets

I first heard of the book, You Are Not a Gadget, from a fellow librarian colleague in  my professional learning network (thanks Lane).  I don’t know where to begin to consolidate the ideas I encountered in this book into a quick blog post.  You can see the plethora of post-its sticking out the pages which are also bookmarked, underlined and highlighted.

by Jarom Lanier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jaron Lanier eloquently- or should I say bluntly- points out that the digital revolution has glorified the “wisdom of the crowd” to the extent of making us believe the digital fragments we post about ourselves are top priority in the hierarchy of information.  As individuals, we are becoming fragments of information bits. See page 21 for tips on “things you can do to be a person instead of a source of fragments to be exploited by others”.

 

The “wiki” trend of glorifying the crowd’s knowledge is propelling us toward becoming a “society with a single book” (p. 46). On the web, we jump from link to link, many of which are copied and pasted without any credit to the original source, as we cruise the net with a gluttonous appetite to intake what appeals to us and then spew it out to others, as though these stolen fragments can somehow define our individuality.

 

Participatory culture is a term that has become almost synonymous with democracy and who doesn’t love democracy? Personally, I work very well in groups and believe, as Vygotsky did, that we learn best in collaboration not in isolation.  I admire my co-workers and colleagues. In fact, I am often humbled by their talents, abilities and the genuine human kindness I witness from those around me.  What I admire, however, is the uniqueness of the individual and what each brings to the group.  Once again, I come face to face with opposites- which is more important- the group or the individual?  I believe it is both.

 

Lanier has challenged me to contemplate the balance between the “hive mind” of interconnectivity and the quest to actually think for myself. We are NOT our devices, although many people now feel vulnerable without them. (Come on, admit it- we all do!) The digital revolution has changed us more than we yet can understand.  (Isn’t the Apple store the busiest place you will see at the mall, even in hard economic times?) Perhaps people are afraid they will be left behind and will not be able to survive in the technological future without the latest gadget.  Lanier makes a great point by saying that the gadgets are “only useful because people have the magical ability to communicate meaning through them”.  Unfortunately, that personal meaning is often lost in the clutter of a million clamoring voices, all repeating each other or repeating what has been repeated and retweeted and reposted and repinned and mashed up into the one giant book we call the web.

The Value of Your Full Attention – read this between tweets

On the other side of the digital revolution, as we clean up the rubble left from the toppled hierarchy of information, we stand and gaze in awe at where we now live- survivors of some kind of information disaster that we haven’t quite yet realized.  Are we in denial?  Is it similar to awakening after a natural disaster?

The old rules no longer apply.  Interconnectivity was once a quest that we never could achieve.  Now, Joe Grobelny suggests it may be quite the opposite.

 

Reading his post made me think about how rare it is to give someone my undivided attention.  We message, tweet, post, and cruise our devices simultaneously while communicating with each other.  As physical things become less important than virtuality, I have an idea that giving someone our true focus- completely- may soon be as valuable as gold.