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

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hope

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Hey Webmaster, Tie Your Shoes

Emerging technology trends (often called Web 2.0 for educators) can sometimes be overwhelming to teachers. For example, my Assistant Principal has been working with me in the library to share new tech tools with teachers at a “lunch and learn” session. Teachers bring lunch to the library and my Principal covers recess duty. That shows commitment to teachers learning technology!

MOOCs & Intimidating New Trends
Last week, I shared my recent exploration of a MOOC (massively open online course) with a group of kindergarten teachers. MOOCs are mostly used for higher education, but the Anne Frank MOOC, which takes place online as well is in a virtual world, is designed for middle school learners and is a great example of how education is changing. I felt kindergarten teachers should be aware of where students are headed. When one kindergarten teacher saw the virtual world avatars, she became overwhelmed and stated in exasperation, “WHO has time for that?”

She paused, looking as though she might cry, and then said, “We need to be teaching our kids the basics.”

Then she said something that really made me stop in my tracks. She asked, “Why should I teach a kindergartener to build a website when he can’t tie his shoes?”
I completely understood her frustration with keeping up with technology. I was reminded of the popular essay “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulgham. For the rest of the day, this idea and the overwhelmed expression of the kindergarten teacher, whose face usually appears patient and calm, kept coming to mind. I felt a need to answer her question, not directly to her because the session had other technology tips that were useful and applicable to kindergarten and she left feeling a sense of accomplishment. I needed to answer her questions for my own peace of mind.

1. WHO has time for that?
Who has time to keep up with all of the educational technology trends, applications, upgrades, and online tools as they rapidly change? After several years of trying, I often say that nobody could keep up with them all. The only way we can utilize them is through personal and professional networks. I could stay up all night every night and never conquer all the new apps, online sites, user-generated content tools, and sharing sites. But that does not mean that I don’t need to be aware of them. I think it is important to make time for the networking with the goal of awareness of education on the other side of the digital revolution. Building a “go-to” network of other educators has become crucial.

2.Why should I teach a kindergartener to build a website when he can’t tie his shoes?

Have you watched a kindergartener lately? Any 5 year old can pick up an iPad and use it and I see toddlers every day in the mall, at a restaurant, or with parents after school, using digital devices. The world has changed since the “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” essay. What has changed our world? Everyone’s world? A kindergartener’s world?

digital life

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

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.

 

In 2012, let’s share

Note to self:  It is time to let go of the negative attitude against Facebook, triviality, superficial nonsensical information quests, and start participating in the new hierarchy.  It is time to “practice what you preach” and put people first.  The hierarchy of the past placed the experts, the sages, the skilled and knowledgeable at the top.  Now, amongst the toppled rubble on the Internet (no library stacks), we all have a voice.

Was it an illusion that the library held the answers and helped point the way to a meaningful existence?  After all, a book or a library of books is created by human beings and human thought. Oh, but it was convenient to rely on experts to sift through nonsense and provide an assortment of the highest quality of information (may there always be libraries).

We still learn, as we always have, in “collision with others” (Vygotsky). We learn because we discuss, we argue, we collaborate, we confront, and (most importantly) we share.

Learn-Learn-Learn!  That seems to be my favorite topic and, as earning my PhD in 2012 suggests, my ultimate goal.  For a year or two, I have been saying I think most people are more interested in being entertained than being educated.  The old, perhaps trite, saying holds true that the more I learn the more I realize how little I know.  Learning how to thinking critically is more important than gathering knowledge. Yet, even more important than critical thinking is learning how to share.

Graduation in a Virtual World

My virtual world graduation from the University of Washington 2010 was just as real as can be. I documented the milestone with a mixed reality machinima. A year later, at the UW Virtual World Graduation for the Class of 2011, I once again recorded machinima shots. As I was recording, the speaker for the graduation class mentioned me by name and it became clear to me how virtual worlds cross time and space. The speaker (Stylianos), who lives halfway around the world in Greece, had been influenced by my machinima the year before! Through watching my Youtube video (then contacting me), he was intrigued with the UW virtual worlds course. He signed up for the intense coursework, even though it meant staying up all night once a week or getting up well before dawn.

The idea that I most want to express here is the revolutionary concept of meeting those with similar ideas and goals across time and space. Never before in our human history has this been possible. Chance encounters ruled our destinies in the past. Wait…chance encounters may still rule. Opportunities are always at the door and that has always been true. The ability to open our eyes to the possibilities is the significant factor.

I wrote a poem once about the seasons… and here’s a line that fits:

Over and over again
The seasons arrive at your door
Open your eyes and you’ll see
What you’ve never seen before.

Multi-conferencing

I attended two national conferences simultatneously (thanks to SL)!  I was physically present in Los Angeles at ALA while virtually present at NECC (ISTE- International Society for Education) in Second Life.  How amazing is that!  Virtual worlds now allow us to multi-task in new ways never thought of before.  I was able to network with fellow librarians, meet colleagues from SL in real life at ALA, and still organize and lead the virtual history tour guides for the Alamo Event in SL.

Recursive learning

The seasons have always fascinated me- the repetition of Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter- always changing yet always the same.  I like this quote:

“Every truth is fragile, every knowledge must be learned over and over again, every night, that we grow not in a straight line but in ascending and descending circles and that what gives us power one year robs us of power the next, for nothing is settled, ever, for anyone.   What makes this bearable is awe.”

`Carlos Casteneda

Autumn leaves

I wish I could slow time for just this month of October.  Today was the first crisp day of fall after an incredibly hot Texas summer.  As I whirl through life’s responsibilies, personal and professional, I want to savor the beauty.  Maybe that is why I choose the profession of librarian.  I want to capture something meaningful and point it out, helping others finding something meaningful to them.