Reflection of “Chapter 4: Why existing models of digital literacy don’t work” of Doug Belshaw’s The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies.
Excerpts and Reflections
“In other words, the best way of learning hard skills (vocabulary, syntax, pronunciation) is constant practice within a relevant context.”
This statement really made sense to me. During my time student teaching, my mentor teacher and I noticed that the majority of students were having a very difficult time with the material (biology). We knew something wasn’t working. So, we decided to teach our class more like a language class. We gave vocabulary assignments where students had to define words and provide examples of how those terms would relate to things they already knew. We gave weekly vocabulary quizzes that incorporated words that they had previously learned (so the students still had to remember all the previous words they had learned). During class, we would constantly use the correct terms and require the students to use the correct terms when answering questions or doing labs. Because students were constantly exposed to the vocabulary of the material (jargon), they were better able to understand the material which is naturally jargon heavy. By changing the style of the class, in this case changing the language that was used though out the class, students started getting better scores and gaining a deeper understanding.
“I think that the difference between sequentially-encoded and progressively-encoded images serves as a useful metaphor for learning digital literacies. Our tendency in education in general is to package-up blocks of learning on a linear pathway. The learner literally does not see the ‘big picture’ of learning — only what comes next. On the other hand, letting the learner roam, whilst providing just-in-time support, can lead to a much richer and more enjoyable experience. They can see how it all fits together, even if they haven’t got all of the detail and nuance just yet.”
Using his analogies, I think teaching sequentially is beneficial in some cases, but I also think teaching progressively has a time and place. For example, letting students see the big picture of some math courses and letting them explore until they need help probably isn’t the best way to go about a math class. However, there are some classes that can be naturally more explorative—such as a poetry class.
Overall, I think many classes could be more progressively sequenced, but the fact is that there are national and district standards that must be met and class sizes are often fairly large. Letting a class of 30+ teenagers ‘roam’ probably isn’t the best way to conduct the majority of classes. If class sizes were smaller and students were interested in the subject matter, I believe the progressive model would work quite well. However, in most public school systems, I think it would be difficult to implement totally. I think a more realistic way to incorporate explorative learning would be to pick a topic or two where the students had freedom to create a project of their choosing.
“As individuals can abstract from specific contexts they become more literate. So, in the digital domain, being able to navigate a menu system when it’s presented to you — even if you haven’t come across that exact example before — is a part of digital literacy.”
This was interesting because, so often, literacy is referred to as the ability to do a specific task or understand a specific topic. This statement says literacy is the ability to perform and apply skills/concepts into unfamiliar situations. This takes the old definition a step further and raises the level of thinking and processing that is required. This explanation of literacy, I feel, is much more fitting.
I think the ability to be able to abstract something from a specific context only really starts to happen after an individual has become extremely familiar with the specific skill/concept within a context or a few context areas. Making the leap from basic skill to applying that skill in a variety of contexts is a huge leap. I believe exposing an individual to a specific skill/concept in as many ways as possible, and as often as possible, is the only way to have a typical individual become literate with a skill/concept.
“What is often missing is the recognition of the multiple literacies needed to not only turn desire into action, but even to know what is obtainable.”
After reading the last excerpt, having multiple literacies, in a way, means having multiple masteries.
This statement reminds me of my organic chemistry class. Anyone who has taken general chemistry and organic chemistry knows that the two are quite different. In essence, you’re learning a whole different set of skills and thought processes in organic chemistry. As is typical of a college course, there’s a lot of material thrown at you in a very short amount of time. There’s a lot to process and try to remember. I know many have had the same experience as I did while sitting in o-chem lecture: not even knowing what questions I should ask when the teacher asks if there’s any questions. I was so unfamiliar with the concepts that I didn’t even know what was obtainable; I didn’t even know what I could ask. It takes a certain level of understanding (or mastery) to even ask questions. I wasn’t literate enough in o-chem to know what I could obtain, let alone put anything into action. First, I needed to gain understanding (literacy) in various concepts within o-chem.