Media and Learning 2011

What impact does the move from a literacy culture to a media culture have on learning?

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Media and Learning Circle

Telling a story with pictures instead of words, communicating with images and sound, our whole cultural context is undergoing profound change as we move from what in many ways was a largely literacy culture to a media culture. What are the main impacts of this change on learning, what does it mean for students at every level of education. Join the discussion and share your opinions.

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Moderator: Carlos Barrios, Training Management Specialist & Educational Adviser, Belgium


Carlos Barrios

Technology is changing more rapidly now than ever. With this exponential change, the way people learn is being substantially affected. Traditional teaching is giving the lead to new forms of learning, more collaborative, technology-based and open: wireless classrooms, collective wikis, mobile devices, blogs, multimedia applications, video games,... The consequences are being more and more evident.

Across schools, you may find a wide range of opinions on what are exactly the different pros and cons that this shift of paradigm in learning is bringing in our everyday lives. Are children getting more technology-dependent? Or are they managing to master their autonomous and informal learning better than ever before thank to the apogee of Internet? What is the risk for students that may find loads of information out of its context? What should now be the new role of the teacher? Is the present generation of teachers ready to teach the digital literacy skills needed nowadays?

What do you think are the advantages and the drawbacks of the shift from the old literacy learning to the present teaching and learning using digital media?

Nikos Theodosakis

Hi Carlos, thanks for launching this discussion!
I feel your question “What should now be the new role of the teacher?” really gets to the root of investigating and addressing the rest of the questions that you present. In my own experience working with teachers, it seems that the addition of technology into a classroom, including the opportunity to create media, is sometimes a case of 21st century tools presented in an 19th century model of instruction, where teachers struggle to let go of being the one at the front of the room who must understand something completely before they can teach it.
The reality is that many young people deeply interact with media outside of school all during the day and pour hours of their lives into recording, uploading, viewing and sharing. Their appetite for learning all things digital is huge and for teachers to reach their level of technical understanding is sometimes daunting. Teachers inexperience with media, and sometimes fear of technology, should not prevent students from incorporating it into their own learning.
As students are eager to tell their stories, participate in games, and collaborate with others on global learning projects, I do agree that developing digital media literacies in teacher professional development is important. But I think it’s only one part of a new set of skills that educators will require. I believe equally as important is exploring, as you say, “the new role of the teacher” in this fast changing world, where instruction might be more about helping to design and guide personal explorations and where the teacher gives up some control or preconception of what that looks like.
I am reminded of how film directors work with actors. When a director asks their actors to examine a particular script, they will often first share their own connection to the material that is being explored. And then, they will ask the actor to explore their own connection with that same subject. And in that personal exploration, the breakthroughs happen, and the actor makes it their own. No two actors have the same life experiences and so they get to the breakthroughs in their own way. Great directors really are gentle guides that nudges the actor towards that breakthrough experience. And I feel great teachers do the same, they see their role as someone helping the learner find their own personal way to explore and make sense of the information and the concepts explored. This is certainly not a new skill, but I do think it is often lost as we standardize and rush through curriculum.
I think examining the role of the teacher is therefore critical if our goal is to create contemporary learning experiences that are engaging, meaningful, personal and relevant for today’s students.

Carlos Barrios

Hello Nikos,

Your metaphor of the film director giving a script to his actors comes in handy to understand in a graphic way what the skills of the teacher could (should?) be in our digital age. Indeed, I agree with you when you highlight how outdated our models of instruction are. And it reminds me of the ideas expressed by Sir Ken Robinson in these two videos. Should teaching teachers in the need to update the model of instruction be a part of the teacher studies curricula, or will that come naturally, instinctively, in their everyday teaching?

And, as Sir Ken Robinson asks, what is the value of degrees nowadays? "The declining value of degrees call for a revolution".

Who agrees, disagrees, wants to add their thoughts on it?

Andy Jones

Hi Carlos & Nikos,

Thanks for getting this going.

My take on the question is slightly different and I confess to coming at this from an adult learning perspective.

Firstly, I don't think how people learn has changed, or indeed ever changes. We are all wired in the same way and all benefit from learning by doing, doing it again, failing, rebuilding models and doing it again. Technology doesn't impact that. What technology does is change the tools we use practice and reflect.

That leads onto another issue. The tools we use often distract us. They become more important than the process. Thinking about this in terms of the question then, the move between the cultures is more a movement of tools. Sure, they might be mental tools, but they're still just tools. I would suggest that we haven't really moved. 19th century classrooms had to deal with new technology too. When I was at school we had new technology to fight with. At work there's always new technology to fight with. It doesn't change how we learn, just what we use to do it.

We still learn some things by heart, (by repeated practice), we still read lots of information, we still need to apply the same critical analysis skills, the same reasoning skills and the same learning skills. Technology and media doesn't change that. In fact, it mustn't try and change that.

So sure, young people use social media outside the classroom and workplace. We all consume so much more media than before. That's why its very important we use those critical skills, to sift, and to search.

I'll end with a story. I was talking to a lawyer recently who bemoaned new lawyers coming into his firm and thinking appropriate legal research was looking up on Google and picking something that looked good. This isn't a failure of technology, or a shift in culture per se, it's a symptom of being too interested in using available technology (google) and not applying critical thinking tools. It's happened for years, centuries even with young people starting in the workplace and thinking the things they used at university are entirely appropriate.

Carlos Barrios

Hello Andy,

"Technology doesn't change how we learn, just what we use to do it". "It is just the tools that we use to learn that change, not the way we learn". Josh Stumpenhorst ('The real game changers in education') is in line with your thinking.

This differentiation between learning skills (such as critical thinking) and learning technology (tools) conceptually clarifying. And your questions are essential: must technology not attempt to change the way we learn? Is there actually any place (institutions, educational systems,...) where technology tries to change our learning skills?

As Plutarch said in the II century, "the spirit is not a container to be filled, but rather a fire to be sparked". Are we so sure that the impact of use of digital media on our way of learning does not affect this spark? Are learning skills a static human characteristic, so that they remain still for centuries (from Homo Sapiens to Sapiens Sapiens? Or are there ways through which science can change the human learning skills?

Jolanta Galecka

Hi Carlos, Nikos and Andy :) Very interesting discussion. While I agree in majority with Nikos and Andy, I would like to add something here: I do think that technology changed one thing diametrically - the access to knowledge. It is almost infinite. Therefore the problem Andy described with the lawyer thinking that Google has all the answers has something to do with the feeling of the omnipotential power of the Internet. SInce the teachers do not help in directing the technology use, the kids come up with their own ideas and beliefs. Nowadays teacher cannot be an authority just because he is older and wiser. Very often the students know more about a specific subject than the teacher. So the teacher should have a different role now: he should be a leader and his authority should come from within. But for that the teachers need to be confident, positive thinkers, proactive and consistent. They should teach that to their students, build their characters, introduce values that are important. Students nowadays lose the orientation in the value system. there are too many of them showed in the media around. The school needs to be a place where the kids feel safe, stable and psychologically secure. But for that the teacher needs to possess psychopedagogical skills. They should also help in shaping the individual thinking and a critical perspective towards the gathered knowledge. One more thing that the computers and standarized tests changed: the knoledge is only being scratched on the surface and such an approach will never build the chains of synapses to cooperate in a stable and longlasting way. They will collapse the moment the test is passed. Multitasking is only an illusion: the brain must pause doing one thing in order to jump to the other. The pathways inside our brains may be getting weaker.

Carlos Barrios

Hello Jolanta,

Very interesting ideas there, from the non-authority of the teacher to the illusion of multitasking.

Let me focus on one: the digital media knowledge of students vs. the digital media knowledge of teachers. "Since the teachers do not help in directing the technology use, the kids come up with their own ideas and beliefs." This raises the question: when it comes to using digital media, computers, new apps... is it true that the present generations of young learners know more than their own teachers, an older generation? True or false? Is not it an ICT myth that students do master digital media better than their teachers? This research by CiberDidact (University of Extremadura, Spain) concludes that for applications that students do not use frequently, they are not better than their teachers. So according to them, there would be plenty of room for teachers to teach on those apps to students.

Any other studies, thoughts on the matter?

Joe Cullen

Hi all
We are just completing the Final Reports for 2 LLP programme funded projects that have a bearing on these issues. The first - te@chus - looked at how to support teachers in using 'Web 2.0' in classroom teaching and the second - LINKS-UP - looked at the impact of 'Learning 2.0' on promoting social inclusion for excluded, 'at risk' and 'hard to reach' groups. With te@chus, we found that, although there are many examples of innovative us of Web 2.0 in schools, the vast majority of schools still purse traditional teaching methods. This suggests that Andy is quite right. School education still reflects the 19th century industrial model that was and is dedicated to the reproduction of economic modes of production, and startified systems of social and cultural relations. Web 2.0 and 'media rich' teaching environments and pedagogies still largely simply make this educational paradigm more effecient. The main barrier to increased use of Web 2.0 is the resistant organisational culture of the school enterprise, which of course is shaped by this prevailing educational paradigm. The most interesting - and innovative - things that are taking place using 'new' technologies - as LINKS-UP has shown - are taking place at the margins, outside the formal education system. 2 examples from the school system to illustrate this: Notschool, an initiative established in the UK for almost a decade, is precisely what it says - a school for students who dont want to, or cant, go to normal schools. Schome is a school environment that lives in 'Second Life'. One of the interesting things about these 2 examples is the technological polarity they represent. Whereas Notschool is low-tech - a lapt-top and a printer - Schome uses 'high-end' immersive environments to deliver learning. What is innovative and similar about both is not the technology but the pedagogy. Both create completely different 'co-production roles' for 'students' and 'teachers'. The governance of the two systems is radically different from mainstream education and involves 'students' in the design, implementation and management of learning. What both te@chus and LINKS-UP demonstrate is that a 'media culture' is far from a reality in our current learning ysstems. What we have are fragmented, piecemeal experiments. What we don't have is a societal learning paradigm that is supporting 'transformative' learning rather than simple human capital reproduction. Against this background, the notion of 'New Millenium Learners' driving this shift from literacy to media culture is a fanciful one, as is the notion, supported by OECD no less that NML immersion in a 24 hour media-rich environment has changed the way the new generation learns, and has changed its neurological hard wiring. There is simply no evidence for this. Finally, to end on a provocation, the idea that new technologies have opened up opportunities to a vast new knowledge base that is there to be tapped for learning purpose is also fanciful. Most of this 'knowledge' is at best information, at worse, white noise.

Jolanta Galecka

Hello Carlos and Joe,
I found a report that suggests some changes happening to our brain wiring. Apparently we start to remember things differently. I do think that there is a plenty of room left for teachers but they need to trust themselves enough to be able to jump into the uknown in order to change the present (sounds poetic maybe but it really is a hard reality). We should also remember that kids no longer learn by watching the adults at work. The school takes most of the day time and the adults are no longer present ... except for the teacher. So maybe his role is even bigger now than it used to be. But it definitely is, should be different. We should stop treating the computers as some sort of threat. It is merely a tool. It is the pedagogy as Joe mentioned and the methodology, that the computer enables that should be carefully studied. Schools used to be all about knowledge becuase knowledge and information was scarce and limited. Reserved for the privileged only. It has changed dramatically and so need the schools.

Yvonne Crotty

Apologies for the late post. I have ‘lurked’ in the background over the last few weeks and the advantages of the technology is that I have been able to keep up-to-date with the discussions and hear the various contributions about the move from a literacy culture to a media culture. I felt like a ‘squirrel’ on these forums as I dipped in and out. The exercise allowed me to identify with my own students - undergraduates and postgraduates – and their experience of using the online forums and how difficult it can be to join in the midst of the discussion. Perhaps if I had time to produce my preferred format - a video or audio, to give my views, I would have contributed sooner and would not have to apologise for the late post!!

Jolanta refers to the importance of values and I agree wholeheartedly that values are central to our pedagogy. If I value inclusion then as an educator I will need to cater for the various types of learners in my class. Andy says that what technology does is change the tools we use practice and reflect. I was a Music teacher in a secondary school for 15 years and I am now a Lecturer in e-Learning in Higher Education. My values are still the same as they were years ago and I still want to connect with my students. However, I now have a plethera of social media to further enable this connection. For me, it is about how we make use of this new media in our practice.

Going back once again to the importance of values I see my values as : 1) Security; 2) Enjoyment; 3) Creativity; 4) Honesty; 5) Care and 6) Excellence, and these give me clarity of purpose which require me to be mindful of what fosters an environment that allows me to adhere to these values whether I am using new media or not. They are also the standards of judgment to which I hold myself accountable. I care that my students feel comfortable enough to voice their anxieties honestly and feel more secure to engage in enjoyable learning, which will unleash their creativity while in their ‘element’ (Robinson, 2009). I care that they are not paralysed by insecure feelings of inadequacy and I feel a responsibility as an educator to support them in any challenges they may encounter to reach standards of excellence so that they are proud of their research work.

I am reminded of one group of adult educators who I lecture and are technophobic when they begin a digital media module. Most of them see very little connection between their pastoral role and using technology.
Whatever the rationale, almost all are initially afraid to expose themselves in case they appear to be incompetent. (Not unlike what I’m sure I felt when posting to this forum) While they might feel competent within their own positions at work, returning to study, meeting new people from various work backgrounds, writing assignments and using technology prove to be very challenging for them. I find it critical to immediately name the possible concerns and then give answers with practical solutions to allay any initial worry. Before long invariably, enthusiasm replaces anxiety; confidence replaces fear; and collaboration replaces reservation.

However, they work through their fears. They marry their tacit knowledge with their newfound love of new media to engage those in their care. Evidence from their learning journals shows this. However, it is important to state that there is also evidence to show the many difficulties they encounter along the way. To support them and facilitate their learning is key here as you all have correctly said. Now I'm off to lurk in the background some more!!

Carlos Barrios

Thanks very much everyone for your inputs and for keeping the discussion in such a high level. You may continue it during the following weeks here online. And Merry Christmas!

Herewith a summary of the debate held on Friday 25th November at the event:

After an introduction of the panelists and matters for debate, Joe Cullen outlined how it is premature to think of a real shift from a literacy to a media culture. He stated that ‘e-inclusion' is a premature notion, as 40% of EU citizens do not have access to ICTs. He talked about the ‘quality of use’, where evidence (Institute for Prospective Technological Research, IPTS) shows considerable variation in digital literacy and how many ‘at risk’, ‘excluded’ people –particularly young– remain ‘technologically barren’. He highlighted how ICTs combine with structural dynamics of social exclusion to create a ‘dual exclusion’ for many young people, leading to the ‘New Milennium learners’ (NML’s), those born after 1980, and to the idea that they, born and growing up in a ‘media rich’ environment, acquired different cognitive skills, and cognitive ‘hard-wiring’, than those born before. Yet, he continued, there is no hard evidence that this is the case. Although the examples of innovative learning approaches using Web 2.0 and multi-media to deliver new forms of learning, there are other initiatives (‘Notschool’) achieving good results with low-tech learning solutions. But initiatives delivering ‘media literacy’ are small-scale experiments. What is lacking, he finalised, is a broader ‘societal learning’ approach that addresses the big problems the EU faces on jobs, sustainability, poverty and climate change.

Yvonne Crotty focused on the set of fundamental values that drives our actions when we teach, highlighting these values as a major and often forgotten factor of change in educational technology. She showed some of the activities and projects developed at Dublin City University, and featured at the Diverse International Conference.

Nikos Theodosakis suggested that students' excitement in creating digital media invites educators to consider wrapping the learning and curriculum outcomes within a creative media project. He further suggested that the process of creating media in teams, and the experiences of bringing intangible ideas to life, held potential for the development of skills that could be utilized by students both in and out of school.

Nikitas Kastis talked about the transformation taking place in informal learning settings such and within educational systems. He stressed out the importance of fostering the capacity learn and to be creative in the context of the current unemployment crisis.

Andy Jones focused on several ideas, arguing that how we learn hasn’t really changed, the tools we used have changed though. The culture, he stated, hasn’t really moved on either, there is still a consumption of different kinds of media available. He said that outcomes and employability are not built into many programs, and that in fact there’s a big disconnect between the end of a program and the start of a job. Last, he denounced the chasm between academia and the business world: "do not say 'pedagogy' to a business person, or ‘Sensemaking’, or ‘crowdsourcing’... they need to understand that you/we are on the same page with the same desires to make a difference".

The audience contributed very actively not only with questions to the panelists but also by sharing their ideas and approaches regarding how technological change in education can be used to address the current issues that citizens are living, at the core of the largest financial, economical, political and social crisis in decades.

24 - 25 November 2011 Flemish Ministry of Education Headquarters, Brussels