A 21st century educational system must educate all students in the effective and authentic use of the technologies that permeate society to prepare them for the future. As part of this future, learners need opportunities to not only read, but also write the web.
Despite the transformative possibilities associated with the inclusion of the Internet and other communication technologies (ICTs) in instruction, relatively little is known about the regular use of these technologies in our daily lives. For educators in particular, understanding how best to utilize these digital and web literacies in our work is central to our collective future.
One the problems is that researchers and educators have little or no guidance in how to embed these new and digital literacies into their work process and product. There are numerous reasons for this current situation.
The purpose of this post is to identify three steps to get you started on the path of becoming a digitally agile educator.
Create and curate your digital identity
One of the first steps in this process is the need to create and curate your digital identity. Educators spend a lot of time preparing for teaching class and interacting with students and colleagues in the “real world.” We pick out an outfit and new shoes for the first day of classes. We make sure that we’re well groomed and look professional when we show up for face-to-face lessons. Many of us pride ourselves on being organized and presenting ourselves in a positive light.
Much of this veneer of professionalism and organization is not carried through to our digital identity. We may have a page on the school or organization website that shares our information. We have social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google+) that we maintain or have been orphaned. There usually is little to no consistency in design or identity across these spaces. Finally, the identity presented across these spaces is usually inconsistent with the identity we present face-to-face. It is also usually inconsistent with the identity we choose to use in identifying ourselves.
In working with educators from Pre-K up through higher education, one of the reasons individuals give for not maintaining a digital identity is that they would prefer to remain private and not have a presence online. In the Post-Snowden era, there are also serious concerns about privacy and security online. The problem with this thinking is that by not creating and developing your own online brand, you’re allowing others to do it for you. Not if, but when someone searches for you online, they’ll only find information others have said about you. You should be the one to create and curate that information.
Think deeply about the identity you want to use to represent yourself. What colors, images, and text will you use to build this identity? As an example, will you use a photo of yourself for your picture? You don’t have to. You’ll also need to consider what colors and patterns will you use across your spaces to keep it consistent. Finally, what information will you share about yourself, and what will you keep private. You can keep all of this written down and refer back to it as you create and revise your identity across spaces. Once you have these guidelines written, go to each of your accounts for your various social networks and places that you appear online and edit the information they have about you. Keep it consistent. Create the digital identity that you want to have.
The second step in the process of becoming a digitally agile educator is to modify your workflow. In my own work process I rarely use Microsoft Office. Everything that I create and share is usually in Google Drive. I use Google Docs for writing and planning. I use Google Slides for all of my presentations. I use Google Forms and Spreadsheets for assessments in classes and during research. I rarely, if ever use Word, PowerPoint, or Excel for any of my work. These are usually the tools that we use to create and share teaching, learning, and research materials.
Usually people think that this is crazy as we’re indoctrinated that we need to have “our computer” and we use Microsoft Office to create, manipulate, and save files on our machines. The problem is when we work from multiple locations, or when the computer crashes, all is usually stuck on that one computer. I also work from multiple locations and use multiple tools. I also want to make sure that there is always a backup and nothing that stops me from teaching, presenting, or researching. Those of us that have had a computer crash in the middle a lesson or speech will know what I’m talking about. Technology glitches will happen. It is for these reasons that I strive for a workflow that is device agnostic and gives me ubiquitous access to my materials.
Being device agnostic means that I can utilize any tool or platform that I have at my disposal. I’m frequently writing on my MacBook, or teaching using the PC in our classrooms. I review documents and read on my Android phone, or iPad. I bring my Chromebook on the road to use for presenting at keynotes and workshops. I need to be able to quickly use any device and not have concerns about my materials not working on that specific device.
Having ubiquitous access to my materials means that my products are cloud-based and usually saved digitally. My use of Google Drive (and other tools) allows me to build a system that automatically makes my materials available anywhere. Moving over to a Chromebook several years ago jumpstarted this process. One of the challenges with this system is that you almost always have to have access to the internet. You can create and revise your materials offline, but you’ll have to plan ahead for some of the instances. In my mind the advantages outweigh the challenges as you’ll always be able to access your materials. If your computer crashes, you can easily log on to another and access your content. If you forgot the correct adapter for the projector, share the document or slides with your audience and have them follow along while you present. Having a cloud based system to store and save all of my content has allowed me to work much more easily both individually and collaboratively with colleagues and learners.
Build an online learning hub
One of the final steps in this process is the need to build and establish an online learning hub. As you create and curate your online brand, your identity will be spread across numerous spaces online. Many of these online social networks acts as silos and only privilege their content. As an example, Google, Twitter, and Facebook frequently change the access to your data that they provide to each other. The end result is that your great work on your Facebook or Twitter profile might not be accessible when “Googles” you.
You should also consider what happens when you meet someone for the first time, or they happen to come across some part of your digital identity. How much are they learning about you if they only read some of your recent tweets? If that an adequate or complete picture of you? If you build and maintain one space on the internet, you can archive and/or share materials using your own website. This allows colleagues and friends the opportunity to look back through the digital breadcrumbs that you’ve left online to get a more complete picture of you.
To build and maintain your online learning hub, you have several options. You can useWix, Weebly, WikiSpaces, Google Sites, or WordPress to build a website for archiving and sharing content. The options I listed are all free and are listed in the order of “ease of use” that I usually share with my students and clients. I believe any of the options listed above are a good starting point to build up a domain of your own. The challenge is that your options and the URL (address) for your website are somewhat limited. The challenge is that your website also might be taken down if the company decides to leave that business altogether.
It is for these reasons I pay a hosting company (I thoroughly recommend Reclaim Hosting) as I build my websites. I pay for a URL, this means that I can pay for a specific web address that will be used for my website. I also pay to host the open source version of WordPress that runs all of my websites. There is some extra work required, but it’s not impossible. By maintaining your space you can choose what to share and what to put in the background. If you’ve got materials or information about you that you don’t want online, you cannot delete it. You do have the ability to create and share your own information and push the other information down or off of a search engine results page.
Become a digitally agile educator
As I’ve indicated at the start of this post, educators need to identify and develop opportunities to build and utilize these new and digital literacies in their work. There is not only a need to use these texts and tools in our teaching, learning, and research, there is a need to guide students in the processes.
The steps listed above will take time, but will bring you to the starting point as you interact online. The steps and work detailed are also not impossible. Your mindset should be to move forward through the steps in a granular and thoughtful pace.
If needed, I am available to help guide you in this process. You should also subscribe to my newsletter to continue your thinking about these skills and habits.
– W. Ian O’Byrne