Mobile Learning Through Digital Media Literacy

Published by Peter Lang

The first striking thing about the way the book (by Belinha S. de Abreu with Vitor Tomé) framed up its argument was defining the digital age as one characterised by performativity (“knowledge appreciated for its relation with power instead of truth”) and speed (xv). It positions this idea in the changing education landscape which needs to reform to ensure devices are instructional tools, not a babysitters – “the disconnect between what is assumed to be learning and engagement versus passive usage” (xxvi).

This led to the deconstruction of myths like the assumption that digital natives will be digital savvy and a task that uses a device does not necessarily have any pedagogical value. It made a clear argument that the placement of digital literacy is not exclusive to any subject and should sit in a cross-curricula space that is dynamic and responsive (I feel like that was a direct challenge to schools that are handling the 21st century by rolling out the same 4 week unit on digital citizenship annually since 2012). It also argues for online learning to be integrated in order to enables the four dimensions of learning 2.0: content, creation, connection and collaboration (144).

The second half of the book tracked through some expansive research undertaken in Portugal. The data was provocative, largely reinforcing the main themes of the book. It made a familiar call for widening our understanding of literacy to be inclusive of digital literacy. It called for the integration of online social networks to develop a participatory culture of global connectiveness: “We cannot continue preparing individuals to solve problems individually, because it is no longer what society asks citizens” (146).

The book asked questions about the privacy of data and the ethics of using mobile learning with students. If the only way to keep students safe is to keep them off the grid – which is unrealistic – then how do we ensure that digital citizenship and media literacy is taught to adequately protect students? NZ resource Netsafe is one place, but the authors quote a lot from cyberwise which looks worth spending more time with.

An overall point I understood from the book was the way that learning through mobile technology is not an automatic process. When we deconstruct the factors we realise that a lot of assumptions need to have significant thought and scaffolding to ensure positive learning outcomes for students. Take the digital divide for instance (or as Henry Jenkins calls it the “participation gap” [47]), which is often referred to in terms of who has the internet and who does not. Even in classrooms where everyone has internet access at home the divide still exists and can be broken down by the speed of their internet, the type of device used, the skills they have in navigating it etc. The authors drew on Yildiz to suggest that the way forward is providing students with multiple means of representation, expression and engagement (49). The solutions to digital literacy and inclusive learning might look very similar if both were explored through Universal Design for Learning.

In conclusion the book clearly places itself as an advocate for a positive position on mobile learning. It laments the fear mongering and negative media that hampers effort to move forward to digital integration. It finishes with this passionate call to arms:

“Mobile tools are here to stay and the underpinning of growing knowledge and understanding is best served through digital media literacy as the greater context and overarching inquiry” (174).

Belinha S. de Abreu w Vitor Tomé (2017) Mobile Learning Through Digital Media Literacy. Peter Lang: New York.


Disrupting Subject Silos – Media & Photography Project

I’ve passionately advocated for department hubs and breaking subject silos in the past, but struggled to find the space for this philosophy to manifest. This collaboration between media and photography is a step towards that vision. Despite it being minor in scale, I hope the ripples will spread strongly.

Earlier in the year, I identified that one of my multi level media classes is on the same line a Level Two Photography class. This planted the seed for some sort of collaboration, eventually working out a model of combining classes to allow students to work with each other within the parameters of content that overlaps both subjects.

Media Learning Intention

Photography Learning Intention

To develop understanding of the technical features of a camera. Including, but not limited to…

  • Aperture
  • ISO
  • Shutter speed
To develop understanding of narrative structure and storytelling. Including, but not limited to…

  • Three act structure
  • Todorov
  • Binary oppositions

Each class had a preparation lesson which offered a useful opportunity for revision in both classes. In assigned groups they prepared a ‘lesson’ for a parallel group in the other class.  The following period, the students were matched up and delivered their lessons to one another. Many felt they already knew what the other class could offer so we stressed that we are all learners and that asking good questions was the key to deeper learning.

Our intention was both to offer a significant learning opportunity for our students and to blur the line that sits between our subjects. On both fronts I think we were successful. Many students reported back shifts in their understanding and the crossover between departments became explicit. However, to develop this approach, I think a stronger framework would need to be in place. One area that challenged the students was how to teach someone else something. Breaking down learning objectives and finding methods to convey information was challenging. Questioning was also something I felt like the students needed more support with. If this structure of more peer-to-peer tutoring and questioning was more familiar, I can see this being far more valuable.

While this is a minor piece of disruption, I think it speaks to the fact that you can create innovative approaches with tradition classrooms. You don’t have to have a sliding door to disrupt the idea of a classroom being contained by four walls and you don’t have to have a fluid timetable in order to see subjects working alongside one another. I’m left wondering how best to sustain this? Could a unit be taught in this way? Next stop… media studies and calculus…!

What Connected Educators Do Differently

b437fc27f47f9f13c721d09109968686This book really spoke to me, validating my work in recent years to develop a professional learning network, and my desire to expand this and become more connected. Written by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas, it acts as a call to arms for using social media (particularly Twitter) to connect and the importance of relationships (the 3 R’s: relationships, relationship, relationship) in education. This blogpost is just a bunch of ideas I extracted while reading the book and things I felt were worth revisiting.

Definition of a connected educator: “[educators] who are actively and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals” (xxiii)

Principle of the 3 C’s: focus on Communication, Collaboration and Community. Invest in these principles!

“Who is helping you get better, or – more importantly – who is inspiring you to want to be great?” (30).

The challenge facing schools today is the ability to cultivate a culture wherein all members of the school community feel comfortable in disrupting routines long established by the status quo and embrace a connected world which is ready to support their desire to learn without limits (30)

Guide to setting up Twitter:

Strive to be tomorrow…today. Make a bigger impact by following these suggestions, which can be used as something like a checklist:

  1. Speed meet and greet – icebreakers to connect staff and create a family culture.
  2. Make it personal – give teachers time during professional learning to call 5 parents they would not otherwise and share with the parent something awesome about their child.
  3. The welcome wagon – have a select group of staff meet every new student in the school and ask them about their new experience being welcomed into the community.
  4. Making invisible students visible – during meetings, put up a list up of every student in the school and ask staff to write one thing about each one beside the name, those who have nothing are invisible and you can then think of a way to cultivate a relationship with that student.
  5. This week on twitter – share inspiring tweets with the school.
  6. Thank a parent or  a staff member – call the parents of the new teachers and let them know how great it is to have them working at the school.
  7. Two a day – two personal notes a day to staff from the SMT/PL
  8. Invite them back – call those who have dropped out of school and personally invite them back.
  9. Accentuate the positive – at SMT/HOFS/DEANS/PL talk about a teacher who has made a difference and then follow up with a note to that teacher.
  10. Celebrate good times – each faculty should start meetings with a successful learning story.
  11. Front and centre – Have the Principal greet people for a day – sit in reception.
  12. Student Leadership Teams – Host them for a monthly lunch.
  13. Exchange dates – host exchanges with other schools to swap teachers and students – model connections with others.
  14. Local educamp – partner with neighbouring schools and host a camp re professional learning development together.
  15. Televise the tweets – on a public TV at your school.
  16. #oneperson – have staff members name one person who has made a difference in their lives and write their address and a message on a postcard. Store these and send them in December.

These ideas and the overall purpose of the book speaks to the importance of relationships. Professional relationships beyond the school through social media can foster collaboration and widen your community and the impact of your teaching and learning.

In the concluding chapter, the authors surmised that connected educators:

  • establish their professional learning network
  • begin to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want (greater knowledge of themselves as a learner)
  • focus on communication, collaboration and community
  • have a ‘giving mindset’
  • strive to be tomorrow, today
  • always focus on relationships, relationships, relationships.
  • model the way
  • and know when to unplug (126).

I’ll be taking many of these ideas forward with me now. Cannot speak more highly of this book and the passion with which it is clearly written.

Whitaker, Todd, Zoul, Jeffrey & Casas, Jimmy (2015) What Connected Educators Do Differently. New York: Routledge.

Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School

fullen20drawingMichael Fullan delivered a memorable keynote at uLearn16, discussing the new pedagogies for deep learning. He was persuasive in claiming the role of the middle in education transformation is most important. He proposed that the role of leadership was to:

  • Respect and reject the status quo
  • Be an expert and an apprentice at the same time
  • Experiment and commit

During this presentation he talked about professional capital. I had little prior understanding to hang this on, but having now spent some delightful time in Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves’ book Professional Capital things are a lot clearer.

51d5demgijl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Professional capital – the systematic development and integration of three kinds of capital – human, social, and decisional – into the teaching profession (xv)

In exploring these three areas – human, social and decisional capital – the overwhelming trend I read was the need for autonomy and trust in order to build knowledge, understanding and capability. The five C’s of professional capital that enable the teaching force to become highly effective are a good start:

  1. Capability (or expertise)
  2. Committment
  3. Career
  4. Culture
  5. Contexts/Conditions of teaching

There was a step that Fullan and Hargreaves addressed first which was around attracting the right people to the teaching profession. They unpacked systematic differences between countries and looked at reasons for capable teachers leaving the profession after only a few years.

If you want a high performing school system, a competitive economy, and a cohesive society… we need the best, most highly qualified teachers who have a deep and broad repertoire of knowledge and skill in the schools that don’t have the luxury of screening out children (79).

Effectively, this acts as a contradiction to the current direction of the NZ government. When it came time to talk about the culture of schools, there were some fascinating insights:

The arbitrariness of culture is a curse and a blessing. As soon as you grasp that, you realise that it’s just when things are completely fixed that they are actually most open to change. (103)

This non-committal way of defining culture makes a lot of sense in practice. Efforts to create a culture, often bring voice to the opposition, but naturally developing culture shifts are – for better or for worse – are often achieved without significant interference. Understanding the different types of work cultures in educational setting helps to flesh this out. They presented the two main categories of professional cultures and four subgroups:

#1: Individualism

Individualism is created by architecture (isolated classrooms), evaluation and self-preservation (associating help with evaluation and “collaboration with supervision and control” [108]), guilt and perfectionism (high expectations in environments with poorly defined limits), pressure and time (closing the door to collaboration in order to successfully meet obligations).

In the best professional learning communities, we will see, strong collaboration and distinctive individuality go together in vibrant communities of innovation and growth (111).

Individualism is not ideal for a culture of learning. Individualism “undercuts the possibilities of developing and circulating professional capital” (106). But individuals are essential to any workplace ecology.

#2: Collaborative Cultures

“Collaborative cultures not only can be informal but they also must always be informal” because for collaboration to occur in an authentic way it must be embedded and not forced. This powerful idea challenged my understanding of leading collaborative change. To unpack it, the authors describe and unpack four different types of collaboration:

  • balkanisation (clusters of collaboration, usually departmentalised; often there develops conflicts between clusters and poor continuity across departments)
  • contrived collegiality (danger of forcing cooperation, needs to be a patient development journey, authentic collaboration is doubtful when based on external agendas)
  • Professional learning communities (space for inquiry and learning together; challenges emerge and self-direction evident through ownership of the problems and the solutions)
  • Clusters, networks, and federations (school to school networks; systemic connection opportunities, co-operation – friendly rivalry, support)

Within effective collaboration there is a clear understanding of collective responsibility. “Collective responsibility is not just a commitment; it is the exercise of capabilities on a deep and wide scale. It encompasses positive competition: challenging the limits of what is humanly and professionally possible” (142)

Thoughts I am left with:

  • Collaborative cultures are based on trust and relationships and are not forced or contrived. Informal work is the basis of a collective culture. However, this needs to be balanced with arrangements that allow the emergence of this kind of social capital that are deliberate and structured.
  • A balance is needed as well between the pushing of new ideas and change and pulling: “by the excitement of the process, the inspirational feeling of the engagement, the connection to people’s passions and purposes” (130).
  • Change leadership is a series of balances: “confident and humble, resolute and empathetic, collaborative and competitive” (136).
  • The fundamental goal “is to do things that bridge the chasm, reach for partnership, and replace polarization with integration – in ways that make every effort to respect each other’s positions without capitulating to them” (154).
  • I am reminded of the opinion economy – a concept introduced to me by David Buckingham. Finding the space, the balance, the commonalities, between two opposing ideas or concepts is important to navigating forward effectively. This connects to the principles of change which require professional capital.

We can treat teaching as just a short-term investment of business capital, and finance the present by mortgaging our children’s future. Or we can make teaching a sustainable investment for professional capital, and give birth to a world of many happy returns to come (186).

Fullan, M. & Hargreaves, A. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. New York: Teachers College Press.

uLearn16 – Keynote #2 – John Couch

‘New Dimensions in Learning’

John leads the Education business at Apple – his more than 40 years as a computer scientist and his advocacy for the use of technology in education has revolutionised learning in the classroom. At Apple, our dedication to learning has always been a part of our DNA.

John captured the shift in education – defining it as a movement from education to learning. He reminded us of the ‘memorisation era’ and what has since happened to transform practice. School used to be a place where one could memorise their way through, but this is no longer the case. Education is what people do to you; learning is what you do for yourself.

So… we need to have a vision. A vision clairfies one’s mission. Vision is inspirational; mission is measurable. Why does your school exist. Can you articulate the why? Creativity allows us to think differently and provide environments where a student can be engaged. If the student is engaged, they’re going to learn.

How are we creating a learning environment around technology?  We look at technology as a tool. Digital natives see it as an environment. We used to call it cheating, now we call it collaboration.

All books, learning materials, and assessments should be digital and interactive, tailored to each student and providing feedback in real time – Steve Jobs

Think about Apple Education and their leading example:


Knowledge is…something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. – Joshua Davis

wp-1475722668894.jpgPersonalised learning environment works just as well inside and outside the classroom walls. If content is free, whats your value? How do we reframe knowledge and make it purposeful and relevant? The Zone of Proximal Development suggests we need to develop collaboration. The great the knowledge and greater the zone.

So how to reframe education? One framework is Challenge Based Learning (CBL). It has a familiar feel to it (and relates a lot I guess to the design process and PBL) but sets out a strong structure to position knowledge in a process where learning is the driver:

Framework CBL.JPG

John critiqued the tendancy to teach to the middle. He demonstrated this with a couple of graphs that hit close to home. No student is average; any institution that is based on average is doom to fail. Todd Rose talks about this more in his TED talk:

Another way of visualising this is through the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who argues there is a space for optimal learning when challenge and skills are balanced. This argues once again for a personalised learning approach:

Fundamental flaw of the education system is that we still can’t meet all the individual learning needs. But John Couch’s ABC’s could help!

  • Access
  • Build
  • Code


The keynote wasn’t full of anything that was remarkably new or controversial to my thinking and philosophy. However, what it gave me was ammunition. It contain language and examples that will be powerful to use in my journey. The overall message seemed to be that we need to move beyond education and unleash learning. And I am very excited about this.

Authentic Learning in the Digital Age – Larissa Pahomov – Part One

Pahomov’s book begins by quoting John Dewey:

’Knowledge’, in the sense of information, means the working capital, the indispensable resources, of further inquiry; of finding out, or learning, more thing

…and uses his idea as a backbone to establishing a familiar shift that is occurring in education and begins to build a framework for implementing “personalized, inquiry-based education in a typical secondary classroom” (2).

The transformative effects of technology

  • Shifting the emphasis from content to skills
  • Allowing for constant engagement
  • Democratising Learning
  • Connecting to ‘the real world’
  • Simplifying the back-end of work

Characteristics of authentic inquiry-based instruction:

  • Choice
  • Personalization
  • Relevance
  • Empowerment
  • Care

Chapter Three deals with the facilitation of research. Two shifts I am attempting to make in response to this reading is to make another attempt to more authentically teach research methods. I was amazed at the tools that are out there now since the last time I sought help in this area. In particular, these lesson plans have me very excited. Secondly, my current approach in my Year 13 class seems to offer too much space for research.  Pahomov suggests ‘inquiry prompts’ which are well constructed questions encouraging critical thinking and deep research. Following this lead may offer more substance in class.

Chapter Four deals with collaboration. Pahomov cites three qualities of successful collaboration, “it must be documented, asynchronous, and classroom-based” (64). One of the thoughts shared in this section was the idea of “anchor documents” – a useful term to refer to documents that outline the requirements for a project of task. Teacher Dashboard makes this easy, but the term I think might be useful for differentiating between documents.

In this chapter on collaboration, Pahomov  talks about the idea of group contracts. While the example she gives goes too far for my context (but I could see the benefit of heading in this direction) the ideas here are very exciting for my Drama class and Media Classes. She suggests a group contract. She gives a exemplar and I really like the power it gives students and allows them to police themselves. The idea of having a firing process is also excellent – exciting for students, but ultimately designed so that it addresses and resolves group dynamic issues. I’m planning on taking this to the next level!

Subsequent chapters on Perfecting Presentation, Making Reflection Relevant and Embracing the Culture will be addressed in a future post. This book is loads brilliant. 

ULearn 2014 – Day Two

I may be spending ULearn14 in Wellington, but I was engaged as ever online, following everything I could from twitter, to live streams, to blogs, to the various links that popped up. Here’s some snippets of the things I took away from day two and some of the next steps.

Keynote #1: UDL with Dr Katie Novak – collaborative notes & powerpoint plus  Novak’s site.

UDL = Universal Design for Learning.  It seems like the philosophy around it is:

If they have not learnt, we have not taught

Which is such an appealing idea! It is a responsive attitude to teaching, taking ownership your potential and exploring it fully to assist all learners reach their potential. I wrote about the reflective (as oppose to refractive) educators a few months back and this this work with that nicely.

UDL_GuidelinesThe philosophy seems to me more important than the specifics. I like blogposts like this, which popped up on twitter during the presentation, where the list of tips together articulate a vision for strong teaching to all students. This blogpost of UDL at the dentist is a good application. It’s about fixing our teaching, not fixing the kids. We are the professionals, we should be finding the way that works for them.

So in a way is this just the New Zealand Curriculum with best practice? Or differentiation dressed up in purple, blue and green? Probably. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a helpful framework. I think that there is a lot of this that happens naturally in my classroom because I value individualised structures to learning, but there are some great elements in here that can be unpacked and used to enhance SOLO processes or self-directed units.

UDL_summaryTakeaways: allow students to assess me? Encourage meta-cognition and more authentic student choice with sharing the power in the classroom. Further principles of encouraging independent thinking and respecting student difference. Asking questions: “What does your teacher do that helps you learn? What have other teachers done?”

Breakout #3 – Social Media Ninjas: A masterclass in becoming a connected educator with Karen Melhuish Spencer

Argued that we shouldn’t just share for the sake of sharing (guilty!) but instead weave your sharing into your inquiry. How can we learn more about what we do? Then we draw on the wider social media network to inform what we are doing?


I’m not sure if I picked up quite why there are kumaras there, but as guidelines for using social media they make a lot of sense.

Takeaways: a lot of my social media use is incidentally passive – in the sense that I actively post, but I don’t necessarily get involved in dialogue or seek help. So while I add my voice, I’m not sure if I add value. Two things I can do right off the bat is participate regularly and actively in #edchatnz (stop going out for drink after netball) and use twitter to ask for help using “why” and “should”.

Breakout #3 – Learner Agency in the traditional school: a call to adventure with Tim Gander – collaborative notes

Came across this via twitter due to the lack of working stream (above). Also found a colleague was there and she helped me to collaborate and get a full gist of the content from Wellington. Basically, Tim allowed his PE class at level 2 to co-construct their learning and then choose the standards they sat – something which was really valuable for increasing engagement.

From the shared notes:

  • Autonomy is different from agency
  • A class website of content isn’t creating agency – Google+ community
  • Time constraint – NCEA credits
  • Like everything it may not work for everyone.  But are the ones the current way isn’t working for the ones we should be focussing on?

He has written in detail about this process: First cycle of the enquiry: Co-Constructing agency; Second cycle of the enquiry: Hacking the NCEA; My thoughts on UDL, e-learning and learner Agency.

Takeaways: this is totally inspiring. How powerful would it be to turn up day one of my Y13 media class (I wouldn’t do this with Y12 because I think that it being a new subject there’s a lot of base concepts and adaptation that goes on in that formative year that students have to experience in order to make good choices – unlike which is compulsory in the junior school and builds on those foundations and structures) and not have a course outline, not have a preconceived idea of what I want to teach, not have a prepared NCEA scheme. Holy meatballs- this could be amazing! Then this would be co-constructed with the students and we would take that journey together. I think there’s an opportunity to trial this approach in the next three weeks with my Y11 drama class and the revision process. We have three week to simply revise prior learning, so I’ll introduce learner agency and see how they want to do it. That could be so powerful. I’m buzzing!

Breakout #4 – Before collaboration teachers need to make connections – Sonya Van Schaijik & Wendy Kofoed presentation hub

Profiled: #GlobalClassroom, #edchatnz, #TeachMeetNZ, #educamp, #eduignite, #edbooknz, #CENZ14, #POND

TeachMeetNZ seems worth exploring. The wikispace is here and the YouTube channel is great. Each educator has only three minutes to introduce themselves and their initiatives. This one here from Richard Wells is a good example. He goes through how he solved various issues when he became the Head of Technology at Orewa College with a general focus on thinking long term.

Takeaway: maybe I could endeavour to get up there?