Changing the Learning Landscape (Higher Education Academy series of events)

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The Higher Education Academy (HEA) are holding a series of events at Universities around the UK entitled ‘Changing the Learning Landscape‘. These sessions aim to “explore practical, innovative uses of digital technologies in learning and teaching” and are perfect for practitioners wanting to develop their knowledge, skills and practice around digital literacies and related topics.

The full list of upcoming sessions:




In the news #1: Trolls, abuse, threats and cyberbullying

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Stories have hit the UK headlines over the last couple of weeks which highlight the weaknesses of/lack of safety features within two popular social networks: Twitter and Ask.fm.

The first is the stories of how campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez and classicist Mary Beard were sent threatening and abusive tweets on Twitter by ‘trolls‘. This has been followed by much debate as to whether social networks need to do more to protect their users, and what form this can take. One of the most popular calls has been for Twitter to implement a ‘report abuse button’ on every Tweet. This petition on the matter had over 130,000 supporters at the time of writing this post. However, the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones pointed out that Twitter will find it difficult to strike a balance between maintaining free speech on the site whilst implementing a ‘report abuse button’.

The second story is that of the tragic death of Hannah Smith, who committed suicide after becoming the victim of bullying and abuse on the social network Ask.fm. The suicides of four other UK and Irish teenagers have also been linked to bullying they received on social networks including Ask.fm. This, like the Twitter stories, has led to calls for abuse to be dealt with more effectively by social network organizations and has also led to a boycott of Ask.fm by some UK advertisers.

Ask.fm was not widely heard of before this case and with only 60 million users worldwide it is quite small when compared with other social networks. However, around 30 million of these users are under 18, so there is a good chance that your students will have heard of it and some might be using it. This article discusses 5 social networks teenagers are using in preference to Facebook in early 2013. It is worth reading this article and noting the common features of these sites and the differences they have from Facebook. Whilst we can ‘trend spot’, we need to ask whether we as teachers can know about, understand and educate about all the different social networks and platforms available. The answers is, of course, we can not. There are just too many social networks (see this constantly evolving list on Wikipedia of the most popular sites) in existence and like any other teenage trend, usage of them can go quickly in and out of fashion.

What we can do then is teach around the issues involved in these cases: Cyberbullying, abusive behaviour (on and off-line), and personal responsibility online.

My approach to a lesson/workshop/seminar for students in further or higher education would be to look at the issues around the area of online abuse and cyberbullying and create lesson activities to encourage debate. This allows for active learning which leads to factual understanding. The debate could be framed around issues of free speech and/or the legal and ethical issues involved. This could start and end with a whole class discussion and have, as an activity in the middle, group work involving scenarios, discussion points, statements or questions on cards given to the groups. The students could then work through the cards and produce a response, strategy or action plan which they could present back to the wider class.

Here is a selection of useful resources available for free online to help you to plan for teaching these complicated and sensitive issues. They are mainly written from a secondary (KS3 or KS4) perspective.

  • The TES website put together this article listing teaching resources around cyberbullying in 2011. The three videos on ‘Combating cyberbullying’ are particularly interesting.
  • Alexander Findlay posted this teaching resource to the TES Connect website. The idea for this KS2 and KS3 lesson is to explore what should be and should not be shared on a social network profile. Primarily based on a Facebook style social network, this could be adapted to allow for lively discussion in the classroom and could be used as part of a wider scheme of work to teach the differences and similarities between the real and the virtual world.
  • This resource from the USA provides an engaging practical activity which allows students to analyse material around cyberbullying and discuss the impact of it.

This article is the first in a series of ‘In the news’ articles. The aim is to highlight digital literacy issues in the headlines, identify the educational issues and suggest/link to teaching resources and ideas. Please feel free to comment below and provide more suggestions for teaching strategies and activities.

Humble beginnings, big ideas.

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Welcome to the beta version of my website. Initially I will be using this website as my blog on all things associated with the teaching of digital and information literacy. This will include the sharing of observations, good practice and teaching experiences, feedback from conferences and events I attend and reviews of articles and books I do intend to grow the website beyond this initial ‘remit’ though…

Digital and information literacy is a multidisciplinary area (are multidisciplinary areas? Discuss!), with professionals from all backgrounds involved in research and practice. I am a librarian and teacher with experience of teaching these skills and embedding them within curriculums. Throughout my career I have realised that the most effective way to facilitate learning of these skills is to enthuse teachers about their value and to train them to become proficient in their application of them. Teachers will then do what they do best: Get creative! I have seen this lead to some diverse and interesting approaches to teaching the skills over the years and have been lucky enough to be part of some lively, noisy and fun activities! To see students get engaged in discussion and enthusiastically debate a topic that is traditionally seen as a ‘boring library subject’ is great. It makes me realise that digital and information literacy affects everyone’s lives and their learning, but is one of the most neglected areas of teaching in the UK.

The big idea of this website then, is to reach beyond the traditional communities of discourse and conversation on digital and information literacy and engage teachers from a wide range of backgrounds. Later this year I plan to share teaching resources I have created throughout my career with Creative Commons licenses and invite others to edit, develop and teach with them. Hopefully this will lead to some lively discussion and some innovative approaches. In the meantime please feel free to comment, question and answer anything I post or use the contact form in the about section to contact me by email.