In Community
Stephen Downes - Web Literacy Map v2.0 chat


Stephen Downes is a Senior Researcher for the National Research Council of Canada. Based in Moncton, New Brunswick, he’s perhaps best known for his thoughtful presentations and OLDaily newsletter. This provides links and commentary for the online learning community (and beyond).

Although Stephen is not currently using the Web Literacy Map, he has read, thought, and written widely on critical literacies and it was from this perspective that he approached our conversation.

Stephen thinks that the Web Literacy Map does a good job of depicting literacy as not just something you learn. It reflects an interactive learning process, and is similar to his Aggregate - Remix - Repurpose - Feed Forward model. He believes this to be an important model because this is how you build networks. Dropping any of the current strands (Exploring / Building / Connecting) would mean that we were no longer talking about literacy.

Literacy isn’t about grammar, says Stephen, it’s about communication. He cited his now-classic presentation Speaking in LOLcats as an example of this. The Web Literacy Map as it currently stands is episodic rather than systemic. It talks, for example, about how to decode URLs, but not about the syntax of addressing over the architecture of the internet in general. The 15 competencies work, but it’s like picking 15 features to describe an elephant - we could have chosen a different set of features.

He noted that the Web Literacy Map seems to focus on the lower elements of Bloom’s Taxonomy rather than the higher elements. Stephen said that if web literacy was a forest, we’re picking out trees and areas of the forest, but not the types of trees and overall nature of the ecosystem. When I mentioned the idea of introducing ‘cross-cutting themes’, he thought this might work, but implored me to avoid the term ‘lenses’. This, Stephen says, infers that we’re looking at ‘reality’ through some kind of process. Talking of ‘perspectives’ is fine, however.

Is it important to talk of a ‘Web’ Literacy Map? Should we be talking about ‘internet’ literacy? Should we make it wider in scope so that we can include (for example) connecting to wifi securely? Perhaps yes, but we need to think about context.

When I asked about terminology, Stephen said that using ‘competency’ to mean merely a ‘collection of skills’ is too narrow. Instead, we need to add in things like ‘habits of mind’ or ‘values’. That is to say, not just doing stuff, but determining what is important and what is not.

In terms of the way that the Web Literacy Map is currently presented at, Stephen asked why the appearance of the ‘teach’ elements is different from the others - he completely missed them at first. Where’s the dots? The medium is the message. We’re saying ‘teach’ is different from the other stuff. Also, the list of skills on the competency pages is too easy to miss. It’s like they’re not there. This is problematic, as it’s the core of what we mean by the competencies.

Stephen asked about whether some of the text we use, such as the web being a global, public resource, is actually true? Perhaps we should be asking ‘who owns the web?’

The latter part of our conversation was extremely interesting, as Stephen got into whether the Web Literacy Map continues to be necessary once you’ve used it to reach ‘web literacy’. He likened this to using an ethical framework to become a ‘good person’. This may be an ongoing reflective thing as new situations become available, but the Web Literacy Map is like the Ten Commandments: “how to be good with respect to the web”. We chose these 15 things, but we could have chosen a different 15 and ended up with a similar result.

Finally, Stephen pointed out that we need to hone and re-hone the map to get to the spirit of web literacy. The more we change the Web Literacy Map due to changes in specific technologies, the more problematic it is.

Here is a little information about the course I’ll be developing and teaching at Arcadia University next semester. I will be working to organize this during the Connected Courses opportunity this fall. Want to join? #ccourses

(Read more about the Connected Learning Certificate program here.)

My final thesis: Learning Connected Learning, the Game


As of tomorrow I should be the proud recipient of a Master of Education credential after completing my coursework and final thesis project with a focus on curriculum studies at Arcadia University. The actual finale of this degree was a bit, well, anti-climatic though as there was no public sharing of my final work. So I decided to publish it here — as I have done with all my work throughout my graduate program — for others to see, give feedback on, and even to remix if so inspired.

First, some notes and reflections on this project. For our final thesis projects we were encouraged to create something that a) evolved out of our passion and interest; b) was more than an academic paper; c) was large enough in scope for the equivalent of 3 credits of course work; d) represents a synthesis of our master’s program coursework; e) connects us in some way to a world outside of Arcadia; e) raises consciousness about some issue or idea; f) connects us with someone else that we confer with over the semester; g) includes a list of at least five references that informed and helped shape the project, and; h) is useful or make an impact on a current job, a prospective job, and/or other people. (It was also supposed to include a public presentation, apparently, when I look back at the syllabus … although that kind of fell out of the mix for various reasons I think. But great — doing that one now. So check!)

What I liked and appreciated about this list of requirements is that it is similar in intention and scope to what I imagine asking for when I teach ED677 next semester. It is also consistent with the curriculum studies theory and agenda that I have been working on at Arcadia (thanks to Peter Appelbaum) and through my work with the National Writing Project (see Digital Is and Educator Innovator).

However given all this, and despite the grade I received, I have some reflections on how I could have done this project better and more completely, starting with speaking back directly to the requirements in a more explicit way when I submitted the final project. This post therefore is a slight update of what I ultimately turned in.


Learning Connected Learning, the Game


Learning Connected Learning, the Game, emerges from research about how youth learn when connected in richly networked environments, on and offline (Ito, et al 2013), how educators are consequently considering these shifts in learning and teaching today (Garcia, et al 2014), and then generously mixed with new theories of learning such as Connectivism (Siemens, 2005). It is also liberally sprinkled with Constructionist approaches to learning (Papert 1991), cycles of imagination, play and design (Resnick 2007), alongside a generous dose of curriculum theorizing and historical perspective (Appelbaum 2013; Dewey, 1916; Kliebard, 2005). Learning Connected Learning, the Game, also draws heavily on the many inspiring teachers and social practices of the National Writing Project (personal experience; Woods and Lieberman 2003).

This current edition is situated in and based on data collected from research done in two learning environments focused on Connected Learning; ED676 at Arcadia University taught by Meenoo Rami in the Summer I semester 2014 and Making Learning Connected, otherwise known as CLMOOC, hosted by Educator Innovator (data collected between June 13-July 2, 2014). While inspired by real people who gave their permission for parts of the data set to be used, all characters and situations are fictitious.

This project is being submitted as part of a final master’s thesis in education with a focus on curriculum studies. This work grows directly out of my passion and interests which are very much tied to my work, over time, at the National Writing Project. I was drawn to this network of teachers who I saw were self-organizing and leading their own professional development and growth. At the time too, the Internet was quite new and I immediately started working with teachers in the NWP network who were tinkering with these new tools and networked technologies in support of their and their students’ voices and work. Overtime, the work that we did moved from what many might described as “technology integration work” (although even at the time many of us rejected that language) and then moved into being considered more as a key piece of literacy (Because Digital Writing Matters, Eidman-Aadahl, et al., 2010). We therefore started to inquiry into what it means if “digital is the way that we write, share, publish, communicate today” and those questions and our active work in classrooms across grade levels and disciplines, led us to be invited to be part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Initiative (DML) and develop NWP Digital Is. Eventually, through this work with scholars, researchers, and other practitioners from the DML Network, we worked to situate these literacies in a larger framework, or “ecosystem”, that we now refer to as “Connected Learning.”

My commitment to Connected Learning and my work with educators in a networked community of practice like the NWP is also what drew me to curriculum studies for my graduate studies concentration. Inspired by commitments of other educators, such as those of Linda Christensen a professor at Lewis and Clark University and director the Oregon Writing Project, who says that she wrote Teaching for Joy and Justice because she “wanted to both celebrate what it took to be a classroom teacher …” and “to be a memory keeper about what it means to create your own curriculum and how to do that.” (2010) I have similarly been watching teachers create and construct their own curriculum for years now — as colleagues as well as alongside their students — bringing to bear what they know and continue to learn as practitioners (see Youth Voices as Connected Currere, unpublished work, 2013). And as co-director of our digital media and learning initiative at the NWP, I can see how the curricular work of my colleagues is actively responding to and harnessing rapid changes in the larger communications and information ecosystems.

It has therefore been my intention to draw on the possibilities of working in openly networked environments as a student of curriculum theory in order to highlight the ways that I have seen my colleagues work and what the possibilities are in terms of agency and creativity in today’s environment for learning. I am inspired by the educators I work with to do so because I believe that they, and their students, are the ones leading the way through their work by engaging in the present and charting potential collective futures (Youth Voices as Connected Currere, unpublished work, 2013; Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, 2014).

I am also inspired by scholars such as Ben Williamson, et al, who in their white paper Curriculum Development and Youth Media, (2010), call for examining curriculum in the context of an increasingly decentralized and networked knowledge economy. They write about the potential for teachers and learners to be positioned “as authors and editors of curricular content based on their own authentic cultures and patterns of participation.” (pg 67)

Finally, I am interested in the another key principle of Connected Learning which is a focus on production-centered learning, or what we’ve come to call in CLMOOC “making.” Inspired by open and product-centered working coming out of the Makers’ movement, open source movement, etc., many educators I have been working with have embraced this idea of “making” as way to keep the focus on the creative processes in learning. Additionally I’ve been working in these areas with educators both in and outside of school and am particularly interested in the conversations and possibilities that cross these traditional divides in designing for learning and for teaching.

This project is therefore more than an academic paper as it works to embrace the principles of Connected Learning itself. Created as a potentially interactive game, built upon research into forums where educators are exploring connected learning together, it was also made with openly networked tools and is a remix of work started by colleagues of mine. Although not yet “played” it is a prototype of a game in which equity is a key pivot point in supporting a larger Connected Learning ecosystem, which is also the larger idea and ongoing inquiry question I am taking forward in my work and hope to continue to engage in conversations and work with others (most immediately in the context of #ccourses and my #nwp work overall).

Now, having been published publicly, this project also represents my attempt to connect my learning and questions in new ways with a larger field of theory and practice outside the walls of the actual university where I was studying. I therefore invite feedback from others — in what ways does it or does it not connect? What do you notice? What questions does it raise?

Gaming guidelines and related documentation here»

Special thanks to:

  • Antero Garcia and Chad Sansing: This game itself is a prototype-in-progress inspired by Learning Alchemy, a game about changing the way we educate our kids, designed by Antero and Chad (CC-BY-NC-ND) and is used with permission.  Learning Connected Learning, the Game is a remix of Webmaker’s Thimble Cardfox 1.0 by Chad Sansing (CC-BY).
  • Meenoo Rami and the participants of ED676 plus the leadership team and co-participants of CLMOOC (especially Joe Dillon and Terry Elliot who ran the Games Make Cycle) for providing the underlying energy and inspiration this summer.
  • Peter Appelbaum and Kira Baker-Doyle: For their guidance, support and vision as both teachers and colleagues at Arcadia University.
…I think of how much beginnings have to do with freedom, how much disruption has to do with consciousness and the awareness of possibility that has so much to do with teaching other human beings. And I think that if I and other teachers truly want to provoke our students to break through the limits of the conventional and the taken for granted, we ourselves have to experience breaks with all that has been established in our own lives; we have to keep arousing ourselves to begin again.
Maxine Greene, Releasing the Imagination