5 Lessons I learned from teaching Digital Literacies in Scottish Schools

Through my role as project coordinator for the Digital Commonwealth, I’ve had to spend a lot of time this year behind my laptop, coordinating, making sure that the right people are in the right location learning the right things from the right people.

Working alongside the project’s education coordinator Alison McCandlish, the project developed a Scotland wide digital literacy programme that was to be delivered across all local authorities, to transition learners between p6, p7, s1 and s2 level – as well as a community media and creative voices element for adult learners to explore digital technology through creative practice.

That was the vision anyway – those who work in education, local government, digital, community learning, literacy training will understand that experiences when working across different contexts, sectors, authorities will vary tremendously, but when it works and factors comes together then it can be incredibly rewarding for those taking part.

Although my role has been mainly project management, recruitment and advocacy, due to the sheer scale off project like this, I actually managed to get out and deliver some of our sessions as a trainer in a couple of local authorities. Meaning that I would actually have to experience using the resources we had developed, tested and discussed in the office in an actual real life classroom with real life learners. As well as getting the chance to teach young people, rather than adults – a good opportunity to learn some new tricks in classroom management.

No pressure eh?

Anyway (being an Ayrshire lass) when I was offered Rothesay Primary on the Isle of Bute as my first school to deliver training to, I was on that 8am ferry as fast as a commonwealth games related athletic pun. I got to deliver 2 sessions to the primary 7s on blogging and audio recording.

Post games, I’ve been working with Our Lady of the Missions Primary down the road in Giffnock – and both these experiences made me think that I should write up some quick reflections on delivering digital literacy training in schools – from the chalkface, as they say.

So here we go, 5 lessons from my experience as a frontline trainer on the project…

1) Communicating Expectations

Managing expectations of all the people involved, the learners, the teacher, the trainer and the overall aims of the specific project that the workshops were addressing is probably the most important factor of ensuring the that the workshop and the contents produced at the workshops were a success.

As the workshops each focused on a different element of digital storytelling (blogging, audio, video and social media) each week had to have a distinct flavour, but at the same time had to work towards a final “product” that had hopefully been defined by the school in their application to take part in the project.

“Digital” can mean all things to all folk, so one person’s expectation of a blogging 101 session could vary vastly from producing content, web development or even building websites from scratch. How you do it, well, that could vary, but if you don’t have anything to talk about it is going to be difficult to write – no matter what technology you use. Trying to write a blog post from scratch is no different from trying to start an essay, write an email or begin a novel.

That why our commonwealth themes were important, they tied things together, they allowed us to explore ideas conceptually before having an attempt at writing down experiences. A blank page is scary no matter how scary you are, so much of the workshop was about getting people to think about what is possible, not just the art of sitting on a computer learning a new tool for word publishing.

We tried to avoid that at all costs, but that where expectations come in – I learned that you need to be super clear about the purpose of the workshop, the role of the technology in sessions (ie we will be doing things that are not on computers, in fact practice is more important than the tech you are using) and gaining access to it.

Which takes me to my second lesson…

2) Technology

When we began this project in October last year, a few people asked us at the launch event if we would be giving away tech to those participating. Judging by the range of equipment that the schools and community groups we were working with already had, many projects do come with a capital spend for technology for the activity, often leaving behind the legacy of some kit to carry on using later.

The problem is that this can often be a block in continuation of digital literacy projects. If we focus too much on the kit that we desire, without thinking about why we desire it, there is every chance that when a project concludes, that kit will sit at the back of the cupboard unused – with nobody around to take responsibility for its advocacy.

The ethos of our project was to encourage people to use what they already have. This is great in theory – as it allows for the groups in questions to conduct a mini-tech audit and activity reflect on what they have, dig it out and try using it again – BUT – it does make it challenging when delivering consistency.

Every local authority we visited had different set of tools to work with – when I went to Rothesay, I was greeted to a roomful of primary 7s who each had a wifi enabled laptop in front of them – where as in other schools, we did a fantastic job at planning blog posts using mini whiteboards, paper and pens and easispeak recorders – even if we couldn’t access certain social media sites. It just depended on what the school had access to, how the comfortable the teachers felt using the equipment and how much access to websites they had in the classroom.

Which takes me to my next part…

3) Flexibility

Delivering workshops of this nature, as an external project – across multiple local authority areas – is going to be challenging at the best of times, however, the most important factor of delivery was the ability to be flexible and be open to work collectively with the teacher(s) to ensure that the content that the learners make can actually happen.

We’ve all been there -walked into a room with a workshop plan, ready to take on a well prepared 3 hour session to a roomful of eager participants – only to find out that the entire internet is blocked and the projector doesn’t work. It’s not the end of the world.

For me, the heart of the Digital Commonwealth project was in teaching skills that allow to make your engagement with tech better. We prepared exercises in interview skills, all which can be done without a single piece of technology – we developed ‘paper tweets’ using post-it notes that allowed for the learners to talk about social media without having to be all over social media and developed scripts and storyboards for film and audio production. Flexibility was key – and having 4 sessions to develop a product meant that we could work closely with the teachers to ensure that we could find a solution around some of the more sticky technical challenges.

Which relies heavily on point number 4…

4) Relationships

The success in the workshops was all in the planning and communications with those involved. In some cases there were nearly 5-6 people involved in getting the workshops up and running in each area; local authority people, teachers, head teachers, cultural leads, legacy people. This involves a lot of phone-calls, emails and multiple cups of tea. What we must remember is that what we are developing and piloting here is new ways to understanding digital literacy in this context. When I started this job, it was a lot to get my head round in terms of communicating it to key stakeholders and participants – and now we are 2 months post games, it can become too easy to rest on hindsight, it was a long slog to convince people to work with us, but those who did, did so with great enthusiasm. Relationships are such an important factor – and I certainly hope that over the coming months that we continue to build on these connections to build and improve strategies around being able to teach digital literacies in these varying contexts.

Finally…

5) Empowerment (through demystifying risk)

This is possibly my most radical learning outcome from my experience as a trainer. Equipping and supporting those on the frontline with the language required to challenge and shape some of the existing practices associated with digital media in the classroom. I’m an ‘outsider’, I exist on the fringes of a lot of different things. I’m not a teacher – my role was to deliver this project, but my ‘outsiderness’ allows me to met with many people, share best practice, recommend techniques and strategies for overcoming blocks, matching up people across conventional work networks and be able to share this with the people I encounter.

That’s why I’m writing this blog post – I wanted to share these thoughts with you. Pass it on, add to it, but most importantly continue the dialogue around digital literacies. Like most things in the last few weeks, the more we talk to each other about these challenges and opportunities, the more confident other people feel about telling their stories within this context – and the more risk can be demystified.

With this in mind, does anybody have anything they wish to add or feel like I missed?