The Life and Death of a Literacy & Technology Program

The Life and Death of a Literacy & Technology Program

On March 7th, 2012 the Connecticut State Board of Education approved the licensure and hybrid learning format of the Instructional Technology & Digital Media Literacy (IT&DML) program. Approving this new program set a bold and innovative roadmap for the future of hybrid teaching and learning initiatives that are becoming vital educational tools. The program and the Educational Department at the University of New Haven were ultimately phased out by the school administration. In this post, I hope to explain a bit more about the format and delivery of the IT&DML program and its value to K through 12 education, and most especially higher education.

This post is a supplement to the column published in JAAL titled Hybrid & Blended Learning: Modifying pedagogy across time, place, path, & pace.

What is the IT&DML Program?

The IT&DML program was specifically tailored to build the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to authentically and effectively use educational technologies. The course sequence was organized into a blended learning format. A majority of the classes met online while a few face-to-face class sessions were scattered throughout the year.

The IT&DML program was designed to be at the forefront of educational initiatives in the effective uses of instructional technologies. The program maintained a strong focus on not only the theories that inform use of these technologies and literacies in the classroom, but also the “nuts & bolts” of the hands-on use of these texts and tools. Put simply, we viewed technology as a literacy and need to be able to advocate for, and empower others in the use of these new, digital, and/or web literacies. Our graduates would be leaders in the design, development, selection, and application of their own educational technology tools.

Our program focused on three tenets to inform all instruction in the program. First, we are not only believers in technology as literacy, but also critical literacy. Critical literacy in an educational context advocates for the adoption of critical perspectives to encourage readers to actively analyze texts to uncover the real meaning or messages involved. Second, we are believers in open learning, open education, and open source. As a result, many of our classes, assignments, and reflections are openly shared online as we engage in experiential learning. Third, we built the entire program to be a “bring your own browser” learning management system. Students only needed to be able to access the Internet using the device of their choice to be able to access course and program materials.

Critical new literacies

The IT&DML program is framed with a heavy dose of critical literacy and new literacies research. There are numerous challenges, inefficiencies, and “problems” that exist in education, and to a larger extent the world. Through the thoughtful use of technology, we have the opportunity to address, restructure, or in some cases “solve” these inequalities or inefficiencies. Through a critical literacy lens, we allow ourselves and our students to examine the truth in a system, and work to educate, empower, and advocate for others. As educators and students read and write online, they need to be considerate of other voices and the power and bias in these texts. This negotiation and interrogation of power structures is made even more viable through the use of the Internet and other communication tools.

New and digital media literacies are fundamental and mandatory in our current society. As educators we need to work to better understand the nuances involved as technology interacts in our classrooms. There is a need to understand and focus on the pedagogical effects of critical literacy and the new or digital literacies in the classroom. In the IT&DML program we worked to empower educators to work with their students to constantly examine and reflect on what we may read or write in online spaces. In this capacity, our goal was to make our students and their students more informed, motivated readers and writers of online information. Pedagogy such as this helps create the motivated, entrepreneurial learners that our business leaders have been searching for over the past decade and into the future. Skillful use of new and digital illiteracies will become the essential components for success in the workforce of the future.

Open source education

In content, process and platform the program was designed to be a laboratory for identifying best practices in the future. As we worked to develop and scale out the program for licensure, we spent time thinking not only about where the program needed to be now but what future events might warrant. As a result, we focused on being as “open source” as possible. In this effort we reached out to the Yale Open Course Project, the Stanford Open Learning Initiative, the Open University, and the OpenCourseWare initiatives at MIT and NJIT. We were interested in understanding the challenges and opportunities that existed in openly creating and sharing teaching and learning materials online with students.

We licensed all of these materials with a Creative Commons license allowing others to share, reuse, and modify this content. We knew that our program, and the classes involved in the sequence couldn’t be perfect, but if we put the materials openly online and shared them with the right communities, we would obtain critical feedback. We also shared because we wanted to provide other educators globally to use this information and work if they found value in it. My thinking is that if one educator or student is able to benefit from these materials, the world is a better place for it. As this program is ending at UHN, I’m thankful that we documented the work and development over time of the program online to share with others. I also know that I will carry the lessons learned here to other academic venues constantly building upon and improvement the value of these modalities

Bring Your Own Browser (BYOB)

Instead of using Blackboard, or other closed learning management systems, we built and maintained our own learning management system using a web of interconnected free digital texts and tools. We used free online tools to create a bring your own browser (BYOB) program that allows us to keep costs negligible while supporting our students for the learners they’ll encounter. The rationale for building the entire program using free online tools like Google Apps is to allow our students to know how to build their own teaching and learning environments for use with their students and in their own lives.

We also wanted to provide our students with device agnostic, ubiquitous access to their data and class materials. We wanted them to be able to access materials on their phone, tablet, home computer, school network, etc. It shouldn’t matter if they are using an Apple device, Android device, logged into the campus network, or sitting on a couch at home. If they could get to a browser, and get online they could learn, share, and connect. Furthermore, we wanted to provide our students with an opportunity to view and interact with the tools as students, so they could bring this understanding and insight to their students. As noted earlier, all course materials, program reflections, and most of the student work would be openly available online.

 

All of the materials and reflections as we developed the course are available here on this blog at the following thread. All content is CC licensed, so feel free to use and adapt as you see fit. If you’d like to chat about the courses or the program…send me a note. 🙂

 

 

Cover photo by Frank Wittig http://flickr.com/photos/frankwittig/17421814826 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

 

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