“Come, let us go down and confound their speech”

The last decade the world changed considerably. Very important changes are the digitalisation of information and the use of internet. This is a big challenge for education. In the media we read that we have to implement 21st century skills in our classrooms or improve the digital literacy of our students en ourselves. The EU, OESO, UNESCO, Pisa, White House tell us that. So it must be important.
But we know that educational change doesn’t happen overnight. And a teacher will only change his practice if he knows what it is we re talking about, why this is necessary, that it is not ‘ old wine in new bags’ as we say in The Netherlands and what the obstacles and challenges are.
Talking about incorporating ICT in the classrooms Ertmer & Ottenbreich say that teachers are reluctant (…) for a variety of reasons including the lack of relevant knowledge (…) , low self-efficacy (…) and existing belief systems (…)” .

Allen & van de Velden say in their Essay for the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science in the Netherlands ” The world is changing rapidly in a lot of ways, but the dominant change is in ICT. Changing technology has far-reaching implications for how we act and interact at work, in education, in civic life and at home. Furthermore, this change is in large part the driving force behind many of the other major changes, such as globalization, flexibilization and the polarization of the job structure. ” Allen, J., & van der Velden, R. (2011). Skills for the 21st Century: Implications for Education. We probably agree on this.

In the literature researchers say that students do not have the skills to understand and use properly digital information. In the PISA 2009 Results: Students On Line: Digital Technologies and Performance it says ” While the quality of online education is a subject of intense debate among educators, parents and students alike, what is no longer open to debate is the need for digital literacy. Are our children well-prepared to enter this technology-rich world? Not all do as well as you might expect from a crop of “digital natives”. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) [www.pisa.oecd.org] finds that, on average among 15-year-olds who have grown up in a “wired” world, 17% have serious difficulties navigating through the digital environment—which means that these students may find it difficult completing their studies and, later on, looking and applying for work, filling out forms to pay their taxes or even reserving a seat on a train. And in some countries these percentages are much larger.”

But which skills are we talking about? A lot of terms are coming up frequently: 21st century skills, digital literacy, ICT literacy, media literacy, …
The term 21st century skills is the broadest term. It relates to much more then to Digital Literacy.
Organisations like Partnership for 21st century skills (P21), OECD en Assessment and Teaching of 21st century skills (ATCS) have done research. Voogt & Roblin looked into the research and conclude that 21st century skills can be divided into 7 competencies: Collaboration, Problem Solving, ICT literacy, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Social and cultural skills. And ICT plays a central role in 21st century skills. Voogt, J. & N. Pareja Roblin (2009) (in Dutch)

Lets zoom in on ICT literacy. This is also not a term that is simple. There are at least two ways to look at this: Media Literacy ( skills / attitudes concerning new media like video, blogs and media wisdom: privacy, bullying etc) and Digital Literacy (skills to search, choose, understand and actively use digital information). The latter perspective I will use in my further research.

So we, as educators, get confused. When I speak to colleagues, read tweets and blogs it shows that many teachers don’t really have a good understanding of the problem we have to face, how important this is and how we can deal with this. I agree with Alvermann when she says ” Yet theorizing the role of these online literacies and the implications they may have for classroom teachers, teacher educators, and researchers whose work is focused at the middle and high school level is rarely a topic of discussion in practitioner journals, or at least in the ones I read on a regular basis.”

It looks like the problem of Babel in the Bible. God looked at a united humanity of the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating from the east. God came down to see what they did and said: “They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do.” So God said, “Come, let us go down and confound their speech.” And so God scattered them upon the face of the Earth, and confused their languages, and they left off building the city, which was called Babel “because God there confounded the language of all the Earth.” (Genesis 11:5-8). (Tower of babel)
But looking at the terminological confusion nowadays we have nobody to blame.

And as a language teacher I get a bit nervous reading the 2009 Position statement of the International Reading Association ” To become fully literate in today’s world, students must become proficient in the new literacies of 21st-century technologies. As a result, literacy educators have a responsibility to effectively integrate these new technologies into the curriculum, preparing students for the literacy future they deserve.” What shall I do?

So the first thing I have planned is looking at the WHAT question: what are we talking about. I have planned to write a booklet for teachers so we know what we are talking about. This means first a literature study.
After that I will ask the teachers what they know, their attitude, the obstacles and challenges they see, using a survey.

Feedback and help is appreciated.

Alvermann, D. E. (2008). Why Bother Theorizing Adolescents’ Online Literacies for Classroom Practice and Research Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52(1), 8–19.
Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreich-Leftwich, A. T. (2010). Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect. Journal of Research on Technology in Education (JRTE), 42(3), 255–284.
OECD. (2011). PISA 2009 Results: Students On Line. OECD Publishing.

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