Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘digital

I announced yesterday that I was leaving NIE. I would like to elaborate on my reasons and hint at what I am planning on doing next.

Like some of my colleagues, I have received job offers by headhunters over the last few years. I have been asked to set up or lead the equivalent of CeL both locally and overseas. I always said no because I felt that my mission in NIE was not complete. Individually, those pull factors were not strong enough to convince me to leave.

Over the last few years, I have also received numerous requests from schools, educational outfits, and training institutes to provide workshops, talks, and an assortment of consultations. Not only was there a greater need for my services “out there”, there was also a greater appreciation for them. Collectively, these pull factors became stronger over time.

When my schedule allowed, I took leave to provide free or paid services to these organizations. My approach was always to first take the time to listen to my clients and then to meet their needs instead of their wants.

This logical and human process of looking and listening before leaping was gratifying to me. I think that the people I worked with also appreciated the extra effort I took (and still take).

So the job offers and approaches for consultation came my way without active seeking on my part. Often I would be found quite quickly after this blog or my tweets appeared high up in Google search results. This was not due to dumb luck, but to years of my leaving digital footprints and valuable artefacts for people to find for free. I attribute this daily strategy as key to being found for ad hoc work.

But it might be serendipity by human design that has resulted in job and career offers. I can recall at least two major ones.

In my first year as Head of CeL, I was headhunted by an agency in New Zealand for a position in Australia. The headhunter had asked a faculty member from one of my alma maters in the USA for recommendations and I was top of the list.

The latest offer happened just last Friday. As the details are not yet cast in stone, I shall be a bit vague.

The connections were closer to home but the prospects more global. The offer was very exciting and I told the headhunter that the job description seemed to be written with me in mind. I am very open to this option as it will allow me to 1) follow my passions, 2) build on what I have started as a thought leader and strategic implementer, and 3) wield influence in a much wider circle.

Whether the offers were ad hoc or longer term and whether they were a result of having a digital presence or serendipity, there were clear human links. By this I mean being caring and connected enough so that the right opportunities come my way. If you look at your own work life and find joy in it, you will probably find this to be true too.

This video by David White nicely encapsulates the more recent thinking on the natives/immigrant vs residents-visitors debate.

Video source

In particular, I like how he emphasized that the visitors use of online tools is functional, relatively infrequent, and leaves no social trace. Residents, on the other hand, treat these online spaces as part of their lives and leave a trace as a result.

The video echoes what has been slow-blogged online: Each person can be both a resident and visitor based on the context of use. You are not either a native or an immigrant. That false dichotomy provides you with excuses, particularly as an immigrant, and promotes learnt helplessness (“I can’t help but be helpless!”). Instead, you might be a Twitter resident but an Instagram visitor.

Another point that White makes in his video is that the resident-visitor phenomenon is a continuum instead of an either/or categorization. Who you are depends on what you do with which tool and how often.


I think that the value this video brings near the end is the addition of the personal-institutional continuum as the y-axis. White makes the point that it is not easy to transfer what a resident does in the social-personal space to the social-institutional space. This reflects what active and innovative instructors experiment and struggle with when trying to integrate social media in the classroom.

Video source

Whenever I hear someone say “digital native”, I try to educate them on why that term is divisive and harmful.

I have reflected a few times over the years on digital natives in this blog. This entry probably best encapsulates my thoughts.

I hope that this video adds more fuel to the there-are-no-digital-natives fire.

Two takeaways from this video that I had were:

  1. Being technologically competent is not something kids are born with nowadays. It is learnt like a language.
  2. Being comfortable with technology is not the same as having the knowledge or wisdom on its use.

These two takeaways deal with fundamental assumptions that people who use “digital natives” may have.

It is important to address these assumptions because they affect values and mindsets. These in turn affect actions like lesson planning, teaching, setting policy, and so on.

I liked Steve Wheeler’s four elements of digital curation. He elaborated on this in his blog entry, Get it together.

I simplify the four elements as:

  1. Finding
  2. Organizing/Arranging
  3. Adding value
  4. Sharing

Based on Wheeler’s argument, curation is a form of creation and therefore at the apex of Bloom’s revised taxonomy. I have no argument with that.

The thing that still troubles me is how some people think they are curating when they are not.

Tools that can be used to curate digitally include Diigo,, and Storify. Take Storify for example. Simply finding tweets and arranging them chronologically for archiving is not curating. It is recording and storing.

I would suggest that reorganizing the tweets so that they follow logical pathways like conversations or idea streams is a component of curating. Adding value by providing explanatory comments or resources to the Storify is the next component. Then sharing and managing the ratings, comments, and discussion that follow in Twitter or Storify is another component of curating.

If you don’t do one of these components, are you curating? If you merely pass things along and have not created something new from something else, have you really curated? I think not.

The apex of a mountain is not easy to reach. Neither is curating if it is done right.

Video source

A tongue-in-cheek look at the how your digital footprints can follow you.

And bite you in the butt.

Stages of Digital Fluency by kmakice, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  kmakice 

Some weeks ago, the folks at #edsg revisited the topic of being digitally literate vs being digitally fluent. I am not sure how much new ground we created but we certainly unearthed some key resources.

At a much earlier conversation, I bookmarked Digital Information Fluency (FAQs) and The Difference Between Digital Literacy and Digital Fluency.

Both are useful starters and anyone can define these terms reasonably and differently. I borrow from these resources to define digital literacy (DL) and fluency (DF).

The FAQs define DF simply as “the ability to find, evaluate and ethically use digital information efficiently and effectively to solve an information problem”. It goes on to say that DF has elements of information literacy (IL) and technological literacy (TL).

I like to think of IL as building on the ability to read and write in order to search for, analyze, evaluate, and create resources. If you have TL, you have the skills to help with the searching, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. To borrow from the second article, you know what to use and how to use it. For me DL=IL+TL.

According to the second resource, if you have DF, you also know when and why to use (or not use) a tool or strategy. If pushed for examples, I might suggest that when searching you know when and why to use Google, Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia, or YouTube.

A logical analogy is language ability. If you are literate, you know how to converse or to write sentences. You might be able to compose and propose.

But if you are fluent, you tell and get jokes that only a cunning linguist might take a licking liking to. You do not just read; you read in between. You do not just speak or write; you persuade and change.

Someone who possesses DF will be able to not just search effectively but also know to archive and possibly curate. When asked to recall or recommend, the digitally fluent need only reach for his/her network, archive, or curated work in order to inform and convince.

It might still be difficult to distinguish between DL and DF because they lie on a long continuum. But just like how we can tell someone who is literate from someone who is fluent, you can tell the difference DL and DF.

In one case you have the knowledgeable. In the other you have the knowledge-able.

Video source

I watched this Fine Bros video from two perspectives.

One was as a subscriber who enjoys the format of their “…React To” series. The kids’, teens’, elders’, and YouTubers’ reactions are as insightful as they are entertaining.

The other was as an educator. The way the Fine Bros conducted the video-based interview was a good example of digital sleuthing.

Video source

They first showed the teens a clip from a movie. Most of them already knew what the “cup song” phenomenon was. But they did not know how old the song was and that the cup-tapping idea was “stolen” from earlier efforts.

I think it was a good lesson about not taking things at face value and learning how to dig deeper. This should be part of lessons on being digitally literate.

You do not have to start a lesson on evaluating online resources by examining Wikipedia entries or Google Search results. Those are boring. Go where they are at and they will learn more!

Video source

The other lesson was about sharing openly. If the two girls did not upload their video to YouTube in 2009, we would not know that their effort preceded the one in the 2012 movie Pitch Perfect.

Videos and other online artefacts are not called digital footprints for nothing. They are evidence. While some focus on how such footprints can have negative consequences (e.g., you get fired for sharing a nasty photo), they can have positive outcomes too (e.g., you make a case for your intellectual property).

When something is insidious, it is not obvious when examined casually.

The “digital divide” is often viewed from the obvious technology access lens. For example, if teachers or students do not have devices and Internet access, how are they to curate or create content? While that perspective is important, it should not be the only argument against integrating technology into education.

In the context of post-industrialized countries, that point is moot. There are ways of putting technologies in the hands of learners. Every learner. The technologies get better and cheaper. Financially there are sponsors, donors, assistance schemes, etc. Schools need to think outside the box they create for themselves.

Video source

There is another more insidious box that divides the haves and have-nots. I have reflected on this before. There is the nature and quality of technology use once you have access to educational technology. The video above articulates this nicely.

The video describes a techno-pedagogical divide. I can think of many examples but will illustrate with just three.

A teacher might have access to an Interactive White Board in her classroom. But all she does is focus on didactic teaching and perhaps entertaining her students with slick animations, eye-candy transitions, and funny YouTube videos. She might do something similar by telling a riveting story with an oversized book, so her strategy for using the book and IWB are essentially the same. She is on the wrong side of the divide even if she has the IWB.

Another teacher can have access to a cart of iPads and reliable Internet access. But he allows access to the cart only when he asks his students to search for definitions, images, or videos to shed light on a concept. He does not leverage on what his students already carry in their pockets or bags, nor the spontaneity of search. He is unlikely to model information search skills and ethical use of what he finds. That teacher is also on the wrong side of the divide.

Now consider a group of teachers attempting to innovate by using a Edmodo or Facebook in their lessons. They transfer only what they experienced in the learning management system during their university days to the social media platform. They post content-only questions and expect students to answer them. They upload PowerPoint presentations and PDF readings. They wrap socialization around content instead of the other way around.

All those teachers are using new technologies with old methods. That is like moving to another country and refusing to learn the language and culture of the place. Both you and the residents may initially be wowed by the novelty. But soon both will tire of it and eventually resent it.

The insidious divide is a pedagogical one and it is far more harmful than the technological one. In a technological divide, the have-nots do not know what they are missing out on, but over time eventually might gain access to the tools.

In a pedagogical divide, the technology is present but its use is mismanaged and this sends the wrong message. This leads both the learner and instructor to question its validity and subsequent reliability.

Just thinking out loud…

New terms seem to emerge around educational technology. There are “digital x” forms like digital citizenship and digital fluency. There are the “x literacies” like assessment literacy and information literacy. The mother of such terms, digital literacy, might be the most vague of all

I wonder if we might just focus on citizenship, fluency, assessment, and being literate. While I can see some point of emphasizing how different these things might be, part of me resists the dichotomy of such thinking.

The intent of inventing and defining such terms may be good. They may exist to inform and to educate. But when descriptive terms get misinterpreted, or worse, to be prescribed, there is the temptation to create another confusing silo of thought and practice instead of a coherent whole.

dear john by jennypdx, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  jennypdx 

A few days ago, I received this email from “Hanna”. This could be a real person or not.

Hi Dr. Tan,

I’m getting in touch with you because I’d like to contribute an article to your blog. I found your blog post as I was conducting research for a resource about how technology is used in education today.

The article that I’d like to contribute would be look at the most effective methods (and not so-effective ways) that technology has been introduced into classrooms and learning environments. How is technology used to improve knowledge retention and the efficiency of providing students with a wealth of information?

Please let me know if you’d be interested in an article of this sorts. I’d be happy to hear your opinions about this and work with you on hashing out a more cohesive idea if you’d like.



If this is real and Hanna really reads my blog, I expect a response by way of comment.

If this is not real, then this is what spam, marketing, or phishing is starting to look like. It can be hard to tell.

So here is my open letter response to Hanna and whoever else tries this in the future.

Dear Hanna,

Thank you for contacting me. I am surprised that you found my blog because it is among millions.

I am not sure that you will want to write in my blog because this is my expectation for it: I do not blog for views. I blog my views. I do this to learn and to shape my thoughts on educational technologies and technology-mediated pedagogies. This is in my About Me page. Perhaps you did not see this statement.

As for a topic, I do not think it wise to promote current technology for just knowledge acquisition or retention. We already have books and tests for that.

Far more important is how to leverage on technology to promote collaboration, communication, content creation, critiquing, etc. Today, it is less about WHAT you know and more about WHO you know and WHAT YOU DO with what you know.

If you are real, I would like to hear your thoughts in return.

If you are not, then kudos to you for trying.

Real or fake, I think you will understand my caution and skepticism. Better to err on the side of caution.

It would help you in your cause (the real attempt to connect or to deceive) if you provided more information about yourself beyond your name and Gmail address ( These days you are one Google search away from being verified or trashed.

Whatever the outcome of this exchange, I thank you for the opportunity to not just practice my digital literacies but also develop some digital wisdom.


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