Critical learning literacies for professional development in education
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Type of snapshot
Provision in the curriculum: separate skills/literacies module
What was the context for this snapshot?
The Media and Information Literacy course unit (module) is part of a Masters’ course in Digital Technologies, Communication and Education (www.MAdigitaltechnologies.com). The degree uses a range of digital technologies and communication techniques to help educators from all sectors understand the changed nature of professional practice and professional development in technology-rich environments. Learners on the module are there partly to acquire the necessary skills they need for their other studies and research in this media- and information-saturated environment. The module also helps them develop schemes of media and information literacy teaching which they can go on to use in their own future professional practice.
The environment is a challenging one due to the diversity of students. There was a need to develop a course unit that students could study at their own pace, with no intermediate deadlines or group work.
The course was previously called Using Computers to Handle and Communicate Information and dealt with information literacy only. However, changes in the degree program have widened its scope beyond ‘ICT’ and into the full range of digital information and communications technologies, as well as communications theory, techniques and the role of the broadcast media. As a result, the unit is being updated to incorporate media literacy elements as well.
What kind of learners were involved in accessing this provision or support?
The MA: DTCE attracts a wide range of practitioners, from primary through secondary to tertiary, adult, community and professional educators. Many are studying part-time while still working. Of 45 current MA: DTCE students, only 12 are British, the rest coming from a total of 19 other countries. Half study the course on campus, the other half by distance learning. Current DL students live in countries as diverse as Colombia, Oman, Morocco, the USA, Ireland and Singapore, as well as the UK.
This diversity, and the explicitly self-reflective nature of professional development for educators (see Carr & Kemmis, Becoming Critical) requires that their media & information literacy skills be developed in a learner-centred way.
Whenever possible, distance learners on the MA: DTCE are not separated from face-to-face learners. DL students access a series of brief podcasts which cover some material F2F students would hear in the classroom, but otherwise, resources, activities and forms of student support are the same for both groups. The course is offered through the Moodle VLE (see URL at end).
What skills or literacies were particularly being addressed?
The overall framework for the course unit is that of Cultural Studies, and within this, M & IL are investigated in light of critical theory. Hall’s ‘Encoding/Decoding’ framework, and textual analysis techniques such as semiotics, narrative, genre, discourse and content analysis are all introduced to students. With respect to IL, the module incorporates the multifaceted view of IL developed by Christine Bruce et al (2007), who suggests that IL can range from from functional to wisdom-based and transformatory, and the view of Andrew Whitworth (2007; 2009) that the subjective basis for much IL is not fully defensible, due first to innate cognitive biases in our personal information-processing, and second, to the ways organisations affect the way we think. Learners are not fully free to understand their information needs and thereby filter found information: filtering takes place at higher levels (structural, infrastructural and intersubjective) of society, before it reaches the individual. Media & IL skills require learners to identify, and if necessary confront and transform, these higher-level filters as well.
Competence frameworks such as those developed by Bruce and other authors (Big 6), and indicators (e.g. Catts & Lau 2008) are assessed in a comparative way. In other words, students are introduced to a range of approaches and encouraged to view them, and media & IL generally, in a critical fashion, assessing its relevance to their own professional context.
Bruce, C., Edwards, S. and Lupton, M. (2007): “Six frames for information literacy education: a conceptual framework for interpreting the relationships between theory and practice”, in Andretta, S. (ed.), Change and Challenge: Information literacy for the 21st century, Auslib, Blackwood. Catts, R. and Lau, J. (2008): Towards Information Literacy Indicators, UNESCO, Paris. Whitworth, A. (2007): “Communicative comptence in the information age: towards a critical theory of information literacy education”, in Andretta, S. (ed.), op cit. Whitworth, A. (2009): Information Obesity, Chandos, Oxford. Forthcoming in Feb/Mar 2009.
Who provided the support? How was support provided?
The course is taught by a team of 2, the principal lecturer (who has published several papers and one self-authored book on info literacy) and a teaching assistant (the current incumbent holding an MA in Media & Cultural Studies and corporate training experience).
Learners on the M & IL module are assessed through their creation of a portfolio of 4 learning and teaching activities, which they present wrapped up in a commentary of 2,000 words that has to relate their work to the philosophical, theoretical and critical frameworks developed in the module.
Provision is self-selecting in that the module is optional on the MA: DTCE, though it is a common choice (around 2 in 3 students take it).
Note that the module is also to be made available from 2009-10 to external students seeking professional development credits, though this provision cannot be assessed before the fact.
Benefits, outcomes, and lessons learned
Creating a fully self-paced course is not easy, but with the busy workloads and pressures faced by working professionals, it provides some essential flexibility, both from the learners’ perspective and also the administrative requirements of the host university. This is why the course has been created on Moodle rather than the institutional VLE, on which access to materials is more strictly controlled by things like semester enrollment dates, etc. The M&IL module is effectively permanently available. Nevertheless, deadlines exist for final assessments, and students must eventually commit to completing the portfolio by a certain date.
To put this into practice, however, takes a commitment to a more 1-2-1 relationship between teachers and learners than is usual in a university module. Group work is not possible (as this would create intermediary ‘deadlines’ and/or require learners to move through the course at the same pace), so self-reflection must be encouraged by careful activity and assessment design, and an allocation of 1-2-1 tutorial time. Learner progress must be carefully monitored (through the use of Moodle’s logs as well as open e-mail communication) as while learners are advised they will need to exercise self-discipline, this is not always easy to put into practice without guidance.
Evidence of benefit is not yet easy to assess for the new version of the course but the previous version (UCHCI) had positive student feedback. MA dissertations have been completed on IL.