Living in the digital now

The digital revolution that we're in the middle of at the moment is probably one of the largest transformations to ever have taken place in human history. It's big not only because of the things that we are able to do with digital tools but also the changes that it's making to human culture. We’re all facing the challenge of living in the digital now and it only takes a quick look at the media to see that ideas of participation, identity, democracy, formal and informal networks are really being challenged. Where traditionally we might have looked to institutions of long standing or to well established experts to solve problems for us, increasingly now we're sourcing information online, we're curating it, we're finding solutions, we're doing things digitally.


The growth in technologies that allow people from around the globe to communicate and collaborate together have created a situation whereby previously disparate cultures have come together and new cultures have emerged. If we think about a bunch of people from a range of ages, nationalities and cultures coming together online to build things in Minecraft, you’ve got a bit of an idea of what’s happening. Because we've been living in societies for hundreds of thousands of years, we've got a pretty well established set of principles, rules, understandings for what it means to be a really positive member of a community. What we don't have because it's been happening relatively quickly and recently, is the same set of understandings, rights and responsibilities for living in the digital now. And so one of the things that we need to really do is work with our students to develop those expectations, those understandings.


So take for example EdChat NZ, which is something that runs once a week on Thursdays. People from all around the country come together and using the Twitter hashtag #EdChatNZ they discuss a particular topic. So a local Kiwi educator Danielle Myburgh set it up and she takes suggestions for topics week by week from the group, but really it's the contributions that every individual makes that determines the success of it. So you ask questions, you provide opinions, you link to articles and research, you make opportunities for other people to be involved and to come in, and really the teachers that are involved in it model the kind of digital citizenship that we're looking for from our students when they are living in the digital now.

Another challenge that living in the digital now presents us with is centred around ownership and copyright. What we’ve traditionally done when a work is created, is that one person or a couple of people create that work, This is in large part because the technology they’ve had to use (a pen, or a typewriter, or a stand alone computer) Has dictated that they work on their own. But technologies such as wikis or collaborative documents or file sharing tools mean that not only can more than one person work on a resource, but literally hundreds or thousands of people can work on it. So traditionaly notions of ownership begin to be challenged. We’ve seen the emergence of things like Creative Commons licences emerge as a way for people to navigate around the tricky area of ownership, but also as a tool to encourage others to edit, add to and build upon their work.

And things like Mix and Mash, an undertaking from the National Library, Digital NZ and Creative Commons New Zealand, actually encourage people to remix and reuse traditional artifacts or works. And so they run a competition for students to tell stories around particular artifacts that have been released under a Creative Commons licence, and the genius of that project is that whereas the other way of doing things would be to have them locked up in a dusty cabinet, they release them into the wild and then have students and teachers tell the story of those artifacts in really meaningful way and that's the kind of real world learning where you are getting to the stories behind the objects that we're looking for.


These new worlds are tricky for educators to navigate because while we want to make use of these tools and opportunities, we want to do it in a way that ensures our students are safe, affirmed and guided through the process of developing the skills required to be good members of their communities. The schools that are doing really good work in this are involving the students in the process. So instead of just having a digital citizenship lesson once a year, they are actually helping the students to identify what their own needs are in the digital world, and then using inquiry learning to help students to build resources, help videos, tutorials, posters, that other students can use to help them navigate through that digital world. So you can see that a lot of parts of our culture, democracy, identity, leadership, the way that we work with others, are being challenged by living in the digital now, and the only thing that's really clear is that in order to really successfully navigate through these challenges, we're going to have to walk alongside our students and our communities and be learners alongside them.

Another really interesting aspect of this is the challenge that it provides for traditional notions of leadership. We often in the past have looked to people with particular expertise, they've often got a lot of experience and we confer on them formal positions of leadership. But this kind of rapidly evolving ad hoc community has a different form of leadership. It's often networked, it's often very informal. You might take a leadership role on a topic of a week that you have some expertise in, but the following week you might be supporting somebody else to take a leadership role. So notions of leadership in the way that communities operate are also really being challenged.


  • How well do our schools and classrooms (both physically and in terms of the programmes and behaviours) model and reflect the ‘digital now’ that is the experience of students and staff outside of school?
  • Are you regularly reviewing what learners have access to and are using at home and in the community?
  • How is this then reflected in your curriculum and pedagogy?
  • What are the range of literacies we need to be considering…
  • Cultural literacies?
  • Maori literacy digitally?
  • Pasifika literacies digitally?  
  • What about literacies of our unique New Zealand heritage?
  • Literacies of context?
  • Digital and media literacy as well as technological literacies?

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