Month: February 2014

My thoughts on Digital Literacy


I’ve recently been thinking quite a lot about digital literacy and not only because we are studying the concept at the moment on my MA course but what it means to my learners too. So I thought I’d share my conclusions with you. This is a bit more academic than usual but I hope you’ll bear with me.


What digital literacy means to me

I was initially very impressed with Bax’s notions of normalisation, when I heard them in 2010 at the Iatefl conference in Harrogate, and I think this tied in with what Scott Thornbury was saying at the same event where he concentrated on ‘the need to ensure that the technological tail does not wag the pedagogical dog’. What this means to me is that digital literacy is: being able to use online spaces and digital tools to communicate, work, learn and create in a ‘normal’ way so that the tools and competences required are part of everyday life. This, of course, includes all the various key elements of digital literacy that are mentioned in the literature, such as knowing how to use technology to create content which is appropriate for the target online (or otherwise) context, with an awareness of copyright and plagiarism notions and knowing how to publish or share that content safely. It means knowing how to search for and find information, involving filtering skills and critical thinking, and knowing when to switch off and go for a walk instead. Finally, it also means network literacy, including cultural understanding of what sort of environment you are in and what is appropriate behaviour, as well as the implications of what you publish and the digital imprint you are creating for yourself. This is a broad summary of some of the ideas explored in (Hockly, H.( 2012), Dudeney, G. (2012), Poore, M (2013), Payton, S. & Hague, C. (2010)


Implications for Teachers and The Learning Process

Student Facebook page(Click on the image to access the Facebook Page)


To come back to the idea of normalisation and Thornbury’s metaphorical technology dog, it is inevitable to some extent that the ‘wow factor’ has a negative impact when teachers (or learners) use technology simply because it is a novelty but without sound pedagogical principles behind that use, and although this does happen, it is also true that there are many teachers who integrate technological tools systemically into their teaching.

Introducing social media, for example, in a principled way is one highly effective way of doing certain things such as using the class Facebook Page to extend a discussion, which was started in class, but there was not enough time to take any further, or to work on language, to encourage learners to read and watch videos by providing sites and tasks and to provide them with an informal space to post their own content and share ideas.

Here is one example of a discussion which university students began in class on the subject of what success means to them. This was then continued outside class on their Facebook page

The initial post:

This morning we discussed “success” in the C1 lesson. What does it mean to you? Money and fame, or…?

The Comments

M C I think the happyness of having a job that you like…with a small part played by money…Unlike · Reply · 3 · 13 January at 18:09

G D After a strong involvement in a job or in a research. Unlike · Reply · 1 · 13 January at 22:30

C A I think it is about achieving your goals, being loved and appreciated for who you are and being happy  Unlike · Reply · 1 · 13 January at 20:51 · Edited

G D I consider the “success” a gratification after a strong involve Like · Reply · 13 January at 22:29

The Statistics

202 people saw this post

The fact that there were only four comments is, in my opinion, not particularly significant, as what is much more important here is the fact that 202 people saw the post and thoughts about it. Lurking, in fact, is a choice, and the fact that someone does not comments does not necessarily mean that they are not learning something from the page. The discussion has effectively been extended beyond the classroom to become a part of our ‘normal’ digital world on Facebook.


There are, however, various issues that my learners need to come to terms with which go beyond the issues of functional digital literacy (using blogs, social media to create content among other things). (Poore 2013). They need to become more aware of what it means to be part of a network and what they are actually publishing. Many learners are not aware of issues of safety and privacy. They do not know what it means to publish their photos on social media, and what rights they are giving the owners of the space by doing so. On the other hand we are living in what is increasingly becoming a ‘remix’ world, where the boundaries between what is real and what is a spoof, are getting more and more blurred every day, so learners need to know what is real and what isn’t. This however, may go beyond the remit of the ELT class. What is essential in my context of the university world, however, is the notion of plagiarism and copyright, which learners are not often aware of particularly when it comes to publishing photos they have found online. All these are areas that need to be explored.


Burning the candle at both ends
The Wow Factor

Bax recently wrote, in 2011, however, an article revisiting his view of normalisation, which he defined in 2003 as ‘the stage at which a technology is used in language education without our being consciously aware of its role as a technology, as an effective element in the language learning process (Bax, 2003)’ and in the 2011 article he examines some of the fears and expensive mistakes that are made when institutions, for instance, introduce technology because of the ‘wow’ factor, interactive whiteboards, being a blatant example of this if not support and training is also provided or only occasional access to the tool is allowed. He argues for a constructivist approach to the implementation of technology, and I would agree with this although I can remember a few years ago trying to motivate learners to use Skype to organise “spoken practice” session with a partner who lived in another town. The idea was that they should do a set task together using Skype. This was very unsuccessful, and with hindsight, it was another example of encroachment perhaps, of them not really using Skype for education, but rather for chatting to their friends. Recently, however, a group of my learners were preparing collaborative presentations using Prezi, and when I asked them to give feedback on how they had set about this, they said that they had skyped. To skype, then has become a verb, and is a normalised means of communication for these students who simply used it as the most convenient way to communicate with each other in order to  do the task they needed to. The difference is that the technology is not a novelty to them, any more than a pen would be. It is simply a means to an end, and what is perceived as important is the task they are involved in.

 Final Thoughts: the magical experience

As a final comment on digital literacy, however, I would like to add that I think true ‘digital citizens’ are in fact fascinated by technology and are curious about exploring the potential various tools can provide, precisely because they are amazed, not by the technology or the devices themselves, but by what they can enable us to do. Too much normalisation can lead to us losing the sense of wonder or the miraculous that is what makes people react to the novelty or the ‘wow factor’ of the tools in the first place. The use of the car, for instance, has been completely normalised in my socioeconomic context of Northern Italy, but sometimes to simply sit in your car and realise how powerful it is and what a wonderful thing it is to be able to travel such distances so easily, or to realise what it means to press a button and find a whole orchestra inside a little box we call a stereo, is a salutary experience. I remember the delight I first felt when I shared a photo of my day out to the seaside on Facebook, and people immediately responded to it. These tools are wonderful things precisely because they extend communication in new ways, and they are part of the miracle of life.



Bax, S. (2003) CALL – past, present and future. System 31 (1) March pp. 13-28

Bax, S. (2011)  Normalisation Revisited: The Effective Use of Technology in Language Education.  International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching 1 (2), April-June.  pp. 1-15.

Dudeney, G. (2012) Plenary at ThaiTESOL conference, slides available at

Hague, C. & Payton, S. (2010) Digital Literacy across the curriculum: a Futurelab Handbook, available at:

Hockly, N. (2012) New Technologies: Digital Literacies, ELT Journal Volume 6 (1) January, p.108-112;

Poore, M (2013) Using social media in the classroom – a best practice guide, SAGE


Summary of Harrogate 2010 Iatefl  PreConference Event  Accessed on 15th February 2014.

Using Video, Screencasts, Blogs and Wikis

Hi everyone, I’m afraid the magic carpet took off and then had technical trouble in October over West Yorkshire, where I was grounded for some time due to family problems. However… The MA is going on and I’m getting back into it now so I thought I’d share my thoughts on videos, screencasts, blogs and wikis:

Using video, screencasts, blogs and videos

Number One: Using Jing

First of all, here is an example of a Jing screencast I made a few years ago to help students navigate a photocopied worksheet on phrasal verbs which we were using in class. The link will take you to the relevant wiki page. Scroll down until you come to Week Six: Can you use phrasal verbs? and you will see how the screencast comes in between other worksheets that B2 students were using (and still are). The value here, of the video is that those who missed the class, can see it later, as can those who would like to review their work or go at a different pace from the one set in class.

I don’t actually like Jing very much though, as it is quite intrusive on my desktop and limits what you can do to short screencasts, so I tend to use other software such as Camtasia . Follow this link to see a series of screencasts I did with this software to familiarize learners with dictionary skills. This is a different page of the same wiki. Scroll down until you come to Using Dictionaries.

I also use screencasts a lot for my own professional development when I have to give a presentation. I record the presentation so that I can watch it and improve “my performance”. Follow this linkg to see a presentation I was giving at Iatefl Harrogate 2010. (It is actually iin various parts as you could only upload short videos to Youtube at the time. This is Part One of “Breathing Life into E-Learning” . I also teach my university students how to do this so that they can practise for their C2 Oral exam which involves giving a Powerpoint or a Prezi presentation of the main points from a mini research project that they do. So far, the results have been very favourable and the students are generally enthusiastic.

Number Two: Dvolver

This is another site that I played with a few years ago when I was also trying out work with Comic strips and other animations such as Goanimate or Writecomics among others. In the end I decided that this type of activity was more approapriate for High School Students so I abandoned it but follow this link to a page on the wiki with a Dvolver video that was developed for my middle aged adult conversation course :-). The video was used to introduce the idea of the “Awards” ceremony, in which students gave each other awards for things such as “always being a leader” “Knowing how to say the right thing” etc. If you follow this link you can see the photos from the actual ceremony when the “Rabbit Awards” (Lindt rabbits at Easter time rather than Oscars” were presented. This type of activity, as well as working on language and fluency, goes a long way towards the social community forming type of motivation activity that works well with this group. (I mentioned this in one of the posts on learner strategies.)

Blogs and Wikis

1. Student Blog

I’ve always been a fan of blogs and wikis although the way I use them is probably quite personal. My student blog, for instance,  is not really a personal “diary” type blog but more of a “diary ” of my courses. If you look at the bar at the top of the page you can select the area you are interested in,

so the Universtiy of Verona students wil do the Verona University, and then they can find their page (and I generally leave the page from the previous year too, for those who want to access it). On their page they find an overview of the weeks lessons, plus work they can do to prepare for the next week and useful documents, worksheets etc. that they can download. On the hoepage of the blog there are notices and in the menu on the right there are useful links in categories such as Exam Practice or Study Skills. If you hover over these links with your mouse, you will see my comments on the resources, such as what is good about a particular dictionary etc.

Student Blog

2. Teacher Blog and Wiki

This is a more traditional idea of a blog in that I post my thoughts, insights, resources etc. and I have not been using it much recently becuase, as they say, “Life is getting in the way” with family problems etc. However, I use it a lot to post things that catch my attention or thoughts I have. It has links to other blogs that I like and often use.

Teacher Blog

I also set up a wiki on Wikispaces years ago for my colleagues, and it has taken us about 8 years for everyone to learn how to use it and to use it regularly, but now they do and we use it for exam admin etc. I can’t show it to you because it is private but I can show you how I used screencasts on this one: here is an introduction to Teacher Autonomy when it comes to standardization for oral exams:

3. Student Wiki

I have several of these and I used them before I started the blog. This one has a range of activities that I use for different groups and nowadays I generally provide links from the blog to the relevant activity on the wiki. I use Wikispaces, because I have always found it to be very user friendly, and I had been using the university e-learning site, but it didn’t let me do a lot of the activities I wanted to. (It is very similar to Moodle, just to give you an idea).

One of the nice things about Wikispaces is that each page also has a discussion space so students can join in on discussion threads. In the past we used forums, but this is one way of integrating them better. I have also used the Edublogs wikis which are part and parcel of my student blog, to set up simple wikis for students, and we have experimented with students setting up their own English blogs on Blogger too.

Student Wiki

Here is a Screencast video I made to show some ways in which the wiki space can become a mutual space which starts with me as the teacher but gradually begins to bring in the learners and their contect too: encouraging peer learning:

4. Social Media Space
Despite all my efforts though I have always found it quite difficult to get students to actually work on Wikispaces. I think there are issues of encroachment because they actually do see this space as “mine” as I created it and I use it a lot in class too. That is why a couple of years ago I decided to overcome my reluctance to use Facebook in class and created a “sister page” for our student blog, which has the same name: EnglishLab Discussions. This has been a great success when used as an integral part of the blended learning approach. Learners can upload, presentations, photos or just interesting things that they read etc. and I send them things such as “the word of the week” or “good things from the written exams” or “irritating errors” or simply fun activities. This is definitely not simply my space and the students are using it more and more, Incidentally, they tend to use it to contact me as well, much more so than the university email, which is much more formal.

All this may look as though it takes a lot of work, and it does take constant monitoring, the Facebook Page in particular, but I find that if I go there once or twce a day for five minutes, I can comment on posts and things, and this constant feedback from me, even if it is something quite small encourages students to take the plunge and not to simply lurk in the background.

Facebook Page