As mentioned in a previous blog, I attended a conference on Adult Education in the community sector where I’ve worked for two decades. This was a great opportunity to consider how learning has changed and what it will look like into the future.
The Foundation For Young Australians was represented by Shona McPherson who is passionate about redefining the role of young people in our society, as well as her belief that the not-for-profit sector can drive social innovation in Australia.
The Foundation has produced detailed reports and these can be downloaded or read on their website. The shocking statistic in the title for this blog is one of them.
Before saying, “Oh, that can’t be true,” it is worthwhile reading the research.
Teenagers may be big on using Facebook, gaming, and texting but that is not necessarily literacy.
- Can they use more than Google’s search engine to find information and when they find it can they verify its provenance?
- Can they format a document?
- Can they write and send a coherent email?
- Do they know the difference between various types of files?
- Do they understand about security on the Internet?
In 2018, we have more than one generation of digital natives, but not necessarily literate ones yet 90% of jobs will require digital literacy
Digital literacy involves:
- basic skills
- getting online
- communication knowhow
- navigate online
- create documents
What Does Being Literate Mean?
Shona focused on digital literacy and building a different mindset for the future but another speaker, Sally Thompson, the Deputy Director of the Future Social Service Institute, who is an education analyst and leader with a background in adult literacy, challenged us to think about how we view literacy and what it will mean for future adult learning needs.
What do adults use literacy for and how do they learn?
Why do they learn?
- How do we apply reading and writing in everyday life?
- In this world of globalisation, many people speak read and write variations of English.
- It is also a digital world.
- The main game for us in the community education sector is building a network so people can live meaningful lives.
- This is complex.
A project by the Australian National University mapped literacy in an Aboriginal community where indigenous language has been retained.
What is reading and writing to them and what did they use their literacy skills for?
Researchers discovered the church, community radio, and other shared hubs for community life were where text was generated.
- making of culture was the aim,
- also interacting with other groups
- and there was extensive use of literacy mediators.
For example, in the Aboriginal community, there were a lot of fly-in/fly-out service providers. When people encountered new texts they didn’t try and master all of it but sought help from the Christian pastor, retail workers in the shops (mainly young women) and those permanent workers or volunteers at community hubs like the radio station.
We all use literacy mediators!
If you have a new mobile phone you don’t read the manual you find a teenager.
If you buy furniture or any other item that needs assembling (think Ikea) you may call a friend or check Youtube.
If you want to understand the prospectus of a tertiary institution, health information, public transport timetables, and numerous other pieces of information that may be delivered in an unfamiliar or detailed format, you ask a friend, a family member, an employee, a receptionist… even a passing member of the public who looks as if they are knowledgeable or confident!
Globalisation has made literacy a patchwork.
It takes a village to be literate in the modern globalised world.
The image we have of someone illiterate is confirmation bias. We think poor, disadvantaged, miserable but research has proven this is NOT TRUE!
- Researchers discovered the majority of those traditionally regarded as miserable actually live fulfilled meaningful lives by relying on networks to navigate texts.
- They don’t see themselves as dependent nor do they usually employ someone to read and write for them. If they do, a lot of trust is required.
However, Sally said the cliches still exist.
If you have no mates you’re in trouble, if low literacy and no friends you are in diabolical trouble.
In the community sector, we often deal with the cliches (those in diabolical trouble, friendless and illiterate, or with poor literacy skills.)
We work incredibly hard in the adult education sector to ensure people can return to education or continue lifelong learning.
However, regardless of our position, we are all literacy mediators especially administration staff who are the first responders to people coming in and needing brochures/leaflets interpreted.
Similar scenarios occur in medical facilities, retail establishments and many government or banking offices.
There are numerous social interactions and explanations where staff are entrusted to help people or where people help others understand a map, a guidebook, operating instructions etc.
The research into various communities showed that:
Tradesmen’s wives, parish secretaries, administration and reception staff – these people often have bi-cultural experience or knowledge.
The work they do is invisible. Comfortable in their environment, available, non-judgemental, and not in a position of authority, they will share their literacy skills.
Reflect on the number of times you have asked someone to decipher instructions, explain a form to be filled in, even translate a menu!
Literacy today is a complex issue.
Especially financial literacy.
There are lots of mediators necessary because who can say they understand superannuation and the taxation system?
Not many as the current Royal Commission into the banks is revealing.
And as more and more services go online digital literacy is necessary to pay bills, pay for goods, issue accounts and quotes.
Sally suggests that there is a policy disconnect because the government thinks you can only teach and examine levels of literacy in a particular way and so there is a political origin of the tests we use to judge skills.
How do you measure literacy?
The current tests are too narrow because we are dealing with human beings, not problems to be solved. A competency-based assessment doesn’t necessarily help.
- We are not prepared for the modern globalised world.
- We need to make what is needed visible and encourage the government to change its attitude to funding and other measures because technology is here to stay and in every aspect of our lives.
A conference member told a story of her 17-year-old son who wanted her to play a game on his iPad. She couldn’t understand the technology, or ‘language’ used nor the rules. He became so frustrated with trying to explain that he gave up playing with her.
When getting into the city building where the conference was held we confronted technology.
A keycard with your unique code had to be collected from a central reception area, the card was swiped to go further into the foyer and gain access to a lift to our particular building and floor.
The card had to be held in a way that the barcode was read, not swiped or tapped, which was the first instinct for most people and caused a bit of confusion.
To leave the building was a similar process – a bit like tapping on and off a Myki for the trains and trams (and this was a new experience for country members).
The use of barcodes and scanning is increasing.
I remember when I volunteered at MIFF (Melbourne International Film Festival) a few years ago only a few patrons downloaded movie tickets onto their mobile phones and the scanners we had were unreliable and didn’t always work.
Today, most people print off tickets or download them onto their phones. If you don’t, you suffer long queues at venues where less staff are employed to deal with the “digital dinosaurs”.
However, navigating websites for information or to buy products can be a nightmare because of poorly worded instructions.
Southland Shopping Centre has introduced paid parking since the train station has opened. Shoppers get the first 3 hours free and movie-goers get an extra hour if they ‘scan the barcode on their ticket’.
What is not clearly understood is that you must take your downloaded ticket to the box office and exchange it for a barcode because just scanning your printed ticket won’t give you that extra hour free. It would be helpful if these instructions were on the website or added to the ticket.
To “get out the carpark free” you have to scan the collected barcode, key in your car number plate and wait for a confirmation.
When I went with my daughters to see the latest Marvel movie (fantastic by the way!) there were a lot of confused customers, a queue at the ticket machine, and most people had to try several times to get the instruction sequence right.
Digitalisation is increasing but so are frustration levels and those not competent with new technology will be increasingly isolated.
What does it mean to be smart?
Shona McPherson asked the conference who was the smartest person at school and why did we think they were smart.
A quick discussion around the tables revealed we judged people’s smartness in different ways but usually who got the highest marks in a test or performed better at a sport.
On reflection, we know this is a bad perception, but we still look at who gets the highest TER at VCE.
We carry these perceptions into adult life and yet it should be challenged – employers are usually not interested in high school scores.
But, we still think in numbers when we judge success. In workplaces, it is the ones who have the best sales figures or best results who are considered the smartest.
A truck driver may not think he is good at maths and may not be able to write well and yet he can look at a truck and know exactly how many pallets it will take, its capacity and weight and fill out relevant forms.
For us, it’s about working out the student needs and directing energy to what they don’t know, not what they already know, and giving them the confidence to see what skills they already have and to build or adapt them to the digital future.
The perception that high test scores are the indicator of smartness is now outdated in workplaces and should be challenged. Other skills are more important and not necessarily quantified by numbers
- financial literacy, personal initiative, enterprise skills, computer coding, communicating via email etc
- the practical application should be building those skills in schools, looking at the VCAL system to improve outcomes and adapting to digital workplaces
- intergenerational learning – using young people skills for older learners
Accreditation will be different – individual and acquired skills will be judged holistically.
Watching 3 TED Talks you have completed learning but how do you measure it? The motivation for learning must be the number one priority but how do you provide the carrot to excite students?
And talking about TED talks these ones by Sir Ken Robinson are worth watching:
What will learning look like in the future?
- On-demand learning, e-Learning, just in time, and m-learning (mobile learning).
- It will be modern and contemporary, MOOC, in-bundling and less sitting in classrooms
- Learning will be done when you want to do it.
- It is the era of the individual – what do I need? How do I get it?
- Less structure, more independence and embracing technology.
- Increasingly there is the attitude ‘get on board or get out of the way.’
- Don’t reject it because it’s everywhere like SMART phones!
- Learning is not just face-to-face anymore but we are still connected whether through videos, podcasts, webinars, Skype, Messenger, closed Facebook groups…
Our city is changing rapidly and so must we – I was struck by how isolated Bunjil, the Great Eagle sculpture looked – almost swamped by high-rise and high-tech – and yet Aboriginal culture survives, has adapted, adopted, and influenced…
People look insignificant from the top floors of the buildings too. The future, like our city, will look different but that doesn’t have to be negative.
Teachers in the Sector have been Called to Action
- Challenge what you think you know
- More important work out what you don’t know
- Make a plan for the future
- Planning meets opportunity = luck
- Ask questions of mentors and others in your professional network
Lifelong learning will look different
- Risk being foolish and making mistakes with technology.
- Learning programs must be co-designed – sharing technical knowledge and talent.
Skills are transferable
- behaviour management
- confidence building
- navigating your way around work
Don’t be a Digital Dinosaur!
How Do Writers Benefit?
Mastering digital technology has empowered writers to publish their work and keep all the income for themselves. Some writers have embraced this control and thrived, but many more still struggle striving for elusive success.
Not every writer wants to, as the latest buzzword insists “monetize” their creativity, some just want to publish their poetry, short stories, family history or novel for the joy of writing and sharing. Even so, skills and quality control are needed.
There are many steps in the process of writing and publishing – each one important:
- good editing
- design formatting
- quality covers
- launching – real and/or virtual
- publicity and marketing – blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube…
- financial matters such as how will people pay, downloading, invoicing and taxation responsibilities
At every step, you will encounter technology – be prepared and learn – and I can think of no better place to upgrade skills and confidence than at your local neighbourhood house.
The following are just a selection of what is on offer at Godfrey Street in Bentleigh (9557 9037), but similar classes will be found at Longbeach Place in Chelsea (9776 1386) and other community houses around the Victoria.
Understanding and mastering the new technology in a sensible, ordered way will assuage fear and frustration, limit mistakes, and save valuable writing time!
And you never know – you may be more digitally literate than you think.
A fun lesson is writing a poem, short story, even a novel in bite-sized sentences of no more than 140 characters – the standard number for a Tweet – good luck!
Penultimate by M C Neil
The writing class complained
Digital tools are not for them
Pen and ink and even type
Will outlast this Twitter hype!
Nevertheless, they wrote some great poems and flash fiction.