Sharing Data is Easy with QUERY

The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

There are many challenges to sharing specific data in Google Sheets, some of these can be overcome using the QUERY formula.


I attended a day recently continuing the look into ongoing reporting. One of the focuses involved reflecting on various points pf data. Something that stood out was the willingness of teacher to share data. Whether it be with students, teachers or parents, for some providing access can still be a challenge.

I discussed this with a principal attending the day and one suggestion made is that it can be hard to share particular data, without sharing everyones data. This is especially the case when talking with parents or conferencing a student. An answer is using the QUERY formula.

With Google the chosen platform, a lot of teachers store their data in Google Sheets.

QUERY combines a whole lot of functionality into the one formula. As David Krevitt explains:

QUERY combines all of the capabilities of arithmetic functions (SUM, COUNT, AVERAGE) with the filtering abilities of a function like FILTER.

It is a language developed by Google, using the principles of Structured Query Language (SQL).

For example, you may wish to share the results of just one students:

To do this, you select the columns you want to copy from the MASTER tab and which value you wish to filter by:

=QUERY(MASTER!A:F, "SELECT C,D,E,F WHERE A = 'Donna'", -1)

If you wished to quickly create a tab for each student, Alice Keeler has created a script for generating tabs from a list. This personalised information can then be shared with students (see Jake Miller’s explanantion). Another thing to consider is to protect formulas by adjusting permissions at a celular level, as well as prevent others from copying the file, therefore getting the information that way.

The other option is to create a dynamic selector involving either a name:

Or even a whole form:

These options might be used when working with colleagues or talking with parents. You are able to bring up just the information required. Depending on the data, you can also create dynamic charts. One other benefit to using the QUERY formula is that it allows you to quickly and easily reorder the representation of data. So lets say ‘F’ is associated with literacy testing and you would like that at the start. Rather than writing SELECT C,D,E,F you would write SELECT F,C,D,E.

This is only the tip of the iceberg of what the QUERY formula can do. For more information, see posts from Ben Collins and David Krevitt. Collins also ran two webinars, which you can go back and watch. One on the basics, while the other getting a bit more complicated.


One thing to note when using Google Sheets to store data is what sort of information you are collecting. In some districts and regions there are issues raised about storing ‘sensitive data’ in platforms like Google.

Reflecting on Class Dojo, Ben Williamson explains that ‘sensitive’ can be the consequence of collecting data:

The ‘sensitive information’ contained in ClassDojo is the behavioural record built up from teachers tapping reward points into the app.

This same concern needs to be considered in regards to Sheets, especially with the changes being brought about by GDPR.


As always, comments welcome. Webmentions too.


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Secret, Safe and Informed: A Reflection on Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Collection of Data

Tufekci on Informed Consent

There have been a lot of discussions lately about Facebook, social media and connected society in light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. Here are my thoughts on what it might mean to be more informed consent.


Secret and Safe?

At the start of Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins inherits a ring from his cousin, Bilbo Baggins. He is unaware of the power it holds. After leaving Frodo to find out what it is, Gandalf returns. He promptly askes Froddo,

Is it secret, is it safe?

Still unaware of the ring’s power. Gandalf explains to the hobbit the gift he has been bestowed and the journey he must go on.

I think that connected education and social media pose us with the same challenges. There comes a time, when after signing up and dipping our toes in, we need to stop and ask ourselves,

Are we secure, are we safe?

Our responses to this can go in a number of directions. On the one hand we can don our silver suits like Chuck in Better Call Saul and become possessed by fear.

via GIPHY

Or we can become completely paranoid like Elliot in Mr Robot, where we always think the worst and react accordingly.

via GIPHY

We need some sort of compromise. We need to, together, demand better.

Informed Era

A few years ago, Doug Belshaw made an attempt at mapping the internet. He divided it into five eras:

  • 1993-1997: The Information Superhighway
  • 1999-2002: The Wild West
  • 2003-2007: The Web 2.0 era
  • 2008-2012: The Era of the App
  • 2013+: The Post-Snowden era

I have been thinking lately, with fake news and data breaches, maybe we are entering a new era, what Belshaw mooted as an ‘informed era’.

Although there has been a call for companies to improve the clarity of their terms and conditions and governments to put in place policies to protect citizens, I think that ‘informed consent’ needs to go beyond that. If we are to demand better then the conversation needs to go beyond the features and affordances of digital technology. For tools themselves are just one actor in a larger play.


“EdTech Enablers – Modern Learning Canvas” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

A useful framework for making sense of technology is Belshaw’s Eight Elements of Digital Literacies. Split between four mindsets (Critical, Civic, Confident and Cognitive) and four skillsets (Creative, Communicative, Constructive and Cultural), these elements provide a means of appreciating the complexity at work.


“The 8 Essential Elements of Digital Literacies #digilit” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

These elements though do not provide a checklist to tick off, but rather the start of a richer conversation. They should not considered all times, but they help in realising that there are always other aspects to consider.

Take for example an application like Hapara. It provides an added layer of control on top of GSuite, which allows teachers to organise and manage learning in the classroom. Using digital literacies as a lens provides an insight into a number of aspects which help to inform our use.

  • From a cultural perspective, Hapara posits that teachers are largely responsible for creating the conditions for learning.
  • Cognitively, it involves new ways of working. Although it may be more efficient, if you have been using GSuite, these are still habits to unlearn and relearn.
  • Constructively, there is a blur between empowering students with the power to participate in actions and the dangers in excessively moderating their learning.
  • From a communicative point of view, GSuite allows a number of ways to engage, Hapara provides the means to manage and moderate this within different cultural norms.
  • Connecting with GSuite through the use of APIs, Hapara has the ability to both hinder and help the creative process depending on how it is deployed.
  • From a critical and civic point of view, it is important to consider why there is a need to manage learning at all and the consequences associated with such actions.

What this example highlights is that you cannot meaningfully consider all these elements at once. Each offers the possibility of digging deeper or stepping back to develop a wider perspective.

Becoming Informed

One of things I have noticed about the current discussions around Cambridge Analytica, fake news and polarisation is that there are no quick fixes or simple solutions to any of this. As Seth Godin points out,

Advertising has shaped our culture. Not the ads, but the money. And Facebook’s woes are a symptom of that.

Being informed is not some sort of process where one day you wake up certified. This is a problem with things like cybersafety programs. They are often designed to get everyone to a particular level of knowledge, but fail to address the mindset and ongoing practice. The real problem that needs to be addressed is what next?

The challenge as I see it is to understand that consent is something that we inadvertently give each time we tap into an application. I would argue then it is a constant state of becoming more informed. In an ever changing world, with goals forever moving, it is a case where we can never quite be fully informed. Here then are some strategies to start with.

Critically Reflect and Ask Questions

I think that the most important thing we can do is wonder. This helps go beyond the how-to to the how-do-they-do-that. Ian O’Byrne has written a useful series of posts with questions to consider in staying safe online. He touches on issues such as passwords, backing up and protecting your connection. In part, I think this a part of the push for computational thinking.

Learn from and through others

For me, being informed takes a village. If we are to ask questions, then it is useful to have people to talk about them with. Dean Shareski wrote a post a few years ago that that has really stuck with me. In it, he spoke about leaving conferences with new connections, not just new content. I think that this is important. Meeting people beyond your own context helps extend your thinking and develop new ideas.

Engage in new challenges.

Reflecting upon his digital workflow, Clay Shirky talks about each year getting rid of perfectly good habits. He fears that if he doesn’t he will stop noticing the ever changing digital environment around him. For me, such change starts with reading widely. There are so many places to find content these days. Whether it be on social media or reading books. I am an advocate for feed readers. All you need to do is find a few interesting sites, add the feeds and you are away.


So to come back to the start: “Are you secure? Are you safe? And are you informed?” Maybe the answer is actually the question itself? As always, thoughts and comments welcome.


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REVIEW: Claim Your Domain @audreywatters


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I purchased Audrey Watters’ Claim Your Domain a few months ago, but a part of me felt that I already knew what it was about. Having read Watters’ compiled lectures, I was aware of the argument for a domain of one’s own. Subsequently, I left it on the shelf. Thinking a bit more deeply about blogging lately, I decided to jump in. And I was glad.

As you would expect, Watters touches on the mechanics of a domain of one’s own, however this is only a small part of the book. The real focus is what it actually means to exist in a digital world and why we need to take more control of our presence. At the heart of this all is the question of data and the implication this has for agency and identity. That is, an understanding that goes beyond mere numbers to include a deeper appreciation of the world we are in.

The book itself is divided into three sections: the learner’s digital domain, why claim your domain and controlling our own technologies. Throughout it explores such questions as what constitutes data today, who controls it and in what ways do learning management systems apply a template that dictates the way we exist? Although it closes with a reflection on portfolios, Watters’ vision is much more radical. Advocating for something more than just student voice, but rather student action.

Some may complain that Audrey Watters is sometimes more critical than constructive, this book though does provide some solace. Not because it provides a mystical elixir that once applied will fix all of ills in education (although she does include some useful resources in the appendix), but rather for providing a clear set of questions to support leaders and learners alike in growing and developing their own solutions from the ground on up.


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Data, Education and Parents


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a recent post, Will Richardson made the point that most parents have no idea what happens in school. This assertion was based on the seemingly meaningless numbers and grades that parents are feed through the rise of learning portals. Although I can understand where Richardson is coming from, I do not think that every school is the same. I know of some schools that share key learning tasks with annotations using various applications, some provide feedback to students and with that parents via the portals, some set in place digital learning portfolios curated by students and others provide monthly updates about attitudes and applications. What interests me in all of this is not necessarily what constitutes learning and achievement or what is exactly shared, but the impact of the move into the digital realm on parents.

As I have written before, there is a growing trend to use different commercial applications to connect and collaborate with the wider community. Whether it be Facebook Pages, Google Sites, Edmodo, Seesaw or Evernote, these spaces are chosen for a number of reasons, including their cost, the ease of use and it is where people are. I am reminded though of the edict that is often bandied around that if something is free then you are the product. Now I know that it is not always that simple, but I am left wondering about what data is collected by such platforms, either obvious in the forms of names, emails and phone numbers, as well as the incidental in the form of IP addresses and devices used.

Often the discussion around data and online privacy is focused on students and their safety. Whether it be posting images online or providing personal information which can be used as a point of identification. The reason claimed for this caution is protection from online predators, adults posing as children in spaces like Club Penguin. (Interestingly, danah boyd points out in It’s Complicated that more often than not, cases of online predators often involve those who already have a connection offline and shown susceptibility to such problems.) The problem though is not necessarily these extreme examples, but rather big data and the endless collection of data. In part, this is the intent behind the COPPA laws, which a designed to protect children from being marketed to. A few random data points may not mean much to you and I, but when they are fodder for algorithms they can mean so much more. As Audrey Watters explains,

Algorithms are not neutral, although they are frequently invoked as such. They reflect the values and interests of their engineers, although it’s hard to scrutinize what exactly these values and interests entail as the inputs and calculations that feed algorithms are almost always “black boxed.”

Therefore when we have investment from various venture capital funds, this is why we need to be mindful. It is for this reasons that there is so much conjecture around Google Apps in school.

The problem though is that this conjecture about data and algorithms goes far beyond students, it encapsulates the parents as well. Although sites may be private, this does not make them exempt from data collection. Even the fact that you might be a parent is another point of information. In addition to this, they influence habits. Here I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad:

  • What does the medium enhance or amplify?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been made obsolescent earlier?
  • What does the medium “flip into” when pushed to the extreme?

For example, the use of Facebook Pages enhances documentation, can make communication via school diary obsolete, it retrieves a notion of learning through observation as opposed to tests and at its extremes normalises the use of digital spaces as a record and reflection of learning.

Another question that has been playing on my mind associated with the matter of data and the impact of openly sharing spaces has on teacher and student agency and identity. Maybe it is sharing information on a platform such as Twitter or Instagram. What restrictions and limitations are at play through seemingly being open. Does the feeling that we are publishing to the world both bring out our best, while also limiting what we share? While coming back to Richardson’s argument, I wonder if teachers are always clear about the expectations of such spaces, especially when they are continually changing. Also on the flip side, what are the expectations in regards to voices outside of the classroom and interaction within such spaces?

I am not saying that we should ban the use of such platforms, but with the introduction of digital technologies curriculum, it only seems logical that we should start where we are and unpack the biases at play. So what about you? What spaces do you use to communicate with parents and what expectations do such spaces bring.


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Why Blogging (Still) Matters


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

My daughter recently started at a new school. One of the things that stood out to me was the use of Facebook for classroom communication. Every class is setup with a private page, where information is shared. To me this fits perfectly with the argument that we need to go where the people are and it seems these days a lot of people spend their time in Facebook. Already being there means that little effort needs to be applied to getting things going, whether this be signing up or instructions as to how to use it. The problem though is that just because people are already there does that mean that it is the best space for the task?

I remember when I was told of the changes to online permissions by the Victorian State Government. A part of a push to be more mindful of student data. My first thought was that the legal department were crashing the party. My mind was taken back to the supposed halycon days when a blanket permission slip would cover all sorts of online frivolity, with endless amounts of Web 2.0 programs and applications. However, times have changed. Doug Belshaw describes this as the move to the Post-Snowden Era. It is a scepticisim epitomised by Cory Doctorow in Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, when he says:

Without a thorough understanding of our computers’ workings, and without independent verification of their security, it’s impossible to trust our machines.

It is for this reason that we can no longer just use what may work best (as if we ever should have), but what is in fact the most appropriate on all levels.

Maybe the problem is where the data is housed, maybe it is about who is in control of content, maybe it is about the decisions of edtech company. There are so many things to consider. Some of these ethical questions include:

Does the service/app require an account to be created? If so, why?

Does the service let you delete content? This should apply not only to finished work, but also the elements of that work. For example, if you upload photographs to make a slideshow, does it let you delete those photographs later?

Does the service easily let you delete your account? Does it include an ‘Account Deletion button’ in a menu? (Check out JustDelete Me for a guide to deleting some services. The site also has a Fake Identity Generator to help you get started with a dummy account)

Does the service require you to login with a ‘real name’, or can you just use a private handle instead? If it does require a real name, why?

Does the service easily let you export the work you create in standard formats? (e.g. TXT, PDF, DOC, MP4, MP3, MOV, XLS, CSV, JSON,HTML etc) Can you save the work to your device and take it with you when you close an account?

Do you have full control over sharing/unsharing and publishing of work online?

Does the service only ask for necessary permissions? For example, many browser extensions ask for permission to access your data on all websites, or mobile apps ask for your location. Some of these permissions are necessary for the service to work, but if a service seems to be asking for a lot of unnecessary permissions, then it may be best to avoid it.

Does the service have a clear, easy to read and transparent privacy policy? Is there a link to the Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy on the homepage? If it’s hard to find, hard to read, or non-existent, then think long and hard about why that is.

Does the service treat user data and content in an ethical manner? Do users have control over they license they apply to their work? Is the work easily embeddable on other sites? Will the company sell the work (or even worse, details about a user’s identity) to other services and advertisers?

How does this service make money? What is the business model? Online tools are expensive to build and maintain, so if there isn’t a clear model for how that service will make money, then it may be that data is being sold to advertisers, or the service will eventually move to a paid model or be sold or closed.

With the demise of the Ultranet, such questions have become more pertinent as schools search for the next digital solution.

In her post, Beyond the LMS, Audrey Watters recounts her experiences with Blackboard Collaborate and the problems she faced. After initially developing content in an open space provided by the institution, she was ‘encouraged’ to publish everything through the learning management system. From quizzes to resources to syllabi to discussion forums.  The problem she faced was that her and her students continually lost access to the content and communications once the subject was finished as the only way to access the content was through the site.

One example of an LMS that has been embraced by many schools of late is Compass. Like Watters’ experience with Blackboard, Compass too poses many similar questions. Although you maybe able to access past content, it is never made easy. One of the biggest curses is the amount of clicks to get anywhere. In addition to this, there is little avenue for students to communicate and collaborate. It is neither a campfire nor watering hole. Although as a platform it provides many of the same functionalities offered by the Ultranet, one absence is the possibility for meaningful student action. Whereas the Ultranet provided a space for play and creation, this is the one aspect that seems missing.  Maybe such spaces are walled to protect students. Maybe they are really about improving communication between home and school? Maybe they are about control and management? However, are we really supporting students if we are limiting their possibility for voice and choice through such spaces.

One solution to this is to publish your work, whether staff or student, at one canonical address and link elsewhere. This elsewhere could be Compass, Edmodo, Facebook or Google Classroom. Blogs offer the most obvious solution for such as a space. Whether it be as a portfolio, a social media stream, social bookmarking, class blog, project or subject space, they offer so many different possibilities. While a site like Edublogs may involve some effort in regards to another site to login to or to manage. It offers a lot more possibility and flexibility in the long run. Blogging still matters.

Although developing a canonical address in Edublogs may not go to the point of setting students up with a domain of their own, as Audrey Watters proposes, it does at least provide the possibility to take their data and do with it what they would like. Something Alan Levine describes as co-claiming. This is something that can be overlooked in the choice of spaces.

So what about you, how do you support students, while also considering some of the ethical questions? How do you push back against what is easiest, to consider what might be best? As always, comments welcome.


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Technology, Data and the Untold Stories of Learning


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Recently, I was challenged with the question about what data could be used to support the improvement of learning and teaching using technology. Beyond the discussion of classroom observations, surveys and planners, I spoke about monitoring usage. However, I added a point of caution to this. Many of the applications, especially those that are web-based, offer a form of analytics. The problem with this though is that although it covers what technology is being used, it does not allows account for the how or why. This was a particular problem with the Ultranet. Each meeting we would be delivered the latest statistics with encouragement for students to simply login in. I am a massive advocate for the use of technology, but used blindly for the sack of it, I wonder at times if this is counter-productive.

I was reminded of this a few days ago by Sherry Turkle’s article, ‘Stop Google. Let’s Talk“. Taken from her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle continues the discussion she started in Together Alone.

In the article, she describes a world where through our incessant use of social media, we have actually lost the art of conversation. This has not only had an impact on our ability to listen, but to actually empathise with others. The first step, she suggests, is reclaiming our solitude. A part of this is moving from multi-tasking to uni-tasking, where we dedicate ourselves to one thing at a time, rather than spreading ourselves thin.

Coming at the question of data from a different angle, Audrey Watter’s makes the point that it is never neutral. It has its biases and blind spots:

Education data often highlights the ways in which we view students as objects not as subjects of their own learning. I’ll repeat my refrain: education data is not neutral. Opening education data does not necessarily benefit students or schools or communities; it does not benefit all students, all schools, all communities equally.

This is a message that is carried throughout Watters’ book, The Monsters of Educational Technology. A collection of essays which explore various facets of technology, but most importantly the many assumptions we make about the benefits and gains.

In the end, data does not always tell a story in itself. It is interpretative. It does not account for the nuance of personal experience. It does not always touch on how we use it. It does not always tell the full story about learning. To truly engage with the enabling power of technology, it is here that we need to start the conversation, with the question of why.

How about you, how do you use technology? What are the ways you critique this? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to comment below.


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Doing the Right Thing


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

The other day, I had the opportunity to attend a session run by Department of Education and Training (DET) exploring EDUSTAR and looking at ICT planning. The program came about after a government audit found that although over time schools have been provided with adequate software and hardware, there has been little growth in regards to pedagogical practise and growth.

What was interesting was the message that there is no expectation about where schools are to be in regards to eLearning. Every school is a different context. Data and analytics is gathered through various surveys and censuses to create a unique story. The reason there is no benchmark is that technology should not be a competition, focusing on which schools have what, instead it is about what practises schools have in place. For some this might mean 1-to-1, while for others it might be something different. It all depends upon the outcomes that are trying to by achieved. For as Michael Fullan states, “pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator”. The question though is what are we driving towards?

What was interesting is that although there was no benchmark for technology, again and again reference was made to the notion of ‘best results’. It is summed up in the comment from a fellow participant who said, “if you are getting the ‘best results’ in the state, then you are doing the right thing.” This got me wondering whether technology is often canned because it does not actually cater for the results that are often focused on by schools through annual implementation plans and NAPLAN results. In a recent post, Richard Olsen’s touched on the importance of what we measure and how we do it, that ‘success’ is not always as obvious as it seems. This reminded me also of Yong Zhao’s argument that we often measure the wrong thing. Instead of focusing on such traits as creativity and entrepreneurship, we focus on prescribed content and compliance. Where this difference stood out the most is through the discussion of an eLearning vision.

The School ICT Progression Strategy is about supporting schools in generating a plan, creating a vision and setting goals. Although an improvement on before, to me there is still an elephant in the room. That of pedagogy. With every state school in Victoria supposedly mandated to have a clearly defined instructional model and continuing to use measurements associated with compliance to ascertain success, what is often overlooked is how eLearning marries with pedagogical practise. You can have as many c’s as you like in a vision, but if this is not linked with what is actually happening in the classroom then what is the point? Fine, technology has the potential to make what we have been doing more doable, as Bill Ferriter has suggested, but I question whether such processes as critical thinking and collaboration are at the heart of every teacher’s practise? For some it is tests, recall and maintenance of an essentialist curriculum.

Paul Tozer once remarked to me, “what is valued by the system needs to change if what is happening in the classroom is to change.” I am not sure if that means a revolution, reform or renaissance, but something needs to change if we are really to get the best results for all learners. Although counting how many computers schools have in the classroom can be helpful for some, I am not sure if this is the right thing school’s are looking for?


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In Search of an Understanding of Digital Literacies Worth Having

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16157025809

This is a review of Doug Belshaw’s insightful book, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. I have been meaning to write this review for a long time. The book ends with an invitation to write your own conclusion. The problem is that I didn’t really know what to write or how to write it. Should it really be in the written form? Did I need to create a video? Sticking to what I feel comfortable with, I have decided to stick with a post in a similar style to the book itself. So here then is my review …

Literacies as Process ≠ Product

There are two big takeaways from Doug Belshaw’s book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. Firstly, that there is no singular definition of literacy, let alone digital literacies. Like the notion of PLN (whatever you want to take that to mean), our definition of digital literacies is something created by a community and continually negotiated. More often than not, this definition is taken for granted, rarely given air. Belshaw does not identify the eight different elements as an answer, but as a point of discussion. The definition is start of this discussion.

I have attempted to write about digital literacies before and in reflection feel that I got something wrong. My focus was on a singular definition and on the product. What I was trying to do was to differentiate digital literacies from more traditional notions of literacy. However, at the end of the day, our understanding of both is flawed. What is important is the process of co-creation. My way of engaging with digital literacies is only one of a myriad of options, while if I were to readdress it now there would most likely be things that have changed. To borrow from the work of David White in regards to residents vs. visitors, some places that I previously resided, I now simply visit, while others I have taken up home in. This is not something that we co-construct within a community, but is something that is in a constant state of flux.

Dean Shareski provides an interesting take on this by mapping his internet footprint using four different quadrants. What I think would be an interesting activity would be to use this framework create a series historical snapshots in order to represent this constant state of change.

It is easy to get sucked into the notion that one must simply do this or join that in order to be digitally literate. However, such focuses on the what and how overlook the most important aspect of them all, the why? At the heart of the process is the constant nagging question, why am I doing this and what am I trying to achieve? I would argue that using a site like http://memegenerator.net/ just about anyone can create a meme, but this misses something. The question that remains unresolved is why we would create a meme? What is our purpose? What are we trying to achieve? It is these questions that are at the heart of the process, not necessarily the product.

Beyond Good and Evil

Associated with this focus on process, co-construction and community, being digitally literate involves embracing choice and consequence. In a post for DML Central, Belshaw outlined five eras of web literacy. Although in no way concrete, the exercises was designed to demonstrate how our negotiation with the web (and web literacies) has evolved over time.  One of the things that stood out for me was the transition from the ‘Web 2.0 / Everything is an App’ stages to the post-Snowden period which we are now in. This unveiling marked a dramatic change to how we saw the internet, but more importantly how we participated with it. As Belshaw stated:

We collectively realised that we didn’t understand what was going on underneath the surface. We were shocked to discover who had access to our data. We started to worry more about how to manage our increasingly-important online identity and reputation.

What is significant about this shift is that the spotlight is placed on the process. Although the web and technology in general had become a means through which so many could flourish, the question has become at what cost?

It has long been said that if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product. However, it was Snowden’s revolutions and everything that followed which has made this situation real for many. The challenge is what next, this is where digital literacies fits in.

For example, following the Heartbleed compromise, Quinn Norton provides a portrait of the web as a fractured foundation we have so easily come to take for granted. Story after story, she paints a picture of a world where technology barely works and no-one is ever in control, no matter what measures are put in place. One fix leads to another and all we are doing is staying afloat. However, as she states:

Your choice: constantly risk clicking on dangerous malware, or live under an overpass, leaving notes on the lawn of your former house telling your children you love them and miss them.

What is important is that we actually realise this situation. For it is only then that we can even begin thinking about doing anything about it.

Coming from the perspective of big data, Danah Boyd questions the merit and meaning of measuring endless amounts of stats online. This is not to say that statistics are all bad, but the incessant amount of numbers associated with hits, follows, likes are not helpful.

Stats have this terrible way of turning you — or, at least, me — into a zombie. I know that they don’t say anything. I know that huge chunks of my Twitter followers are bots, that I could’ve bought my way to a higher Amazon ranking, that my Medium stats say nothing about the quality of my work, and that I should not treat any number out there as a mechanism for self-evaluation of my worth as a human being. And yet, when there are numbers beckoning, I am no better than a moth who sees a fire.

Such statistics are more often than not a by-product of our actual actions. I follow someone to extend my network. I write a response to a book to bring together my thoughts. What is important is not the number of likes or downloads, but the ability to communicate and participate within a civic society. This is why digital literacies is more than just about simply constructing and creating.

On the flip side of this, Boyd provides a more meaningful take on statistics in her post exploring teen’s use of social media. In it she uses various points of information to confidently create a critical analysis of the different cultural arguments put forward about teens. This was then communicated within Medium, the same platform that the original post was made.

The challenge is to go beyond good and evil to consider the part we play. It is not that we should stop using online programs and applications, we instead need to be more conscious of our role and the influence we can have.

Curate or Be Curated, That is the Question

In a post investigating the place of information in today’s society, Belshaw posits that, “having opinions and using them to make decisions about our role in the world is part of what makes us human”. The problem is that such ‘opinions’ are becoming more and more controlled. Whereas in the past, information may have been curated for us in the form of the same newspaper, meaning that although this was one editorial, it was at least something we could all talk about. These days, with the development of the web, we are each provided with our own curated content. Through the use of algorithms, companies like Google and Facebook are able to predict what we are searching for or wish to see come up in our stream and provide content accordingly. It is creating what Eli Pariser has called the ‘filter bubble’. Here I am reminded of David Weinberger’s warning that, “even if the smartest person in the room is the room, this does not magically make all who enter it smarter”. The first step that we can take is to be aware that our lives are being curated in the first place and then start challenging this curation.

There are many ways to curate your own existence online. Sites like duckduckgo.com allow you to search for content without being tracted, while using social bookmarking sites, such as Diigo and Delicious, provides a means for developing your own curated content.  In regards to housing your data, there are many companies, like Reclaim Hosting, that provide a means for people to manage their own content through open source platforms, such as Known and WordPress. Extending this, Alan Levine suggests that even if we do not house our own data, there are also ways in which we can co-claim. That is, keeping a personal copy of all our digital content, rather than relying on the web.

What is important is that many of these changes are near on impossible to implement in isolation. For example, it would not be a very ‘social’ platform if there was only one person there. It is for this reason that there are no clear cut solutions. There are measures that we can take to encourage civic practise, such as using Creative Commons to license work to make it available to be shared and remixed. It is important though to remember that such change involves communication and dialogue for it takes a village.

It is easy to get caught up in the impact of digital and the web, but at the end of the day what really needs to be addressed is our understanding of literacy. Traditionally, literacy is considered as encapsulating reading for understanding, writing to be understood by others and using tools to write. However, as Belshaw suggests, such a definition denies to important aspects, that literacy has always been and will always be social and will involve some sort of technology. The challenge then is to move our understanding of and engagement with literacies beyond ‘elegant consumption’ to consider the what, the why and the how. This all starts with the who and that who is you and your community. As Belshaw suggests:

Being aware of the way that tools shape the way we think and interact with the world is the first step on the way to changing behaviours. As learners, as teachers, as citizens, we have a duty to ourselves and to one another to be mindful of this.

This chapter in a Nutshell

  • Digital literacies are about process as much as product
  • Lets move beyond good and evil and focus on choice and consequence
  • Literacy starts with you, curate rather than be curated

If you are wanting more information on Doug Belshaw’s book, here is a collection of resources to help you:

Or you can simply buy the book, the choice is yours.


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