The 3 Ms: How Digital Literacy Leads to Motivation, Mentorship and Mastery

A seismic shift in the way people read and write is upon us.  As I’ve been exploring the past few weeks, there are necessary changes to the way we teach and the way our students learn.  Some of these changes are currently wrapped up in buzzwords that are thrown around so much as to become meaningless for many educators.

However, there are three waves of change that I argue are now essential to a (buzzword alert!) rigorous and relevant education if we want to prepare students for success after they graduate.  These words are motivation, mentorship and mastery.

Due to the way that information and communication have been democratized by the Internet, these terms have a new importance to the job of the educator. And you may notice, that they actually bring to mind images, for me at least, of a much earlier time, before the industrial revolution and the factory model of education, where young people learned a focused task (printing, for example) for an older, more experienced teacher.

I’ve framed the conversation of these three words mostly around the teaching of literacy, but they have practical applications in all content areas.

Motivation — Both the digital tools themselves and the abundance of content available on them allow for a learning environment where teachers can easily leverage student interests in the learning process.
  • The media that students consume for fun can easily be created now with all of the readily available tools
  • The same sources students use to communicate with their friends and for entertainment are now places to find a wealth of valuable academic information, too (Twitter, YouTube)
  • Teachers can provide students with purposes and skills of focus for their work while allowing the students to select the subject matter; the students compose and create work based off of the topics that interest them
Mentorship — Digital literacy encourages and requires a shift in teaching and learning, towards a mentorship model.
  • One-on-one conferencing: because digital writing is so conducive to self-directed projects on a students’ self-selected topic, teacher-student conferencing is more important than ever. Whole-class mini-lessons or units of instruction likely become less relevant as students use technology to guide their own composition process. Concurrently, tools like Kaizena, GChat, and Remind allow for conferencing to occur outside of the 50-minute class period.
  • Because of the rapid innovation within the tech world, it is unlikely that teachers will be masters of all of the tools that students use, nor should teachers limit students to only using tools that the teachers know.  This creates opportunity for student-student mentorship (see Hacking Education’s student tech teams), as one student can teach the whole class about something she is an expert on, or one student can figure something out about a tech tool, share it with another student who shares it with another… viral learning
  • The greatest shift comes when students (as modeled by a teacher, hopefully) take on an identity of students of the world, learning to search, communicate and find their own answers to their problems.  Their learning mentors are infinite.
    • Students can email experts about research topics instead of passively reading sources (See the Twitter feed of edu-inspiration Mr. Matt Morone)
    • Students can Google “How do I do _____ “ for any technology tool, and they will find a valuable resource
    • Student can review a book and share their writing with authors via Twitter
Mastery — True mastery learning comes when students are encouraged to create authentic products, especially products that resemble the type of media that they are used to consuming.
  • Consider the current importance of learning to code: almost all online coding courses instruct students through the framework of building a replica of a real website: “build Twitter” “build Pinterest” “build a To-do list app” etc.
  • Students seek to master their skills when they are creating a website, movie, recording, or piece of writing that is shared with a real audience and allows them to use whatever tools they need to complete the job, not just the ones provided by the teacher
  • The network effect: students are more motivated to master the skills needed to create and compose when they know that their work can be shared online with an unlimited audience

Some of these changes will happen gradually and naturally to our classrooms, as we become more immersed in digital literacies as teachers. Others, though, will be major shifts to our curricula, teaching styles and even our fundamental beliefs about education.

Like the truck driver who is now denying the inevitability of the driverless car, teachers can’t turn their back to the way that the world, and the school system, that we exist in is fundamentally different from when most of us passed through it as students.

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