TechLit ChatLog Transcript

5  February 2009

Tech-Literacy Confusion: What Knowledge and Skills Really Matter?

  • Tessa Jolls, president and CEO, The Center for Media Literacy, and
  • Chris Stephenson, executive director, Computer Science Teachers Association.
  • Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):

    Thank you for joining us for today's chat about the confusion surrounding how we should define technology literacy. We hope this chat helps clarify what technology literacy should mean for today's students. We are fortunate to have two excellent guests to address your questions. They are Tessa Jolls, the president and CEO of The Center for Media Literacy, and Chris Stephenson, the executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association. Thank you for joining us today, Tessa and Chris. And now, let's get this discussion started because we have a large number of questions waiting to be answered.

Question from S. Smith, Educator:

What tools are available to help me measure tech-literacy?

Chris Stephenson:

I know there is a good chance that you are really asking about actual assessment tools, but knowing that the answer may be highly dependent upon your individual state, I am going to tell you about three more general tools that I think might be very helpful to you. The first is the NETS (National Educational Technology Standards) published by ISTE . They are the best starting point you are going to find. My only problem with the ISTE standards is that they do not include algorithmic thinking or cover any computer science concepts. So, I have two more recommendations. If you can get your hands on it, there is a fabulous book produced by the National Research Council in 1999 called “Being Fluent with Information Technology”. And if you are looking for actual curriculum guidelines for computer science, there is the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science which you can download for free from the Computer Science Teachers Association at:

Question from Jordan Stecz, Education Major, Kent State University:

Under what subject will technology literacy be? How would students be evaluated?

Tessa Jolls:

That's a big question with many splinters. Let's see if we can identify and parse some of them. When one looks at the ISTE standards for student tech literacy, you see big headings like Creativity and Innovation, Communication and Collaboration, Research and Information Fluency, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making, Digital Citizenship, and Technology Operations and Concepts. These headings are more about process skills than content knowledge (except for Technology Operations and Concepts). These process skills should be taught in EVERY curricular subject area because they are essential in preparing students to be lifelong learnings capable of navigating the world around them and thinking critically while using technology tools. Furthermore, the application of technology and technology skills is vital in EVERY curricular subject area. As work in schools becomes more project-oriented, the use of technology is an important facet that should be assessed in completing a project. The sophistication of technology used is an example of a measure. Artifacts (websites, digital photos etc.) are part of the assessment and evaluation equation, with students learning to assess themselves and others through the use of rubrics, as well as being assessed by the teacher. Our assessment and evaluation systems are currently very limited and embryonic when it comes to technology literacy. Teachers are reporting that although their students are often more technologically adept than the teachers, they have "holes" in their knowledge that is sometimes surprising. This is an example of how assessment and evaluation are key in identifying and filling in the gaps, and perhaps having a separate technology classtime is worth it from that point of view.

Comment from Henry Hill - high school social studies teacher at Schiller International School - Naples, FL:

The bottom line to any "writing" media is the message. With deference to Marshall McLuhan and "The Medium is the Message," the content is the key. Proverbs 11:22 - Too many people are seduced by "a jewel of gold in a swine's snout." Three words - Content, Content, and Content. Otherwise, what are we teaching?

Question from Cat White, Director of Instructional Technology, Gilmour Academy:

What role should secondary schools play in the development of "technology literacy" if the model is to have mastery by grade 8?

Chris Stephenson:

This is a great question! I think the role of secondary schools in the development of technology literacy should be three-fold. First, secondary schools can clearly communicate their expectations with regard to the technology skills enetering student need to their colleagues at the elementary level. Second, they can assess incoming students to see what their skills actually are and provide remediation opportunities for students who skills are not what they should be (not all feeder schools are created equally). Finally, they should conduct ongoing assessment based on changing needs and build programs that ensure that when students leave the secondary level, they are well prepared for their next steps.

Question from Rod Dunklee, Technology Integration Specialist, McWhirter Elementary School, Clear Creek ISD:

I see Tech Lit being divided into two camps -One that covers internet safety and all the rest. The other I would define as digital expressors - using tech tools to learn, process and publish in a web 2.0 world. What are your thoughts on teaching the digital expression process, similar to the writing process, as our primary focus when creating a technology literate population?

Tessa Jolls:

"Reading and writing" are no longer just print based, and it is imperative to teach students to "read and write" in many modalities, including web 2.0. This is an exciting opportunity that is motivating for students. It's not just learning to press the buttons or use the gizmo, but learning to think critically and express effectively and responsibly. Web 2.0 writing utilizes all art forms: storytelling (theater), music, visual arts, and dance (movement). The digital expressions of today utilize all of these creative languages in multi-media form, and so our capacity for writing and expression is greatly enhanced and expanded. Web 2.0 helps comprise the literature of the 21st century, and its importance will continue to grow. To address this, we have now expanded our Five Key Questions for Deconstruction (based on the Five Core Concepts of Media Literacy) to now include the Five Key Questions for Construction. These Five Key Questions are a metaframe for teaching production (writing), regardless of the type of technology used. These questions are 1) What am I authoring? 2) Does my message reflect understanding in format, creativity and technology? 3) Is my message engaging and compelling for my target audience? 4) Have I clearly and consistently framed values, lifestyles and points of view in my content? 5) Have I communicated my purpose effectively? Digital expression in the web 2.0 world has already changed our physical world and our relationships. It's a vital part of literacy, period!

Question from Peter Beens, Education Officer, Ontario Ministry of Education:

Please define and differentiate "technology literacy", "technological literacy", and "technological competency".

Tessa Jolls:

I think there's probably a lot of overlap and undoubtedly carelessness in useage of these terms, but here's a go: Technology literacy. To me, this term refers to the gizmos and the use of the gizmos, hardware as well as software. Technological literacy. This term seems more contextual, perhaps encompassing the why's and wherefore's behind technology and its use, as well as its impact on individuals and society. Technological competency. This term implies a measurement of proficiency, although which measurements and how to measure "competency" are totally undefined.

Question from Dianne Everett, Ph.D., Special Asst to VP, Academic Affairs, Jackson State University:

In some instances students may be more estute in the use of technology and current literacy, but lacking in basic communication skills and the traditional 'technology' (STEM) areas. I agree the we should incorporate the 'current' technology uses, but won't this limit students once this technology is obsolete? I think we are mixing communication with technology.

Chris Stephenson:

Hmm, this is a really interesting idea. Where does ‘technology’ stop and ‘communication’ begin when so many of our technology tools are used for communication? Strong foundational communication skills are as important to technologists as to anyone, so I have always been inclined to include so called soft skills in the computing curriculum. I guess the best strategy is really to work across all curriculum areas, performing a school-wide inventory of which skills are taught where and using this to make sure that students get everything they need to know somewhere in the school experience.

Question from Mr. Lowber, Technology Teacher, Louisville KY:

In trying to help students understand media formats, including audio and video, what is going to last(i.e., MP3?) and what is going to fade away (i.e., 8-track)?

Chris Stephenson:

The question you have raised is probably the one that challenges us most when designing curriculum for educational technology. Unfortunately, when it comes to technology it is almost impossible to know that the future will bring. (I am still waiting for the housecleaning robots and flying cars I saw on the Jetson’s as a child. ☺) This is why we have to be very careful that our curriculum focuses on the underlying scientific concepts and not on what I have come to call point-and-click education. There will always be an element of teaching students how to make more effective use of current technologies in our curriculum, but what our students need from us is something much deeper. They need to understand the processes and mechanisms that underlay our current technologies and how these technologies have developed over time.

Question from Jack Plotkin, Coodinator, El Segundo Unified:

How do we effectively address access to technology issues for our students of lower socioeconomic status, and the resulting gap in technology literacy?

Chris Stephenson:

Our continued failure to make computing equitable is one of the great shames of the educational technology movement over the last twenty years. But the truth is that solving this problem is far more challenging than one might suspect. If it were just a case of throwing money (or hardware and software) at it we would likely be much further ahead by now. Unfortunately, our problems go far beyond money. They have to do with a lack of understanding among policy makers about the difference between educational for technology tool users and technology tool builders, continued misconceptions about gender and ability, a profound lack of relevant, on-going professional development for teachers, and systemic issues of class and race that permeate all of education. If you have not done so yet, I strongly recommend that you read Jane Margolis’ new book “Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing”. It blows the lid off some closely guarded secrets. It will probably make you really angry, but it will also give you hope.

Question from Fred Hutchinson, School Improvement Specialist, BOE member, NY:

Beyond the legal and systemic questions about tech literacy there are practical questions. Where can one go to learn the how-to's for tech literacy, such as how to build a podcast and how can one incorporate this into their teaching practices?

Chris Stephenson:

I love this question because I struggle with it all of the time. I tend to be a “learn when needed” person which means that when I need to know how to use a new tool, I need to know it right away. I think many teachers are this way. They do not know what they need to learn until the need it, for tomorrow’s class! I am not sure right now that there are many institutions (pre or post secondary) that are really doing a good job of anticipating what teachers need to know and providing relevant training. One way to address this gap may be to start your own “cool tools” peer group where individuals take on the role of learning specific tools and then teaching everyone how to use them in the classroom. Of course this puts the onus back on the teacher to be responsible for her or his learning, but it also gives the teacher the power of self-directed, peer-supported learning.

Question from Jordan Stecz, Education Major, Kent State University:

What are the pro's and con's of having internet safety and cyber-bullying taught within a school system?

Tessa Jolls:

Research is telling us that it's not so much adult sexual predators who are the threat to children, but children themselves. Behavior from the schoolyard is translating into online behavior. Just as using technology to solve problems is vital to children's education, so is understanding their relationship with their online school community and the online media world. We must teach children to be wise consumers and responsible producers of media, especially when the reach of these messages is now global. Children need to be explicity taught values and media literacy concepts so that they are equipped to make decisions on a lifelong basis, and so that they are alert to opportunities and dangers and have a vocabulary to work with regarding their own identity and that of others. Children used to have more face-to-face time with adults, but now those filters are gone on the internet. And technology filters are not enough. Students need to learn process skills and how to negotiate the online world. The "cons" are that it is currently very difficult to identify a classtime when children learn these skills. The school day is crowded with what are perceived as important priorities, and internet safety doesn't seem to rise to the top of the list.

Question from Chuck Goodwin, NYSTEA Advisory Council Chairperson:

Technological literacy certainly goes way beyond computers, IT and ET. Shouldn't we be (consistent with paragraph #3) seriously considering the International Technology Education Association's Standards For Technological Literacy?

Chris Stephenson:

In short, yes, But in my opinion even ISTE’s standards do not go far enough because they do not include algorithmic thinking, which is key.

Question from Melissa Harts, Director of Tech & Info Svcs, Hernando County Schools:

Once a definition of tech literacy is established, how can it be effectively assessed?

Tessa Jolls:

This question is the "Holy Grail" of education, in my book. We have far more questions than answers. First, we know that technology should be part of the solution in offering new and multi-media ways of assessing student work. In the real world, bosses don't assess performance and effectiveness by asking employees to take a standardized test. We need to offer enhanced ways of providing qualitative and quantitative feedback. Furthermore, technology should be part of the solution in offering timely feedback and data for both students and teachers, so that adjustments to teaching and learning stragegies can be made quickly and individually, to the extent technology can take us. Right now, we're in early stages of exploring such possibilities. But we can't wait for a definition of tech literacy to be established. This definition will inevitably be a moving target, so we need to go at assessment NOW and keep the experiments and the information flowing. What we do know is that the critical thinking skills, and the mastery of a process of inquiry, is an essential part of tech literacy, and that these process skills apply to every facet of curriculum and instruction. So perhaps we should focus on finding ways to identify and label the needed process skills, which are "constants" and make the use of the tools a subset (because the tools are "variables", and then base the assessments on the basic process skills that are timeless.

Comment from Kier O'Neil, Project Manager, Disney Cruise Line:

Instead of asking a question I would like to answer your questions from the viewpoint of someone in business. "Technical Literacy" is the ability of someone to find and utilize information in some productive way. Reading 3-D computer simulations and writing via Facebook are useless exercises. At an elementary level children need to know how to search for and disseminate information from the internet. Teachers should find out which kids in their classes have PC's at home with internet access. A simple test could be given to determine their ability with questions like: How many square inches in an acre? Translate this question into French? Who was the last Czar of Russia? The answers are easily found by people with "Technical Literacy" and usually impossible for those without. All students should be "Technically Literate" before they get to middle-school when research is a larger part of the curiculum. Including coverage of Internet safety, cyberbullying, and the laws on the use of intellectual property is feel-good tripe that doesn't address the core and if taught at all should be a side-note. At least 95% of any coursework should be devoted to finding and disseminating information. By watering this down with "fan fiction" Web sites and "massively multiplayer online games" you are just encouraging another generation of couch potatoes that are useless to the business community. We want information managers with common sense more than anything. Give us problem solvers not gamers. Thank you for your time.

Question from Gene Kelkres, Teacher, School Of The Future, School District of Philadelphia, PA:

What discipline or other control methods are being most successful for keeping Learners with laptop PCs focused on learning activities and not using the laptops for distractions such as online gaming?

Chris Stephenson:

I think that the problems we face with keeping students on task are the same whether we are talking about preventing them from hiding comic books in their texts or chatting in online social network forums when they are supposed to be doing research for a social science paper. I think good teachers will apply the same kinds of strategies today that they applied back in the dark ages when I was a student: set high expectations, help students learn how to manage their time, make them responsible for their learning, clearly communicate the ground rules, explain and apply the consequences consistently and fairly, and most importantly, maintain a sense of humor.

Question from Mark Matchen, English Teacher and Tech Evangelist, Stephen Lewis Secondary, York Region District School Board, Ontario, Canada:

I'd like to know your thoughts on the subject of hypertext literature. Is it an equivalent substitute for bound books, with the added advantages of being teen-friendly and offering new tools, or does it promote shallow thinking and inhibit the ability to concentrate and follow a lengthy text?

Chris Stephenson:

I think you have given several good reasons that schools find hypertext literature attractive. One you don’t mention is cost, and I think that cost-saving is becoming an increasingly pressing issue for many schools, districts, and states. Like you, I worry somewhat about how too much access to hypertext might detract from students’ abilities to follow a linear argument but I am not aware yet of any conclusive research that supports my concern. The other, more personal issue for me is whether or not we are depriving students of actual tactile pleasure of reading. I can and do read ebooks on my iPhone but (apart from being much harder on the eyes) they just do not give me the same pleasure that holding a book in my hand does. Besides, it is a little more unpleasant to fall asleep and have your iPhone or ereader fall on your face. ☺

Question from Glenn Jenkins Executive Director FourPillars:

How can CTCs in under served communities, best partner with the surrounding schools, in order to facilitate literacy using computers and the internet?

Chris Stephenson:

I think the answer to this question may be that we need to look beyond the school community to the broader community. We need to ask “Who has what our students need that we cannot give them?” and then go out and ask the people who have these things to share. Sometimes you would be surprised at the resources that are out there in the broader community. Community centers, libraries, churches, and clubs sometimes have computing labs. Businesses have training centers that are not always in use. The key is to just ask them. Maybe they will say no, but then again, they might offer you even more than you asked for. I know this creates a whole new set of challenges with regard to taking students out of the school, but I think it will help to look at the whole village.

Question from Victoria Buckley, Student, SUNY Cortland:

I think it's agreed that a vast majority of students today have a good grasp on technology. However, since the Education system is so concrete and structured with their pedagogy, will that tamper with/confuse the student with that of which they already know about technology? In other words, if a student already knows how to go from point A to point B through the computer, but the Education system says that they must go to point B by taking a different route, will that hinder the students ability to fully understand and comprehend the lesson that is being taught?

Chris Stephenson:

I agree with you that students today have a far better grasp of technology than we often give them credit for. At the same time, I believe that their knowledge is often very wide but very shallow. They know how to find and use the cool new apps, how to communicate using multiple media, and how to access information that is relevant to them. What they do not have a grasp of is the science and engineering underlying all the cool new tools they know how to use. They do not have a clue that someone (computer scientists and engineers) design and build all this stuff and these people have to know a whole lot of science to do that effectively. I think you are right that schooling, by its very nature, can only teach certain kinds of things really well. But what it can do is to help students understand that there is a lot they do not know and ways that they can learn it. A good teacher can show students that there isn’t just one route from A to B, but multiple routes with design and usability trade offs that are critically important.

Question from Mark Newton, teacher, Mountain Vista High School, Highlands Ranch, Colorado:

How does media literacy fit into this? And, should media literacy be integrated into technology literacy or is its own entity?

Tessa Jolls:

Media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with media (driven by technology) in all its forms. In addition, media literacy encourages an understanding of the role of media in our society. As such, it is a "metaframe" for critical thinking that helps to integrate content knowledge and to apply across the curricula. You will undoubtedly find lots of people saying they are providing media literacy in lots of ways. The way that we go at it at CML, we provide a specific methodology, consisting of Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions (based in media studies), that give students (audiences) a way to critically think about media deconstruction and media construction (production). By learning this process of inquiry through practice over time, students are empowered to make their own judgements to hopefully become efficient information managers, wise consumers of information, responsible producers and active participants in the global media world. Right now, I think there's overlap between media literach and technology literacy, with media literacy having more of an emphasis on the content of the messages generated using technology, and technology literacy having more of an emphasis on the tools and their uses. Until more work is done to identify the process skills needed in both disciplines, they should probably be separate disciplines so that one doesn't subsume the other. They're both important in their own ways, and in complementary ways.

Question from Julie Coiro, Assistant Professor, School of Education, University of Rhode Island:

Given that many of these new technology literacy skills encompass new ways of reading and writing, who would be responsible for teaching/supporting them? Wouldn't it make sense to incorporate them into the reading and writing curriculum that is taught in the "regular classroom" (with collaborative efforts by the technology specialist and/or the library-media specialist) rather than relegating these new literacies to a separate technology literacy or library literacy class (and a separate set of standards)?

Tessa Jolls:

Agreed, makes more sense to incorporate teaching the new "reading and writing" throughout the curriculum, rather than isolating it as something "in addition to" basic literacy. These days, tech and media literacy ARE basic literacy, needed for success in everyday life. However, we've all seen what happens when teaching "new" disciplines is EVERYBODY'S responsibility. Somehow, this teaching then becomes NOBODY'S responsibility. So in the interim (and due to the lack of knowledge and support on the part of many teachers on how to incorporate new literacies), many schools have tried to isolate the tech/media literacy teaching so that SOMEONE is taking it on and being responsible forit. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing. In "Class Disrupted," Clay Christenson and his co-authors predict that online interactive multi-media curriculum will be taking hold within the next ten years. Hopefully, some of these issues will be automatically addressed as technology increasingly because a central tool for learning. And in the meanwhile, I believe we do need separate standards for information process skills, including technology, so that these skills are identified, scoped, sequenced and explicitly taught. Then, the next step will be integrating them with other curricular subject standards so that they will be the unifying integration standards that cross all disciplines. Why does it all take so much time and proceed so slowly??? Sigh....

Question from Charlie Gerancher, Computer Teacher, Whitehall-Coplay Middle School:

Many also believe "technology literacy" should include skills in word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software. In addition, there still exists a belief that keyboarding skills should be taught. Given overwhelming variety of Web 2.0 tools and the pressure to provide those skills to students along with those mentioned in the article; Where do you place application skills and keyboarding instruction on your list of priorities for basic student technology literacy standards?

Chris Stephenson:

Your point about the exponentially increasing list of expectations that can fall under the rubric of technology skills is a very valid one. There is only so much time during the school day and we only have a small piece of it. That being said, we cannot afford to ignore the fact that, while there are all kinds of sexy tools out there, students need to walk before they can run, or in the case of keyboarding, they need to crawl. The basics are still the basics and students need them. That doesn’t mean we need to beat them over the head with them. A whole course on spreadsheets is surely overkill. We have to look at what the foundational tools are and make sure that students know how to use them effectively.

Question from Laurel Ann Larson/Counselor/Cut Bank High School:

Our population of students are changing daily. How can we update current teachers and administrators to the approachs that are not old school. We need to teach where they are and not by books and curriculums?

Chris Stephenson:

It is hard to imagine a more important issue than professional development for teachers. Access to ongoing, research-supported, classroom relevant professional development is critical if teachers are to have any chance of keeping up with the extraordinary rate of change in educational computing. That being said, teachers also need opportunities to continually reflect on their teaching strategies, share new ideas and techniques, and support each other in their efforts to continually improve their teaching. I believe the approach to this challenge requires a multi-level commitment across the education spectrum. Teacher preparation programs need to help future teachers understand that teaching requires a life-long dedication to one’s own learning. States need to build expectations for regular ongoing professional development into teacher certification and review processes. School districts, university faculty, and industry also need to get on board and commit to providing opportunities for teachers to access professional development. One program that the Computer Science Teachers Association successfully launched several years ago involves a partnership between CSTA and local colleges and universities willing to provide workshops for teachers. The TECS (Teacher Engagement for Computer Science) program requires host sites to submit an application detailing which of the provided learning modules they will teach and how they will deal in a proactive manner with issues relating to computing equity. They also have to have a K-12 teacher who is part of the design and delivery team for the workshop. This is just one possible model but we have found it to be very successful.

Question from John Shacter, technologist and consultant:

Shouldn't students learn more about all sorts of INNOVATION and ENTREPRENEURING, rather than just the "science"-portion of these great and interesting opportunities?

Chris Stephenson:

Any curriculum worth its salt has to have more than just “the science of the thing”. I think this is especially true in educational technology and computer science. Some of the best programs I have seen begin with students learning how to design and build the tools but they do not stop there. They include helping student learn how to communicate more effectively using multiple-media, how to manage their time, and how to work in teams. I have seen some amazing computer science programs that have students not only create useful software but also develop a business plan to market it and a customer support plan to maintain it. The students then go out and install and support their software in other school departments, community organizations, and businesses.

Question from Waldo Jones, Teacher, University Schools:

What is the anticipated effect of the generation of gamers and texters who will be entering the teaching ranks in the next 4 years? It would seem that what is commonplace for that cohort will be alien ground for those of us who have matured prior to the last 5 years of technological advance.

Chris Stephenson:

This is a great question! Technology is everything that did not exist when you were born and so it is completely safe to assume that the next generation of teachers, these digital natives, will be far more comfortable with and adept at using some of the technologies that have challenged previous generations of teachers. The interesting thing, however, is that technology does not stand still either, and so by the time these folks hit the classroom, chances are that there will be new technologies to challenge them as well. The question that really concerns me most, then, is, “How good a job are the teacher training institutions doing at identifying what technology skills all teachers need and providing those skills?” Unfortunately, I think the answer is that they are not doing a good job, or at least many more are doing a bad job or no job at all.

Question from Brendan McIsaac - English Supervisor - Hunterdon Central Reginal High School:

What technologies support active reading strategies when reading online?

Tessa Jolls:

There are two approaches to this question: 1) Teach the students a methodology for deconstruction that applies to ALL media, whether online or not. This is what we encourage through the Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy, which serve as a base for analysis and active engagement with the text. These base questions can then be expanded ad infinitum to encourage a process of inquiry, because it is by learning to ask questions that students become skeptics who realize that they cannot passively take in information. Learning to apply this methodology takes practice and guidance so that students really begin to "see" what is before them. Also, there is no reason that teachers can't "interrupt" the playing of a video or the reading of a website so that the text at hand can be parsed and examined. Small bites to analyze are just as effective (and sometimes more) to delve into deeper meanings that the text offers. 2) Software is available that helps students focus on the words as they are reading. Speed reading type software, while it doesn't focus on the content, does teach students strategies for reading efficiently and sometimes that translates into better reading ability, since they learn to focus more.

Question from Riduan Dunia, Special Education Teacher, Palmdale High School:

The talk of STEM subjects sounds good. The need for on line safety and etiquette is greatly needed in today's world of cyber stalkers and "creep." My question, however, is, "When the majority of students who graduate from high school with all sorts of tech savvy and are able to manipulate the computer to make their lives easier, yet they can't think rationally, interact (or should I say interface) with peers and co-workers, ponder their own future and see that entertainment has to include alcohol, what good is STEM education?

Tessa Jolls:

You're right. Being an exemplary citizen isn't just about knowing the facts and being able to use a cellphone. It's about making good judgements and knowing how to manage risk; it's about knowing how to learn and what to do with the learning. Isn't that the point of being an educated person? That's why 21st century skills emphasize the idea that process skills, as well as content knowledge, are important for our students. Process skills include being able to make judgments based on values and on critical analysis, in a way that is both responsible individually and socially. Learning process skills takes practice over time, like learning to swim or tie a shoe. You don't get it the first time, but practice helps. We have seen that process skills need to be labelled and explicitly taught; they cannot be taken for granted. Today, we need a scoping and sequencing of process skills that should be taught to students, so that we cover the bases. And our research has shown that it is through these process skills that students actually acquire the content knowledge they need, so in a sense, by teaching the critical thinking skills, we also insure that students get the facts they need. Our schools are currently organized on the basis of imparting content knowledge, but given that content is infinitely available on the internet, it's time to place more emphasis on process skills so that students are prepared to navigate steadily in a world dictated by constant change.

Question from Patty Zamora, Curr Tech Integrationist, Mexico City:

We would like to implement exit tech literacy skills tests in 5th, 8th and 12th grades. What instruments do you recommend? Our school is running on a low budget. Thank you

Tessa Jolls:

Sorry, Patty, I don't have any specifics for you on the tech literacy assessments. So much depends on what you're teaching, when, and how. In its early days, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills published a self-assessment guide for schools to evaluate their technology offerings. Perhaps the national organizations, such as ISTE, CoSyn, SETDA etc. may have some specific instruments to check out that would be helpful for you. We have some insstruments that we have used to assess students' understanding of our media literacy curricula. If you "start with the end goal in mind," you'll want your assessments to drive instruction, and looking at various assessment instruments is a good way to determine what the content of the curriculum should be for your students.

Question from Jennifer Falco, Reading/Spec.Ed. Teacher, Elementary:

Reading was considered a linear form of image/language processing. What reading strategies are being discussed to parallel the reading skills required for internet, the processing of language becomes less dependent on traditional linear reading styles?

Tessa Jolls:

Reading is based on the ability to access/interpret the message behind symbols (letters) of the alphabet arranged in systematic ways. In media literacy, this idea is expressed in the Core Concept that "Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules." Just as we have teaching strategies and methodologies for teaching reading, we have teaching strategies and methodologies to teach the "reading" of multimedia that we find on the internet, cellphones etc. We have systematically been building up curriculum and other tools to teach media literacy, based on the Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy. Using this research-based framework, students (with practice)gain the competency to critically "read" any media message in any form or format, anytime, anywhere. Conducting "close analysis" or "deep deconstruction" with students is an excellent way to facilitate their learning to "read" in the new media world, driven by technology.

Question from Quintin Parker:Technology Media Assistant...Lincoln School...Macomb,IL:

Is facebook the answer? I think this may expose children to possible predators. Is there a site that is based on kids needs?

Chris Stephenson:

At this point I am not sure that Facebook is the answer to anything. It certainly is a popular social communications medium and the students are clearly engaged by it, so I think we have a responsibility to teach them how to use social networking tools safely and effectively. I don’t see any convincing research, however, suggesting that Facebook can be used to address pressing learning needs. As for concerns about predation, I completely understand how worrisome this can be for teachers, schools, and parents. That is precisely why organizations such as Girls Inc. have set up their own secure chat zones. Again though, I think the key is to educate students about protecting themselves. This way, they will be better prepared to make good decisions when we are not watching over their shoulders.

Question from Thomas Bell, Professor, Millersville University:

Technological Literacy is defined as one's ability to understand, use, manage and assess technology (ITEA, 2000). Why is it that we tend to limit the scope of technology to just computers and the internet? To pass a true technological literacy exam there must be a high school requirement to prepare students for the exam. The course of study should be broadly interpreted, experiential and laboratory based.

Tessa Jolls:

I second your motion! When it comes down to it, pencils are technology too. And we know that technology is always changing, it is dynamic. And isn't the goal to use the best technology for the right application to solve the problem at hand? The ultimate goal is to prepare students for life in a technology-driven world, and this goal can best be reached by providing context for learning. Paper based tests really don't answer the need all by themselves.

Question from Mary Nellenback, Library Media Specialist, West Middle School, Auburn, New York:

While adept at reading and writing via social networks, many of my students are lacking in the skills needed to read site directions, navigate a simulation or web site menu, and evaluate the source and quality of Internet information. These skills will apply to all future jobs, yet many students cannot tell the difference between an opinion on a blog and a news release from a more authoritative source. How can we best teach these process skills within the context of Web 2.0 tools?

Tessa Jolls:

We have seen through the years that few students, even at high-performing schools, can tell the difference between fact and opinion. Furthermore, they often do not pick up on the "clues" that tell about the authenticity or credibility of a source. We use a technique called "deep deconstruction" or "close analysis" to help teach these skills. Regardless of what type of media message or technology is used, it's important to teach children to be both observant and skeptical. The basis that we use for this rests in the Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy. A link to see a detailed guide of how to conduct a close analysis is at It takes practice, practice, practice to gain these skills, and students need feedback from their teachers and others to actually "see" and "hear" what's going on before them. Another tip to help encourage the ability to actually "see" is to have students count various occurances, such as the number of men vs. women or depictions of violence or identifying authorship or the number of product placements. This encourages students to focus and to closely observe what is presented to them, and why.

Question from Bill Flores, Deputy Secretary, New Mexico Higher Education (and director of Film and Digital Education Programs):

I strongly believe that multi-media literacy must be integrated into the curriculum in K-12. Visual and aural communication skills, application and production skills, the ability to understand symbols and meaning, as well as critical thinking skills. My question is the following: To what degree these skills are being integrated to teacher education programs and into K-12 standards?

Tessa Jolls:

I am not seeing much evidence that these skills are being integrated into teacher education programs; in fact, one recent statistic (2008) coming from Ken Kay, founder of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, puts a figure of 2% of Colleges of Education as teaching these skills. Quite bluntly, that's pathetic. Furthermore, I'm not seeing school professional development programs emphasizing these skills, either. K-12 standards are a different story. The State of Montana has media literacy incorporated into their language arts standards; standards in language arts issued through McRel also have added "viewing and media" to the traditional strands of reading, writing, speaking and listening, as has the State of Texas and others. A study by Robert Kubey and Frank Baker was encouraging on media literacy skills being incorporated into K-12 state standards; furthermore, the American School Library Association and ISTE also acknowledge theimportance of these skills in their standards. The Partnerhsip for 21st Century Skills and Achieve, Inc. also acknowledge the importance of these skills in their work. That being said, the state education standards are a real scramble, with content knowledge and process skills all being bundled together in ways that make it hard to decipher and to teach the process skills in an explicit and logical way. With the way the standards are now, who knows where the gaps are, because there is no way to easily analyze what process skills need to be taught when in order to offer effective learning opportunities.

Question from Corey Gin, Regional Director, California Technology Assistance Project:

Are we asking the right questions? Should technology literacy be a set of skills that need mastering, or is it something much more broader? Shouldn't we think of technology literacy as a process for how we learn, interact, or communicate, rather than what we need to do and know?

Tessa Jolls:

Corey, I agree that technology literacy should be about knowing how to learn and re-learn, in an individually and socially responsible way. That's the fundamental "skill" and it's often woefully undertaught. When this kind of teaching happens in a way that is geared toward solving problems and engaging with real-world issues, students find the answers and learn to bring what they need to know to the problem. Yes, some content knowledge is needed, but in life, no one spoon feeds the answers to us. We have to seek them and make our best judgments!

Question from Ralph Worrell, Associate Administrator for Instruction, ACE:

Why teach anything but the English language? Students are forgetting English usage by using facebook, my space or texting. Then when they need to write in the world outside of computers they do not remember how. This has happened to my daughter.

Tessa Jolls:

I understand! I have two children and my son nearly forgot what handwriting is, he so preferred keyboarding! In a sense, since the kids are so immersed in the online world, they are re-inventing the English language and when you look at the history of any language, that's a normal process. People adapt to what works for them, and language is just another tool. So in a sense, we are almost faced with teaching "traditional" English as "English as a second language" to some of these students. Like any language, it takes immersion and practice to master. Students need more opportunities where they see the importance of "traditional" English, more connections to the world of work and science and art -- outside the classroom and their peers -- so that they are motivated and indeed compelled to speak "traditional" English just as fluently as they speak "online" English. When students are faced with meaningful problems to solve and people to interact with, they have more motivation and practice in applying English in a way that connects them to the people who can help them. The education system is often divorced from the real world, which makes it difficult for students to see the reason behind what they are being taught. Regardless, it's important to teach children to navigate the web 2.0 world because that world requires traditional English, too. And they need to understand some of the consequences of not speaking regular English, which is now the global language.

Question from Cindy Lee, ICT Integration Coordinator, Frankfurt International School:

Do schools need a scope and sequence of tech skills throughout the grade levels? That's what my teachers want, but I can't see listing word processing skills, powerpoint skills, etc in an ever changing environment. If we do need something, what would it look like?

Tessa Jolls:

Yes, I believe we need scoping and sequencing, but the emphasis should be on critical thinking and information processing skills, along with some "basics" in terms of content or specific tech knowledge. You're right, it's an ever-changing landscape, so we need to focus on the "constants" that make an individual an effective user of technologies.

Question from J. Davis, English Teacher, boarding school:

Why should we teach kids about things like texting? They're already the experts in that realm, and shouldn't we be devoting more time to functional, real-world literacy skills rather than social functions?

Tessa Jolls:

Social functions are important in the world too! But my concern isn't so much that kids learn to push the buttons, but that they learn to think critically about what they are doing and how they are doing it, and what the consequences of their actions may be. Whether it's texting or websites or social networking, our challenge as teachers is to help students connect their fingers to their eyes and brains and hearts...that's the value-added that we as adults bring to youth. They need guidance and filters, and technology filters aren't enough!!

Question from John Shacter, technologist and consultant:

Shouldn't students learn more about all sorts of INNOVATION and ENTREPRENEURING, rather than just the "science"-portion of these great and interesting opportunities?

Chris Stephenson:

Any curriculum worth its salt has to have more than just “the science of the thing”. I think this is especially true in educational technology and computer science. Some of the best programs I have seen begin with students learning how to design and build the tools but they do not stop there. They include helping student learn how to communicate more effectively using multiple-media, how to manage their time, and how to work in teams. I have seen some amazing computer science programs that have students not only create useful software but also develop a business plan to market it and a customer support plan to maintain it. The students then go out and install and support their software in other school departments, community organizations, and businesses.

Question from Leland Walbruch, Teacher, DoDEA, Isles District, RAF Menwith Hill Elementary-High School:

Do you feel that it important for teachers and school systems to focus student attention on effective website evaluation? Why or why not?

Tessa Jolls:

Yes, I think it's very important to focus on effective website evaluation. This is an important reinforcer for teaching the process skills (critical thinking) associated with media literacy. Since websites are such an important part of our daily world, it is imperative to provide students with the skills they need. For a starter on deconstruction of websites, start with the CML Five Key Questions: 1. Who created this message? 2. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention? 3. How might different people understand this message differently? 4. What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in or omitted from this message? 5. Why is this message being sent? These questions can be applied to ANY media message and then expanded upon for specific applications such as websites.

Question from Jane Andriuk, English Teacher:

What do you consider to be the role of the newst phase of technology, the Smart Board in the High School English classroom? I am concerned about the apparent inability of students to articulate their ideas without the support of technology. I am not a Luddite, but it would seem that too much emphasis is placed on a moving target of technology.

Chris Stephenson:

I really feel your pain on this issue.:) I think sometimes teachers are pushed to use new technologies because they exist and not because they really help improve the learning process for students. That being said, I think the onus is on the teacher to learn about and understand whether and how a given technology can be used to enhance learning and then make an educated decision on whether or not to incorporate it. The truth is, a tool is no better than the imagination of the user. A tool is not worth the time and money if you are just using it to do the same old thing. The real power of technology happens when it encourages us to really examine our pedagogy and find better ways to engage,inspire, and educate our students.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):

Thank you for joining us to discuss this interesting and important topic. We hope this chat has helped you move forward in better understanding what technology literacy should mean. A special thanks to our two guests for providing such insightful and informative answers. This chat is now over. A transcript of the discussion will be posted shortly on and

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