Monday, 15 December 2014

Our final 2014 post: Looking ahead - the year of Digital Smarts, 2015

Digital Smarts: a new book heading your way

Dianne and I are co-editing a book tentatively called Digital Smarts: Examining digital agency in New Zealand educational settings. This will be an electronic, Creative Commons Licensed, freely available e-book, also downloadable in pdf format by April 2015.
        This book arose from our realisation that colleagues were engaged in fine work in the digital educational space but without an outlet for these research endeavours that would reach those who might find the work useful in their own settings. Quite often, research is disseminated through academic journals that are not readily accessed by educators in the compulsory schooling sectors. So, we took the plunge, inviting co-workers to contribute chapters, interpreting 'digital smarts' to their chapter's focus.
         This has been a two-year gestation process of collaboration in as much as authors shared drafts in progress at regular monthly meetings, leading to an open peer review of others' chapter drafts. This open review phase had a twofold purpose: to share and develop emerging ideas into something cohesive; and for newer research colleagues to learn the reviewing process, a key quality assurance aspect of academic writing.
        Through this access to each others' work, authors could better see how their own chapter fitted the wider scheme of things and assisted in refining their chapters, thus contributing to a greater cohesion of the book as a whole. 
         A final step in the revision process was drawing on our international academic networks to provide external, blind peer-reviews before the chapters were finalised. We are now readying chapters for formatting and final proofing before handing to other colleagues who can turn the text into a range of digital formats for open sharing.
Partnership, trust and integrity are implicit in a book development since this one is growing out of a unified and shared context. We hope it provides readers with an opportunity to compare their own educational contexts with those described in the book. The book is a partnership on many levels - it's a partnership between Dianne and me as editors, with and among our chapter authors, and the eventually the book's readership. Our colleagues have also had to trust us in the mentoring and leadership of this project, and that it would see the light of day. We also hope that the work is trusted in the sense of having a quality assurance process that stands up as rigorous and befitting an academic text. Our integrity as editors is on the line!

Where did it come from?

The book's inception was heavily influenced by international colleagues' books in both distance and teacher education where they too have collaborated with academic colleagues within their own institutions. This kind of collaboration provides multiple perspectives on a given topic of inquiry that brings a distinct, shared, institutional understanding to the scope of the book. This process, while using rigorous quality assurance processes, means we have control over the book rather than a traditional publishing house. 
Digital texts, and the social networks developing for academics (eg ResearchGate, can mitigate some effects of distance, population and price, but this also means digital texts need to be freely accessible. Current publishing arrangements through traditional academic publishers, as noted above, can be obstacles for teachers, with access prevented unless a library subscribes to the text/journal, or a reader is willing to pay for an article. 
These constraints have led us to choose a digital format for the book, with a Creative Commons Licence. As academic workers, we are expected to publish but seldom benefit from royalties for this work. Instead, we sometimes even have to buy the book our work is published in. Through an open source format and making the text as available as possible, we hope to share the text widely, contributing to debate about the value of digital technologies in educational contexts.
We have been influenced by the spirit of the simplicity and generosity of examples where book editors gift the work to readers anywhere through open access publication formats. These formats support equitable access and the wide dissemination of research ideas, contributing to the field, discussion and critique. To that end, we cannot thank WMIER enough for providing us with the means to pay for the major costs involved, that of professional proof-reading, graphic design and digitising.

Why 'digital smarts'?

The concept of  ‘digital smarts’ arose when Dianne and I were brainstorming a working title. The term ‘smart’ has stayed with Dianne in particular for some time and links to an early statement by the New Zealand Ministry of Education in 2002 with talked about the ‘smart use of ICT’ in educational contexts. Over time, that sense of agency that the word ‘smart’ has for both learners and teachers has disappeared, with more recent MOE statements about e-learning focusing more instead on describing the potential influence of the technologies on the learning, not the learning on the technologies and how they are used. (see Pachler et al for their exploration of agency, culture, appropriation, and the idea of the 'mobile complex'). 
We want to reclaim the word ‘smart’; it has multiple meanings, making it easy for our chapter contributors to interpret the term for themselves. For example, ‘smart’ can refer to ‘smarting’ - in the sense of being hurt, either physically or emotionally; it can also refer to creativity in the products that can be made through digital means; it can also refer to the degree of agency one exercises, such as in working smarter, not harder; a further interpretation refers to ‘smart’ as an acronym for something that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. 
These chapters are the products of some SMART thinking by the authors. What we are producing is specific (for it traverses individual education sectors, and is interpreted for the specifics of the chapter), measurable and attainable (in that the research has produced findings that have been collected, analysed - in a sense ‘measured’ - and attainable, in that the themes and ideas the data generate are arrived at through a rigorous process of investigation), relevant (in that they focus on digital technologies in education when we are on the cusp of all New Zealand schools accessing unlimited, uncapped and robust connectivity), and timely - for now is a good time to explore and share what we know is happening and suggest possible inferences for pedagogical practices across education sectors. In other words, ‘digital smarts’ represents intelligent, pedagogically-oriented and strategic uses of digital technologies to benefit learners of all kinds.

We would be really thrilled to know who's reading our blog and what you think. Please feel free to add comments and/or email us your thoughts.

Our best wishes for a cheerful, safe and refreshing Christmas/New Year break. See you in 2015.

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