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Episode 17: WordPressing Your Way to Digital Literacy

Posted October 4, 2021 by Chloe Bringmann. Filed under Podcast.

In episode 17 of the WordPress Briefing, Josepha Haden Chomphosy reflects on her WordCamp US keynote and digs into how participating in open source projects can help you learn 21st Century Skills. 

Have a question you’d like answered? You can submit them to wpbriefing@wordpress.org, either written or as a voice recording.

Credits

References

WordPress 5.9 Planning

5.9 Target Features

WordCamp US 2021

Transcript

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the WordPress Briefing, the podcast where you can catch quick explanations of the ideas behind the WordPress open source project, some insight into the community that supports it, and get a small list of big things coming up in the next two weeks. I’m your host, Josepha Haden Chomphosy. See, here we go!

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  00:42

Today I want to talk to you a little bit about the digital divide, where it is, maybe a bit of where it’s headed, and which parts of the WordPress open source project and CMS can help. This is a focused look, though, so I won’t touch on some of the hurdles that everyone is aware of when you get outside of in-person environments, things like parental modeling or supervision, education on the relevance of technology, etc. This is a follow-up to the conversation that I had at WordCamp US last week—and so doing a little bit of a deeper dive here. And we’re gonna start with what exactly is the digital divide. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  01:23

So the digital divide is considered those who benefit from the digital age versus those who don’t; that feels like a really big concept. And the current discussion is primarily about access, or for years that has been about access anyway, especially physical access. So those who have computers versus those who do not have internet in their homes versus those who do not. But I don’t necessarily agree with that particular, really focused definition of the problem. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  01:59

If the only problem we see is access, then the solution becomes to get cheap devices and internet to everyone, which certainly has led to more people being connected than ever before.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  02:12

With this proliferation of devices that are considered both smart and mobile (mobile in this context, meaning handheld or pocket-sized), the discussion over the last few years has been shifting. It’s been shifting into more of a discussion around the education around the relevance of internet access, discussions around the quality of access to the Internet, and also discussions around Wi-Fi and dial-up and the surprising cost of data.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  02:42

But from my perspective, there are a number of really dangerous assumptions that we make when we boil it all the way down to who has access and the quality of that kind of access. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  02:54

The first dangerous assumption is that we run the risk of conflating being tech-savvy with being digitally literate, and they’re not really the same things. The second assumption that we run the risk of is assuming that access to cellular data equals access to the internet through any other means. And also assuming that cost is always the determining factor.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  03:19

And the final fairly dangerous assumption that we’re making there is that we allow ourselves the ability to mark the digital divide is fixed in our minds. Once we get enough access to everyone, we’re just done. There is no more divide. But as a way of illustration, if you think about access, not in the context of technology, like high technology, digital technology, and in the context of like writing, you probably own a writing utensil, and you probably have access to paper of some sort, which is great. But just because you have like a pencil and a piece of paper doesn’t mean that I can send you home right now – I guess most of you are listening at home.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  04:07

It doesn’t mean that I can send you to your desk right now. And consider you prepared to write a best-selling novel, right? Because giving you physical tools no more makes you a novelist than handing me a computer when I was a teen made me digitally literate. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  04:24

So let’s talk about what it takes to be digitally literate. I’ve lumped the following skills into three groups. It’s broadly defined as 21st-century skills, but the groups that I have them in is not a comprehensive list of those 21st-century skills. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  04:41

The first group that is a large component of digital literacy is critical thinking skills. So computational thinking and problem-solving. That particular one is not new, exactly. But the computational thinking part certainly is. Not all problems are solved with code, but the basis for thinking through things procedurally is increasingly important. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  05:04

The second one in that set is communication through multiple media, consuming communications or content through Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other format, but also creating the things that communicate—writing blogs, creating videos, both calls and standalone, and forums, things like that. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  05:27

The third set in that group of critical thinking skills is around collaboration, which some people will say is more about communication. But I find that collaboration both online and in-person is a skill set all to its own. Communication only gets you so far when you’re learning to cook to collaborate with people that you don’t normally work with. And so, I have lumped that into critical thinking skills. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  05:54

The second big bucket for digital literacy is actually literally digital literacy. So I have three, three things in here as well. Evaluating information is obviously incredibly important in the environment that we’re in right now, for just information’s sake. But then things like understanding the differences between copyright versus copyleft licenses, understanding the difference between an .org ending URL and a .com ending URL, and evaluating the general veracity of sources that you’re finding on the web.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  06:32

The second part of that group is media use and creation, understanding the difference between folks who consume and folks who create the content we have, how to find information online, and the most sensible places to keep information online. And the third area of digital literacy that I find to be vitally important is the ethics of licenses both around use and access. So again, things like copyright vs. Copy, copyleft. And specifically for WordPress, that means understanding things like the Creative Commons licenses, GPL, MIT, but then also copyright is its own complicated question unto itself. But the other things that show up for us for WordPress that show up for us with technology are also things like open access versus proprietary information and sources. And things like plagiarism versus sampling.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  07:33

And our third big bucket, which has become increasingly complex, but the third big bucket for digital literacy to my mind is actually considered something that I call life skills. So things like self-direction, knowing what you want to do next, and how to get it done. Time management is also in there, knowing how much time something will take and being able to make sure that you are getting things done over time, as opposed to trying to accomplish everything at the last second. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  08:03

A big part of these life skills is cross-cultural and social communication. The internet is tricky, right? Because it’s simultaneously incredibly insular and increasingly global. Like you can if you wanted only ever read things that already confirm your existing biases. But the very nature of the internet, the very nature of the web, means that the world is much smaller. We have more ready access faster to everyone everywhere in the world than we used to have. This means, of course, that cultural awareness is an absolute must now more than ever. This is for what it’s worth the time of year when I give this talk. And that’s because of this last part of the life skills section, which is digital citizenship. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  08:54

Digital citizenship generally is the second week of October 2 or the third week of October. And it’s one of my favorite weeks because it is something that comes up all the time in our ecosystem. It comes up all the time and open source in general, but certainly for WordPress. So those are our three big buckets of digital literacy, a subset of 21st-century skills as a whole.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  09:22

That’s a lot of stuff, I know. And it’s also really hard to figure out how you can learn any of those skills, and from my experience, I really believe that WordPress as an open source project can help people learn those things.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  09:43

Once upon a time, ages and ages ago, my mother told me that in order for me to become a better writer, I would have to read and in order to become a better communicator, it would probably help if I spent a little bit more time writing, and I have always felt that the same must be true for all the things that we learn, you find a positive example and study it to become better. Or, depending on what you’re learning and how you’re trying to learn it, you find a passive example of something that you want to be able to do better from an active standpoint and participate in that so that your active production of the other part is better.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  10:24

Here are a few parts of the WordPress project and WordPress itself that can help with this.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  10:31

So there are first a few really specific teams; if you’re contributing to a team like Themes, or Plugins, or Core, the three areas of those digital literacy skills that you have an opportunity to learn there. For critical thinking, you’re going to run into problem-solving and computational thinking. You’re also going to run into distributed collaboration, which was really important as just a concept when I first wrote this talk. And now it is currently really important as a reality because we have a bunch of companies that are going to either remote work or partially distributed or fully distributed. And that’s the way that WordPress has worked for a pretty long time.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  11:19

So I’ve always felt like it was important because it was important to WordPress, but it’s also becoming increasingly an important part of just how to exist in the world at the moment. For those three teams, the things that you can really tap into and practice for the life skill section are digital literacy, nope, digital citizenship, self-direction, and time management obviously comes up in any open source project because you are volunteering your time and it is up to you to kind of decide how much you can commit or not various other parts of time management and directing one’s own project. Now, but you also get the opportunity to test and practice your cross-cultural communication, social communication and learning what it means to collaborate across cultures in that way.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  12:15

On the digital literacy side, you also get a little bit of that information evaluation and synthesis for what it’s worth. And then obviously get to learn more about the ethics of various types of licenses and how use and access relate to those things.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  12:35

We also have a team or two; these are not really teams or twos. These are things that you can do that are either solo activities or group activities. One is working or checking out the support forums, and the other is blogging. We’ll start with support forums. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  12:52

If you’re doing this as a group activity, there are a couple of extra things that that you can practice here. But suppose you’re doing it as a solo, just way to give back to the project sort of thing or way to learn some of these skills sort of thing. In that case, you can get almost all of these digital literacy skills woven into working in the support forums, depending on what’s happening in the moment and the questions people have brought up. But for critical thinking, obviously, you get some problem solving in there, not as much the computational thinking as the procedural thinking part. But you certainly also get to tap into communication with multiple types of media, collaboration in person and online, depending on whether you’re doing this as a solo effort or a group effort. And then, of course, research, which I didn’t really bring up in any of those groupings for digital literacy, is certainly a very important part of it.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  13:49

For the digital literacy grouping of skills related to digital literacy, you get to work on evaluating information and, depending on how complicated an answer might be. You can also get that opportunity to practice synthesizing complex information and research, a digital literacy skill. And then, once people have responded to a topic you’ve answered, you also get to tap into that life skill section. You get to be you get the opportunity to practice digital citizenship related to synchronous or asynchronous conversation. You also get to see more about how cross-cultural communication and collaboration works and social communication across those various boundaries that naturally show up when we’re working across cultures that way. And as I mentioned previously, information synthesis, as well.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  14:53

The second one that I have mentioned can be like a solo effort or a group effort, depending on what you do. Blogging, for most people who use WordPress, is probably the most common application of how WordPress can help you do stuff. So I often see it as the most relevant and the most immediately accessible to anyone. But you know, you got to meet people where they are. So, I would strongly believe that this is our best way to help people learn these things. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  15:30

So blogging for the critical thinking sorts of things, you have an opportunity to practice communication across mediums. You will probably get an opportunity to practice your research skills, chances are, you’re going to get the opportunity to practice some problem solving, and honestly, like if you’re hosting your site, problem-solving is going to come up when using WordPress as soon as you add in plugins and themes, because you sometimes kind of have to figure out what’s working and what’s not, and what’s playing nicely with other things and what’s not. It’s possible that with blogging, you’re also going to have an opportunity to get to practice some distributed collaboration. But that’s probably going to depend on what you’re doing with your site as well.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  16:30

Licenses and how they apply to the thing that you’re using feel a bit different when you are the one who’s creating. And so learning about how those things work and don’t work and how they can best suit what you’re trying to do. Blogging is absolutely an excellent opportunity to dig into that a bit and learn a bit more about that. As far as your life skills go,

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  16:56

that’s where you, again, get to practice some digital citizenship by figuring out who your audiences are and also when you have to communicate with them via the comments or any other way that you have built up a feedback mechanism there. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  17:11

Self-direction obviously will come into this, maybe time management if you are blogging on, I was gonna say on a paid basis, but that’s not really I don’t know, on a project basis, like some of us are students and have to write things based on deadlines. And so, you know, self-direction, potentially time management, always cross-cultural communication, social communication, research, all of these things show up in there.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  17:41

And, you know, I really believe in this concept of how blogging and bringing people into maintaining a website can teach you all of these skills. Because when I was younger, I was a bad communicator. And now, I am across the board known for my effective communication and my ability to work across cultures. And so the defining moment, which was like a four-year moment, and so not necessarily a moment, but the thing that really made all the difference was when my mom challenged me to write every single day. She had noted that I was not necessarily great at getting from one point to the next. I wasn’t necessarily great at building my arguments when I had to explain something to people. And she suggested that writing every day would help me tap into this big thing about communication and working with other people collaboration, all of that. And as an adult on the other side of it. Like, I thought she was super wrong when I was younger, because don’t we all think our parents are wrong when we’re younger. But as an adult on the other side of it, not only was that an opportunity for me to literally learn how to communicate better. But it also, when I look at it, gave me access to opportunities to practice all sorts of 21st-century skills and digital literacy skills in an environment that was relatively safe. And so, I am a big proponent of this particular one.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  19:26

Another team that helps us tap into and practice a lot of our digital literacy skills is the Documentation team. I recommend that you let this be a supervised activity if you’re doing this with students because, you know, it’s a wiki. You can put weird things in there on accident or just inaccurate things. So for critical thinking, the primary skill that you’re going to be able to practice if you’re working on documentation is collaboration. You would think that it was also like information synthesis and information evaluation. But for a lot of the work that we’re doing, the documentation exists. And what we’re looking at is trying to figure out where it no longer matches what is currently in the CMS, or currently in the project or currently in the team, whatever it is that you’re working on at that moment. And so, it’s a strong collaborative effort in the WordPress project. You have to have done the general work to figure out what needs to be changed in the documentation. But a lot of times, you need to figure out who has access to make the changes, what has prevented us from making changes in the past, and things like that. And so I say, collaboration is the only one to learn and critical thinking, but it’s actually a really big one and can take a fair amount of effort in this particular context.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  20:49

From the digital literacy aspect, of course, there is evaluating information. But this particular type of information evaluation is a little different for documentation. And this actually is true for the Documentation team, for the Training team, and also for the new Learn team. This question is true for all of them. There is a huge difference between presentation versus application of information. The way you present information for people who already know it and just need confirmation of something or are using it for reference material is really different from when people are looking at a piece of documentation that should be telling them how to accomplish something. And they try to apply it either to their own processes at the moment or apply it to teaching other people. And so evaluating information to make sure that what is presented can be applied, and all of the ways that that very complicated journey with managing information can kind of work or not, depending on how things are going in your section of the open source project at the moment.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  21:59

The third group of skills that you can really dig into in those teams, again, is digital citizenship, basically, everything is digital citizenship in WordPress because we’re just people online.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  22:24

And this final grouping that we have this final team and group of skills. So the Community team is a substantial and far-ranging team; they have many things that fall into their area of expertise. And so this has traditionally kind of functioned as a linchpin around education and ensuring that that was all relevant for users and attendees of events. The Community team will remain pivotal to so many things that we do now. But now that we have really awakened the Learn team and re-enlivened that Training team, this will shift a little over time. But yes, so that grain of salt that depending on when you listen to this, if you listen to it in 2050, maybe it’s not accurate anymore. Hopefully, most of what I say is not accurate in 2050. But you know, still.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  23:27

 Anyway! Critical thinking that’s where we were. So the critical thinking group of skills inside the Community team, you are going to have an opportunity to practice problem-solving. And frequently also procedural thinking, depending on what you’re working on in that team. Multimedia communication is absolutely true. And that’s true, whether you contribute to the team itself and make sure that the team is functioning and doing their basic tasks. Or if you are organizing an entire event, whether it’s online or offline or however that is being accomplished. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  24:07

Multimedia communication for this particular team is constant for all of their work and something that everyone who works on there gets to practice all the time. For digital literacy, this comes up a lot if what you’re doing is working through any sort of like programming plans, making sure that what we have in place for events is really excellent. It’s a really excellent opportunity for practicing the evaluation of information, learning more about media use and creation, and then naturally, everything to do with licenses copyright copyleft, not only for everything that we produce but then also for everyone in the ecosystem. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  24:55

This team helps so many plugins, authors and theme developers, and other groups who participate in the ecosystem understand the nuances of the GPL and why it matters so much to WordPress. And then in the life skill section, there’s the obvious life skill section, life skills that have come up for all of them—so digital citizenship, cross-cultural and social communication. But also you have the opportunity to tap into that self-direction and time management practice, which probably should also be considered in all of these teams. But, you know, things change as we go. 

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  25:45

Those are the most likely digital literacy skills that you would end up practicing in the Community team, depending on how you are participating in the Community team at that moment.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  25:59

So I said that we would talk a little bit about where this is all headed and what to do next. And like I just said, when I got lost in my own reverie, they’re like, hopefully, everything that I’ve shared here is out of date by 2050. Like, if we can come back to this particular podcast, or this presentation, or anything I’ve ever said, about digital literacy over my time with WordPress. And if we could come back to that in 2050, or, you know, I was going to say, 20 years from now, 2041 feels really close. But, you know, come back to it in the future, and say, that was all really excellent information to know at the moment. And we did do those things. And now, WordPress has proven that open source contribution and collaboration can teach all of the necessary 21st-century skills that anyone would need to survive in the world. And we did do it, that would be really cool. But I don’t think that that’s where we’re headed. Not because I don’t think people believe in what I’m saying or care about what I’m saying. But because it’s very easy to kind of let these things go at some point.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  27:20

Even if you at some point, were proficient in all of what is considered 21st-century skills, sometimes our skills don’t get used very much. And so we lose track of them. And we don’t know, or we don’t know how to teach them to other people and various ways to do that. So I hope that when we revisit this in the time capsule of the internet 20 years from now, we can say that was a great explanation. And we learned so much. And we made so many changes in such progress that now we need a new version of this. That’s really all we can do, always striving to leave the world in a better position than when we found it.

Josepha Haden Chomphosy  28:07

All right, that brings us to our small list of big things. I don’t have a ton to share with you today. But what I do have to share with you is a really big deal. So we are about a week away from the Go/No-Go point of WordPress 5.9. That is the final release of the year. And as soon as we know what is a go or a no go from that meeting on October 12th,  everyone is going just to hit the ground running. And so, if you are interested in contributing to that release, either by being a participant in the release squad or leading some part of the release squad. Absolutely. Drop by and let me know because I am interested to know who wants to learn more about doing that. And this is actually something that has gone by. I mentioned at the top that I spoke at WordCamp US.  That is still true; I did do it. And so did a bunch of other really excellent presenters. If you missed WordCamp US on Friday, for whatever reason, because you know, life is complicated. Pretty soon, we will have the videos. We’ll have all the videos up with captions quickly and have those available for everyone to watch and learn more from as their schedule allows and as their attention allows. And that is your small list of big things. Thank you for tuning in today for the WordPress Briefing. I’m your host, Josepha Haden Chomphos, and I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks.

See Also:

Want to follow the code? There’s a development P2 blog and you can track active development in the Trac timeline that often has 20–30 updates per day.

Want to find an event near you? Check out the WordCamp schedule and find your local Meetup group!

For more WordPress news, check out the WordPress Planet or subscribe to the WP Briefing podcast.

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