PDFs, Pragmatism & WWPP - Digital Literacy Dover

Saturday, 14 April 2018

PDFs, Pragmatism & WWPP

WWPP,  a pragmatic compromise: WP, WWW, PPT & PDFs

If there is one thing I've learned in my now almost a decade as a digital literacy coach (DLC), and from now over 20 years working with 'edtech' or the technology enhanced learning (TEL) in the classroom from K-12, it's that there is a fundamental shift, in terms of how opportunities to learn and to create with digital tools are experienced as students move though their school lives. There is a gradual progression. During their primary/elementary years, students at UWCSEA regularly (ie, at least once a year) work across all five of the domains that span what I what I would describe as true digital literacy, or perhaps a better word is competency; video, image, text, audio, data—or VITAD. Then as they progress through middle and then high school, there is a narrowing of focus as students become more specialised in their learning, and their range of learning experiences narrows, from VITAD, to something I call WWPP:

  • Word Processing
  • Websites & Web Search
  • PowerPoint Slideshows (or similar)
  • Printing, PDFs, Posters (yes I realise that's more than one P)

WWPP describes the fundamental domains that are the norm for most teachers in most subjects in terms of the tools they rely on to do their own work, and so, not surprisingly, represent the kinds of digital technology they are comfortable using with their students, and in (hopefully, but not necessarily) expecting their students to use. This means, whether you like it or not, this represents the actual reality in most secondary school classrooms, especially those that are organised around the premise of preparing students for high stakes examinations.

This doesn't mean that VITAD is non existent in secondary schools, it just means that it will be more isolated and consigned to certain subject areas, eg data handling in the Sciences, image in the Arts, audio in Music, video in Film et cetera. This doesn't mean these experiences aren't beneficial in other subject areas, the work they do in primary school clearly demonstrates that it is, it's just that, having worked on trying to facilitate this, I've had to concede that it just doesn't happen much, if at all, once students are taught by subject specialists. This observation is one I have observed both as a teacher and a parent for many years, and it is one that is borne out by the literature. I've already written a post about this phenomenon, that can be summed up by these quotes from two recent studies into the dominant use of digital technologies in secondary schools is in terms of their assumed and actual use: 

Laptops are typically purchased by schools and sometimes by parents, and they are largely used to write and revise papers, conduct Internet searches, and engage in personalized instruction and assessment using educational software or online tools. (Zheng et al, 2016, p2)

... schools revealed moderate use of many well-established digital technologies, such as word processing, presentation software, and quiz games. (Hughes et al, 2018, p1)

... students reported using word processing, spreadsheets, presentation tools, and web searches most frequently in class. (ibid, p2)

So the fact is that, like it or not, what studies repeatedly show as 'effective' use, is use that can be translated into evidence that is measured using a standardised test score. And if that is the only metric we are prepared (or able) to consider, then WWPP is the model that works, and WWPP is a model that works for preparing students for high stakes examinations; until those examinations change in terms of their expectations, then WWPP is here to stay. 

Now I'm not ecstatic about this, but I am pragmatic; by this I mean if we're going to accept that this narrowing of expectation exists, that the least we can do is teach these skills properly. The danger at the moment, is that in the same way that these skills reflect their teachers ICT skills, they also reflect their teachers competency, or as is more often the case in my experience, their teachers' gradually increasing competency. Now—don't get me wrong—I don't blame teachers for this, it's very powerful when a teacher can model for their students that they are also 'lifelong learners' and anyway, if they are anywhere near my age, they didn't actually own a computer until they were in their 20s, and even then they were never taught how to use them, they were just expected to figure it out themselves by trial and tribulation. I've written more on this skills issue in another post, but suffice it to say here, that at the very least, if we're going to narrow our focus, can we at least expect these skills to be taught properly? To be used in a skilful, or especially at high school level, a competent way? I think we can, and I think we should. The benefits to both teachers in terms of their ability to do their jobs more effectively, and to their students are clear. 

What does skilled WWPP look like?

It looks like the expectations for any adult who would be deemed to be digitally literate, any adult who wants, no, needs to function effectively in the vast majority of workplaces in the 21st century. Some suggestions below:  

Skilful Word Processing 

  • Use and format tables: insert & delete rows, columns, & merge cells
  • Use the tab key (also add new row to a table/indented bullets)
  • Use commenting tools to give, receive & respond to feedback
  • Paste text without formatting, or to match destination formatting
  • Insert/format/manage page numbers
  • Add/use headers/footers 
  • Use, modify, and create templates
  • Use document page breaks, section breaks & styles
  • Use automatic features like table of contents (TOC), references, citations
  • Reference source materials, ie MLA, APA et cetera
  • Extend these same skills to the building of web resources/sites

Skilful Web Browsing/Searching

  • Use History and bookmarks effectively instead of relying on excessive tabs
  • Use multiple accounts with web browsers to manage private/professional practice
  • Access and find information in an online database not just Google/Bing et al.
  • Identify key words, names, & phrases for a search
  • Appreciate the advantages & disadvantages of a variety of sources
  • Use the find command to locate specific words on a page
  • Upload & download files as appropriate, understand the associated file sizes. 
  • Understand & carry out an (advanced) multiple field search
  • Search using Boolean terms (site:, intitle:, —)

Skilful PowerPoints/Slide Shows

  • Create well designed slideshows that rely on image, not text  
  • Format & customise well designed themes 
  • Create presentations that use multimedia effectively, eg video, sound &/or animation
  • Format & edit master slides to manage the formatting of a presentation
  • Use appropriate images, eg pixel width, proportion, illustration not just decoration
  • Crop & enhance images to complement your slides 
  • Select, trim and incorporate video clips/animations
  • Visualise data effectively using charts and graphs 
  • Understand the affordances of different tools, eg PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides... 
  • Use slide aspect ratio intentionally (wide screen v 4:3)
  • Use the slide sorter view to manage/organise your presentation 

Skilful use of PDFs & Posters

  • Organised and synchronised online for ease of access/sharing
  • Edit to isolate certain pages, extract specific content, reorder content
  • Annotate, comment, and highlight 
  • Convert (hard or soft) documents to/from PDF 


I've been hesitant to concede these facts, but I console myself with the knowledge that if the students have been given the appropriate foundations and experiences what span VITAD in Primary and some extent, Middle School, their ongoing development in terms of digital literacy is now something they should be able to pursue independently throughout High School, and for the rest of their lives. This means that High School teachers have one focus, and one focus only, that is to enable their students to succeed in their examinations, in the same way they have for the past 50 years. Until the examinations change, there little point expecting teachers to change, Especially as the efficacy of their teaching practice is often based, either explicitly or implicitly, on their students’ grades. 

It’s obvious internationally that many if not most schools don’t understand this, or don’t care.  This is why Google Chromebooks and similar budget computers are thriving in comparison with iPads and MacBooks in schools. The former is fine all you want students to experience is WWPP, but if you want them to demonstrate true digital literacy with VITAD and all of the wonderful combinations and permutations between those domains, budget computers can’t and don’t deliver this. 


Hughes, Joan E. and Read, Michelle F. (2018) "Student experiences of technology integration in school subjects: A comparison across four middle schools," Middle Grades Review: Vol. 4 : Iss. 1 , Article 6.
Available at: https://scholarworks.uvm.edu/mgreview/vol4/iss1/6

Zheng, B., Warschauer, M., Lin, C. H., & Chang, C. (2016). Learning in One-to-One Laptop Environments A Meta-Analysis and Research Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 0034654316628645.

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