Chapter 2: Digital and Media Literacy Skills Enhancement in the Greek EFL Context During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Chrysoula Lazou; Nikolaos Panagiotou; and Avgoustos Tsinakos

Abstract

This chapter discusses the implementation of a Greek EFL project focusing on the enhancement of digital and information literacy skills for teenagers through the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) method in blended learning environments during the COVID-19 pandemic. The “DigiTEENS.gr” project was a result of the shift to emergency remote teaching in spring 2020. The project was realized with the initial involvement of students of two public schools in Kavala, Northern Greece. The intent was to enhance opportunities for teenagers to develop the necessary digital skills to respond to the needs of online learning and to discern quality in information, given the “infodemic” in the media in the crisis era. The content development involved the cooperation of the project instructor with academics from the School of Journalism and Mass Media, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the AETMA Lab (Advanced Educational Technologies and Mobile Applications Lab, International Hellenic University) in an interdisciplinary effort to enhance digital and media literacy skills in the EFL context. The project incorporated both synchronous and asynchronous sessions that lasted six months. During its second phase, high school students from across the country participated through collaboration and peer tutoring activities. Learning theories were thoughtfully employed to enhance their motivation and engagement. A three-phase survey was conducted to measure the results. Findings suggest that the project was of much value to teenagers’ skills development, their perceptions, and attitudes in the digital world. A further implementation on a larger scale is proposed to promote the importance of teaching this expanded notion of literacy.

Keywords: digital literacy, information literacy, critical thinking, digital age, teenagers, CLIL, pedagogy, COVID-19 pandemic, flipped learning

Introduction

The emergency remote teaching, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, produced numerous issues due to the lack of readiness to respond to the unprecedented need for students in the Greek educational context to shift to online learning. According to European Commission (2020), facilitating the flexible distance learning of all pupils in a way that functions as a coherent pedagogical approach requires a high level of competence and innovation by teachers and school leaders. Accordingly, educators need to make optimum use of available tools and provide targeted support to learners with diverse needs. These challenges need to be taken seriously and the crisis has proven that change and flexibility are of high priority. In light of this current situation that has affected students both emotionally and psychologically (Miller, 2020), there is a necessity to develop an effective competence development process and respond to learners’ affective needs that would enhance their motivation, engagement, and satisfaction while alleviating their frustration and discouragement.

Upon school closures in Greece in spring 2020, learners were struggling to respond to the unprecedented circumstances that disturbed their learning routine and threw them into the deep waters of online learning. The situation was further aggravated by the additional restrictions to home-based activities during lockdown. This steep learning curve and the overload of information, especially for those who were not familiar with online learning, could have negative impacts on learners as they felt demotivated and discouraged (Liyanagunawardena, Williams, & Adams, 2013; Bozkurt et al., 2020). The instability and emotional turbulence of their age (Lazou, 2015) and their inexperience in online learning practices led to high levels of discouragement amongst teenagers and their unwillingness to comply with the new reality. Schunk (2012) highlights the need for educators to understand the motivational states their students might be experiencing, such as apathy, hyperactivity, sadness, and distraction. The author stresses the necessity to address these states and attitudes first, “and then attempt to focus students’ attention on the task at hand” (p. 59). In this respect, it was of vital importance for learners to develop skills and attitudes to sufficiently respond to the new challenges and connect with the online learning community.

To ensure quality education in the digital age and increasing digital learning achievement and active and responsible citizenship in the 21st century, the “DigiTEENS.gr ” project was designed with the aim to respond to these challenges promptly. It was based on sound theoretical principles that resulted from the collaboration of the project instructor with academics that are experts in the field of distance learning. The project aimed to support two groups of secondary school teenage students in Kavala, Northern Greece. The selection of participants was based on purposeful sampling. The aim was to provide inclusive education opportunities to students that displayed low rates of attendance and lacked basic digital skills upon school closure and shift to emergency remote learning. Given the identified inadequate digital skills and subsequent lack of interest and engagement (Bozkurt et al., 2020), the project objectives focused mainly on raising teenage learners’ awareness of the importance to critically respond to emergency situations and assume responsibility for their own learning achievement. To this end, the key purpose included familiarizing teenage learners with collaborative online learning environments to facilitate constructive learning, peer tutoring, engagement, and motivation. The focus was also on ensuring social and emotional presence in a crisis-era; providing training to navigate safely in digital environments; helping with the development of strategies, skills, and attitudes to discern quality information and resources; and raising awareness based on the premise that user-generated content needs to be verified and critically consumed. The project was implemented through online synchronous and asynchronous sessions on an educational platform leveraging flipped instruction and the CLIL approach. The subject matter was facilitated in English which provided yet another opportunity to practice the language.

Background

In its 1996 report to UNESCO, the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century stressed the importance of promoting education as “one of the principal means available to foster a deeper and more harmonious form of human development and thereby to reduce poverty, exclusion, ignorance, oppression and war” (Delors et al., 1996b, p. 11). To achieve this, it was identified that, as moving into the 21st Century, a critical rethink of the purpose of education was necessary. As the commission argued, education should be based on four fundamental pillars of learning, namely, learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be, to help “provide maps of a complex world in constant turmoil” as well as “the compass that will enable people to find their way in it” (Delors et al., 1996a, p. 85). In 2011, in response to the ever-evolving need for educational innovation in the digital era, UNESCO created a curriculum with the goal of enabling the educational community to better understand the role of media. It focused on the acquisition of media literacy as “a set of essential competencies (knowledge, skills, and attitudes) that allow citizens to engage with media and other information providers effectively and develop critical thinking and lifelong learning skills for socializing and becoming active citizens” (Wilson, 2012, p. 16). Hobbs and Jensen (2013) note that students may be resistant to the process of interrogating and examining their media literacy practices; as such, it is the media literacy educators’ responsibility to shift the interest from students’ “tool competence” – that is their ability to use sophisticated technology – to “digital citizenship,” a concept closely related to media literacy that focuses not only on the necessity of internet safety but also on the rights and responsibilities of students as communicators on the internet and real life.

According to the Digital Competence Framework (Ferrari, 2013), there are five main areas of digital competencies, namely, Information, Communication, Content-creation, Safety, and Problem-solving. Αccording to Carretero, Vuorikari, and Punie (2017), eight Proficiency levels were featured related to Bloom’s Taxonomy, enriching DigComp 1.0 (Foundation, Intermediate, Advanced, Highly Specialised) to DigComp 2.1, with the addition of criteria that focus on a) complexity of tasks, b) autonomy, and c) cognitive domain. At Basic Level 1, with guidance, citizens can identify their information needs, and find data, information, and content through a simple search in digital environments. They can also learn how to access these data, information, and content, navigate between them, and identify simple personal search strategies. At the most advanced and specialized level (Level 8), they are capable of creating solutions to solve complex problems with many interacting factors that are related to browsing, searching and filtering data, information, and digital content and of proposing new ideas and processes to the field. Semali (2003) notes that building these skills moves “audiences from awareness to action, from passivity to engagement, from denial to acceptance of responsibility for what each of us can do… as participants in our media-dominated society” (p. 275). The European Commission Report (Eurydice, 2019) suggests that one of the main curriculum approaches to digital competencies building in primary and secondary education is “[a]s a cross-curricular theme: digital competences are understood to be transversal and are therefore taught across all subjects in the curriculum. All teachers share the responsibility for developing digital competences.” (p. 28).

Methodology

Based on the importance of incorporating an expanded conceptualization of literacy in a crisis era, a two-stage pilot research study was designed and implemented. Initially, there were two groups of students from Northern Greece – the Junior High School of Amygdaleonas and the 7th Junior High School of Kavala. The second stage included more groups of students from various schools around Greece. Through these distinct stages and groups, this study aimed to test how students responded to the intense training, what were the factors that influenced them, and to what extent the intense training resulted in different responses.

The selection of students, through purposeful sampling, was based on their performance and needs that were observed during the first weeks of the shift to emergency remote teaching. More specifically, it was observed that a considerable number of students lacked either the necessary equipment to respond to this challenge and/or digital skills. It was also evident that some students with high classroom performance were intimidated to actively engage and participate in this new mode of learning. Another criterion was the inclusion of students with special educational needs (ADHD, limited English proficiency) as well as students with high performance to act as peer tutors in a collaborative learning environment. To address these criteria, there was an effort to provide the underprivileged participants with the technical equipment needed, narrowing the digital divide and enhancing diverse learners’ engagement, motivation and satisfaction, and encouraging autonomy (Lazou & Psychogiou, 2020). Forty 13/14-year-old students were selected from both schools; they were mixed into two groups to represent diverse demographics. The subject matter was taught in English to encourage learners’ exposure to digital and media literacy resources on a broader scale. The demographics of participants are depicted in the following table (Table 2.1).

Table 2.1

Criteria for the Selection of Project Participants (N=40)

Demographics Number of Students Special Characteristics
Students from a rural area 24 10 students were granted tablets
Students from an urban area 16 2 students were granted tablets
Digital Skills
Very limited digital skills 16 Frustration and disappointment to respond to the shift to online learning
With some digital skills 20 Basic competencies to respond, some of them with parental support
No digital skills 4 No participation in online lessons before the project
Diverse Characteristics
High classroom performance students 12 Expressed an interest to participate and learn more
ADHD 4 Initial frustration due to lack of support
Very low performance in English 8 Initial hesitation to participate due to language of content delivery

 

This project found the ADDIE model for information literacy enhancement a useful framework (Davis, 2013) as it incorporated:

  1. the analysis phase where the learners’ existing knowledge and skills were identified with the help of a pre-course online questionnaire (and the instructor’s observations during the first weeks of the shift to online learning) aiming at identifying the target groups characteristics, the new behavioral outcomes, the learning constraints existing, online pedagogical considerations, etc.;
  2. the design phase, where the learning objectives were set, the assessment instruments were carefully chosen along with the exercises, the content, the subject matter analysis, and the media selection, taking into consideration the diverse demographics of the learners and the need for multiple means of representation, engagement, and action and expression as defined by the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles (CAST, 2018);
  3. the development phase, during which phase (a) and (b) were put into action; the LMS platform used was “e-Class” that was officially proposed by the Ministry of Education in Greece for asynchronous online learning granting all students with personal accounts on the Greek School Network;
  4. the implementation phase, the procedure during which the students were exposed to all the prepared activities, both synchronous and asynchronous, in a flipped instruction mode, to include PBL; experiential learning; gamification-introduction to mobile learning; online quizzes and interactive videos; filling charts; creation of concept maps; creation of news articles; web search for clickbait and cross-checking of news websites credibility; deconstruction and reconstruction of advertisements and articles; collaborative learning in breakout sessions (WebEx platform); webtools (Padlet, Photo Story 3 for digital storytelling) and Google docs/forms/slides; peer tutoring; active listening; invited speakers/experts; and presentations; all of which were complementarily leveraged to monitor understanding and progress;
  5. the evaluation phase formatively with the distribution of a mid-course questionnaire where the programme was assessed in order to be modified to cater for specific needs and mistakes in its original design both in content and target language. At this stage, the instructor applied a CARR check for clarity, access, rigor, and relevance so as to identify if any adjustments were needed (Table 2.2). This process was completed by keeping a journal on a daily basis, and writing down observations on students’ progress and reactions. Finally, there was a post-course questionnaire where students were asked to answer specific criterion-related open-ended questions to assess the success of the programme and offer feedback for future reference.

Table 2.2

CARR Check Questions for Teacher Reflection. Adapted from Bondie, R. S., Dahnke, C., & Zusho, A. (2019)

CARR Check Questions for Teacher Reflection
C Clarity a.     Is this task clear to ALL students?

b.     Are the words understandable by all students?

c.     Are students expected to understand vocabulary that may be vague, have multiple meanings or are in unfamiliar contexts?

A Access Could ALL students complete the task independently and feel capable?
R Rigor a.     How much effort is required of different students?

b.     What would students find complex?

R Relevance Would ALL students find this task important, interesting, valuable, and/or useful?

The instructional design leveraged flipped learning and CLIL approach where students were taught the subject matter in English. Flipped learning is defined as the approach that learners’ exposure to the new learning object precedes the in-class synchronous learning (Lin & HwItang, 2018). More specifically, multimedia learning materials were prepared and distributed by the teacher before class. Learners were introduced to them asynchronously, usually through a video, visuals, concept maps, and slide presentations to respond to different learners’ preferences accompanied by a variety of quizzes to test the level of understanding and mastery of the content. In the class or in synchronous sessions, given the new reality and shift to online learning, students engaged in learning activities and applied knowledge with the assistance of the teacher or peer tutoring and interaction, allowing for more time to reach high levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, be creative, and develop high order critical thinking skills (Sams & Bergmann, 2013).

CLIL was employed to allow for the integration of all four skills, both receptive, that is reading and listening, and productive, that is speaking and writing, in learning English while acquiring knowledge of new content. As stated by the European Commission (Eurydice, 2006), CLIL is applied throughout Europe catering to different needs and enabling students to develop “subject-related knowledge and learning ability, stimulating the assimilation of subject matter by means of a different and innovative approach” (p. 22). CLIL should not be confused with EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction) or ESP (English for Specific Purposes) as an approach. CLIL is a term generally used for both primary and secondary education where language and content are equal goals of instruction. According to Dearden (2015), EMI is the use of the English language to teach academic subjects in countries or jurisdictions where the first language of the majority of the population is not English – the content is the focus and it is at the university level. With ESP, the purpose of the classes is to help students improve their level of English and they are more language than content-oriented. EMI courses prioritize learning the content and require higher English language proficiency than either CLIL or ESP courses. In view of this, English, as an international language, allows for many content-based approaches to the benefit of learners.

The four major components of CLIL, the 4Cs as Coyle, Hood, and Marsh (2010) contend, are Content, (subject matter), Cognition (learning and thinking processes as well as creativity), Communication (mediating ideas, thoughts, and values), and Culture, (developing intercultural understanding and global citizenship). The explicit instruction on the subject of digital and media literacy, implemented in English, enabled students to broaden their exposure to digital and media resources in a global crisis era; this was ideal to hone all the components of CLIL, promoting active thinking and learning and encouraging project-based learning that simulates real-life situations and working conditions of an ever-evolving global networked world.

In this study, the following assumptions were examined:

  • Enhancement of digital and media literacy skills can be achieved through CLIL.
  • Media and Digital literacy skills are essential for students in the post-pandemic era.
  • Collaborative learning and peer tutoring can enhance learner motivation, engagement, and satisfaction in populations with diverse demographics.
  • Blended learning and flipped instruction can support rich inclusive learning opportunities.

Findings

The study involved two distinct phases. The first part involved sessions with two groups of twenty students each, that is a total of forty students with diverse demographics from two high schools in Kavala, Greece, where one of the authors teaches. The sessions started in May 2020 after the teacher’s observations, needs assessment, and selection criteria as described in the methodology section. The sessions lasted until the end of November 2020 with a break of one month in August. There was a three-phase survey conducted based on questionnaires, students’ interviews, and the teacher’s record of observations of progress and reactions in a daily journal. The second phase involved the inclusion of schools, students, and English and ICT teachers from throughout the country during Greek Media Literacy Week 2020, part of the Global Media Literacy week initiative.

The students, representing their respective schools, were selected mainly based on their willingness to participate and not on the criteria of the first phase. The new groups of students were mixed with the 40 students that had already received intensive sessions for six months and participated in daily workshops for one week. All participants, 100 high school students, were split into four groups and participated daily in Zoom polling, brainstorming activities (AnswerGarden), presentations, gamification (Kahoot/Wordwall/Quizizz), and reflection/creation on a collaborative digital wall (Padlet), based on Gagne’s nine events of instruction (Gagne, 1988). At the end of their participation, they were asked to share their experience of their exposure to the educational digital tools and media literacy enhancement opportunities.

Findings of the Pre-Course Survey

Data were organized and categorized to align with the research questions. The pre-course survey focused on exploring the students’ challenges, what they needed to learn, the support they expected, and language-related difficulties they might encounter on the specific topic. In addition, it helped assess students’ digital and media competencies. Responses could be summarised as follows:

With regard to the question “Do you like it that you have online lessons and keep in touch with your school and classmates?” responses varied according to students’ profile, skills, and attitudes. There were students that enjoyed the opportunity of keeping in touch with their school, teachers, and classmates during the first weeks of school closure due to the pandemic, but most of them expressed their lack of skills or equipment and low bandwidth to respond to the requirements of online learning:

  • “No, because I have problems with the internet connection and the equipment; my siblings have lessons too and sometimes I can’t connect to a lesson”;
  • “Yes, because I would probably be bored if I didn’t have online lessons. But there are some negative things about online lessons. Like: problems with the internet, problems with the platform (WebEx), etc.”;
  • “I like the fact that I keep in touch with my school but it’s really challenging for me to do my assignments online and it’s something that I don’t really enjoy. That’s why I want to go back to school and my normal life.”;
  • “Not that much but it is important because I have to keep up with the lessons.”

Concerning synchronous and asynchronous modes of learning, the majority of the respondents (n=26 out of 40) were more positive about synchronous sessions. It is an important finding because it underlines that distance learning should not be approached through a one-size-fits-all lens, but it is critical to recognize the essential differentiations that exist within the online context. Synchronous education is seen as an extension of the physical experience to the digital space where interaction can take place as in a traditional classroom. “I prefer synchronous sessions because you can ask questions you might have and you can see the faces of your friends and classmates” whereas the rest stated that they prefer the asynchronous mode: “I like studying whenever I want”, “Some teachers upload theory along with interesting materials, such as videos, concept maps, they send us quizzes and this helps me understand better.”

Regarding whether the transition to online learning was easy for students, “Is this transition to online learning easy for you? Why/Why not?”, their responses varied according to students’ profile and attitudes:

  • “At the beginning it was difficult to learn online but now I am getting used to it.”
  • “No, it’s not easy at all for me because many times I have problems with finding online the information I need for my homework. There are so many sources, I am not sure what to choose and I need my parents’ help.”
  • “No, because I am not good with Internet stuff and I have difficulty in learning through a device.”
  • “Yes, it is much easier for me because I can learn more quickly this way.”

Findings of the Post-Course Survey

The post-course survey involved questions that measured the benefits of the course and the change of knowledge, skills, and attitudes with regard to their digital and media literacy skills, peer tutoring, collaboration, English language skills development, and flipped learning. Most of the questions were open-ended and responses could be summarised as follows:

  • 72,5% (n=29) commented on their satisfaction from learning to work online in groups and the engagement, motivation, and socio-emotional support that collaboration fosters in home-based online learning. This finding suggests that if peer tutoring is strategically employed for the formation of groups, it may have twofold benefits, namely, a) the improvement of skills, new attitudes, and knowledge for the less competent language learners and b) satisfaction and reflection on their learning strategies and deepening on their meta-cognitive skills for the peer tutors. This further supported the enhancement of lifelong and soft skills on tolerance, recognition of the importance of diversity, and how this leads to creativity.
  • 45% (n=18) stated that, although they have social media accounts, they had never before practiced the netiquette principles and were not aware of their importance in digital communication and interaction. All participants (100%) noted that the session and gamification on the principles was very useful, interactive, and pleasant. Being asked about the reasons underlying their initial stance in contrast to their post-course awareness of the importance of change of behaviour, some of them further commented on the anonymity that the screen encourages, and how that resulted in less careful or polite interaction that was not in compliance with netiquette principles – forgetting that there is a human on the other end of the computer screen.
  • 10 out of the 12 students that were granted equipment to attend the course were the most enthusiastic learners, as they enjoyed access to learning opportunities and reached high scores in quizzes and games, although their prior knowledge of the language was poor, and their digital skills were limited.
  • Scores and the instructor’s observations during gamification in synchronous sessions revealed that students with hyperactivity and low concentration span displayed a considerable improvement in language performance skills and their concentration time span was prolonged: “Dimitris was the winner of today’s game. I am so happy that at the end of the session he asked me what to study for next time in order to get well-prepared and keep his high score in the games” (Journal entry, July 9th, 2020).
  • Apart from gamification, which was the most engaging strategy of instruction during the synchronous sessions, the second preference (80%) was based on the activities on web search for news articles, cross-check information based on specific criteria, and presentation of results in groups. The motivating part of this activity was that apart from working on shared Google docs and slides, all results were posted on a collaborative digital wall (Padlet) that allowed for peer evaluation and comments. The whole process had a beneficial impact on all participants, including low-performance students who put much effort to optimize their full potential and reach satisfaction for their achievement: “A very lively session once again! They did not realize that the session had exceeded the 90min. and kept posting, commenting, and evaluating their peers’ work. This was not a lesson. It was a social event! They miss each other so much…” (Journal entry, November 12th, 2020).
  • 65% (n=26) of the participants noted that asynchronous access to visuals, videos, quizzes, and materials at their own time and pace on the educational platform was very helpful as it provided them with the chance to get prepared for the next session, be aware of its objectives (what they would be expected to learn and know), and have access to the course outline and the meetings calendar. This flipped mode of instruction facilitated an inclusive learning environment as it addressed the needs of all students based on their learning profile. As such, the students stated that they had the opportunity to look up for any unfamiliar terms in the language in the course glossary provided, were happy that they were assigned to personalized quizzes before the synchronous sessions to practice so as to come with specific questions if any. They also felt satisfied with the opportunity to better and more efficiently participate in the collaborative activities.

Findings of the Second Phase

During this phase, students-representatives from high schools from around the country were invited to participate in a weekly synchronous online training course in the framework of Greek Media Literacy Week 2020 (organized every year as part of UNESCO Global Media Literacy Week). The study involved training sessions of mingled groups with new participants and the students that had participated in the intensive course of the “DigiTEENS.gr” project. The students were exposed to various activities (questions through brainstorming, polling, specific examples of misleading information, gamification, thought-provoking questions, and sharing of experiences and reflection on their exposure to the media and news information during the COVID-19 pandemic).

During the activities, the instructor focused on check-in questions that revealed that students who had been exposed to the intensive course through CLIL had taken the lead in the online activities and discussions, thus acting as peer tutors in some cases. Participants who had not received previous training were familiar with some apps, webtools, and web search processes, but further guidance was needed in order to successfully complete the activities. Out of the 60 new participants, only 12 (20%) of them did not need further support to respond to the activities. Their familiarisation with strategies for fact versus opinion checking on information with regard to health issues was very limited and there were only seven participants that could successfully evaluate (based on criteria such as author’s credibility and authority, objectivity, power of words, and their appeal to emotions) the source of information and professional journalism. It was found that, for the students that had not been exposed to the intensive course, celebrities, due to their intimacy, familiarity to the wide audience and its subsequent impact, had a considerable influence on teenagers; their opinions and campaigns on health literacy issues during the COVID-19 crisis were more welcome than those from the health experts. As Mututwa and Matsilele (2020) posit, “[t]aking advantage of their huge following and influence, celebrities amplified health awareness communication spearheaded by recognized health authorities worldwide.” (p. 13).

Language comprehension did not seem to be a serious obstacle with regard to words that are widely accepted and used in English, instead of the participants’ mother tongue, such as, “viral”, “clickbait”, “posts”, “comment”, “share”, etc. However, the students were not acquainted with the types of misleading information, differentiation, categorization, and meaning — words used in journalism jargon and the netiquette principles hence, there was a need for a constant switch to native language for the successful communication of such terms and ideas. When addressing thought-provoking questions and critical thinking skills with regard to articles from the international press, the responses were further limited to a small number of participants that could successfully apply strategies in the target language. Despite all the above observations, at the end of sessions, all participants stated their excitement of having interacted synchronously online with peers from throughout the country, their new learning experience, and especially the opportunity to learn through collaboration and gamification.

Discussion

This study focused on the implementation of an intensive course on digital and media literacy skills enhancement through CLIL for forty high school students as a response to the new reality and emergency shift to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The questions raised were whether: a) the enhancement of digital and media literacy skills can be achieved through CLIL; b) media and digital literacy skills are essential for students in the post-pandemic era; c) collaborative learning and peer tutoring can enhance learner motivation, engagement and satisfaction in populations with diverse demographics; and d) blended learning and flipped instruction can support rich inclusive learning opportunities. In order to further measure results and enhance validity and reliability of results, there was an expansion of the study based on the invitation of student representatives from high schools from various regions of the country, namely, Northern, Central, Southern Greece as well as from the Dodecanese Islands. The latter group of students had not received the intensive training but participated in sessions that lasted for one week, during the Greek Media Literacy Week in November 2020, exchanging thoughts and experiences from their shift to the online learning process and exposure to the media and “infodemic” of the health crisis era. These students were split into groups, mingled with the groups of students that had participated in the DigiTEENS.gr project, in an effort to provide them with peer tutoring opportunities.

Based on the research findings, it is suggested that there is a need to incorporate digital and media literacy projects in the curriculum and especially through the EFL context as it facilitates a broader and more effective skills enhancement in an ever-evolving networked world. Given the age, learning preferences, and diverse demographics of our multicultural learning communities, multiple means of representation, engagement, action, and expression (as suggested by the UDL principles) have a beneficiary influence on all participants, leveraging flipped instruction, multimedia, gamification, and collaborative and peer tutoring opportunities in the design, development, and implementation of the project. More specifically, findings suggest the importance of the following factors for the successful implementation of the digital and media literacy enhancement skills for high school students:

Equal Opportunities for Digital and Media Literacy Skills Enhancement During and After the Pandemic Era

One of the main concerns to allow for digital and media literacy skills development opportunities is the digital divide, that is, access to technologies, equipment, and internet infrastructure. This was one of the initial observations that had led to the exclusion of numerous students from access to education during the shift to emergency remote learning in the pandemic era. An important element that needs to be addressed is the lack of access to the internet for 24% of the households according to Statista (2018). In an effort to respond to this need for inclusive educational practices in a time of crisis, tablets were granted to the students (n=12) that had no access to online learning opportunities and, as a consequence, limited or no digital skills. Giving underprivileged students personal devices (tablets) had a great impact on their attitudes towards learning opportunities. Individuals learn through their own devices. This sense of ownership enhanced their desire to learn, but also to self-regulate and organize their learning (Palalas & Ally, 2016).

Apart from the need to respond to this socio-economic inequity, there was a need to relieve these students from their subsequent emotional and psychological turbulence. To add to this, as Bozkurt et al. (2020) report, there are essential (soft) skills and competencies to help students survive in a time of crisis — infodemic might spread faster than the pandemic, and “[b]eyond digital literacy is the need for critical digital literacy which refers to the skillset of being able to critically analyze information and evaluate its authenticity” (p. 8). The project, based on the proficiency levels criteria as featured in the DigCom 2.1 (2017), namely, complexity of tasks, autonomy, and cognitive domain, succeeded in maximizing each learner’s potential in a student-centered learning environment. In light of this, the second experimental phase has proven the necessity to equip students with media and digital literacy skills, especially now and for the post-pandemic era, as a result of the major shift to digital spaces that occurred and will continue to occur after the pandemic.

Flipped Learning for Rich Inclusive Learning Experiences

The Flipped Learning Network (FLN, 2014) defines flipped learning as “a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter”(p. 1). Analyzing the acronyms, namely, the four pillars of F-L-I-P as FLN suggests, this approach accurately addresses the needs of the specific group of learners, as it allows for Flexible environments, establishing the time and space framework for the learner to interact with the content and reflect on the process; a student-centered shift of the Learning culture that provides learners with diverse needs the opportunity to engage in meaningful activities beyond teacher’s control, though scaffolding through differentiated instruction and feedback; Intentional content, prioritizing what materials students need to access and explore on their own, considering their learning preferences and needs; and a Professional educator, who should be available to observe progress, provide students with suitable feedback when needed, and assess their work. Observations facilitate further improvements of the course, as the ADDIE model of instructional design suggests. The educator’s role is more personalized rather than didactic (Alvarez, 2011), engaged with “the frequent, interactive checking of student progress and understanding in order to identify learning needs and adjust teaching appropriately” (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, 2008, p. 1).

On this premise, the blended learning mode allowed students to access the materials at their own time and pace, providing them with a) multiple means of representation for inclusive learning; b) quizzes with unlimited attempts to reach mastery of content through trial and error; c) opportunities to prepare for the synchronous collaborative work during the breakout sessions and to enhance intrinsic motivation and attention span; d) regulation of student stress and motivation to learn through meaningful and edutainment activities, such as gamification and PBL (Klemke, Eradze, & Antonaci, 2018), aiming at combining the students’ social, emotional, and educational support during the transition of face-to-face education to online learning in a crisis era.

Collaborative Learning and Peer Tutoring in Online Learning Environments

Building online learning communities to reduce transactional distance (Moore, 2013), especially in times of lockdown and no in-person contact and interaction with peers is of high importance to enhance motivation, engagement, and satisfaction. Peer tutoring was employed with the strategic formation of groups with a variety of skills and talents, with students with ADHD diagnoses carefully assigned to different groups to support them and alleviate stress and frustration and allow for constructive learning experiences (Vaughan, Cleveland-Innes, & Garrison, 2013). As such, exposure to meaningful group work and discussions, creation of presentations, and collaborative exploration of ideas encouraged practicing critical thinking and applying knowledge to their own situations. Strategic decisions on group structure, as Rance-Roney (2010) suggests, and creating discussions that relate to students’ real life was a strategy that enhanced participation and engagement and expanded understanding and critical thinking. In addition, mixing stronger students with weaker ones that would receive the same grade as a group was a strategy that motivated stronger students to support their peers’ learning. Its further employment during the second phase of the survey with the students that had not received intensive training proved that it had a beneficial effect as it facilitated the sessions and enriched these participants’ learning experience to a certain extent. Referencing Vygotsky’s theory of the zone of proximal development, as Chaiklin (2013) notes, young people are learning incrementally and socially with the help of more capable peers.

Content and Language Integration Learning (CLIL) Approach for Content Delivery

The use of English as a medium of instruction had a twofold affordance in the specific project as it provided students with the privilege to access, analyze, evaluate, and create new content while developing both receptive and productive skills in the target language. They maximized opportunities for a) target language exposure to the international press while web searching, watching videos, and playing games, and b) target language production while interacting with their peers and creating new content. Though not all students reached the same level of mastery of the language, there was an improvement in their scores in formative and summative assessment that was not displayed in their past semesters, mainly for the low achievers and learners with ADHD diagnosis. With regard to assessment, “European” CLIL states clearly that the focus should be on content, and the language is intended as instrumental to the latter’s development (Coyle et al., 2010), and any problems with the language must be resolved by the CLIL practice itself (Barber, 2012). Focusing on the learning subject matter that was motivating and not on the language grammar and vocabulary itself, as in a conventional language course, through interactive, highly engaging activities, learners improved their language performance skills in an intuitive way.

Limitations and Further Recommendations

The presented pilot study revealed some useful findings with regard to the participants’ enhancement of digital and media literacy skills as an urgent response to the shift to online learning in a crisis era. Learners’ change in skills, attitudes, and new knowledge was measured before, during, and after the completion of the intervention with a second phase of pilot comparative research with high school students that had not attended the intensive training course. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that there are some limitations to be considered in the present survey that could be summarised as follows:

  • The limited number of participants (N=40) did not allow for a broader quantitative research study to ensure credibility, transferability, confirmability, and dependability of findings (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). However, qualitative studies in small numbers, especially if the particular age of participants is taken into consideration, may be more effective as they provide the researcher with the opportunity to receive a more accurate and sincere response from an open-ended question. As Yilmaz (2013) notes, qualitative research seeks to answer questions about “what”, “how”, and “why” rather than “how much/many” which is the case of quantitative research. In qualitative data collection, the researcher acts as a human instrument (Conquergood, 1991; Hoepfl, 1997; Lincoln & Guba, 1985), who, skillfully and without bias, tries to collect and further interpret words, pictures, non-verbal expressions, and gestures of the participants.
  • The selection of participants was based on the instructor’s observations during the first weeks of the shift to emergency remote learning in an attempt to involve students with diverse demographics as presented in Table 1. This process was based on subjectivity, despite the additional feedback she received from the rest of the colleagues that teach the same students as to cross-check observations to limit this factor.
  • The selection of the participants of the second phase was not based on the same criteria as of the first phase, but on willingness to participate in cooperation with their EFL or ICT teachers.

Conclusions

The new reality during the COVID-19 pandemic led to the shift to online learning which revealed the need for an inclusive educational pattern based on an instructional design that allows all students to enjoy the affordances of technology-enhanced learning based on specific criteria (Schad & Jones, 2020; UNESCO, 2020a; UNESCO, 2020b). The survey findings of the DigiTEENS.gr project suggest that these criteria involve digital and media literacy skills enhancement as basic core competence building to address the gap of global citizenship in secondary education. News literacy should be seen as part of a broader approach of pedagogy of “empowered citizenship” (Panagiotou, 2011), incorporating and promoting civic competence and active citizenship as a compound of knowledge, skills, and attitudes (Panagiotou & Theodosiadou, 2017). As it results from the present survey, enhancement of digital and media literacy skills can be achieved through CLIL. This aspect was proven by testing the performance of participants in various tests and especially when examining students that had not been taught through CLIL. The assumption that collaborative learning and peer tutoring can enhance learner motivation, engagement, and satisfaction in populations with diverse demographics has proven to be valid. Collaborative learning and peer tutoring that was applied during the DigiTEENS.gr project, as well as through a mixed group of young participants from schools from all over Greece, demonstrated a positive impact on the performance of participants. These positive results were in spite of the fact that these participants had not worked together before, were from areas sparsely populated, and interacted exclusively online. Blended learning and flipped instruction can support rich inclusive learning opportunities, especially in the new digital environments that require a person to be simultaneously engaged in performing different tasks. In addition, it can greatly contribute to achieving the four essential components of news literacy when applied within the educational setting: 1) representation, 2) language, 3) production and 4) audience (Panagiotou & Theodosiadou, 2017).

Today’s youth perform better when learning through collaboration and interaction with peers in a constructive learning environment after being exposed to materials at their own time and pace to interact with the content and explore their own understanding of the subject matter. Blended and flipped learning can facilitate this process, allowing for differentiated instruction and ample opportunities for mastery of content before, during, and after the synchronous or in-class sessions, addressing students’ need for social, emotional, and educational support. Cleveland-Innes and Wilton (2018) stress the benefits of blended learning as an opportunity for 1) collaboration at a distance, 2) increased flexibility, 3) increased interaction, 4) enhanced learning, and 5) learning to be virtual citizens. Gamification and problem-based learning enhances motivation, engagement, and satisfaction for learners of all levels of competence proficiency optimizing their full potential. CLIL as a method of instruction facilitates the parallel instruction of the target language through content in an innovative way that broadens learners’ experiences and promotes active citizenship skills enhancement in the ever-evolving digitally connected world. These study findings revealed the importance of the enhancement of high school students’ digital and media literacy skills, as suggested by the literature, to ensure competence development and active and responsible citizenship in the 21st-century networked world.

As Wilson (2012, p. 16) posits, “MIL [Media and Information Literacy] enables students, in the words of Freire and Macedo (1987), to “read the word and the world”: to understand the word on the page and the image on the screen, and to be able to analyze and assess the information and representations about our world that are conveyed to us through the media.

 

Note: DigiTEENS.gr project has received the GOLD PRIZE for Innovation in Teaching by “Education Leaders Awards 2021” and SILVER PRIZE for Blended Learning by “English Language Teaching Excellence Awards 2021”

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Blended Language Learning: Evidence-Based Trends and Applications by Chrysoula Lazou; Nikolaos Panagiotou; and Avgoustos Tsinakos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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