Keeping Things in Perspective

As the semester begins to draw to a close it is good to spend some time reflecting on where we have been and some of the lessons or understandings gained along the way.

Personally as an educator I have always felt that the lives of my students are heavily impacted by the use of technology.  I have been very fortunate to have always been in a school with very supportive administrators who felt that the more exposure to technology we can grant students the more prepared they will be to not only use, but to engage  with technology in the future.  I can still remember the conversations had around the dismantling of our computer lab.  On one hand those that believed that technology needs to be integrated into the classroom, not just housed in a room that could be shared on a 6 day rotation vs. those who believe that technology is a one time event, like going to the gym for PE or bringing down the pastels for an art lesson.  I reflect back on that because I realize now that was really the start of a continuing path down the road of technology becoming an everyday part of our lives.  We have made the shift from “using technology” to more specifically “being connected” to the world around us, in ways that we haven’t in the past and in the constant evolution of what that means.  Specifically as a grade 8 teacher I understand that being connected impacts the whole student that I teach, academically, socially and emotionally.  As an educator then I have a responsibility to help my students learn how to navigate and be effective in that space.

How then do I approach digital citizenship in the classroom and in the curriculum?  I believe the answer is twofold.  First there are a set of “skills” that are important for all students to be able to function with their use of technology.  More basic tasks such as file saving and sharing, email, password protection, are very important as the student develops.  But in the later grades and depending on the student when they are ready maturity wise as well as comfortable they can start to participate in more meaningful ways.  Dave Cormier talked about MOOC’s and Rhizomatic Learning in the video below, the idea of a culture becoming a participatory culture where it isn’t enough anymore to passively be part of the learning, but to engage others in building our own learning.  While there are so many different ways for interaction to happen and so many skills involved in doing so, it is important to remember that participation does not happen over night or in one school year, but rather evolves and grows over several years.  As Andrew said in his post, the responsibility does not fall solely on us.  Rather it takes all of us as educators and parents to play a role both in our role modeling and our teaching of how to be a good digital citizen.

In addition to “connecting” with our learning, it has been suggested several times that technology use can help to broaden students abilities.  David Crystal suggest that the daily use of things like Twitter or texting is not hindering language but perhaps helping language to evolve.  Students today are creating a new norm in terms or language that we are engaging with.  But it is important to not judge their forms of communication because they are not what we as adults would consider most appropriate.

Also, participation in Twitter  could help to engage students in their learning and even help to give a voice to those that sometimes take a more passive role in their learning.  In one of my post’s I talked about the article that outlines how more university students are engaging with Twitter to communicate and contribute to discussions and dialogues about their learning because they are feeling more comfortable engaging in that fashion.

Also important to note is that we as educators also have a job to do in presenting technology in a more balanced approach.  We already know that our students are using technology in both their outside of school lives and perhaps in different ways than we are within the classroom.  As role models I think that it is important to help demonstrate that there is a balance between our online identities and our in life identities.  In Sherry Turkle’s article she talks about what might be lost in communication if we are never disconnecting from technology to have more meaningful engaging interactions.  While at the same time, we have read several articles that talk about how some students who never felt a sense of belonging, have been able to connect and feel like they belong because of space they have found online.

As educators I think that we also have a responsibility to some extent to the parents of the students that we teach.  We are a resource for parents who can offer help and support in how their students use technology and how they are engaging in the online world.  I think we have a responsibility to inform parents of some of the ways their students connect to the world around them.  I also believe that the greatest responsibility falls to the parents to be aware of what their children are doing and how they are spending their time in an online space.  At the end of the day, they spend the most time with their children and those times are definitely more unstructured and less supervised than the time at school they spend online.  As a resource we can also help parents to understand some of the dangers that could potentially exist for their children online.  As Jenn mentioned in her post, things like ghost apps are new potentially to them as well and so sharing information in order to help inform would be helpful.  Sharing perhaps some of the videos we talked about like Ron Jonson’s “One Tweet Can Ruin your Life” and “The Price of Shame”by Monica Lewinsky can help us give parents something to reflect back on in order to gain some perspective and better help their children navigate those spaces as well.

At the end of this class I have definitely spend some time thinking about how to better support and engage my students in online spaces.   In addition I understand better why we need to advocate for students to gain more access to spaces that give them a voice.  Yes, there are potential risks involved in doing so, but the more we educate, rather than fear monger, the safer we will keep our children.  The possibilities then become endless for them to participate and engage in the world larger than just the classroom.

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Taking What’s Hidden and Bringing it to Light

This week we were asked to take a look at the documentary “We Steal Secrets: the story of WikiLeaks.”  I have to admit that prior to viewing the film I had heard of Wikileaks, but had never really spent time or a great deal of effort paying much attention to it.  After watching the documentary I realize how in the dark I was.  The documentary is centered around Julian Assange the creator and editor of the website.  In 2010 WikiLeaks leaked thousands of government files onto the web for the world to see.  The files came from various whistle-blowers, but the story really features the files shared by American Miliary Personnel, Bradley Manning.  The documentary follows the unfolding of the leaks and the effect it had on both Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.

As I was watching the film I found that as the plot unfolded my sympathies really flip flopped throughout.  In the beginning, I was somewhat drawn to the portrayal of Assange.  His convictions seemed to be rooted in the desire for the public to have information and for the “secrets” of the government and the world,  not be kept from their citizens.  One could draw connections between what Assange was doing to the ideas we have been talking about in class regarding the internet giving voice to the masses, rather than simply listening to only a few sources that would generally come from mainstream media.  Today we have a desire to know and share more because the availability of information has increased.

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Considering what the implications are for society of this film has been very eye-opening for me.  Truly, I’m torn.  On one hand I feel that information should be available to the public.  As a citizen don’t I have the right to know what my government does on my behalf?  Even as a new government takes power in our country I have a bitter aftertaste of the previous government, one that it seemed to be hiding secrets and deception at every point.  The new government claims that it will be more transparent to Canadians but I wonder to what extent “should” a government be transparent.  As a citizen, “lifting the veil” so to speak of what the government does or has done has never really been know to it’s citizens.  Maybe there are somethings that should be kept from the public as secrets of the government.  It is hard to make a decision either way because we really can’t know the effect of total disclosure will have on various aspects of society.   Likely there have been secrets kept all along.   When some of the files were leaked, Assange really couldn’t guarantee, nor do I think he had much interest in protecting those that the files could effect.  Maybe there are “secrets” that need to be kept in order for the government to properly function.  What is for certain is that as a society we will be faced with more and more information that we may have never before had access too.   What we do with that information and the implications of such are still to be determined.

When thinking about the content of the documentary in terms of classroom implications I am drawn to the story line of Bradley Manning.  Manning is portrayed in the documentary as a somewhat lost individual, plagued with confusion about his own identity as well as his personal obligation to doing what he believed needed to be done.  I guess it reminds me of the conversations in class around digital footprints and young people dealing with the implications of “putting themselves out there” more than perhaps they realize.  Then facing the consequences of doing so, once the information extends beyond what they intended.  Similarly, to the story of Amanda Todd that others in the class watched.  But I think that the message that we can learn from Bradley Manning is that at some point we might stubble across something that we need to say or something that will give us attention, but there is a consequence to stepping into that spotlight.

 

 

 

We are all Makers and Contributors to Culure

This week I spent some time doing some reflecting on some of the new skills and literacies that the digital age expects of its learners and I wondered at the end, what is it all really for?  Are these skills really going to make a difference for students in how they learn and interact with their world?  Fitting that the next class and the one that I’m reflecting on for the week was regarding “Participatory Culture” and the age of “Remix.”

In my refection this week I wanted to spend more time exploring “Participatory Culture” and so I watched a video by Henry Jenkins who directed MITs Comparative Media Studies graduate degree program from 1993-2009.

Jenkins has been at the forefront of understanding the effects of participatory media on society, politics and culture.  Essentially the TED talk begins by focusing on the character of “Peter Parker” as many of us know as “Spider Man”  but he uses the comparison of Peter Parker to outline to the audience that Peter is really like many teens his age.  He  is able to do amazing things, that don’t have to do with his age, but they have to do with his participation on the web and gaining exposure through the voice that he finds online.  Ultimately, with that power he says that with teens are accessing online communities comes great responsibility to the world around them. The TED talk really emphasizes to me the important of young people taking the skills that they have and doing things in the world that matter, or being/becoming active social agents for change.  This generation has the tools and the resources to thing about/ engage/ respond to the changing world around us and the be part of that change.

Jenkins also talks about in the mix/remix culture we live in we are producing media that we then want to share with our friends and families, which then by nature grow or become communities of people who do something similar and learn from each other.  We throw ideas out and then bring them back in a new and better way than they were originally put out there.  This the the powerful new media that kids are engaging with.  This media has allowed for teens and young adults to find their voice and to help students engage in there communities for the betterment of their communities.

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The Harry Potter Alliance is turning fans of the novels into heroes.  If you check out their website you will see that they claim themselves to be changing the world by making activism accessible through the power of story.  Since 2005, they have engaged millions of fans through our work for equality, human rights and literacy.  So what we are seeing is young fans of the novels are using their connection with the books to create a social movement that helps to make the world a better place (somewhat similar to what Harry was trying to do).

Teens and young adults are taking the messages that they want to share and creating engaging and interesting ways to engage the audience in the issues that matter to them.  Another interesting view that Jenkins addressed was their use of mix/remix skills to voice their political activist commentary.

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Also, using their connections with popular culture to engage even more attention to their cause.

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The TED talk really helped to bring things into perspective for me, as to the necessity for our commitment as teachers to help teach students the skills that they will need to be a part of this new way of communicating with the world.  I think that in many ways we have to be willing to venture down paths that we might yet not know the outcomes of, however we have to be okay with figuring things out as we go, because if we wait to make sure we have thought and rethought the consequences or the impact, we have to know that our kids won’t.  So better to guide them and learn along side with them rather than let them wonder with out guidance.  The last clip in the TED talk really helps us realize that we can’t simply try to remove these spaces from the school in the hopes of it going away.  With great power as teachers, comes great responsibility as well to embrace what the future holds.

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Speaking and Hearing the new media literacies

This week as a content expert I wanted to spend some time looking into what are the new and emerging literacies that we associate with digital literacy and how do they connect to the classroom.

The first resource that I wanted to post about was “The New Media Literacies” which is a website that is committed to integrating media literacy into the classroom.  The video below talks about the need for a new set of skills to deal with our culture.  No longer are our students simply consumers of media, but we are entering a time where they are expected to be creators as well.  Many of them will want to add their mark to the media that they are using and consuming, which is different that how things were in the past.  They want to not simply create, but also to engage others in what they create.  For example, when I was younger I kept a journal, kids these days might keep a blog that they want the rest of the world to comment on, or a Facebook page where they might share pictures.

 

The website highlights as few of the emerging literacy skills that students will need for the future.  Out of the ten listed, there were a few that I think have had the greatest impact on me and my classroom.  One of the first skills was “judgement”, students are expected today to be able to navigate through various forms of media and use their critical thinking skills to determine the most appropriate response to that media.  It takes a tremendous amount of strategies and understanding to be able to make judgments like this on the web.  I think that often as adults we take for granted the ability to recognize “truth” and to determine the correct course of action.  As educators, and for students these days it is really trial by fire.  They are accessing and interacting perhaps before they realize the implications of what they are doing.

The other skill that I wanted to touch on was “appropriation.”  We have talked about this generations desire to create and recreate, or mix and remix as a form of expression.  Even for adults the lines of copyright and “original” are blurred with media cultures ability to take what is out there and interact with it or to create something different.  Many of us as educators often don’t expect kids to create in the same way that they are doing online.  Many assignments are focused around original thoughts or work, when really does that even exist anymore?

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This brings me to my last point that I wanted to address and that is the idea of “collective intelligence.”  Interacting on the web in this fashion is really the equivalent of group work on steroids.  The skills involved in contributing and connecting are really what we would have considered the higher levels of thinking and collaborating that is now more of an expectation than it was in the past.  We want our students to not just be bystanders to what they are seeing, but to actually and actively become involved in the collective understanding being developed.

Twitter…the great equalizer?

In preparation for this week’s class we were asked to give some thought the following questions:

“Given public, unstable nature of our digital identities, Palfrey and Gasser (2008) note that our identities are now shaped in large part by “intentional digital contributions” such as blogs, YouTube videos, or social networking profiles (pg.23).  However, due to gaps in technology access, inequalities arise around who can make such positive contributions; those without access are often less able to control their digital footprints through intentional contributions and therefore rely on what others say about them online. This becomes increasingly problematic as society becomes more and more critical of digital footprints. Who gets to control their own identity?  How does our society’s increased focus on the need for a positive digital identity contribute to the digital divide and to social inequality?  How do we move away from digital identity as the notion of a permanent record and move towards cultivating a culture of forgiveness?

I wanted to find an article that could make some connections to digital citizenship as well as Twitter, both topic pertinent to my major digital project.  The article that I will be summarizing is “Tweet Up? Examining Twitter’s Impact on Social Capital and Digital Citizenship in Higher Education by Danielle Morgan Acosta. This article draws in all of those aspects as well helps to shed some insight into the questions posed for the week.

Acosta argues that “Twitter is quite possibly one of the most accessible venues of communication currently available.” (pg 10)  In fact in the United States alone Twitter has over 17 million registered users.  We all know that Twitter is popular and I would even venture to say that we could guess the age group of the majority of those users.  Generally speaking it is what we have come to call “Generation Y” the 18-35 year olds. Many of which are using Twitter on a daily basis to send and receive information to friends, complete strangers or even connect with interest based groups or communities to share ideas.   For my major digital project we are using Twitter to explore the idea of citizenship and share some of the ways that we can contribute, even though my students are too young to vote. Having used Twitter personally for about 2 years now, I realize that it is quick and accessible way to make my voice heard, whether it is connecting over ideas around education or tweeting a local radio station.  Twitter gives its users a voice and access like never before to the people we want to hear our message.  I have used it in my classroom as well as personally to try and make connections with others in a forum that previously would have been less accessible.

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Photo Credit: bi0xid via Compfight cc

Interestingly, Acosta shares a study which found that historically marginalized groups in the U.S. such as women, black and Latinos, us social media and particularly Twitter, at higher levels than their male or white counterparts.  She concluded that new technology such as Twitter are allowing these populations to find a voice and they are taking advantage of the opportunity to connect.  Some of the factors that have contributed to the increase of use, center on the idea of accessibility.  Twitter is easily accessible because it doesn’t really require a computer to participate.  More complicated social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace are more difficult to fully manage from your mobile device, Twitter is easily used.  “Twitter allows users to connect to anyone or anything regardless of location, socioeconomic status, or other typical barriers.  …users choose whom to follow, ultimately creating new structures of information sources and communities for themselves.” (pg 11)  Twitter is more about sharing and contributing to a message; rather than creating a space for one’s self.

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Photo Credit: aquopshilton via Compfight cc

The article also discusses that participation on Twitter could help participants gain social capital by helping to expand social networks, bringing more historically marginalized groups into the conversation. (pg 12)  Acosta even suggests that Twitter could potentially serve to combat digital inequality by providing digital capital to rural communities, allowing for connections, networking, and learning, which could create social capital. (pg 12)  In my digital project, as a rural school, we have already made some connections to other city schools as well have followers that we never would have connected with, until we put our ideas out there.

Also in the article it discusses teaching students, in this case, university students about the potential for connections but also a need to educate Twitter users on the digital presence and persona judged through tweets and other forms of digital communication.   Acosta mentions Ribble’s Nine Themes of Digital Citizenship outlining ultimately that digital citizenship is “how to act and participate in digital technology.”   I would argue that there is a need for this education long before students reach post-secondary education.  Reflecting back to the questions for a moment, if we want students to be aware of their digital footprints and the lasting effect those can have we have to educate them sooner rather than later.  For many, waiting to post-secondary or even high school might result in damage already irreversible.  In some cases a digital identity is formed for kids today before they really have any control over it themselves.

Photo Credit: sean dreilinger via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: sean dreilinger via Compfight cc

I think this is especially important considering the author said that many of the users of Twitter might not have as much experience with other social media formats.  The author points out that access to Twitter is prevalent, but education and instruction on it is not.  If we want students to be successful and benefit by gaining social capital, we have to help them realize the potential.   As educators we know that social media participation is happening, but have to start to think about how to use it better to our advantage.  Acosta mentions a professor in Texas who uses Twitter for class discussions, finding that students who may not regularly participate in class engaged via Twitter.  (pg 16)

The article did make me reflect on one aspect of my digital project that I think I need to improve.  I don’t think that I’m really giving enough attention to the aspect of “conversation” in Twitter.  I think my project needs to incorporate more elements of student engaging with what others are posting to bring more of a “conversation” element rather than just a “posting” feel.  Acosta points out that students who are participating using Twitter feel a greater sense of belonging, but without having students engage with what others are posting, I’m really missing an important element to the conversation.

In conclusion I felt I like the article really gave me some things to reflect on, but also helped me to realize that there is a great deal of potential still to be gained through the use of social media sites like Twitter in the classroom.  Students today have more access than ever before, but there is still much to be done to help them to realize some of the possibilities and connections for even greater success.

Acosta, D. M. (2014). Tweet up? Examining twitter’s impact on social capital and digital citizenship in higher education. About Campus, 18(6), 10-17. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1651853286?accountid=13480