Empowering Students in the Reader/Writer Nature of the Web #teachtheweb

Empowering Students in the Reader/Writer Nature of the Web #teachtheweb

TL;DR version: By employing a critical literacy perspective to "making" and Connected Learning, teachers and students can engage in activism & cyberactivism for the purposes of understanding and critiquing societal issues.

In the second week of the Mozilla #teachtheweb MOOC we have been asked to consider Connected Learning in practice. The three principles of Connected Learning state that education in the modern world needs to be: interest-powered, peer-supported, and academically oriented. The challenge in considered how we view Connected Learning in practice is that there are many other elements in place in the typical classroom that impede teachers from engaging in this activity. This interference may come from a narrow focus on the CCSS, lack of district or building level support, or “fear factor” on the part of the teacher when embedding these learning activities into their classroom. Whatever the cause of this challenge, I think it is important to highlight why we need to support teachers as they “Make” in the classroom. I would also like to continue the discussion to find new ways that we can empower and support students and teachers as they engage in the reader/writer nature of online information.

Connected Learning, and the nature of literacy has been rapidly changing as new information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as the Internet and video, have entered our lives requiring new literacies from each of us (International Reading Association, 2009). Students are succeeding at communicating, and being visually literate online. The students create identities in these online spaces, and expend the time and energy needed to continue this existence. The challenge is that for the most part, this learning and “making” is occurring outside of the guidance and expertise of the classroom teacher.

One of the easiest guides to navigating the theoretical perspectives that occur when embedding “making” into the classroom is the text by Richard Beach and Jamie Myers, Inquiry-based English instruction: Engaging students in life and literature. In the text, the authors outlined six “recursive inquiry strategies” (Beach & Myers, 2001) that they used to frame the work that students engage in while working with multimedia: Immersing, Identifying, Contextualizing, Representing, Critiquing, and Transforming.The strategies scaffold an investigation of the current media climate, and provide students with an opportunity to manipulate, and then create their own meaning within the media. In many of the discussions I’ve had with others in the Mozilla MOOC we have tried to identify the standards or frameworks that students engage when “making” in the classroom. Consider that the Beach & Myers model requires that students not only understand and research online information and culture, but employ a critical lens as they examine and remix online content. I believe that this is at the very heart of what we’re doing as we remix a website using Hackasaurus, or create a YouTube mashup using Popcorn. Teachers need to understand the context within which students are revising, recreating, or remixing online content.

I also believe there is a more important, social imperative at work when we ask students to engage in Connected Learning, and in this case “Make.” Classroom assignments such as this incorporate elements of critical literacy and can create opportunities to empower and involve students in activities focused on the bettering of society. The social action element of critical literacy not only encourages students to be independently critical (Masterman, 2001), but also adds an element of “real world” learning to activities. Activism in literacy authenticates the work-product and increased the student’s attention to audience (Brown, 2000; Oblinger, 2004; Tapscott, 1999).  As students “make”, or remix content, they need to identify the audience intended for a specific task before completing it (Lewison, Flint, & Van Sluys, 2002).  If Connected Learning is embedded into a critical literacy framework, this activism allows the student to become an “active viewer” (Davis, 1993), hereby empowering them to understand and participate in the world outside the classroom (Kellner & Share, 2005). This means that students that are marginalized, or from economically challenges areas have the potential to remix, or recreate online content as a means to reconstruct “truth”, and better represent themselves and their identity.

In Connected Learning, teachers should provide students with the “conceptual tools necessary to critique and engage society along with its inequalities and injustices” (Kretovic, 1985, p. 51). Students and instructors have the opportunity to employ aspects of activism and cyberactivism to “envision a world in which all people have access and opportunity” (Delpit, 1992, p. 301).  Through a critical literacy lens, this process combines with the power of activism and cyberactivism, as students synthesize, critique, and eventually re-construct online texts to promote justice.  Once students recognize and acknowledge the biases found in texts and discourses that occur within society, they may be able to participate in discussion as more informed members of the community. When expanded beyond a what might be viewed as a simple remix of multimodal content, teachers and students can be seen to work together to strengthen student voices through discussion and the “making” of online information.

Once again, it is fun to remix and play with construction of online content. I would like to remind us all that there is real power involved in the understanding, comprehension, and critique of society. These tools, Connected Learning, and the use of the Internet as a text allows us to more easily bring this power into our classrooms.


Image attributed to http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisovy/

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