<span class='p-name'>What’s Next?</span>

This past year, I was selected as one of the winners of the Divergent Award from the Initiative for 21st Century Literacies Research.

Normally, this would have us present a keynote at the conference in the Spring. But, COVID is derailing the plans for these events.

To document the thinking of the award winners, we have been asked to respond to a series of questions via video, and share some B-roll photos/graphics that will be used to create a documentary that provides a snapshot of where we are in 2020-2021, and set our trajectories for where we need to go next.

In this post I am sharing some of my written remarks, and my attempts at video recording my responses. Enjoy. 🙂

What brought you to this committee work? What was your journey to become who you are today as a literacy educator?

I began as a classroom teacher. I was in MG and High School. I found myself asking questions about technology use in my classroom. I wanted a paperless system for my students to write, submit materials, give and get feedback. This was prior to Google and Google Docs. I think I’m still looking for that perfect mix of public and private authorship with spaces for individuals to give each other critical feedback from a place of honesty and love.

Across these areas I focus on innovation, participatory teaching, scholarship, & community engagement in digital & hybrid spaces. A desire to help students think about who they are, the communities they live in, & how they engage with the world. 

We are twenty years into the 21st century. How has the definition of 21st century literacies (NCTE), now Literacy for a Digital Age (NCTE) impacted your work as a teacher, scholar, advocate?

The Internet is the Dominant Text of our generation. When I began studying these spaces as a doc student, we would indicate this in our presentations and publications, and would receive a fair amount of pushback.

The Internet is largely ubiquitous in society, and furthermore, as a result of the coronavirus, many of our interactions occur solely through a screen, the internet and communication technologies. Yet, even as these technologies change many of the aspects of society, they have changed relatively little in our classrooms. In fact, there was more desire to address these new and digital practices and literacies 10 or even 5 years ago than there is now. For the most part, it seems like we have moved on to other priorities.

What opportunities have 21st century literacies provided for our students? What adversities or challenges have been amplified? Can you provide an example?

New and digital literacies offer tremendous opportunities and challenges for our students. They have the opportunity to engage and connect with texts, narratives, and individuals from around the globe. They have the opportunity to quickly reach out and participate in a networked, global community. 

There are a multitude of challenges to these opportunities. For the most part, the Internet and the associated social spaces have become largely unintelligible. This means that average users generally do not, and cannot understand the ways in which information is shared online. As an example, algorithms dictate many of the connections in online, social spaces. The apps we use are designed to monopolize our attention. Our attention, and time spent in the environment is the new economy.

As a result, the algorithm is always watching for every move we make. The subtle swipe, pause, and swipe back. The algorithms take these actions and double/triple down on them to keep us coming back for more. The other challenge is that the salacious, or more specifically the things that make us extremely happy, or more often than not extremely mad keep us clicking, liking, and swiping. So, cat gifs will go viral. Angry rants and disinformation will get boosted. But, longer, deeper, more thoughtful content will rarely get eyeballs. Long form, deeper discussion is often shunned.

Lastly, these behaviors often bleed over into our offline behaviors. This means that we think about our neighbors and friends less like human beings, and more a compilation of their latest status updates. We’re quick to latch on to outrage and live in the moment…as opposed to thinking long term, or learning from previous experiences. 

We, as a field, have so much work to do. What do you consider the most pressing issues for us to consider in the next decade?

As a field, we have a lot of work to do in terms of research, education, and advocacy.

As I begin, I think we need to listen to youth. I believe that most adults really don’t know how to interact, and effectively use these digital texts and tools. We need to identify the good work that youth are currently engaging in, study these practices, and bring this expertise to others. 

In research, we need to continue to investigate the intersection between literacy and technology. We need to identify, develop, and support digitally native forms of teaching, research, and service. We need to examine the power structures in place and factor in these decisions as we interact with digital texts and tools. 

In teaching, we need to scaffold all individuals from learner to leader in online and offline spaces. We need to first consider whether or not the current climate and arrangement of digital social spaces is what we want for future generations. I don’t think that you can look at the current systems and say…yeah, that’s it. If that is not what we want given the tremendous potential of the internet and communication technologies…then what is it? What’s next? Let’s build it.

Lastly, I see a tremendous need for work in policy and advocacy. As power holders and influencers online lash out at others and troll or harass, we need to stand up as a networked public and indicate that this is not acceptable. We need to fight for the fundamental human right of individuals as they use the Internet as a text to read, write, communicate, and participate with others. We need to develop policies that protect the privacy, security, and data privacy of all users of the Internet….not just citizens from one country, or based on someone’s race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or other descriptors. 

How do we ‘go for broke’ as Marcelle has said, or do something revolutionary to push our field towards tackling these most pressing issues once and for all??

Inspired by my friend and colleague Dr. Haddix, I think that it is time for an education revolution. As we sit idly by, wondering if educators should have more of a voice online, hostile forces are actively taking names, making lists, and spreading disinformation. As we silence ourselves, or cautiously post in online discourse systems, trolls, bots, and lots of dark money are fueling a narrative that is anti-science, anti-education, and seeks to confuse and divide us. As educators, we have not only an investment in ensuring the academic successes of all of our children, this is a moral imperative. We need to go for broke because there are no longer any other options. 

We are long past the point where we can trust the companies and developers that bring us shiny new devices and apps or platforms for connectivity. We are long past the point where we can trust that leaders and administrators from the global to the local have the best interests of all at stake. We need to create a better system.

To go for broke:

  • We need to take a pause from the digital networks and systems we use to connect with others. Reflect on the real value, as opposed to the perceived value gained in these spaces.
  • We need to educate ourselves to better understand the rights, roles, responsibilities needed as members of a networked public. Educate means giving intellectual, moral, and social instruction to the self, another person, or group
  • We need to empower other individuals that may not have opportunities to speak their narrative. Empower is giving authority or power to the self, another individual, or a group to take action, become stronger, or more confident.
  • We need to Advocate for individuals and groups that are trolled, harassed, and silenced. Advocate means publicly supporting or recommending a particular cause or policy.

Even though difficult at times, going for broke gives us the potential to prepare youth to engage and restory societal power structures for the purpose of personal and social transformation – opportunities to have tough discussions that society usually never has around issues of racism, religious intolerance, sexual assault, misogyny, and xenophobia, as well as a disregard for science and the environment – opportunities for educators to educate, empower, and advocate for youth as digitally literate, critically conscious citizens.

Any important question you want to address?

We need to do the work as educators. 

First, identity and privilege need to be discussed and problematized in the classroom. As the racial composition of teachers in the United States is predominantly white, the first step for white teachers is to unpack and continuously learn to uncover the privilege which is so often taken for granted. Teachers must simultaneously educate themselves on the histories of numerous communities of color and indigenous or immigrant communities whose histories have been neglected in most schools  

Second, educators need to network with other socially conscious teachers who can support furthered awareness and community members who are connected and activated in the communities in which teachers serve. Acts of digital activism move along a continuum that moves from self to publics to networked publics. This means that we need to do the work on the block. Educate ourselves and speak up about what is happening in the local before we move to the global. 

Finally, we need to conduct a risk assessment of the spaces in which we engage online. We must ask how they will be supported by colleagues, administrators, parents, and students if we engage in these activities. We must also assume that others will not think about our focus on education, empowerment, and advocacy in good faith. Attempts will be made to smear, harass, or silence the speaker. In these instances, we must rise up as a community to support and push back against these forces. 

Lastly, mental health and offline connections need to remain balanced as we work to enact change and push for social justice.

Photo by Lukas Leitner on Unsplash

This post is Day 39 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

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