Middle schoolers and their digital literacy

2015-05-20_0939Last PTA meeting of the school year last night and a vigorous discussion about social media, its use and (particularly) misuse by middle schoolers, and multiple ideas on helping these young people and their parents better understand the issues around any person’s missteps in the digital arena. I was most intrigued by some of the larger, more systemic issues raised: One parent talked about the issue of school culture and just what is “acceptable discourse,” no matter the delivery mechanism. Another parent talked about the power over their peers that social media allows some kids to exert. I left the meeting thinking that it’s not just about Instagram and Ask.fm and the annual cyber-bullying speaker, but it’s about the long-term, it’s about teaching, it’s about a more comprehensive approach with our kids that helps them understand their digital profile and become digitally literate.

I wrote about this issue last September and last night’s meeting also got me thinking about this article from The Atlantic, called Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web, by Alia Wong. In the article Wong highlights Reuben Loewy’s work, particularly his Living Online Curriculum, a “curriculum for the digital age.” As Wong writes,

Loewy’s “revelation wasn’t simply that technology is overhauling America’s classrooms and redefining childhood and adolescence. Rather, he was hit with the epiphany that efforts in schools to embrace these shifts are, by and large, focusing on the wrong objectives: equipping kids with fancy gadgets and then making sure the students use those gadgets appropriately and effectively. Loewy half-jokingly compares the state of digital learning in America’s schools to that of sex ed, which, as one NYU education professor describes it, entails ‘a smattering of information about their reproductive organs and a set of stern warnings about putting them to use.'”

Loewy is developing the Living Online Curriculum for high school students – although that seems too late, given middle schoolers’ immersion into digital realms – and it has a dozen units/modules, such as “Privacy,” “A is for Algorithm,” “Digital Activism” and “Cyberpsychology.” His curriculum’s first unit, called “Identity,” “gives students insight ‘into how their identities may be unconsciously shaped by digital media and online socialization.'” The summary of the unit goes on: “We will examine how individuals craft and express their identities across multiple online and offline contexts and discuss the implications of having different identities, avatars, and facets of ourselves across different networks.”

Now, sure, there seem to be variety of roadblocks to this approach, all of which Wong delineates in her article: Teachers are already being asked to implement all kinds of programs, and here’s yet another; the shifting sands of new digital tools – last night was the first I’d heard of how Ask.fm works – means that this curriculum would need to be constantly updated; and adults will be asked to implement this curriculum, both teachers and, I hope, parents, and we’re always slightly behind the digital curve.

But we need to take the long view on this work, a comprehensive approach, as I said above. The article’s finish: Without “understanding the intricacies and dynamics of the Internet,” Loewy states, “”you’re not taking advantage of everything digital technology offers. Without the knowledge, you’re not able to take advantage of the web and navigate it properly. You can’t be an informed, responsible, and critical member of society if you don’t have the education.” It’s a new kind of civics education, right? And the actions of young people in our digital society are not something that we can sit back and react to; we need to be proactive and intentional and help young people build the right skills and knowledge for it, as we do with reading and writing and mathematics and the other mainstays of school.

I got the above pic via the link for the Atlantic article.

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