Further Defining Digital Literacies: Global Connections and Intentional Relationships

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE collaborationsI’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

I teach in a pretty insular community, in a classroom that is set off from other parts of the building (it’s inside the school but not near any other classrooms). It can be a pretty isolating experience, both from a teaching experience (no adjoining door to say hello to a neighbor) and a learning experience (the town is overwhelmingly white middle class suburbia).

This boxed-in mentality has often spurred me to try to find ways to connect my students to the larger world, and this section of the definition by NCTE speaks to that aspect, I think. Solving problems and pushing into shared inquiry, through help of larger connections and relationships, seems important in an ever-connected world where more and more of the work we do, and the learning we tackle, requires collaboration and teams.

The phrasing of “technology allows a wider range of voices to be heard” resonates with me, for I fear I don’t do this nearly enough, often to the detriment of my students’ experiences in the larger world. That said, past projects like Voices on the Gulf and Youth Radio and current projects like Connecting the Coasts (where my students in Massachusetts have been sharing and connecting with California friends via Flipgrid) have opened doors for some relationships and connections, pulling my sixth graders into something broader than the town they live, in progressive Western Massachusetts (although the town I teach is very conservative, an outlier in our area).

The definition talks about helping learners find voices different from their own, and perspectives different than their own, and this can be another sort of challenge. I often felt as if the Letters to the Next President project — while incredibly powerful in the way it brought writing and argument of high school writers to the surface in an array of important topics — did not do justice to the conservative voices of youth, that the platform had an overwhelming progressive vibe to it (which resonated with me and my views, perhaps, but seeing it through young writer’s eyes who has opposing views, it could be daunting). This is not a criticism of the work done by facilitators of Letters to the Next President — they worked hard to surface many diverse voices.

This surfacing of ideas in online spaces, in particular, is always a challenge — how to teach young people to be strong in opinions, and civil in their discussions –how to be persuasive in their arguments but open to other points to view. Heck, this is not just a challenge for young people. This is the challenge for all of us these days.

Anyway, I appreciated this part of the defining of Digital Literacies, for it forced me to reflect again critically on what I am doing, or am not doing, and what I have done, and can still yet do, better — both within my classroom itself, and by connecting my classroom to the larger and more diverse world beyond.

Peace (opening doors),

  1. Kevin, as I read t his post and your previous one on network analysis I had an idea for a student centered project. Could they create a map of your school, showing the location of your classroom and all others? This would show how isolated you/they are and help them think spatially of how many people in the world are isolated from others.

    Then teach them to do SNA analysis of Twitter chats where teachers from your school share ideas with each other (if they do). If they don’t, students could send an invitation to encourage such connections. If not on Twitter, than on other platforms. Finding ways to map connections (or lack of) leads to analysis and innovation (led by students) on ways to build connections.

    If they can learn to do this in their school, the lessons spread to beyond. Just and idea.

    • Hmmm … something to think about … we do mapping activities but we have not done the scale of SNA that you suggest … Also, remember the age of my students — they are not on many of the platforms that we could analyze — for example, is there a way to do this with TikTok? Instagram?

  2. I think most students (and the adults in their lives) suffer from insular viewpoints. It is hard to imagine another’s reality from the relatively narrow lives we lead. I think social media is exacerbating that in some ways. Kudos to you, Kevin for your efforts to connect your students to other kids who live on the other side of the continent.

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