Post Semester 1: Media 21 Students Reflect on Digital Composition and Participatory Learning

In November and December, I wrote two rather lengthy reflective posts about efforts to help students take a more explicit inquiry driven, participatory stance on literacy and learning as well as digital composition; these were preceded by an October post about the use of the Fishbowl approach to giving students more ownership of class conversation and for developing their own lines of questions/inquiries/points for exploration with peers.

This unit of study, which began with our book tasting in September 2011, was an extended inquiry into student selected issues that included child soldiers, treatment of women in the Middle East, immigration laws,  the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa, racial profiling, fear and prejudice in a post 9/11 world, and genocide.  At the end of the semester, Susan Lester and I asked our students to reflect on their learning experiences with a series of questions and class time to compose their responses.  Embedded below is a summary of student responses and some additional questions (that piggyback on those from the December blog post) for next semester.    Susan and I are meeting this week together to brainstorm and explore the implications of this feedback as well as new strategies for learning and how to tweak some existing learning strategies; we’ll also meet  with our students in class this week to discuss the feedback and to invite student opinion on their ideas for addressing some of the challenges as well as celebrate the progress and accomplishments of first semester.  I’m excited to see how we can work together as a community of learners to build on our successes and find ways together to address some of the student identified challenges of these approaches to learning.

I’m interested in any thoughts or patterns you may notice, or if you are doing similar work, any ideas or insights you might have to share that will help all of us expand our thinking and improve the learning experiences we’re trying to create with our students.

Tranformational Power of Design Literacy: Conectar Igualdad

Transforming schools and the learning that happens there is not simply about what happens in between the four walls of the school building.  It is also about what happens in the larger social ecology that kids navigate and the extent to which other nodes in their network support learning across multiple sites, both formally and informally.

Conectar Igualdad: Argentina’s Bold Move to Build an Equitable Digital Future | DMLcentral via kwout

But beyond this basic literacy is the need to support a vision that defines digital literacy as a life skill that is connected to the everyday lives and situations of students and their families and communities.  Call it ‘design literacy,’ that is, the capacity to engage in higher-order thinking, critical thinking, and real-world problem solving.  Whereas ‘tools literacy’ is foundational, ‘design literacy’ is transformational.

I encourage you to take a few minutes to read one of the most interesting and exciting blog posts I’ve come across in 2011, “Conectar Igualdad: Argentina’s Bold Move to Build an Equitable Digital Future”, by S. Craig Watkins at DML Central.  Watkins explores the three major challenges all nations face in building a “more equitable digital future”—a must read for any educator.

Tumblr Is More Than Porn: Tumblr for Inviting Participation and Conversations for Learning

This past Wednesday at work, I was attempting to cross-post content from one of my dashboards to my Tumblr account; I was started to discover that it was no longer available to me on campus.  Tumblr, which was previously open and available to our students and teachers at school, was recently blocked at the district level;  when I questioned why the resource was blocked, the response was:

Tumblr was blocked this summer do [sic] to pornography it was hosting…When we are aware of a site that violates Board Policy IFBG, Children’s Internet Protection Act and the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act then we will take appropriate measures.

I would have no issue with a specific offensive site being blocked, but denying students and teachers access on campus to the tool for their own constructive uses seems extreme to me.  If a site hosting porn is the disqualifying factor for access and applied that as the standard to every website, we would most likely be blocking many educational resources that are identified as quality information streams or tools for learning.  Like many web authoring mediums and content hosting spaces, Tumblr can be used in  educational ways that I think outweigh the less-than-school friendly applications.  Tumblr has been super hot with our teens for blogging in the last six months or so, and I would like to utilize Tumblr as a space with them for digital composition and reflective thinking since it so easily allows users to post contents in many formats/multimedia.  I especially like how Tumblr lends itself to formal as well as informal networked learning and dovetails beautifully with a participatory stance on learning and librarianship.  I’ve loved playing with my own Tumblr account over the summer and exploring the possibilities for networked learning as it has become yet another node in my personal learning environment for discovering and sharing content.

Overall, my district has been progressive in recent years in increasing access to web resources for students and teachers, and while I’m appreciative of that, I don’t think I’d be true to my role as an advocate for intellectual freedom if I were to be content with what is accessible for the here and now and to be silent when previously accessible resources are blocked.  I could continue to use WordPress with students (and I do still love that medium although you can’t cross-post content to as easily as you can Tumblr, which defeats the concept of your learning tools speaking to each other and playing nicely together for a seamless learning/curation of content/thinking experience), or I could possibly use Posterous, but who is to say those resources won’t be blocked at any given time for the same reason in the future?  Looking at the bigger picture, this issue in my corner of the world speaks to:

1.  the growing tension in K-12 education and national debate about the possibilities and pitfalls of using social media in the classroom and equitable access to information streams in all formats.  The debate within K-12 educational circles as well as libraries reflects deeply differing opinions that in my opinion, speak to an even larger conversation about what the purpose is of public schools and of our libraries (academic, public, school, special).

2.  the greater need for educational institutions everywhere to consider handling filtering issues as you would a challenged print material through a committee and to consider the “challenged material” (in this case, a website) in light of its overall pros/cons.

Consequently, I feel compelled to assemble a  portfolio of educational uses of Tumblr as a tool for learning and digital composition as part of my efforts to make the argument for restoring student and teacher access to Tumblr; I thought I’d share just a few random sprinkles of inspiration gleaned from browsing my favorite Tumblr blogs this morning…

Idea #1:  Favorite Book Quote Crowdsourcing

So this Tumblr post has me thinking–what if a class is reading a novel, and everyone submitted their favorite quote from the book by creating a zen style photo and posting it to a shared class blog? Or what if you created a library Tumblr blog and had students post their entries in that space?   This idea dovetails perfectly with Cathy Jo Nelson’s awesome “Picture It” theme for Teen Read Week 2011 that Cathy reminded me of this morning via a Facebook conversation! ( also see the Google planning doc she created)

Idea #2:  Crowdsource Original Book Jacket Designs

I know our teens are eagerly awaiting the release of John Green’s new book, The Fault in Our Stars.  Take a look at this Tumblr blog that invites people to submit their original book jacket designs for the book!  How fun would this be to do through your library?

Idea 3:  Connect Your Readers to Favorite Authors via Tumblr

I love incorporating the social media streams of author in my research guides and YA Readers’ Advisory; an author Tumblr blog is another fabulous way to connect teen readers to favorite authors!  Thank you Kristin Fontichiaro for pointing me to the Penguin Teen Tumblr stream.

Idea #4:  Random Tumblr Goodness and Inspiration for Learning and Libraries

Recommended Reading

Your Ideas and Inspiration?

Are you using Tumblr through your library or classroom?  How is the use of Tumblr making an impact on learning in your community?  I invite you to share your practices, ideas, and resources!

Missing in Action: School Librarians and the Digital and Media Literacy Plan of Action

If I have completely misread this report, then I apologize right now for putting my foot in my mouth, but I’m wondering why school librarians are generally absent from the “Digital and Media Literacy:  A Plan of Action” (A White Paper on the Digital and Media Literacy Recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy) report written by Renee Hobbs, someone whom I hold in high regard.    Why are Hobbs and the Knight Commission overlooking school librarians as  critical and essential stakeholders who could help leverage this plan into motion through public schools?  School librarians are perfectly positioned in terms of knowledge and skills to help implement the recommendations outlined in the report.

Recommendation 3, which advocates the creation of a Digital Media and Literacy Youth Corps, has some language that I find somewhat disturbing:

Congress should dedicate 10 percent of Americorps funding for the development of a Digital and Media Literacy (DML) Youth Corps. The DML Youth Corps would be a service outreach program that offers training and professional development in digital and media literacy to a group of recent college graduates and places them, in teams, to work in public libraries, school libraries and technology centers, local public access centers, and other community non-profit organizations.”

While this DML Youth Corps is a lovely idea, I would suggest a better idea is Congress providing funding for every public school in America to have a highly qualified and fully certified school librarian.    Instead of outreach in “school libraries and technology centers,” how about providing funding not only to put a school librarian in every building, but to provide funding to build a team of school librarians for every school where we can be embedded in grade or content level teams to truly infuse and integrate these literacies as a seamless and essential part of every student’s learning experience on a daily basis throughout the school year?     Is a “recent college graduate” really someone who is best qualified to provide the kind of instruction and learning experiences on an extended basis to infuse these literacies in the lives of children and teens?  I think it is already well established that “youth” does not necessarily correlate with one’s competencies in these literacies.  I would also say the same for public librarians—while the idea of a digital/media literacy core is admirable, you already have a corp in place with our talented peers in public libraries to serve populations of all ages.

I am normally a huge fan of Hobbs as well as the Knight Foundation, and I do like several of the recommendations and find them meaningful.  However,  I think that this report, while driven by noble principles, misses the mark in overlooking school librarians as an obvious and existing resource in helping cultivate these literacies in more powerful and consistent ways and as sponsors of these new media literacies to help close the participation gap.  Perhaps if there were more of us in place already and if our programs were not being cut across the nation at an alarming pace, we would not be dealing with the gaps we are seeing now with youth in terms of effectively cultivating these literacies  in conjunction and collaboration with classroom teachers.  I’m disappointed that Hobbs and the Knight Foundation seem to be overlooking school librarians as a ready, willing, and able resource who could be powerful facilitators of this plan.

What do you think?  Have I misread this report, and if not, why have Hobbs and the Knight Foundation made this glaring omission?


Buffy Hamilton