Breaking News! Your Phone Isn’t Just for Cat Pictures: Take Action!

Today I would like to reflect on how technology can be used to promote social action. Ben Rattray discusses how social media can be used to create grassroots movements through sharing digital stories and starting campaigns and petitions that lead to nation-wide movements. Maybe most influential is the idea that our technology is just beginning, therefore, our social action is just beginning. Ben notes that “we face big problems… but the democratization of technology [means] people will be able to start more campaigns than we can possibly imagine… because together with the right tools, we can change the world.” This video gives me hope that “there is no issue that will be left untouched.”

But how do we get students to engage in these issues that matter? I do think great change will happen but the technology is just the tool. In other words, the tools don’t use themselves. We must use the tools properly to make the change. It is the people behind the screen that matter.

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Photo Credit: andres musta via Compfight cc

So how do we promote social action for our students?

1. Knowledge/Exposure – kids cannot fix things if they do not know they are broken. We have the information at our hands. It is very important that we do not let single stories dominate our teaching. It is important that we show the voices of all: strengths, weaknesses, issues, successes, etc. If we expose children to knowledge in the right ways, this creates a culture of empathy in our classrooms/societies.

2. Create a Positive Digital Citizenship – kids need to create a positive online self. They need to actively be creating this positive imagine and we must assist them along the way (ie. get them to create a blog, discuss the risks/provide examples of inappropriate technology use that led to issues for people like this UCLA Student, discuss cyberbullying through examples like Amanda Todd, etc.).

3. Passion – with exposure to the knowledge and the know-how and platform to have a positive voice, students will find things that matter to them. It is up to us to help them pursue these things. Committees like We Day or SRC can help students work towards their goals. I was proud to be part of both of these groups during my internship and amazed at the action the students took; for instance, selling rafikis to empower women/families in Kenya. Here are some more examples of what has been done or what could be done:

Note that with all positives, come negatives, too. For instance, the ASL bucket challenge was a huge waste of water and highlights privilege (many people do not have clean drinking water so dumping good water on ones head would seem a bit insane to some). There is also the socio-economic divide causing a lack of access to technology. And we can’t forget the trolls of the internet.

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Photo Credit: uomoplanetario.org via Compfight cc

But in my opinion the pros outweigh the cons. If we expose students to different causes in an environment that encourages a positive sense of self; if we are proactive about bullying; if we help students find their passions; if we provide additional tools so that everyone has access to learning (even if it isn’t through technology); if we make technology a top budget priority in our schools; there really will be no issue that will go untouched. The internet, like our world, can be a more equitable place for all if we work from within. 

“Digital Divide among Youth: Socio-Cultural Factors and Implications”

Technology is a very integral part to our instruction and is fundamental for a well-rounded education. It is relevant to our 21st century youth and prepares students for a working world that revolves around technology. Technology is not going away; we need to prepare students for jobs that have not even been invented yet and technology is the key ingredient. I believe our society is going to become more dependent on technology and it is crucial that we give our students the skills to “use internet resources in specific contexts” and understand “how to evaluate online content” in this globally competitive market (Parucek et al., 169).

This article by Peter Parucek, Michael Sachs and Judith Schossbock outlines a study on the digital divide based on gender, socio-economic background and culture between fourteen-year-old youth in Austria. It is interesting to look at results from other places because we can compare and contrast our experiences. The findings were “that eLiteracy must be improved by the educational system, because social constraints can otherwise hardly be overcome” (Parucek et al., 163). Furthermore, we need to try to close the gap between people of different “socio-demographic differences such as gender, social status and educational level” (Parucek et al., 163). In today’s global market, eLiteracy is as important as reading and writing.

To close the digital gap, students rely “on the equal distribution of digital literacy in society” (Parucek et al., 169). Parucek, Sachs and Schossbock express the need that “young people both have access to new services as well as the necessary cognitive capabilities to use them” (161). I thoroughly agree with this solution, as it is very practical and straightforward. However, I do not think resources are evenly distributed between schools and divisions. When I taught at a school for an ECS class there was not an IPad or computer in sight. A chalkboard hung in the very place where SmartBoards could be found in most schools. In another school, software changes resulted in over three months of computer issues making them inaccessible to students. This greatly impacted many students’ IIP goals and ability to be successful in the general education classroom. Some schools are now requiring students to bring tablets to school but this is only possible and fair if everyone can afford this expensive technology. The authors suggest promoting more female role-models in the technical field (Parucek et al., 169) and I believe this coupled with an equal access to technology would promote students to pursue and technological field. Too often, however, resources distribution is far from fair.

In order to improve eLiteracy we must change our instruction as teachers. Technology should be incorporated in our lessons and modeled for our students. My favorite part about this article was the recognition that there is “a severe lack of media competence… among the Digital Native” (Parucek et al., 169). It bothers me when people assume young adults do not require explicit instruction to use technology. If I had a dime for every time this happened to me in university I could retire tomorrow. Young people may be more proficient with technology than their grandparents but there are far too many tools and applications to be an expert in all areas and explicit instruction is still a requirement for success. Furthermore, students need to be explicitly taught how to use technology appropriately. Many teachers have posted pictures of themselves online to show their students how quickly a picture can be seen by millions of individuals all over the world and cyberbullying is also a topic that needs to be discussed.

Although explicit instruction should remain, student focus changes when we incorporate technology in our classroom. I thoroughly believe that making students remember random facts is a waste of time. Unless their goal is to win every game of Trivial Pursuit, students do not need to regurgitate information commonly found on Google. Parucek, Sachs and Schossbock note that “today’s young people grow up connected with peers and they make use of the possibilities offered by the web. To deal with questions and problems, they no longer turn to explanations offered by institutions, but rather look for support from peers on web sites” or turn to search engines (169). This makes it all the more pertinent that we not only show students how to use technology but how to critically examine what they are being told. If they do not critically look at what they read and watch, students will run the risk of being manipulated by large corporations, peers, and politicians. Students need to realize that not everything they read on the internet is true and they need to be explicitly taught how to find and identify credible sources. Teaching students to identify the intended audience and purpose – which is a major part of the English curriculum – can help students make an educated decision.

Beyond audience and purpose there are many ways we can use technology in our English classrooms: assess students online, write blogs, create online portfolios, search for resources, etc. However, this requires every student to have access to the technology used in class. As English teachers we also have to be aware of copyright laws. These laws are infuriating to me because I am from the generation that “steals” our music online and streams our movies “illegally.” It just seems like in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips, nothing should hold us back. But alas, we must follow the copyright laws if we plan to keep our jobs.

Technology is a fundamental component to a well-rounded and relevant education. We need to adapt our teaching strategies to reflect the world that our students live in. Most importantly, we cannot assume that students know how to successfully utilize all technology and critically examine what they are hearing.