Digital Literacy: Empowerment

Dec 6th, 2014 | By | Category: Uncategorized

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These lesson plans developed by Marybeth Duckett and Kate Burdett invite students to use popular sites like YouTube and familiar modes like popular songs and viral videos to analyze tone and meaning in poetry and forge connections between student lives and literature.

Use the comments section below to share your reactions to these plans and this theme, or to  let us know that you’re planning to use the resource.

“Teens want access to publics, to see and be seen, to socialize, and to feel as if they have the freedoms to explore a world beyond the heavily constrained one shaped by parents and school” (boyd 201).

“Many teens have used the tools of internet culture to express themselves politically. For example, the production and distribution of internet memes is a common form of self-expression, but it can also be a form of political speech” (210).

“Teens are as they have always been, resilient and creative in repurposing technology to fulfill their desires and goals. When they embrace technology, they are imagining new pos­sibilities, asserting control over their lives, and finding ways to be a part of public life. This can be terrifying for those who are intimidated by youth or nervous for them, but it also reveals that, far from being a dis­traction, social media is providing a vehicle for teens to take ownership over their lives. As teens turn to and help create networked publics, they begin to imagine society and their place in it. Through social media, teens reveal their hopes and dreams, struggles and challenges” (211).

“Most are focused on what it means to be a part of a broader social world. They want to connect with and participate in culture, both to develop a sense of self and to feel as though they are a part of society” (206).

“Those who understand the fundamentals of digital participation, online collaboration, informational credibility testing, and network awareness will be able to exert more control over their own fates than those who lack this lore” (Rheingold 3).

“I guarantee you that as a thinker, writer, learner, and teacher, both my ability to know and communicate have been immensely empowered” (32).

“The new participatory culture offers many opportunities for youth to engage in civic debates, to participate in community life, to become political leaders, even if sometimes only through the second lives offered by massively multiplayer games or online…communities” (Jenkins, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture 10).

“Empowerment comes from making meaningful decisions within a real civic context” (10).

Educators should foster digital literacy in their classrooms because digital channels allow teens to gain independence from authority figures, explore their own identities and beliefs, express themselves openly, experiment with social roles, and impact the larger world that offline impacts them. Such activity develops students into confident, engaged, uniquely-voiced thinkers and actors.

The Internet’s “play” potential does more than offer a means of engagement. It provides opportunities for students to self-reflect and self-empower. The Internet invites young people to experiment with their own identities and consider where these identities fit within the wider world. The anonymity of the Internet allows people to develop, flesh out, and abandon multiple representations of themselves—the snarky critic, the reasonable mediator, the quirky comic—while receiving real-life feedback about those identities from other users. Young people feel freer to explore and express their opinions, beliefs, and feelings online. They can be open and share, yet maintain a level of distance and privacy. They can craft and edit their thoughts carefully over time, and they are sure to find thousands of users empathetic to their viewpoints. Teens, who are powerless in many ways (still managed by parents, unable to drink, no income of their own, pee breaks sanctioned by teachers), are able to participate in larger movements, such as spreading a viral video or opposing new legislation. Young people use digital networks and roles to practice navigating social situations, communications, and sometimes altercations within a realm a bit removed from high-stakes, public interactions and far from the prying eyes of parents.

Independence from authority figures is an essential component of the self-empowerment teens gain from online networks, yet I believe the recreational, self-empowering digital landscapes teens use can be of use in the classroom. For example, an instructional setting in which students feel they have the power to control certain conditions, produce and locate information of value, and make an impact is similar to designing projects like the one I discussed previously—developing a student-run, support-a-cause website that addresses a real community issue.

Using digital networks such as class discussion boards or wikis, which rely heavily on member curation and collaboration, creates a positive dynamic between classwork and the social exploration teens so stridently seek. Inviting students to respond to classwork via the digital modes they are accustomed to—a blog, a tweet, a Facebook note, a YouTube video—forges a connection between a student’s personal and school life, increasing engagement by “real-ifying” the assignment, boosting self-efficacy by allowing students to use a mode in which they have confidence, helping students develop unique voices based on the voices they use outside of the school context, and reinforcing and validating those unique student voices by including them in instruction.

Such connections create positive feedback loops. Self-empowerment outside of school supports self-empowerment within school, and vice versa. Certainly, such connections lead to more reflective, emotive, and confident writing, and, hopefully, to more secure, fulfilled youths who will impact the world with greater power.


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