Digital Literacy: Engagement

Dec 6th, 2014 | By | Category: Uncategorized

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This lesson plan I developed engages students by framing our class study of rhetorical purpose in the larger context of human communication. The plan provides real-life audiences and a real-life digital publication site, and as varying rhetorical purpose designates various speakers, students also have the opportunity to role-play.

This lesson plan developed by Conan Griffin establishes a larger purpose by connecting students with their surrounding communities and askin students to interact with digital publication tools.

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.

“When children are deep at play they engage with the fierce, intense attention that we’d like to see them apply to their schoolwork” (Jenkins, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture 22).

“Play is one of the ways we learn . . . play is also valuable on its own terms and for its own ends” (29).

“Students often find simulations far more compelling than more traditional ways of representing knowledge; consequently, they spend more time engaging with them and make more discoveries” (26).

“There is a growing recognition that play itself, as a means of exploring and processing knowledge and of problem-solving, may be a valuable skill children should master in preparation for subsequent roles and responsibilities in the adult world” (23).

“Role play is very popular with contemporary youth . . . Such play has long been understood as testing identities, trying on possible selves, and exploring different social spaces . . . forms of self-representation that are evident on teenagers’ websites and blogs. The ability to repeatedly reinvent oneself is particularly appealing since home pages and blogs can be updated as often as desired and because they may be produced anonymously (29).

“The individual is willing to go through the grind because there is a goal or purpose that matters to the person” (23).

“Teachers are finding that students are often more motivated if they can share what they create with a larger community” (51).

Educators should foster digital literacy in their classrooms because digital landscapes offer real-life contexts, audiences, and purposes that invigorate class goals and encourage full engagement in content and skill instruction.

Technology integration is quite often recommended to secure the engagement of students. They like technology! Use a SmartBoard and just watch how their eyes will light up! Teachers tack on superfluous flares of tech in the hopes of inspiring some interest. But discussions in the texts show technology as an engagement tool delving far deeper than text-a-polls and PowerPoint slideshow sound effects. They explore the digital landscape’s potential for play—for presenting opportunities for students to explore scenarios, work together to solve problems, adopt identities or roles, and take risks in safe, competitive, yet collaborative and supportive, environments. The Internet was designed with this kind of play in mind. The original architects created the World Wide Web as a web of connected individuals playing certain roles and sharing information to create products or to solve problems. Search engines, forums, blogs, wikis, and social media sites all feature components of play. They allow users to seek out information (either by using key word searches to sift through websites or by crowd sourcing), collaborate with other users via messaging and connecting fellow users with resources and content through tagging or linking to sites, manipulate their identities (by curating online content, such as images, comments, posts, etc.) and play roles (curator of content on Wikipedia, critic of restaurant or movie, facilitator of event or cause posted on Facebook, teacher of Tumblr newbie). Making use of the Internet’s capacity for play, Jenkins assures us, not only helps students hone creative/critical thinking, team work, and societal/social skills, but also motivates them to apply that “intense attention” Osterweill describes. Teachers dream of harnessing students’ full, eager efforts. Situating instruction within the digital world may well give teachers the means to do that.

The digital environment is uniquely capable of providing larger purposes and audiences, which Jenkins identifies as another way to foster true engagement. Students do better work with real missions and real audiences. Securing real missions and real audiences is sometimes a tall order within the school. Students lose interest in the write-to-your-superintendent-demanding-or-deploring-uniforms assignment, and peer audiences often fail to prompt more than an anxious squirm followed by apathy once everyone starts writing GREAT! Use better handwriting. The Internet offers real audiences (readers of blogs, comments, Wikipedia entries, digital narratives, YouTube videos, vines, memes, Facebook rants) and real-life contexts (real non-profits, real companies, real celebrities, real entrepreneurs, real artists, real forums, real mediums and modes). With a few clicks, students can publish work in the real world for consumption by real people. This is engagement far beyond the realm of the SmartBoard.

I toyed with the idea of using digital playgrounds to get my students to commit to doing real mental exercise. I imagined students working as a class to solve a local problem in the community—perhaps poor nutrition—by developing a donate-to-a-cause website. Students could adopt roles (program director, community outreach officer, treasurer, rhetoric experts and advertising executives, social media coordinators, message developers and staff writers, etc.) that allow them to explore identity and responsibility and engage them with core ELA skills—crafting message, considering audience, using appeals, etc. While working to solve the larger problem of poor nutrition, students could practice solving smaller problems like how to motivate readers to donate. Students could conduct research to deepen their understanding of the local issue and to find resources, such as other organizations, to help their cause. Students would strengthen their research skills and determine the reliability of sources. To create a game-like feeling, I considered having different classes compete to raise the most funds for the cause. Such online play would flex core skills in stimulating ways.




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