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    You and Your Selfie

    By Carla Coscarelli
     | Aug 17, 2018

    2017-literacyTaking and sharing selfies are common acts in today’s digital world. People take pictures of themselves alone or with their family and friends in many different places and situations. Apps and social networks often ask users to add a profile picture.

    As a result, we need to talk to our students about the act of taking selfies and the impact of sharing selfies with others. Students need to know that the pictures they take and share communicate a lot about them. More specifically, students should consider the following questions before sharing their selfies on social media:

    • Am I allowed to show (exhibit) this place that’s pictured?
    • Am I exposing anyone in a negative way? Will this picture hurt anyone’s feelings?
    • How am I representing myself?
    • Is this the image of myself that I want to convey?
    • Is this picture appropriate to share in this context?

    Talking about selfies

    There are steps we can take as educators to help promote students’ abilities to think critically about these issues. One activity involves asking students to choose a selfie to bring to class and then discussing the following topics as a group:

    • Where were you when it was taken?
    • What were you doing in that location?
    • Were you having fun, or were you working?
    • What is your facial expression, and what feeling does it express?
    • What does this picture say about you?

    Students may also take time to reflect on issues that occur with selfies such as when they are taken in irrelevant situations or when selfies are used just to impress others or to create a false reality (e.g., taking a selfie that depicts a rarely experienced activity and misleading others to think that the activity is a part of his/her everyday life).

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking selfies for fun, but when we share them publicly, it’s important to consider how others may react to the picture and how it may inadvertently (or purposefully) reflect elements of exaggeration, exhibitionism, ostentation, or the desire to escape from reality. All postings should be made with an awareness of these critical issues and a sense of respect for those both in the selfie and those viewing it.

    Learning more

    If you’d like to learn more about selfies, there are many online tutorials available, including “How to Take The Perfect Selfie” by Michelle Phan. You may also ask your students to create a few tutorials on how to take different kinds of selfies, such as a funny selfie versus a professional selfie.

    Your students may also enjoy developing projects or sharing other inspiring stories depicted in selfies. For instance, you and your students can watch and discuss a Ted Talk in which Christina Balch, a multimedia artist, talks about an empowering project she founded titled "Selfies and Seeing Ourselves: One Artist’s Look in the Mirror."

    Another successful selfie project was developed by now famous “vlogger” Rebecca Brown, who took a daily photo over the span of six and a half years while fighting Trichotillomania, a compulsive hair-pulling disorder. Her story, on BBC Trending, is titled “Trichotillomania: 6 Years of Selfies.” 

    After these kinds of reflections and critical thinking activities, your students will be better prepared to take many meaningful selfies.

    Carla Viana Coscarelli is a professor at the School of Language Arts at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil, and coordinator of Project Redigir at UFMG.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Using Virtual Reality to Motivate Writers

    By Kristin Webber
     | Aug 10, 2018

    Virtual Reality The classroom teacher announces that it is writing time and is immediately met with a chorus of groans and the typical student response: “I have nothing to write about!”  Does this sound familiar?

    Classroom teachers daily face the struggle of engaging students in writing. One reason students may struggle with writing is lack of background knowledge. Research has shown that background knowledge is essential for understanding text; if students have not developed sufficient background knowledge on a topic, it will be very difficult for them to write about it. Wide-reading, simulations, experiments, videos, and field trips are all traditional ways teachers can build background knowledge and, with today’s technology, virtual reality can also be a means to build background knowledge and motivate students to write.

    Recently my department acquired some virtual reality equipment and students in my literacy foundations undergraduate course were curious to see the impact of virtual reality on the writing of fourth graders at a local elementary school they would be teaching at. Together, we planned a mini-writing experiment that involved a writing lesson with and without the use of virtual reality. With the help of the classroom teacher, we chose two high-interest topics to develop integrated reading and writing response lessons: wild weather and sharks. Both lessons were structured the same and consisted of activating prior knowledge, vocabulary development, reading a text, and a written response to the text, however, during the second lesson (on sharks) we added a virtual reality experience before asking students to write. Using Google Cardboard googles and the Discovery VR app, the fourth-grade students were able to see a 360-degree view of sharks swimming, just as if they were in the water with them. Needless to say, they could not contain their excitement.

    Upon debriefing after teaching, we looked at the writing from both lessons and noticed that most of the writing from the shark lesson was longer in length and contained more description than the writing from the first lesson. The teacher candidates also stated that the fourth-grade students were more engaged and motivated to write. One candidate reported that a student whom he had to heavily prompt to write one sentence during the first lesson was able to write several sentences on his own in the second lesson. The virtual reality experience also enabled the students to build cooperation and collaboration skills. Since we only had one virtual reality headset for each small group of students, they had to practice turn taking skills. We worried that this could be an issue, but students readily took turns with the headsets and, when they were not viewing the sharks, they composed their writing and discussed their experiences with one another.

    Virtual reality is a great option to help students build background knowledge and assist students in their writing. Teachers can take their students anywhere in the world without having to leave their classroom, thus widening their experiences and building background knowledge. There are several virtual reality apps that are free to download and can be used with or without a headset, such as Discovery VR, Google Expeditions, and Google Street View. Integrating virtual reality into the literacy curriculum allows for deeper understanding and retention of content as well as the enrichment of literacy skills. The immersive nature of virtual reality improves the quality of students’ language and the immediacy of the experience is particularly beneficial for students who struggle to think of what to write.

    Kristin Webber is an associate professor at Edinboro University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in reading, technology integration, and teaching methods.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Helping Students, Teachers, and Parents Make Sense of the Screen Time Debate

    By Ian O'Byrne
     | Aug 03, 2018
    Screentime DebateNearly a cliché after two decades of development, it is clear that the internet has profoundly changed the ways in which we read, write, communicate, and learn. Given these sweeping changes, one significant conversation centers on the use of internet-enabled devices as they relate to school policy, teaching practices, and the well-being of children. Current conversations about screen time often reduce the discussion to a simplistic debate: How much time should youth spend on devices? Although many scholars argue that web-based inquiry, multimodal creation, and communication of ideas in web-based environments support the development of fundamental skills of digital literacy, conversations about screen time in education, medicine, and mass media focus predominantly on the time youth spend on devices. These discussions overlook fundamentally important questions about what youth are learning by using digital devices, with whom, and for what purposes.

    Although research over the last two decades has shown that reading and writing in digital spaces requires complex skills, literacy development is often not addressed in conversations about screen time. Instead, articles focus on the damage that screens may cause to developing brains. For example, in a Psychology Today article, Victoria Dunckley opens with the claim, “Addiction aside, a much broader concern that begs awareness is the risk that screen time is creating subtle damage even in children with ‘regular’ exposure, considering that the average child clocks in more than seven hours a day.” This article cites information from the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2010 report. Although all the data she presents are from studies of internet- and video game-addicted youth, she encourages parents to “arm yourself with the truth about the potential damage screen time is capable of imparting—particularly in a young, still-developing brain.”

    Making sense of the debate

    To address these concerns, a nonprofit organization, Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development helped prepare a special report for the Pediatrics journal. The supplement is the result of a collaboration of more than 130 recognized experts in the field from a diverse background of disciplines, institutions and perspectives organized into 22 workgroups. Research spanning the fields of psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, pediatrics, sociology, anthropology, communications, education, law, public health, and public policy informed this work. You can read more about the key findings and takeaways, as well as frequently asked questions here.

    As part of this supplement, I worked with Kristen Turner, Tessa Jolls, Michelle Hagerman, Troy Hicks, Bobbie Eisenstock, and Kristine Pytash on a piece titled “Developing Digital and Media Literacies in Children and Adolescents.” In our article, we talk about the tension that exists as digital and media literacy are essential to participation in society. We make recommendations for research and policy priorities as we ask questions about the ability of individuals to have access to information at their fingertips at all times. Specifically, we ask, What specific competencies must young citizens acquirein this global culture and economy? We examine how these competencies might influence pedagogy. Additionally, we consider how student knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors may have changed. Finally, we present guidance on the best ways to assess students’ digital and media literacy.

    We believe these questions underscore what parents, educators, health professionals, and community leaders need to know to ensure that youth become digitally and media literate. Experimental and pilot programs in the digital and media literacy fields are yielding insights, but gaps in understanding and lack of support for research and development continue to impede growth in these areas. Learning environments no longer depend on seat time in factory-like school settings. Learning happens anywhere, anytime, and productivity in the workplace depends on digital and media literacy. To create the human capital necessary for success and sustainability in a technology-driven world, we must invest in the literacy practices of our youth.

    Problematizing our own practices

    Soon after our article was released in the Pediatrics supplement, many of the authors began to examine our own relationships and practices as they relate to the topic of screen time. We examined this from our roles as educator, as researcher, as parent, as friend, and as neighbor. Those who are parents considered the role of screen time in our relationships with our children. We considered the times we were asked by family members questions about how much screen time is safe for children. We considered the times we questioned whether or not time spent coding online counted as screen time, and whether it more “valuable” than simply watching YouTube videos. We considered the times we were asked by family and friends about the appropriate age for children to own their first mobile device. Across all the questions, in all of these contexts, we were left dumbfounded. As the “experts” in these spaces, we knew what the research suggested, but many times it looked different in our own practices and relationships.

    These questions and inconsistencies led a group of scholars to begin reaching out to other educators, researchers, developers, and parents to see if they also had many of the same questions and concerns that we did. They promptly indicated that they too had the same struggles and recognized that there was little to no comprehensive research on the topic.

    There seemed to be a lot of hysteria from various news and media sources as parents and educators were left afraid about the overall impact of screens on youth. Finally, there was little to no discussion happening across different spaces to allow people to ask questions, have discussions with experts in the field, and inform their practices.

    Make your voice heard

    Together with Kristin Turner, I have started a research project, titled “Beyond the ‘Screentime’ Debate: Developing Digital and Media Literacies with Youth and Teens,” This project builds on work done by the Digital and Media Literacies workgroup of the Children and Screens Institute to address these challenges and create a discussion space to unite the varied perspectives that are impacted by these questions. This research project seeks to explore and redefine the definition of screen time, to connect it with digital literacy skills and dispositions, and to explore complex, dynamic, creative digital learning as antidote to the atrophy we all fear.

    Our main focus in this research project is to create dialogue across spaces to help examine and unpack the questions in this debate. We want to know you define screen time and what it looks like in your lives. We want to know more about some of the challenges and opportunities you face with the use of screens. Finally, we would like to know about any tips, tricks, or habits you utilize in relation to screens in your role as an educator, parent, employee, or human being. This research project refocuses the screen time debate by asking: What digital and media competencies must young citizens acquire? How do these competencies affect school policy and pedagogy? How are students’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors transformed by engaging with various forms of media?

    Anyone can get involved in this research project by joining the open public forums on our website. We’re using FlipGrid for this open research project, and you can go directly to the topics at flipgrid.com/screentime. The password to get in and get involved is “Screentime.” The topics and questions on FlipGrid are the same ones that are on our website. Our goal is to provide a space for all individuals to discuss the future of our youth, and the role of screen time in those futures. We look forward to having you join this screen time discussion.

    Ian O’Byrne is an educator, researcher, innovator, and activist. His research investigates the literacy practices of individuals in online and hybrid spaces. Ian’s work can be found on his website. His weekly newsletter focuses on the intersections between technology, education, and literacy. Ian is an assistant professor of literacy education at the College of Charleston.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    The Global Read Aloud: Digital Tools to Connect Readers and Inspire Action

    By Katie Kelly and Tatiana Oliverira
     | Jul 06, 2018

    The Global Read Aloud (GRA) provides an opportunity for students of all ages to connect with each other to discuss a common text. Using tools such as Edmodo, Kidblog, Padlet, and Twitter, middle grade students participating in the 2017 GRA connected with preservice teachers at Furman University in South Carolina to discuss Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water. The novel depicts the lives of children in South Sudan through the true story of a Sudanese “lost boy” named Salva Dut who is forced to flee his country due to war and the fictional story of a young Sudanese girl named Nya who spends her days walking to fetch water for her family.

    Many students sought to better understand Nya’s daily eight-hour journey to fetch water. One preservice teacher connected with a class in Ontario, Canada, who participated in a “water walk” and shared their experience on Twitter. Using the hashtag #GRAWater, another preservice teacher found a school who planned a similar event and raised money for an international nonprofit.

    Below is an Edmodo exchange between a preservice teacher in South Carolina and seventh graders in Indiana discussing the themes of courage and determination in the text.

    GRA Digital Tools
    GRA Digital Tools

    kelly-pic-3 copyAnother preservice teacher replied to the Tweet of a cartoon (below) by reflecting on privileges such as access to education that many girls in developing countries, like Nya, do not have. The GRA helped these preservice teachers expand their perspectives on issues depicted in the text and presented them with ways to help students build agency through online discussion.
    GRA Digital Tools

    GRA Digital ToolsUsing Kidblog, fifth-grade students from Boston, MA, examined how characters in the text demonstrated empathy and considered how they might do the same. They responded to weekly questions about themes from the text and shared their newfound understandings of the hardships children face in South Sudan. Below, one student discussed how the novel helped shape her perception of refugees.

    GRA Digital ToolsThe preservice teachers also connected with a local fifth-grade class who read A Long Walk to Water. These fifth graders extended their reading to include a collection of fiction, poetry, and articles about refugees. The more they learned from their reading and online research about the plight of refugees, the more they became inspired to inform others. They created infographics including facts and figures about countries where large numbers of refugees flee due to persecution.

    The fifth graders then organized a “Walk for Refugees” in their community to raise awareness and collect donations for a nonprofit. They shared about the event at their school and through social media. Because of their efforts, they raised over $3,000 for a nonprofit.

    When given meaningful opportunities to use technology to connect readers near and far, students become more engaged with reading, deepen their comprehension, expand their worldviews, and develop a better understanding of themselves and their place in the world. Ultimately, using these tools to connect to a larger audience led students to take action and cultivate change. As Linda Sue Park says, “Can a children’s book save the world? No. But, the young people who read them can.”

    The following websites can be used to create infographics:

    Katie (Stover) Kelly is an associate professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, SC and coauthor of From Pencils to Podcasts: Digital Tools to Transform K-6 Literacy Practices (Solution Tree) and Smuggling Writing: Strategies That Get Students to Write Every Day, in Every Content Area, Grades 3-12 (Corwin). Find her on Twitter @ktkelly14.

    Tatiana Oliveira is an undergraduate preservice teacher at Furman University in Greenville, SC. She is interested in the intersectionality of education and social justice and plans to pursue a master’s degree in literacy. Find her on Twitter @tmoliveira17.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Empowering Students as Guides and Lifeguards of the Internet

    By Paul Morsink
     | Jun 29, 2018

    Sticky Note“Okay Web Guides, what type of ‘reader alert’ or ‘navigation help’ sticky note should we put on this website to help other sixth graders? What should it say?”

    One by one, the sixth graders chimed in.

    “The alert could say, ‘Make sure you also visit other websites about global warming,’” one student suggested.

    “We could include links to other websites,’” said another.

    The brainstorming discussion continued for several more minutes. Then it was time to type the sticky note and place it on the target website. Although the students were familiar with this step, the moment of actually placing the sticky note where it would be seen by other sixth graders generated lively discussion and excitement.

    “Put it here in the white space where it’ll be easier to see!”

    “Let’s check that the links work.”

    As we concluded the activity for the day, I asked the group, “How many of you are ready to be a Web Guide on your own tomorrow? How many of you are ready to train someone else to be a Web Guide?”

    In this small group of five summer campers, everyone’s hand shot up.

    The importance of roles and identities for learning 

    Literacy growth is about acquiring new skills and new knowledge, but it’s also about growing into new roles. These roles are an important part of literacy development because they connect the skills and knowledge our students acquire in school—about vocabulary, text structure, reading comprehension strategies, and so much more—to identities and purposes that have meaning and value beyond just “doing school.”

    Consider, for example, a class of sixth graders reading expository informational texts to learn about pond and lake ecosystems. If these students have no purpose for learning other than doing well on a future test and no role to play other than that of diligent student, the available research suggests that many may come away without deep understanding of ecosystems and without much improvement in their ability to read and write expository informational texts.

    By contrast, if learning about pond and lake ecosystems is connected to an authentic task (such as producing an informational brochure for visitors at a nearby nature center) and inhabiting a meaningful new role (such as environmental scientist or freelance designer of educational materials), more students are likely to feel engaged and motivated.

    As they grapple with new technical terms and get better at parsing dense informational texts, they aren’t just accumulating knowledge and skills to get a good grade. These students are inhabiting a new role that connects them to an audience and adds value to the world—making contributions about which they can feel proud.

    Learning to be a safe and critical web user

    This issue of roles and purposes is on my mind this summer in relation to the internet safety concerns Michelle Hagerman addressed in her recent blog post as well as the challenge of helping all students become critical seekers and users of information on the web.

    Working with students in grades 4–12 as well as with preservice teachers, I’ve observed that, while the self-protective purpose of staying safe on the internet is generally acknowledged, learning strategies for staying safe and becoming a critical reader and researcher on the internet isn’t usually connected to any new role or identity students can grow into and feel proud of.

    As a result, I’ve seen students leave class having learned a thing or two about noticing a website’s domain name (e.g., .com, .net, .org), checking out a website’s “About” page, and not divulging one’s name or address online. But I often have not felt confident that this new knowledge is going to stick and be applied in the future.

    Growing guides and lifeguards of the internet

    Internet GuideAlongside K–12 colleagues, I’m working this summer to develop curriculum that puts roles center-stage. Our idea is to have students train to become “guides” and “lifeguards” of the internet. They will learn to use free web tools such as Diigo and InsertLearning to provide peers and younger students at their school with tips, alerts, helpful resources, and encouragement to safely and critically navigate designated websites.

    The appeal of these free web tools is that the annotations they create appear to the user to reside on the web page where they are posted. When other students visit an annotated web page, as long as they have logged into Diigo or InsertLearning and are members of a designated group (Diigo) or class (Insertlearning), they will encounter sticky notes and other annotations as though they were part of the web page (as illustrated above).

    Internet Lifeguard Our initial trials with this approach look promising. For students, the work is about more than just gaining more knowledge and skills for self-protection and individual success on the web; it’s about stepping into a new role in a community of learners, looking out for others, and developing knowledge and skills that feel relevant and valuable.

    What innovative ideas have you tried out to connect your students to meaningful roles and purposes to deepen their literacy learning?

    Paul Morsink is an assistant professor in Reading and Language Arts at Oakland University in Michigan.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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