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    Addressing Technopanic in the Age of Screentime

    By Ian O’Byrne
     | Jun 14, 2019

    As educators that play with and embed digital literacies into classroom instruction, we believe the thoughtful use of educational technologies can help prepare youth for future practices and texts they will encounter. I study the effects of technology on society, culture, and education in my weekly newsletter, Digitally Literate. Together with a group of colleagues, I maintain a website focused on living and learning in the age of screentime and the challenges posed as we adjust to these new spaces. One of these challenges is a type of technopanic that suggests screentime promotes addiction, depression, or worse.

    What is technopanic?

    According to Christopher Ferguson, a professor in the Department of Behavioral, Applied Sciences and Criminal Justice at Texas A&M, a technopanic is a “moral panic that centers around societal fears about a specific contemporary technology (or technological activity) instead of merely the content flowing over that technology or medium.” Technopanic is accompanied by pleas to “do something” to protect society as a whole. This message is often promoted and amplified by the public, media outlets, and policymakers. In turn, the message is exacerbated when children and adolescents are added into the cultural anxiety surrounding a technopanic. Alice Marwick, assistant professor in the Department of Communication and faculty affiliate at the Center for Media Law and Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says technopanics have the following characteristics: 

    First, they focus on new media forms, which currently take the form of computer-mediated technologies. Second, technopanics generally pathologize young people’s use of this media, such as hacking, file-sharing, or playing violent video games. Third, this cultural anxiety manifests itself in an attempt to modify or regulate young people’s behavior, either by controlling young people or the creators or producers of media products.

    The challenge is that the paranoia and panic that accompanies a technopanic is often overblown and stifles the discussion, examination, and critique that is necessary as we explore these new digital spaces.

    The rise of technopanics

    Adam Thierer, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, suggests there are six factors that contribute to the rise of technopanics and how they impact our culture and society in general.

    • Generational differences: Older generations are generally pessimistic about the impact of technology on culture and society with younger generations. They forget that they too had new texts, tools, and gadgets that previous generations never dreamed of.
    • Hyper-nostalgia: People tend to recall past events and lived experiences more positively than they perceived them to be at the time of their occurrence—this is called rosy retrospection bias. Critics often yearn for the old order, established norms, and traditional structures as they seek to find balance in a changing ecosystem.
    • Bad news sells: In today’s world, readers are greeted by a regular firehose of information when they open their devices. Fear-based tactics and alarmism—especially involving children—cuts through the noise.
    • The role of special interests: As bad news sells, there is often a company, service, or product working behind the scenes to elevate concern. These companies exaggerate the problem and offer a “silver bullet” response to this challenge.
    • Elitist attitudes: Skeptics and critics often have elitist mindsets and opinions about the use of these new digital texts and tools. These beliefs often indicate that they are superior to others because of their intellect, social status, wealth, or other factors.
    • Third-person-effect hypothesis: When people engage in debate, or encounter a problem that seems outside of their expertise, they suggest that others “do something” to correct the situation. Psychologists refer to this as “third-person-effect hypothesis” and this mindset sometimes is a call for governmental intervention.

    How to address the current situation

    We are increasingly hearing different manifestations of technopanic as all forms of technological devices (phone, tablet, computer, etc.) are conflated into a general area of “screentime” and identified as a cause of concern. As a parent, and educator, it is sometimes hard for me to read this and worry about the peril and imminent danger that are children are being subjected to. But there is a need to beware of the outrage, fear mongering, and “science” that is often spread by the news media and others.

    Rather than assuming all technology use is equal (and equally bad), perhaps we should take a more nuanced approach as we discuss these issues. We might, for example, consider different types of screentime, and the affordances of each of these texts, tools, and spaces. Perhaps spending an hour passively consuming YouTube content is not viewed as beneficial as an hour spent coding in Scratch. Perhaps an hour spent zombie scrolling through social media is not as valuable as an hour spent playing video games. Perhaps if children and adults spent time coconsuming this content, and had dialogue about the experience, we might have a better understanding of screentime.

    As an educator the focus should be on guiding your students as they explore and negotiate these new spaces, places, and practices. As a parent, there is an opportunity to talk about all of these elements with your children, and not be afraid to confront your own practices. Finally, there is a need to understand that we’re still learning as new technologies are developed, and as we interact with these texts and tools. To continue to learn more about these elements, you might consider subscribing to my weekly newsletter or following the blog feed at The Screentime Age. Lastly, Kristen Turner and I developed a podcast all about technopanic, and it explores the challenges experienced by children, parents, and educators. Feel free to send us an email at if you have a question you’d like us to answer.  Together, we can work to avoid getting caught up in fear of new technologies and learn how to use them safely and productively with children. 

    Ian O’Byrne is an educator, researcher, and innovator. 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. You can find him on Twitter @wiobyrne.

    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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    Let's Get Graphic: Meeting the Needs of Today’s Readers and Writers Through Graphic Novels

    By Susan Luft
     | Jun 07, 2019

    lets-get-graphic-3It was a frigid January morning right after the holiday break when I met a group of 45 fourth-grade students assembled in the library of a suburban New York elementary school. In the first hour of the school day, following a two-week break, a visiting teacher would expect to be greeted by sleepy-eyed students longing to return to the freedom of vacation. Instead, I was welcomed by the enthusiastic hum of excited learners clutching novels, notebooks, and pencils.

    The students already knew that today they would begin studying the format and structures of graphic novels and they were eager to dive in. We spent the next six days of one-hour reading workshop sessions in a graphic novel bootcamp. Each day, students engaged with a specific set of teacher-designed inquiry lessons that explored the elements of art, design, and story that are consistent with the graphic novel.

    The request to begin an inquiry into the format of graphic novels and their features came from teachers who recognized that the narrative structures, visual images, and design features offered in elementary literature were growing more complex. They also recognized that the publishing trends that were emerging in children’s literature were placing increased literacy demands upon strengthening a visual culture that included illustrated books, graphic novels, and visual narratives. Likewise, these texts were bringing new challenges to teachers who desired rigorous reading skills and strategies for their students. The teachers felt they had a responsibility, and desire, to foster new approaches in helping their readers navigate these changes.

    lets-get-graphic-2Although the changing role of visual images in literature has had a profound effect on teaching literacy acquisition in the 21st century, it has also provided new options for classroom engagement while connecting readers with books that matter in their lives. These are the books so many of our students love and want to read. However, many students often do not have the skill set needed to read visual images in graphic novels because they have yet to have the opportunity for guided learning in reading this format.

    We know that there are many benefits to providing students with experience and engagement with graphic novels as this guide from Scholastic demonstrates. One benefit is that students become better prepared to read and understand the visual information that they encounter. Our learners are raised navigating narratives presented through websites, video games, and interactive media. As a result, learning and maintaining strong visual literacy is a necessary skill. Learning to read the elements of art in graphic novels gives students experience with visual literacy in a way that is engaging and builds meaning.

    Second, graphic novels require a repertoire of reading strategies of which students may not yet be familiar. When reading a graphic novel, the meaning revealed in images is as important as reading the text. The Random House Educators’ Guide explains how panels, frames, color, shading, graphic weight, positioning, and physical interpretation need to be “read” in order to understand the story being told.

    Finally, graphic novels can help to improve reading development for students struggling with reading and/or language acquisition. These texts are referred to as the “grand equalizer” by Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity because of their “universal appeal to most students” and ability to “invite all levels of readers into reading conversations.”  For readers, the illustrations provide context clues which add to the meaning of difficult vocabulary and understanding of written narrative.

    Still, graphic novels include classic elements of narrative storytelling such as character development, hero's quest, and theme. These visual elements and the comic book format make them more accessible, especially for struggling readers. As Art Spiegelman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History(Pantheon), so insightfully stated, "Comics are a gateway drug to literacy."

    Susan Luft is an elementary English language arts coordinator for Scarsdale Public Schools, New York. She is also a member of Drew University’s Digital Literacy Collaborative project. You can follow her on Twitter.

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    The Makerspace: A Model for Making That Values Community, Inclusion, and Student Agency

    By Michelle Hagerman
     | May 31, 2019

    Joël Desjardin’s decision to become an elementary teacher was driven in part by his personal belief that to thrive in school and in life, many children need learning conditions broader than those offered by traditional paradigms. As we talked about the impact of the makerspace that he has worked tirelessly to establish over the past two years with colleagues, his voice resonated with passion and a deep respect for his students and their learning needs.

    “The makerspace is the heart of our school. When I was a kid, the gym was the heart of community in the school. Whenever there was a big event, we all gathered in the gym. But I see the makerspace as our ‘gym.’ Our whole community can’t gather here physically but we do use technologies in the makerspace to create community, to bring us all together—through our TéléMC newscasts, for example. And, the comings and goings in this space are incredible,” he said. “The kid who comes in here and finds that he can make something driven by his own interests—he’ll keep coming back to school. That’s what will keep him here.”

    In the makerspace, Joël’s mission is to create the conditions and cultivate the relationships that will enable every child to find their voice, strengths, and purpose. More than 60% of students attending this school have lived in Canada for fewer than three years, and many do not speak French (the language of instruction) at home. In Joël’s words, “We’re imposing Canadian culture and language on these kids, and then we’re imposing Canadian schooling on top of that—they need to have spaces inside of these systems where they can leverage what they know, where they feel competent, capable, and valued.”

    As they work to support students’ language and literacies learning, Joël and his colleagues understand that their work is also fundamentally about creating an inclusive community where students can find connections to themselves as they develop new identities as learners, as makers, and often, as first-generation Canadians. I think the work happening in this school can inform the design of culturally sensitive, social justice-oriented maker pedagogies for literacies learning everywhere. Following are two examples that could inspire other school communities to imagine new possibilities for their maker programs.

    Café Altern

    This spring, sixth-grade students from Joël’s school visited Café Altern, a coffee shop in Ottawa’s Byward market, run entirely by high school students and their teachers. For Joël’s students, the purpose was twofold. First, he wanted to expose them to the program which is designed for high schoolers seeking pathways to employment through entrepreneurship. Second, he wanted his students to practice their media literacies skills. To this end, groups of students planned for, and then interviewed a Rwandan–Canadian artist whose work is exhibited in the Café, a local chef who supports the café, and the teachers and students who run daily operations.

    Using the industrial kitchen, the sixth graders also learned to make, prepare, and then sell maple syrup that they had tapped from trees at school (using spiles that they 3D printed in the makerspace). Post visit, the students used 10 hours of class time to edit their footage in WeVideo and create two-minute videos promoting the café. In my view, this activity integrates layers of culturally situated, physical, and digital meaning making, centered on community partnerships and student agency.


    With a team of student media makers, Joël also produces the morning announcements which they livestream on the school’s YouTube channel from their makerspace every morning. For these students, Joël cites vast improvement in confidence and oral communication skills. Every Friday, the team produces a longer newscast that includes highlights of the week and explores an important theme.

    Last week, on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia,  their newscast focused on equipping the school community to understand what it means to be LGBTQ2+, to recognize and reject LGBTQ2+phobic language and behaviors, and to emphasize the importance of LGBTQ2+ people in their school community. Especially poignant—the principal, who cohosted this special newscast, drew a picture of his own family, showed photographs of his family celebrating important moments together, and explained that his children have two dads. With more than 250 views for this newscast alone, the work in this makerspace is reaching community beyond the school walls, and equipping students and faculty to understand and use a shared language of inclusion.

    As Joël, his colleagues, and his students show us, a school makerspace can become its heart—a place where technologies can be used to make meanings that strengthen, empower, and create more inclusive communities.

    Michelle Schira Hagerman is an assistant professor of Educational Technologies at the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa. You can read more about her work, including research on literacies and making at

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    The New NAEP Assessment You Probably Haven’t Heard of (but May Find Interesting)

    By Paul Morsink
     | May 24, 2019

    In 2013, I wrote a Literacy Daily post about a new National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessment then in development—the Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) assessment. I was excited about the TEL because, unlike the biannual NAEP reading assessment, the TEL promised to tell us something about U.S. students’ 21st-century digital literacies—such as their ability “to employ technologies and media to find, evaluate, analyze, organize, and synthesize information from different sources.”

    The TEL was first administered nationwide in 2014, and then again four years later in 2018. The 2018 results are now available, and together with the 2014 results, and side-by-side with the NAEP reading assessment data, they make for interesting reading. Following are some highlights.

    • In 2018, 46% of eighth-grade students performed at or above the Proficient level on the TEL assessment. (By comparison, in 2017, 36% of eighth-grade students performed at or above the Proficient level on the NAEP reading assessment.)
    • From 2014 to 2018, eighth graders’ scores on the TEL assessment rose significantly—from 43% at or above Proficient in 2014 to 46% at or above Proficient in 2018. (By comparison, eighth graders’ achievement on the NAEP reading assessment has stalled—dropping from 36% at or above Proficient in 2013 to 34% in 2015 and then recovering to 36% in 2017.)
    • On the TEL, as on the NAEP Reading assessment, female students outperform male students. Further, from 2014 to 2018, the gap between female and male students’ performance widened significantly, with the average score for male students increasing only slightly over that four-year period, and with the increase in the average score for female students accounting for most of the overall growth from 2014 to 2018.
    • From 2014 to 2018, the percentage of black students scoring at or above Proficient on the TEL assessment jumped significantly from 18% to 23%. (By comparison, from 2013 to 2017, the percentage of black students scoring at or above Proficient on the NAEP reading assessment increased only slightly, from 17% to 18%.)
    • On the TEL, the connection between parental education level and student performance appears to be weakening. In 2014, students whose parents finished high school significantly outperformed students whose parents did not finish high school. In 2018, that gap had closed. (By comparison, the NAEP reading results from 2017 show a significant gap between these groups—unchanged since 2013.)

    What does it look like to score at or above Proficient on the TEL?

    The TEL assesses eighth graders’ technology and engineering literacy through interactive scenario-based tasks. Students are challenged to enact “practices” that include “analyzing information,” “developing solutions,” and “communicating and collaborating.”

    Examples of tasks on the TEL include the following:

    • Creating website content to promote a teen recreation center.
    • Evaluating provided information to explain how to fix the habitat of a classroom iguana.
    • Selecting images to be used on a website advertising a television show about the Andromeda Galaxy and correctly citing an image’s source.
    • Developing an online exhibit about Chicago's water pollution problem in the 1800s.

    To do well on these tasks, students need to show they can perform the following tasks:

    • Gather information through browsing and searching.
    • Identify distortion, misinterpretation, or exaggeration of information.
    • Analyze and evaluate information or data to solve a problem.
    • Adjust a text’s content based on knowledge of audience and the communication method being used.

    All these complex skills mobilize and build on more foundational reading comprehension skills and strategies. For example, to answer a question that asks students to read first-person statements from a variety of stakeholder perspectives about the pollution of the Chicago River and then match those statements to third-person “summary descriptions” for an online historical exhibit (see the screenshot below), students first need to comprehend the gist of each individual statement on its own before connecting it to a “summary description” that restates that gist in more general terms.

    new-naep copy

    Similarly, for a question that asks students to choose and sequence audio clips to accompany an animation showing the stages of Chicago’s response to its water pollution crisis, students need to be able to put narrative segments in chronological order before choosing the particular segments that most clearly and helpfully describe what is visually depicted in each of the four consecutive parts of the animation.

    new-naep-2 copy

    To learn more about TEL assessment items, consider visiting the NAEP TEL website. Among other things, it provides a number of “live” sample tasks that you can attempt as if you were a student taking the TEL—with the difference that your submitted answers will be instantly scored and returned with feedback. For each scored item, you can also see the percentage of eighth graders who answered that item correctly.

    Why do we need two NAEP assessments to inform us about how our students are reading?

    As you explore the TEL and the insights it offers into how U.S. students are developing as 21st-century readers, you may find yourself asking why the NAEP reading assessment hasn’t evolved to keep up with the times. Why do we now need to consult two NAEP assessments to find out how U.S. students are reading?

    One plausible answer is that, to maintain the value of the NAEP as a barometer of long-term trends in literacy achievement, it’s important to be cautious about making changes that could compromise this function. If the 2019 NAEP reading assessment were abruptly revamped, we could no longer compare the 2019 scores with scores from previous years.

    This being the case, however, we might expect the NAEP reading assessment not to abandon more traditional genres, text formats, and reading tasks, but rather to expand its scope to include additional items focused on 21st-century digital texts, skills, and reading tasks.

    There are indications in the the 2017 NAEP Reading Framework that, starting this year, we may finally begin to see some movement in this direction. There are plans to gradually shift to “digital administration” of the reading assessment on NAEP-provided tablets and to include some items reflecting “a wider range of texts, including those coming from digital sources that may involve dynamic features such as video, animation, or hyperlinks.”

    In the meantime, I am grateful for the TEL assessment. It contains valuable data and insights. And the fact that it’s a separate NAEP assessment that now needs to be referenced whenever we talk about “the NAEP’s latest reading results” is, upon reflection, not a bad thing. It serves as a reminder of what has been true all along—that reading takes many forms, that we need to keep revisiting and expanding our definitions of literacy, and that single assessments tend to give only a partial picture of what our students know and can do.

    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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    Literacy, Design, and Collaboration: Mapping the Ocean Floor With Bloxels

    By Lindsay Yearta and Abigail Wenger
     | May 21, 2019
    Bloxels copy

    The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2017 K–12 Edition identifies "Advancing Cultures of Innovation" as a key trend toward accelerating innovative technology adoption in education. In these cultures of innovation, learner-centered classrooms provide space for students to conduct research, collaborate, and create in real-world contexts.

    While integrating technology can increase student engagement, this integration must be done in a purposeful way. With the lack of appropriate and timely professional development, this can be difficult to conceptualize. Although more classrooms are receiving digital tools, and many teachers want to be able to use these tools in an authentic, targeted manner, a nationwide survey conducted by Samsung has shown that 60% of teachers say they need more training to do so.

    Although blogs such as Literacy Daily do not replace the need for professional development, they do allow us to share ideas that have worked in our classrooms so other educators can adapt and implement to fit the needs of their students. With this in mind we share how Abigail, a teacher candidate, integrated science, language arts, and technology in her fifth-grade classroom this spring.

    Mapping the ocean floor with Bloxels

    When asked to design a lesson on ocean floor landforms, Abigail decided she wanted to do so in a way that would purposefully integrate technology and authentically engage students. She did this by providing fifth-graders with the opportunity to build a digital model of the ocean floor using Bloxels, a digital platform for creating video games in the classroom.

    After a brief mini-lesson, each of Abigail’s five groups worked together to research their assigned ocean floor landform: continental shelf, continental slope, abyssal plain, mid-ocean ridge/rift zone, and trenches. Groups used books, articles, and credible online sources to conduct research. Each student was given a research log to organize their learning.

    Once the groups had gathered enough information about their ocean floor landform, each table was given a Bloxels design sheet. The small groups collaborated to take what they learned about the ocean floor landform and create a design for the Bloxels video game. Students used different colors to represent different features such as blue for water, green for terrain, purple for an enemy, and yellow for a coin. Designs were creative and scientifically accurate.

    Students then translated self-guided, landform research into unique features for their portion of the game. One group researched what kind of sea creatures lived in their part of the ocean in order to select one as an enemy. After learning that seashells were commonly found in their section of the ocean floor, another group decided the coins in the video game would be seashells. The mid-ocean ridge/rift zone group included exploding orange blocks to represent underwater volcanoes.

    Learning about landforms

    Next, each group shared their learning about the landform they studied. The class compared Bloxel design ideas to a diagram of the ocean floor and gave each other feedback. Each group designed one portion of the ocean floor, one column comprised of two boxes, that when combined formed the complete ocean floor (see the above image). For example, the continental shelf group found that their landform is a gently sloped piece of the continent that shifts land to sea. This group’s contribution to the video game can be seen in the first column; notice the player begins on continental shelf. When the game starts, the player zooms in here and navigates through each component of the ocean floor. The player must make it all the way across the ocean floor and out of what can be seen in the last column, the trench. The group that researched trenches learned that landform is long, narrow, and is the deepest part of the ocean floor.

    The groups went back to their working stations, revised their designs, and transferred their landform model to the Bloxels app. Each group was required to include at least one white text box that identified the landform and explained its key characteristics.

    At the end of this integrated learning segment, students had conducted research and collaboratively designed and refined a video game to represent their understanding of the ocean floor. Students were engaged from beginning to end. They shared their learning with the class through discussions and with the teacher through detailed exit tickets that provided a clear snapshot of individual student learning. Through research and collaboration, students, motivated to build a video game, went above and beyond the teacher’s expectations by adding details such as making the player’s enemy a research-based creature from that specific ocean landform zone.

    Other ideas for incorporating video game building in the elementary classroom include: rewriting the ending of a book, writing math problems that players must solve to progress through the game, and creating a storyline in which a soldier must move through each of the major WWII battles.

    Lindsay Yearta is an assistant professor of education and the Singleton Endowed Professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Her research interests include digital literacies and the utilization of technology to empower students. You can find her on Twitter @Lyearta.

    Abigail Wenger is a rising senior at Winthrop University. She is studying early childhood education and will complete her year-long internship in a kindergarten classroom in the coming school year. You can find her on Twitter @Ms_Wenger.

    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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