Public involvement in social media – are we merely pawns on a capitalist chessboard?

Last week’s lecture in EDU 3084 concerning the various connections, mechanisms and interests that regulate various social media and websites was thought-provoking indeed. Hofkirchner (2014, p. 74) envisions a common that is accessible for us all, on the basis of a “good society”. He has to admit, though, that “the conditions for a transformation into a good society is [sic] not imminent”. What does this entail for students and the way in which teachers can contribute to increasing their overall digital competence?

It may be that I am too sceptical about social media and the way in which they utilize and benefit from patrons and the “crumbs” they leave behind to generate advertising-based revenue.

kristarella-Cookie-300px
openclipart.org

It is no longer a question of whether Big Brother watches you, it is rather about Big Brother watches you and would like to present you with this incredible offer, targeting you and only you, and valid for a short period only.

If I am to be pragmatic, major players like FaceBook, Instagram, etc. are merely buttering their bread, as we all do (a somewhat thicker and fatter layer than what most of us can afford, admittedly). Business is business. If I were to venture into a state of borderline paranoia, I might see users of social media as nothing but hapless pawns being moved around on a chessboard controlled by greedy, cynical and incredibly crafty capitalist interests.

The internet, with all its offerings, is wild, amazing, cruel, informative, stimulating and tremendously alluring. There is no room for naiveté. Teachers can never fully protect their students from being exploited or from acting too gullibly in various digital arenas. Teachers cannot make choices on behalf of others. What we can do, however, is to inform students of the mechanisms and players that regulate social media, and of their stated and ulterior motives and strategies. We need to discuss potential pitfalls and emphasize the importance of developing an analytical and sceptical approach to online behaviour and choices. We need to empower future generations of internet users.

However much they might be inclined to think otherwise, students must be made fully aware of what Hofkirchner (2014, p. 82) refers to as “[…] (the rich-get-richer mechanisms) inherent in capitalist economies”. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. In the end, it is all basically about who benefits; about whose hands are moving the chess pieces around.

The miscellaneous online arenas might be referred to as “commons”. It is up to us all to decide whether we are satisfied with grazing on these commons as disinterested and witless sheep, or whether we must adopt a severely sceptical (and healthy?) approach to what is actually going on behind the scenes.

grazing-sheep-800px
openclipart.org


Reference

Hofkirchner, W. (2014). The Commons from a Critical Social Systems Perspective. RECERCA. Revista de pensament i anàlisi, 14, 73-92. Retrieved from  doi:http://doi.org/10.6035/Recerca14.4

Advertisements

Are they really from Mars? Apples, tattoos and the fall of man

This blog post by Ronja really got me thinking about the way technology has altered our day-to-day lives and ways of communicating. I started pondering on gender differences as well, and on how these can be utilized in the design of teaching practices that motivate and appeal to both boys and girls in the classroom. Assuming, of course, that there are gender differences pertaining to the use of technology?

Let me start by attempting to analyse myself and my attitudes towards technology in general. I find the various programmes and solutions to be practical and highly useful. However, I embrace digital technologies only as a means to an end, i.e., if I need to learn something to achieve a specific purpose, I’ll do it. I’ve been working in the private sector for several years, and I’ve been a super user of several applications, webmaster and problem-solver for my co-workers. Embarking on my studies last autumn, I instantly started using EndNote. The reason for this? The use of EndNote will A) ensure consistent citation, and B) save time that I can spend otherwise fruitfully engaged, i.e. with my nose in a book. It’s a useful application indeed, but that’s all.

My Better Half, on the other hand, has a totally different view of technology. In addition to serving as my always helpful and obliging ITSD (IT Support Department), he is crazy about apples. There are scarcely any appliances or technological solutions in our home that do not have names beginning with an “i”: iMac, iTunes, iPhone, iWeb, iMovie – you name it. For him, there’s no truly satisfying TGIF moment unless MacWorld or another iMagazine constitutes part of the deal. Friday nights are often spent reading about cables, chargers, new apps, new programmes and other iStuff. He knows I’m not of the same inclination, however. When he’s out shopping for iProducts, he humbly asks for solutions with a high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor), as he’s well aware of the fact that I will only learn whatever (preferably not too complicated) iFunctions I need to know in order to use the iApplications to a stated purpose. Pure female logic. Sometimes, men really do appear to be from Mars, with their love of iThingies etc. I, on the other hand, am generally spending my time off otherwise fruitfully engaged, i.e., solving crossword puzzles.

How do these deliberations tie in with tattoos, you might ask? Well, I must admit that I have a couple of tattoos on my back, depicting two of my beloved cats. Tacky, some might say, but there it is. I view my skin as a canvas that will bear testimony to the passions in my life (provided that they are discreet, of course). My Better Half is a totally different matter. According to him, his skin is a pristine and virginal piece of art that will remain so from cradle to grave. No ink will ever be allowed to penetrate his conservative hide. Unless it is an Apple, of course. Then he might consider it. Well, only time will tell whether deeply rooted principles will ever yield to male iPassion.

Nevertheless, on the basis of these musings and lessons learned throughout life, I have adopted the view that technology has a wider appeal for people of the masculine persuasion than for us women. Normann (2012) asks whether the access to digital tools may improve the general motivation of boys. If so, go for it! If tactile activities serve to motivate boys and enable them to benefit from their acquired digital skills, let’s put technology to fruitful use in the classroom. As a means to end, that is, not as an end in itself.

In the Book of Genesis, woman was the one tempting man with the offer of an apple. The sinful woman has ever since been blamed for everything that is wrong with the world; wars, pestilence and iProblems included. Now, the roles seem to have been reversed. Personally, I will only take a bite of the apple when I deem it necessary in order to achieve specific goals. Apart from that, I’ll probably spend the rest of my life running away from that damned fruit.

1385465969-300px
openclipart.org                                                                  

Reference
Normann, A. (2012). Det var en gang ei jente som ikke ville snakke engelsk – bruken av digital storytelling i språkopplæringa. In K. H. Haug, G. Jamissen, & C. Ohlmann (Eds.), Digitalt fortalte historier (pp. 185-197). Oslo: Cappelen Damm akademisk

The stories that resonate with us

I love literature, and always have. According to Birketveit and Williams (2013, p. 7), “literary texts […] open up imaginative perspectives, interrogate values and assumptions, and lead to enhanced understanding of global cultures and differences”. Reading stories, but also producing stories and sharing them with an audience, allow pupils to create stories that resonate. “When a story resonates, it tends to stick with us long after we hear it” (Ohler, 2008, p. 23).

Digital stories combine images and narrated soundtracks to create a story, often enhanced by video clips, background music and special effects (Kajder, Bull, & Albaugh, 2005). Anita Normann (2012) discusses the benefits of using digital storytelling in the ESL classroom, including the success story of Julie, the girl who did not want to speak English in front of others. As digital storytelling allows for alternative ways of working with and presenting stories, it serves as an excellent tool for adapting learning methods to the individual needs of students. In this case, Julie could record and edit her own soundtrack and practice her English intonation before the final product was published. Acquiring a feeling of mastering spoken English, Julie even chose to give a PowerPoint presentation in front of the class, exhibiting impressive progress!

Normann (2012) outlines how reading and discussing literary texts may serve as an excellent starting point for students in developing their own digital stories. Reading this, I immediately started envisioning potential interdisciplinary projects involving literature in the ESL classroom and digital storytelling – my imagination just kept on churning. One of these ideas is summarized below.

The reading list for the course EDU 3083 Text and Culture in the Classroom contains a number of excellent contemporary texts for young readers, including the moving story of Alem in the novel Refugee Boy (Zephaniah, 2001). Reading and discussing this book (recommended for 16-18-year-olds), maybe in combination with the fantastic, wordless book The Arrival (Tan, 2007), might provide the basis for digital stories addressing the theme of immigration and the individual stories of refugees – topics high on the public agenda all across Europe today. Preparations might even include pupils interviewing refugees settled in their local community in English, or inviting refugees into the classroom to share their experiences. As many refugees speak English well, this would facilitate authentic and more spontaneous conversation in English – complementing the students’ narrative soundtracks that are prepared and rehearsed in advance. Follow-up work might include blogs, collaborative writing / essays, class debates on the topic of immigration and refugees, etc.

Well, this was just one of several ideas that kept popping up as I was reading about the versatility of digital storytelling. Such a multi-text, multimodal project would not only involve working with the competence aims of the national curriculum for English (communication, language learning, culture, society and literature, compound digital texts), it would also enable pupils to process and reflect upon the experiences of others, supporting the development of empathy and intercultural competence and understanding. Projects that revolve around personal stories told by other (in lowercase letters) fellow human beings will truly interrogate prejudice and assumptions about “the Other”.

Normann and Kopreitan (2012) characterize the work of preparing scripts for digital stories as a work method whereby pupils process subject matter and make it their own. They emphasize that a good story will affect both the author and the audience, enabling them to recognize and identify with the persons whose stories they are telling. The authors also underline the fact that the essence of storytelling is to create feelings of closeness (op. cit., p. 209).

Well said, in my opinion. Allowing pupils to create stories that stimulate empathy and identification with others go way beyond addressing stated competence aims. It helps them grow and develop in relation to their fellow human beings, and to make sense of the (often senseless) world in which they live. Storytelling is about creating and sharing narratives that resonate with us. To put it simply, it is about being human.

References
Birketveit, A., & Williams, G. (2013). Literature for the English Classroom. Theory into Practice. Bergen: Fagbokforlaget.

Kajder, S., Bull, G., & Albaugh, S. (2005). Constructing Digital Stories. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32(5), 40-42.

Normann, A. (2012). Det var en gang ei jente som ikke ville snakke engelsk – bruken av digital storytelling i språkopplæringa. In K. H. Haug, G. Jamissen, & C. Ohlmann (Eds.), Digitalt fortalte historier (pp. 185-197). Oslo: Cappelen Damm akademisk.

Normann, A., & Kopreitan, A. O. (2012). Digitale fortellinger fra andre verdenskrig – om å lære om historien gjennom å fortelle egne historier. In K. H. Haug, G. Jamissen, & C. Ohlmann (Eds.), Digitalt fortalte historier (pp. 199-211). Oslo: Cappelen Damm akademisk.

Ohler, J. B. (2008). Defining and discussing digital storytelling. In J. B. Ohler (Ed.), Digital Storytelling in the Classroom (pp. 21-38). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Tan, S. (2007). The Arrival. London: Hodder Childrens’ Books.

Zephaniah, B. (2001). Refugee Boy. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

“Digital natives” – are we being deceived by appearances?

Marc Prensky describes the (young) generation of ”digital natives” as comprising people who ”(…) are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked.” (Prensky 2001, p. 2). He continues to discuss how many teachers, referred to as ”digital immigrants”, struggle to teach students, who speak a different language (op. cit.).

It is true that many of us adults perceive the younger generations of learners as being far more digitally competent than we are. Watching those lithe fingers race across the keyboard/keys and listening to young people being proficient in a language we had to acquire step by step ourselves might instil a feeling of inadequacy in many of us. We might even ask ourselves whether we have something of value to contribute to these “digital natives” or not? Have we somehow been left behind in the digital revolution?

Giæver, Johannesen et al. (2014, p. 14) discuss the concept of digital competence and how it has evolved over the years in the national curriculum, shifting its emphasis more towards attitudes, understanding and communication rather than software and tools, i.e. the instrumental aspects of digital competence. They also raise a valid question: Has this development resulted in the instrumental aspects of this competence not being properly attended to in Norwegian schools today? (op. cit., p. 16). Do we in fact take our students’ digital competence for granted?

The implementation of technology in various school subjects are meant to support the learning processes of students (Giæver, Johannesen et al. 2014, p.15) and prepare them for future tasks as adult citizens and employees. Collaborative tasks and projects constitute a significant portion of these tasks, and it is thus essential that students achieve a broad understanding of how technology works; how we communicate in various digital arenas. Lacking basic instrumental skills might impede such collaborative processes.

The following example might illustrate this point. In an article discussing formative assessment of writing in English, one of the respondents (a Norwegian eight-grader) commented on the use of the review tool “track changes” in MS Word as follows: “If it said that a word shouldn’t be there, then I could just click on the word and remove it (…) then the bubble thing went away” (Burner 2015, p. 9). Here, the teacher uses a software programme to provide feedback to students, employing a review function widely used in joint projects in most professions. Could it be that the teacher in question has simply neglected to provide (or ensure) instruction in the use of this review function, taking it for granted that the “digital natives” must surely know how?

Being familiar with computers, social media, digital games and mobile phones constitutes an important part of digital competence. We use technology to communicate, learn and interact. Students will, however, be required to master a wide range of basic instrumental skills in their future careers. Software and technology will continue to change, and the most fundamental skill we can teach our students is how to learn, how to acquire new basic skills, i.e. learning strategies. It is not a given that introductory courses will be provided; it might be that the only resources available are the “Help” button and digital manuals. If students do not master the art of self-learning, they might not be able to contribute satisfactorily to the dynamic, project-oriented work processes awaiting them in their future careers.

Teachers might easily take the digital competence, skills and learning strategies of their students for granted. Those quick and nimble fingers, self-assured use of digital language and high level of involvement in social media might in many cases hide a vast lack of knowledge where the most basic instrumental skills are concerned. Food for thought?

References
Burner, T. (2015). “Formative assessment of writing in English as a foreign language.” Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research: 1-23.

Giæver, T. H., et al. (2014). Digitale verktøy i skolen – ferdigheter, kompetanse, dannelse? Digital praksis i skolen. T. H. Giæver, M. Johannesen and L. Øgrim. Oslo, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag AS: 10-23.

Prensky, M. (2001). “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1.” On the Horizon 9(5): 1-6.

Is the teacher obsolete?

I came across a rather thought-provoking article online, where a pupil inter alia asserts that in 2016, she doesn’t need a teacher to tell her the things she can just as easily find on Wikipedia. In other words, the truth is out there, and she might just as well dip into the fountain of online knowledge on her own.

This articles raises certain interesting issues. First, the teacher is seen as obsolete when it comes to searching for factual information; it’s all available on Wikipedia. Second, Wikipedia is seen as a reliable source. Does the student have a point?

Digital competence includes skills in critical thinking (Program for digital kompetanse 2004-2008:7, cited in Otnes, 2009, p. 13). This encompasses being discerning when it comes to evaluating the reliability of online sources and the accuracy of the information provided by these. Can pupils develop such skills without the assistance of a competent teacher?

I maintain that the digitally competent teacher will become even more important in the classroom as the dynamic technological landscape continues to evolve, and as more and more information becomes available online. Our role as teachers is to assist pupils in developing appropriate learning strategies, and to be role models. Constantly changing communication technologies augment the need for critical thinking and the ability to compile, analyse and utilize information in an appropriate manner.

There is no room for gullibility in the modern-day digital world. We should never take information provided by e.g. Wikipedia at face value, without further verification. Come to think of it, we should never take anything at face value, the contents of school textbooks included.

The teacher is not obsolete. His job is inter alia to raise the pupils’ awareness about all the potential pitfalls “out there”. You may not find this on Wikipedia, but it is a fact.

Reference:
Otnes, H. (2009). Å være digital. In H. Otnes (Ed.), Å være digital i alle fag (pp. 11-28). Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.