Sunday, April 13, 2014

Technology, Addiction, and the Myth of Digital Natives in danah boyd’s It’s Complicated

I just finished danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated (PDF on a trip out to Philadelphia. boyd writes about what kids are doing online and how they think about online spaces. She draws in broader social, cultural, and historical dynamics that shape the language around social networks. I have a few thoughts on two chapters in particular and why they are worth a look. 

Are the devices really the problem?
Chapter 3 on ‘addiction’ and Chapter 7 on ‘literacy' challenge cultural assumptions that 1) kids are addicted to technology, and 2) youth are digital natives. In challenging these notions, boyd considers cultural, historical, and social dynamics that shape youths’ online activity. 

The language we use matters 

The words we use shape how we think about the world. For example, if we use business language to frame educational problems, it then frames particular kinds of solutions. If students and teachers must be “held accountable,” then we must measure learning outcomes, institute end-of-year tests (which, by setting an end point, necessitates a beginning point, and a push for beginning-of-year tests). If learning is framed in these terms, it occludes other markers of teaching and learning - less “measurable” dynamics like creativity, confidence, disciplined inquiry, construction of knowledge, etc. 

I’m not the first to make this point, nor will I be the last. 

Do our social norms force us into being ‘addicted’ to technology? 

How we characterize our relationship with technology matters. Chapter 3 begins with a story of two teens who, dependent on Facebook, make a pact to delete their accounts at the same time. Though many teens talk about being ‘addicted’ to Facebook, is it really the platform - or the socialization it enables - that makes them spend so much time online? 

boyd turns to cultural factors that limit teen freedoms - they don’t play outside, take public transportation, or even make their own schedules - and she makes the argument that kids today are coming of age without agency. She points to G. Stanley Hall’s influence on defining adolescence, and says that “in buying into adolescence, what we’ve created is a pressure cooker. Teens are desperate to achieve the full rights of adulthood, even if they don’t understand the responsibilities that this may entail. They are stuck in a system in which adults restrict, protect, and pressure them to achieve adult-defined measures of success” (95). 

Reading this, I immediately thought of my students who juggled sports teams, younger siblings, jobs, and extracurricular activities with the years-away college admissions processes informing many of their choices. With limited physical freedoms, it makes sense that teens are almost forced into being ‘addicted’ to their devices. 

With that said, it can be easy to blame the digital tools and platforms:
“When socializing or play results in less sleep or poorer grades, parents blame the technology. Of course, it is easy to imagine that teens may prefer to socialize with friends or relax instead of doing homework, even if these actives are not societally sanctioned. Instead of acknowledging this, many adults project their priories onto teens and pathologize their children’s interactions with technology” (83). 

And that’s where I think the addiction narrative makes it easy to fault the technology and not recognize the various influences buffeting kids. Saying that ‘technology is addicting’ shapes the problem in terms of unhealthy dependence, thus leading to solutions being quitting and/or abstinence. Doing so makes it easy to blame the student and obscure the social and community contexts shaping their learning. 

This is especially important to consider as more and more schools go 1:1 - how do we “deal with” students who go on Facebook instead of doing their work? A completely legitimate concern, but framing the question only in terms of individual responsibility ignores the scales of social context at play. A recent study in one of Sweden’s 1:1 schools found that  “the distractive use of social media is made possible due to increased computer use in schools in conjunction with education policies directed toward a higher degree of labour market adaptation, individual responsibility, and educational choice for the student” (Andersson, Hatakka, Gronlund, and Wiklund, 2013, p.12, emphasis added). The authors point to the shift in educational policies from the 1980s to the 1990s - earlier values around the community and collective interest give way to those around individual work and responsibility. I think we can all make connections here to the language of US policies regarding testing and accountability. 

How does the term ‘digital natives’ shape the language of the problem, and thus the available solutions? 

Our culture’s language around youth identity also matters. The term “digital native” invokes some problematic metaphors. Originally used by both John Perry Barlow and Douglas Rushkoff in reference to fears around technology and the generation gap, Prensky (2001) popularized the term. Boyd returns to the original intentions behind the metaphor and says that Barlow and Rushkoff  
“young people as powerful actors positioned to challenge the status quo. Yet many who use the rhetoric of digital natives position young people either as passive recipients of technological knowledge or a learners who easily pick up the langue of technology the way they pick up a linguistic tongue” (178). 

Boyd continues on page 197: 

In general, the term ‘digital natives’ is problematic. One reason is that the metaphor foregrounds age. In making that what matters, it occludes divisions in socioeconomic status, apprenticeship into various technological skills, the role of school policies controlling devices and access, and other social and cultural factors that matter when talking about technology, inequality, and citizenship. 

To consider some of these broader dynamics, boyd cites Epstein and co-authors to look at how the problem is framed: 
“When society frames the digital divide as a problem of access, we see government and industry as the responsible party for addressing the issue. When society understands the digital divide as a skills issue, we place the onus of learning how to manage on individuals and families… The burden of responsibility shifts depending on how we construct the problem rhetorically and socially” (195-196). 
This makes me think of another book I read recently - Jal Mehta’s The Allure of Order - that looked at how framing the problems shapes what solutions are available, and thus whose voices are even able to enter the solution-making. 

Why does attention to our language matter? 

Throughout It’s Complicated, boyd constructs the argument that youth are locked out of public discourse, and voices a resounding call to let them be a part of it. As I’ve laid out here, I’m interested in the way we use language around youth participation and how our words shape opportunities available for students. 

To supplement boyd’s text, I have created a Flipboard (an online magazine of curated resources) of links that connect to boyd’s core ideas, including some amazing work that some youth are enabled to do. I welcome suggestions. 

Classroom Corner

A few other topics to consider, especially for conversations with students:

1. (Introduction) Considering the affordances of persistence, visibility, spreadability, and searchability, what matters most in your online digital identity work? 

2. (Chapter 2) What does privacy mean on the internet, and what are the privacy settings you choose to use (and not use) - why? 

3. (Chapter 5) What is the difference between bullying and ‘drama’? Does someone’s retaliation ‘balance’ the power dynamics at play? 

Works Cited 
Andersson, A., Hatakka, M., Gr o nlund, A. K., & Wiklund, M. (2013). Reclaiming the students – coping with social media in 1:1 schools. Learning, Media and Technology, (December 2013), 1–16. doi:10.1080/17439884.2012.756518

boyd, d. (2014). It’s complicated. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 

Epstien, d, Nisbet, E. C., & Gillespie, T. (2011). Who’s responsible for the digital divide? Public perceptions and policy implications. Information Society, 27, 2, 92-104. 

Eubanks, P. (2009). Poetics and narratively. In C. Bazerman & P. Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it (pp. 33–56). New York, NY: Routledge.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9. Retrieved from,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The digital and non-digital: how can we move to a purposeful hybird?

I've been thinking about the "binary" between non-digital and digital learning. Instead of asking "which is better for learning," I think a more generative question might be "how do we use both to mutually inform each other - and challenge each other - to create meaningful learning experiences?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Revising with 'Draft': Collaboration Writing & Classroom Implications

Draft is a writing platform that strips away excess functionality to focus on the act of writing. For minimalists, this platform is designed for you: simple typeface, no visual clutter, clear and concise options. Draft also recently incorporated a 'Hemingway Mode' which turns off the functionality of the 'delete' key (I was quickly faced with how terrible a typist I am, but it did force me to keep writing, which was the point).

Draft just released an update that allows easy visual comparison of edits that someone has made on your writing. I had to edit my biography for an upcoming brunch (so this post uses an awkwardly self-serving text), and decided to test out the new features.

I wrote my bio and imported it (Draft will sync with Drive, Dropbox, upload from your computer, and most other options you will need). 

Then I  made some edits, which I could compare side-by-side. 

You can see the Current Version is editable, so I can still tweak while I look what I've deleted, what I've added, and how I've changed wording.  

If, however, I want to have someone else revise it for me, it's easy to export the document via a link. 

In this situation, I sent myself a link to edit, I edited it, and then I 'shared my edits of the original.' 

While this might be confusing because I'm one lady trying to do two roles, the point is that it's easy to send a document for feedback and for the reviewer to send back edits. 

Back in the role of Original Author, I'm able to see what Editor Katrina wrote. As you can see by the tri-split screen here, I'm able to accept or reject changes based on the changes themselves, but can also refer to the text to see them in context. 

This way, I can judge the sentence on its own merit, or see how well it flows from and into the rest of the text. 

Classroom Applications & Implications 
Using Draft effectively depends on the relationship between the writer and the revisor. Often in classrooms, re-wording someone else's sentence for them could be a sign of 'doing their work for them.' With that said, what does productive collaborative writing look like in the classroom? Where are the spaces for it to happen, and when are teachers talking about how to best integrate it? The topic rarely, if ever, came up in my department meetings. 

Most of my writing instruction was about productive individual writing, and I avoided assignments where students wrote together. I figured that the partnership would result in 'one student doing all of the work.' And I needed to grade them individually anyway. But how could I have used a tool like Draft, as opposed to say Google Docs, to have students give each other feedback? 

Actually, I can't come up with any meaningful classroom-applicable examples. So instead, here are a few musings about why: 
  • School's reliance on an individual grading paradigm: Because activities must be assessed, collaborative writing activities force teachers to individually divide shared intellectual work. Using Draft as part of the writing process would prevent neat division of who wrote what for the final product.
  • The real reasons authors ask for edits: Within the constraints of time, curriculum, and technology access (to list only a few), teachers can't always ask for authentic writing tasks, which in turn doesn't provide space for authentic revision processes. However, when I ask someone to look over my work, I ask because it's in progress and will be published and eventually represent me. Where is that ownership/investment in a traditional essay on Hamlet? Can we design classroom writing processes and publication spaces where students want to ask their peers and others for edits? 
  • Technical barriers in the time we have with students: Draft is an account-based platform, and students probably already have Google Drive set up (and, as many of us know, creating accounts can eat up half of a class period). This is not a critique for Draft - but it is of so many schools with limited technology access, compounded by what number of students don't have Internet at home. In practical terms, it's a simple tool that would not be simple for students to take advantage of. 

In an ideal world (and wouldn't we all love one of those), students would add Draft to their 'technology toolbox' and be able to draw upon it as writers and editors. High school teachers could support this individual use with CCSS Writing Standard 5 & Standard 6. However, collaboration in the CCSS is only mentioned in reference to discussion, not in writing/production. 

I look forward to using it in my own writing process, am delighted with every update I get from Nathan Kontny, and will continue pondering about how schools can design their space, roles, and technology to promote authentic student learning. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Universal Human Experience

Welcome to the end of the year! You've completed an intellectually powerful year, reading seven or more books, exploring fiction, non-fiction, poetry and a range of other texts through conversations, writing, and presenting. I can't believe it's almost June!

We have used the provocation of 'the Universal Human Experience' to frame our approach to 10th grade English. I said the frame was like an umbrella, and we touched base with it - like the prongs coming down the sides of an umbrella - each time we finished a unit.

To culminate your exploration of your selected Universal Human Experience, you will explain what it means to be human, how you came to that understanding, and why it's important to consider as we step off into the world (or at least into the summer). Explaining your argument in an EdCafe presentation, you will explain your thinking and lead a discussion on your claim. Through the process and product of this unit, you will prove that you are ready to embark on Junior Year.

For your convenience:
     Link to Project Overview
     Link to Plot Chart
     Link to Focused Revision Sheet
     Link to Overall Metacognitive Letter (due June 20 in signed hard copy)

Project Overview: 

What does it mean to be human?: The Final EdCafe 

A Period

C Period

F Period

Framing the Year: The Final Metacognitive Letter 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Senior Final Exams : Spring 2013

Congratulations! You're almost done! 
The last thing you'll do for High School English is read a variety of short stories and make connections to them. Not a bad way to end 13 years of English class :)

Final Exam Preparation: 
Click on the appropriate site below to read your classmates' stories. 

Recommendation: Read at least four or five stories to prepare yourself for the final. You will write about three that are not your own.

Dystopian Literature 

Final Exam:
The format of this exam gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your understanding with no surprises. It's up to you to bring your best to this exam - you have choices, time, and energy enough to succeed - I look forward to your final submission.

Using your classmate's stories as your text, answer three of the five questions in short-essay form. Your mini-essay should have an introduction, at least one body paragraph, and a conclusion. You should incorporate quotations from the stories and your intellectual work (your notes, papers, books you've read, etc.) 

The three mini-essays are due at the end of the your period's final (B Period on Friday, May 25, G Period on Thursday, May 30th). 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Senior Stories: Checklist for Success

Dystopian Lit
Sci Fi

Print this checklist out and check off each step as you do it to ensure your success! 

Pick two buddies to check with when you have questions.  

____ turned in my sticker sheets (either checked on Friday or stapled together now and handed to Ms. Kennett)

Format Your Story:
____ Title of story in center of page
____ by _____ centered below title
____ should be 1.5 spaced
____ Paragraphs are indented
____ New lines of dialogue are new paragraphs (look at a book for guidance)
____ Read out loud to find minor errors in punctuation, capitalization, etc.

Example of formatted story here

Create a 'Book Cover' for your story:
____ "I declare I cannot find my image on Google, Bing, or any other internet search engine"
____ draw a picture or take one with a camera. Add effects as you'd like.
____ email it to or with your name in the subject of the email. Or, hand Ms. Kennett a hard copy of your drawing

Publish Your Story to the Web:
____ Logged into professional Google Account (NOT
____ Click 'File'
____ 'Publish to Web...'
____ If it asks you 'are you sure?' click 'yes'
____ COPY the link it provides

Submit Your Story and your Picture: