Tag Archives: digital literacy

Digital Media Literacy Opportunities Galore!

[Note: This post was originally featured on the Media Education Lab]

 The Consequences of Attending the URI Summer Institute in Digital Literacy

I peered across the dim expanse of the art space, AS220 as I participated in “speed dating.” In a whirlwind I met librarian, Brooke; media consultant, Jen; and English educator, Erica. We formed dyads, shared lots of laughter, and together experienced the first weeklong URI Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. Brooke and I collaborated on a Storify called “Upstanders, Arise!” that helped students to advocate against bullying, and I later incorporated the composition into a Sports and Popular Culture curriculum unit I had designed in my position as a secondary English teacher.

Could that fabulous Summer Institute really have happened five years ago? Padlet, Socratic, Kahoot!, Edmondo, and Animoto were the Cool Tools that year, but curricular cohesion and literacy learning were just beginning to merge with digital education then. So it was in that latter direction I ran, and so many proverbial doors opened for me as a result of the conceptual framework I obtained from participating in the 2013 Summer Institute in Digital Literacy.

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Seven Techniques that Donald Trump Uses to Control the Media

[Note: This post was originally featured on PlanetSave]

At the time of our nation’s inception, the Founders supported an open, free exchange of ideas as a necessary ingredient for the survival of a representative democracy. As Benjamin Franklin proclaimed, “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Freedoms of speech and press in the First Amendment, according to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black are essential to the U.S. constitution. “The Framers knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny.” Censorship is used to stop truths or ideas from emerging, to prevent the ability to draw attention to powerful people or governments, or to undermine ideology. President-elect Donald Trump understands the power of a free and independent press, according to Robert Reich, and does what all tyrants do: he tries to “squelch it.”

Reich

Reich, the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has outlined seven techniques that Donald Trump has used to undermine the power of the press. Reich calls these strategies “worrying.”

1. Berate the media: Trump “summoned” two-dozen TV news anchors and executives and berated them for their election coverage.

According to Vanity Fair, sources told the New York Post that Trump, in a dressing-down, characterized the assembled media execs as a “fucking firing squad,” with the president-elect attacking CNN in particular. “Trump kept saying, ‘We’re in a room of liars, the deceitful dishonest media who got it all wrong,’ ” the source said.  Reich related how another person who attended the meeting said Trump “truly doesn’t seem to understand the First Amendment. He thinks we are supposed to say what he says and that’s it.”

2. Blacklist critical media: Trump’s Facebook page read that the Washington Post was “phony and dishonest” and later revoked their press credentials.

Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said, “Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press. When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished.” CNN Money has the Trump Blacklist of media outlets, which includes Huffington Post, Politico, and Buzzfeed.

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What’s Cycling Got to Do with Digital Literacy?

Allow me to introduce Emily Phillips, a 58-year-old who loved cycling when she lived in Europe. New to Philadelphia, she couldn’t quite afford to buy a bike. She had heard about Indego, Philadelphia’s bikeshare program. With Indego, 700 bikes are available at 70 stations throughout the city. To locate a bike, a rider accesses an app or an online station map for bike and dock availability. There are several ways to check out a bike with Indego. You can purchase a pass with credit card or cash, and you then use your electronic Indego Key to check out a bike. Or you walk up to any bike at any station and use your credit/debit card to pay for a one-time trip.

cycling

Sounds easy, right? Well, for a digitally literate individual, navigating the Indego app or website is a snap. But for Emily Phillips and other individuals who aren’t technologically savvy, using the bikeshare program can be too complicated. Forget it. Curiosity shutdown.

Back in 2014, it didn’t take long for the new grant manager of the Better Bike Share Partnership, Carniesha Kwashie, to figure out that internet access was a barrier to many individuals who wanted to sign up for Indego. “I found out that you couldn’t apply anywhere else but online,” she said. But she had a plan. Voila! Soon Philadelphia had a Digital Skills and Bike Thrills (DSBT) program, and lots of people were signing up to learn digital skills at their own pace.

Their assignments relate to Indego and bike sharing. In Digital Skills and Bike Thrills, individuals participate in a month-long workshop where they learn basic computer skills at the same time as they become familiar with local bicycle law and best practices. And they can join in a group ride and learn safe cycling skill at the same time. That’s all anybody can expect, right?

Actually, the DSBT program also includes a free six-month pass to Indego to anyone who completes the course. That means no hourly fees or passes to buy while learning to gain confidence as a city cyclist.

And how did Emily Phillips do? She completed the program and says she’s been riding in Philadelphia through Indego most everyday. She getting used to Philadelphia’s particular biking culture — “How drivers drive, how bicyclists bike, how many potholes there are in the road.”

What are digital learning and digital literacy?

Digital learning is not about technology. It’s about being able to access the right tool in the most efficient way to accomplish specific goals. To be digitally literate, a person needs to know how information is processed, delivered, and received in today’s highly connected world.

Here’s a typical digital learning standard: “Select digital tools or resources to use for a real-world task and justify the selection based on their efficiency and effectiveness, individually and collaboratively.” The Digital Skills and Biking Thrills program meets all specifications within this standard. It allows real world application of digital skills.

Internet access itself just wasn’t enough for everybody to join bikeshare

As reported by Anderson on Better Bike Share Partnership, Indego’s marketing team “knew by the end of the last season that the cash pass by itself wasn’t sufficient” to reach its full potential audience. Indego knew that many Philadelphians who have the most to gain from bike share access were unable to afford Indego’s prices.

So, over the winter of 2015-2016, they brainstormed ideas about a manageable and appealing discount program. The team knew that most low-income Philadelphians had already proved their income status to the state government. They had state-issued cards. Looking back, the next step seems extraordinarily easy, but it was quite new and innovative at the time of implementation. Indego gives a 67 percent discount on bike sharing memberships for anyone whose income is low enough to qualify for food assistance. So far, 687 Philadelphians have taken up the offer. Called Indego30 Access, it is the fastest-growing bike share discount program in the country. People who signed up for the Indego system this way now account for 10 percent of the system’s monthly membership rolls.

Biking beyond Philadelphia

There are so many good reasons to commute on a bike. In times of fluctuating gas prices, cycling clearly wins out: the daily cost amounts to little more than pedal power, with an equipment occasional tune-up thrown in. Lepore at Levo suggests that cycling boosts energy. You can skip the gym. And it is part of a larger picture to save the earth by limiting fossil fuels.

Looking back to his college years in Chapel Hill, NC, CleanTechnica’s director, Shahan loved being part of bike culture. Exploring small, tree-lined streets. Experiencing the seasons as they change. He even found a solid ranking system for the most bikeable cities in the U.S.

If you’re inspired by the idea of becoming a cycling commuter, National Bike to Work Week 2017 will be held on May 15-19, 2017. Bike to Work Day is May 19. Pedal on!

Photo credit: d26b73 via Foter.com / CC BY

 

 

Let’s Analyze Super Bowl Commercials!

In 2015, You Tube Super Bowl ads accumulated 133 million views, and many of these views came well in advance of the actual Super Bowl broadcast, offering advertisers a rich (pun intended) opportunity to attract online audiences. The Super Bowl is the largest advertising event of the year, with costs to air a 30 second ad in excess of $3 million. Clearly, planning, design, and execution of Super Bowl commercials requires meticulous persuasive rhetoric.

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

As Super Bowl audiences, we enjoy the commercials; they’ve become part of the bigger picture of the Super Bowl as a mega-media event alongside the halftime entertainment spectacle and the actual football competition.  But the Super Bowl commercials also present us with an opportunity to unpack the methods by which we are made to feel a particular way about a product or service.  And, when we step back from the content of a text like Super Bowl commercials, we become reflective. Reflexivity is a developable capacity—the ability to self-reflect is not separate from the process of coming to know and understand. When we recognize the persuasion infused within text structures like Super Bowl commercials, we become better readers of other texts and our world.

So, what language and visual analyses can we apply to Super Bowl commercials?  How can we move from deciding what the Super Bowl commercial topics are to how their composers are crafting their arguments?

Persuasion, Messages, and Assumptions 

Source: Emergent Media

Source: Emergent Media

It helps to understand what “persuasion” is in order to get started with Super Bowl commercial analysis.  Persuasion is communication intended to induce belief or action. If they’re successful, text composers will capture and hold their audiences, and those audiences will be persuaded to think, to know their worlds, and to behave in particular ways based on persuasive appeal.  The messages that are embedded within texts like Super Bowl commercials are part of an information exchange that contains a definite world view. Composers disseminate messages in ways that attempt to persuade their audiences to see the world in particular ways.

Those particular ways of seeing the world are sometimes called “assumptions.”  Assumptions are ideas that are accepted to be true without having much accompanying evidence.  Amateur and professional sports are constantly-evolving spaces, and Super Bowl commercials describe these sports spaces and the larger society in which we live through embedded assumptions.

A Four-Part Process to Analyze Super Bowl Commercials

So much happens during a Super Bowl commercial! A full story is told within 15 or 30 seconds. As the audience, we respond not only to fictionalized characters and conflicts but stylized images made possible through sophisticated digital editing  techniques. Together, a series of elements create effects that cause us to respond in particular ways.  Breaking these elements into parts and synthesizing them afterward can help us to show evidence of measured thought and to digest multiple possible interpretations of Super Bowl commercials as persuasive media texts. 

Content and Context 

Source: Super Bowl Commercials 2016

  • Start by listing objects within the commercial and offering detailed descriptions of these objects.
  • What do people say to each other in this commercial?  How do individuals respond to and build upon others’ language choices? Note the most important conversational exchanges.
  • Consider the structural mechanisms that are used to draw the viewer into the text. For example, how are lighting, sound, music, voice overs, special effects, editing, color symbolism, and/ or casting used to foster audience interest?
  • Is there any specific implied prior knowledge that would be important for a viewer to hold in order to understand the commercial?  If so, name it.
  • Describe the setting: time and place.  Why did the composer choose these instead of other possible times and places?

Symbols 

Source: PBS

Source: PBS

  • Return to the list and descriptions of objects you created.  Now isolate certain objects that seem to stand out as unusual, important, or curious.
  • Explain what these isolated objects often represent in society.  This type of representation is sometimes called “allusion.”  Allusions use one object to remind us of a deep series of meanings through calling to mind popular culture, history, politics, literature, religion, or art.
  • Make a hypothesis for each isolated object:  what might the composer of this commercial be trying to tell us about our own lives through this allusion?

Composer and Target Audience 

Source: Driving Sales.com

  • Research who commissioned the text.   Since Super Bowl commercials are so expensive, it’s likely that a corporation paid to have the commercial produced.  What do we know about the corporation and its holdings?
  • Who actually designed and produced the commercial?  What is that company’s or individual’s reputation and experience within the world of advertising? For what other advertisements is the designer/ producer known?
  • Who is the target audience for this commercial?  How do you know?  What features of the commercial appeal to a particular age and demographic group?  
  • What are the possible economic consequences of this commercial’s success? How might it lead to new audiences adopting the corporation’s product or service?

Messages 

Source: Subliminal Messages for Alienation Paulo Zerbato

Source: Subliminal Messages for Alienation Paulo Zerbato

  • What themes or lessons is this commercial telling us about our world and ways that we should behave?
  • What evidence or reasons does the text composer supply to support the theme or lesson? How good are these reasons or evidence? Why do you trust or distrust the reasons and evidence?
  • How might different people interpret these themes or lessons differently?  What are the possible consequences of such themes or lessons for different audiences?

Critical Thought through Analyzing Commercials

Breaking apart Super Bowl commercials like this takes methodical thought and effort. However, such textual analysis through both visual and language deconstruction moves us from being passive recipients of messages to active interpreters of media and society.  Sound bites have less power when we can demonstrate why media messages reproduce certain cultural norms in our society.  

Because we both consume and produce media texts, we can integrate the critical analysis techniques we learn through Super Bowl commercial analysis into our lived media experiences. Super Bowl commercial analysis opens us up to how advertising is played out between corporations and changing objectives of economic and cultural fields. The interplay between corporations and the media can become a bit more apparent when we recognize media’s changing forms and content and its impact on lifestyles, social norms, and belief systems that most people consider “normal.”

When we investigate the pleasure we derive from media consumption and learn how to question it, we achieve a duality of purpose that helps us to weigh the costs and benefits of media messages. Through our social media interactions, we can use media analysis to shift to our own greater community involvement and understand of media’s contributions to our collective culture. 

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches English Language Arts at a New England public high school and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.

Harvard University: An Opportunity for a Digital Media Literacy Lesson

Massachusetts Hall at Harvard Yard

Massachusetts Hall at Harvard Yard

As a December recess getaway, I spent a long weekend in a Harvard University neighborhood. I walked beside Victorian townhouses and through the campus maze. The raw and misty weather didn’t stop crowds on historical tours of the Yard, as dozens gathered around buildings like Massachusetts Hall and listened to the narratives of years gone by.  But the tour that I envisioned in my head was not historic but, rather, based on critical digital media literacy.  In no particular order, here’s what my Harvard University digital media literacy tour might look like.

Matthews Hall at Harvard Yard

Matthews Hall at Harvard Yard

Buildings in Harvard Yard have ornate cornices, austere lines, or even modern facades. I kept asking myself, What social and cultural forces have influenced changes in architecture since 1636, when Harvard was founded? How did the introduction of new materials and mass production change the way that buildings have been designed?  What effect will natural resource depletion have on architecture in the next two decades? What do we, as consumers, need to know about the sources of the materials we buy for our own home projects? How will a greater understanding of our own consumption contribute to a more sustainable planet?

Roses in bloom outside the Harvard University Museum

Roses in bloom outside the Harvard University Museum

As a self-trained gardener, I’m always studying the ways that plants adapt to our four season New England climate.  I wondered, In what ways is it ironic that roses were blooming in December on the Harvard University campus? To what extent has New England climate change affected botanical cycles of dormancy and bloom?  What research studies are underway at Harvard University to help scientists and citizens to understand and confront the quickly changing climate? I recognized that the effects of climate fluctuations and consequences can be a first step to adapting our own interactions with the natural world.

Thayer Hall accessibility sign at Harvard University

Thayer Hall accessibility sign at Harvard University

At one time in my life, I was a community access monitor, so I noticed universal accessibility signs as I walked on the Harvard campus.  What is it like to be a person who uses a wheelchair at Harvard University?  What types of architectural adaptations have been made to Harvard’s historic buildings so that persons with disabilities are given freedom of access?  What barriers remain to persons in our U.S. society who seek higher education and associated residential housing? Moreover, how can we all, in our local communities, ensure that all citizens with disabilities have access to as many public and private structures as possible so they can richly participate in community culture?

Plaque commemorating education of indigenous peoples at Harvard University

Plaque commemorating education of indigenous peoples at Harvard University

Several years ago, my local book group read Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing and even heard the author speak at the Read across Rhode Island May breakfast.  So, of course, as I meandered through Harvard Year, I was delighted to come across a plaque commemorating John Sassamon, who became the first known Native American to study at Harvard. Today, the purpose of Harvard University’s Native American Program is to advance the well-being of indigenous peoples. I wondered, What barriers do Native American and Alaskan Native students face in higher education? How are these barriers to student success being addressed theoretically and practically  at Harvard and at other renowned sites of higher level education in the United States?

Of course, questions about cultural literacy aren’t new to Harvard University.  In 1993, Harvard hosted a Media Literacy Teaching Institute that drew nearly a hundred interested instructors, scholars, and journalists.  It is also telling, however, that funding cuts later discontinued the Institute.  The host, Dr. Renee Hobbs, continues inquiry into education that prompts today’s students to think critically about what they see, read, and watch at the Media Education Lab. Perhaps Harvard’s current work at Youth and Media Lab at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society  will continue the power and promise of cyberspace research through a study of its own Harvard Yard, which is a site that offers myriad possibilities for critical connections through digital and media inquiry.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches English Language Arts at a New England public high school and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.

Ways that Digital Tools Can Help Students to Read Their Worlds

Sometimes called “affordances,” the digital world offers advantages to students.  Teachers’ repertoires today likely include Twitter, Glogster, Kahoot, Prezi, a comic creator, Ted Talks, LiveBinders, podcasts, Animoto, Quizlet, a class wiki, white board illustrating, screencasting, and blog posting. These and other platforms infuse ways for students to become better readers of their worlds through nuanced textual interactions, inquiry, analytical thinking, and composing.

Textual Interactions 

Source: Wikipedia

Online tools transform students into text detectives who have fun while hunting for clues.  Start with quickly paced e-learning modules that point to key evidence; primary sources offer a wealth of possibilities. A Civil War era journal entry, sheet music from the Roaring 20’s, an eggless-butterless-milkless World War II cake recipe, or civil rights protest photo can spur conversations and engagement— and each can be accessed digitally.  Alternatively, daily digital newspapers and blogs allow students to explore local and global perspectives, and e-readers and audiobooks bring professional narration to  combined reading/ listening experiences.  It’s fascinating how digital book chats, Amazon student book reviews, or one book/ one school programs can foster a school community through common literary experiences.

Student Inquiry 

Source: Greg McVerry

E-learning centers immerse students in appropriately challenging investigations.  Online design tasks might include image-based visualizations that spur language acquisition.  Vocabulary games, multi-level/ tiered questioning, close reading wikis, or online discussion boards introduce new concepts.  Moreover, social justice simulations can unveil lives that have been affected by race, class, language, gender, or religious difference.  Further, a curation tool like Storify can help students to develop critical perspectives and to become more curious about others who don’t fit their own community’s definition of “Normal.”

Analytical Thinking 

Source: NASA

Do science/ English collaborations seem a bit avant-garde? Scientific texts can fulfill various English and literature standards through readings available at National Geographic, NOAA, NSF, NASA,  Sierra Club, and Nature Conservancy websites. Follow up with a computer lab gallery walk, cartoon slideshow, Ted Talk about study skills, sports podcast to spur argumentation, or celebrity media evaluation.  Add in online guided questions, dictionaries, and translation tools to help struggling readers. Visual texts are important in our symbol-based society, so digital classic works of art, stylized comics, minimalist advertisements, and short films can be “read” as balanced, integrated elements.

Composing  

Source: The Abundant Artist

Infuse background and context into writing-to-learn activities then let students blog!  Because blogging is a reflection of identity, student bloggers gain insights into the human side of composing; they discern the complex interplay of words and ideas for an audience, making sense through print, sound, images, and videos.  Digital photography can also bring personalization and purpose to the writing process.  And don’t forget how fan fiction creates an outlet for imaginative mediation of the demands of audience and genre.

Ultimately, it is the richness of the digital world that resonates with students, for, as W. Somerset Maugham said, “The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.”

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.

Get to the Point: Using Digital Sources to Learn to Write Succinctly

Why is it so important to write clearly and concisely?  When you choose your words deliberately, manage each paragraph strategically, and orient your writing to a particular purpose, you make the greatest impact.  Let’s look at many different digital sources to help us understand why concise writing is best way to meet goals as a writer.

  • You can tell a whole story with very few words when you use compressed language.  A paragraph of compressed language may, actually, accomplish more than an entire 5-paragraph narrative. Check out these 10 Techniques for More Precise Language to help you develop strategies for writing with compressed language.

    Image credit: Ragan Public Relations

  • Succinct prose is like poetry: every phrase carried with it a visual image.  These images connect your reader to your ideas and experiences. Here is an article from a self-published author with suggestions how to adapt the conventions of poetry to prose.
  • When you write succinctly, you can accomplish several purposes instead of just one purpose.  Honestly, when we write for only one purpose, we often end us using lots of filler words and terms. Here is an overview of the four writing modes to give you an idea of how you can accomplish a lot with multiple purposes in mind.
  • Since many readers have short attention spans, you keep your readers’ attentions with compressed language.  Otherwise, your readers probably won’t finish reading your narrative.

    Image credit: reDESIGN

  • Your reader comes to understand your main point in a limited amount of time. That’s important when you want to capture and hold the reader’s attention.  Here are Five Features of Effective Writing to help you reach your reader.
  • In the age of soundbites, your audience expects succinct messaging. Read Keeping the Purple Out of Your Prose for ideas.
  • You say the most with the least amount of words. Here are 15 Ways to Write Tight to help you get to the point quickly and well.
  • You are able to make multiple points when you write succinctly; thus, you support your argument well. If you’d like to investigate ways to use evidence to support your main idea, read The Language of an Argument for many examples.
  • Compressed language is efficient, descriptive, and sophisticated.  Writers who compose with compressed language demonstrate expertise about a topic. How to Write a Sophisticated, Dynamic Scholarly Article has lots of very sophisticated suggestions!
  • Image credit: Xlibris Publishing

    Compressed language is a signifier of authenticity.  When your language is compressed, you are able to persuade others through a series of embedded meanings and messages. This blog post from the Huffington Post offers writers lots of methods to infuse your own original voice into your writing.

Yes, concise writing takes time for revision. But the power of your final product will be worth it.

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s 2015 Grand Prize Award for Technology and Reading.  She teaches high school English and is an adjunct faculty member at Rhode Island College. If you’d like information for your school or non-profit organization about workshops in digital and media literacy and learning, contact Carolyn at c4tuna31@gmail.com.