Monday, November 7, 2011

The Individual vs. Community: A Good Change?

“Our goal for this report is to encourage reflection and public discussion on how we might incorporate these core principles systematically across curricula and across the divide between in-school and out-of-school activities.” –Jenkins, 57

            Jenkins’ “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” offered great insight into “participatory culture”. I found myself really engaging in the text and connecting a lot of the examples to my personal life. I think the authors did a great job really explaining the purpose of their article, what each term was, and how they could be translated into the classroom for teachers or future teachers.
            This article poses the idea of a participatory culture, which is defined as a “culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing ideas one’s creation and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (3). Basically, it’s a “community” with limited rules or instructions on creative expression and engagement because there is a strong support of making and sharing ideas. The people in this community feel safe and they believe that their contribution matters. They feel connected to one another forming a close bond allowing them to learn and grow. They talk about four different participatory cultures: affiliations like Facebook or message boards, expressions like fan fiction writing, collaborative Problem-solving like Wikipedia, and circulations like blogging. These are all ways that participatory culture can exist. Can they co-exist in the classroom?
            As with everything else, there are downsides or concerns with this idea. The participation gap meaning there is unequal access of the Internet for all students, which is probably a big issue for most teachers, the transparency problem, which challenges the youth to see clearly how media shapes our perceptions, and the ethics challenge, which traditional forms of professional training that prepare youth for roles in media the media or public. I’m not sure how teachers would deal with these issues. Is there any way to get around them?
            Everyone today worries so much about the dangers of using technology in the classroom and how it will make students reliant and dependent—that they might not know how to read and write “correctly” anymore. Jenkins writes, “It matters what tools are available to a culture, but it matters more what that culture chooses to do with these tools” (8). I think this is key in integrating technology into the classroom—choosing how and when to use the tools that will help engage students in the learning. This worry about endangering traditional forms of reading and writing is highlighted when Jenkins says, “Much writing about twenty-first century literacies seems to assume that communicating through visual, digital, or audiovisual media will displace reading and writing. We fundamentally disagree. Before students can engage with the new participatory culture, they must be able to read and write” (19). Students won’t forget or abandon reading and writing, they will be using them in a new way—a way that they are accustomed to and a way that will help them to really connect with the text. I agree with Jenkins that traditional forms of reading and writing won’t be pushed aside; they will be expanded on and used in different context for our fast-changing world. Students should learn to work around all the modes of media since it plays a major role in our society even the world today.
            Why are educators afraid of new technologies? They are after all the remediation of older concepts even classic authors like Homer used and adapted ideas from Greek mythology to construct The Iliad and The Odyssey. How can students in this day and age stay engaged in a text that they think they can’t relate to? One of Sara Kajder’s students said, “I don’t get the words, and they don’t matter to anything I care about” (48). How do we make them care about the text? Is this even possible? Jenkins offers a valid point about engagement. The article talked about how in order for students to be engaged, they have to participate in play because fun leads to engagement. They state, “Play, as psychologists and anthropologists have long recognized, is key in shaping children’s relationship to their bodies, tools, communities, surroundings, and knowledge. Most of children’s earliest learning comes through playing with the materials at hand. Through play, children try on roles, experiment with culturally central processes, manipulate core resources, and explore their immediate environments. As they grow older, play can motivate other forms of learning” (22).
Obviously I’m not saying that school should be fun and games, but how can we make it fun for students to engage them so they can think critically about texts that “don’t matter to anything they care about”? I find this interesting because anything that has really stuck with me over the years has been something that I had fun doing or engaged in finishing. I did a reenactment of a battle in World War II and I still remember the facts from the video. I wrote a paper on the physical and psychological effects of drunk driving because my friend nearly died in a drunk driving accident—I actually liked researching for that paper because I was interested and engaged in learning more. What kinds of “games” can English teachers adapt? Kajder gives one example of having students create board games to walk readers through the plot or a theme. I think other creative assignments other than games could work well too. Kajder used storybooks, the redesigning of book covers, or collages with images or text. Games and performances allow students to identify with characters and immerse themselves in the story like with blogging or character journals.
Although I like the idea of shifting the focus of literacy from individual expression to community involvement, I am wary of making this a permanent decision. I do believe we accomplish tasks and acquire new ideas or knowledge with the help of other people or the remediation of past ideas. Jenkins talks about the collective intelligence and how it gives people the ability to come together to compare and share to reach a goal. This reminds me of another aspect of Jenkins’ article when he talks about how we are taught to think of knowledge as a product when in collective intelligence, knowledge is about process. This brought me back to last week’s class discussion about group work and grades. Group work doesn’t work because of the “importance” placed on grades, so would it work better in collective intelligence because process counts over product? Don’t we learn through process? The steps we take in reaching a goal, finishing a product, researching, and of course making mistakes teach us, guide us, and direct us. It’s a learning process in itself. So shouldn’t the process of getting somewhere count over the finished product since our learning stems from the steps that got us there?
Lastly, this article really tied into the other articles we read for this week through webquests. Jenkins discusses how this online resource connects to participatory culture through networking. It exposes students to several opinions on the topic they’re researching and trains them to produce their own perceptions in a guided way.

Some questions to consider:

What do you think about participatory culture? Could it work in our education system, why or why not?
How would educators deal with the three major concerns that participatory culture has? Are there ways to get around them?
Have any of “you” teachers used webquests in the classroom? How effective are they? What are the drawbacks?
What are your thoughts about product vs. process?


  1. Nicole, you highlight this week’s readings in a very meaningful way. In particular, I like the relationship you draw between Homer’s remediation of classic mythology to today’s remediation of text. It’s interesting to think that we’re following the same path as the ancient Greeks. I wonder if that analogy could be followed further. Now for my regularly scheduled skepticism:

    The idea of participatory culture seems irrelevant when discussed in a vacuum. I fault Kajder and Jenkins for this. They don’t seem to realize how drastic public policy and legislation have reshaped the classroom environment over the past ten years. I’m not simply talking about MCAS either. A few years ago I read a book called Bowling Alone that examined the downfall of American civic engagement. Bygone forms of real world ‘collaboration’ such as bowling leagues, religious societies, and trade organizations (union and non-) have suffered tremendously in the wake of the Baby Boomers. Not unlike their online counterparts, these groups affected change in many capacities (five day work week, spiritual well-being, neighborhood watches, etc.) that exceed the scope of this response. So why should students engage collaboratively in learning when current trends seem to promote the idea of the individual? Perhaps Kajder hasn’t thought that the outside has ALWAYS been in. Students don’t live in vacuums any more than their teachers. What DOES exist in a cold, wet, dark, and moldy vacuum is the litany of falsehoods coming from the government about education. These mandates prevent teachers from becoming the most professionally unionized workforce in the country.

    It’s impossible to teach students to utilize the wonderful tools and techniques we’re discussing without realizing that their time is booked from stem to stern with the fallout of politics. Since the recession, schools have been strapped for cash. How do they solve this problem? They find grants. Any fourth-grader could tell you that money is not free. These grants have many strings attached that demand teachers to teach certain things at certain times throughout the year. How does this fit into our conversation about collaboration and remediating literacies? It dictates that teachers teach a certain way so that they forget about the real solution and focus on an arbitrary goal: like MCAS, AP exams, or SAT tests. In other words, it codifies a pyramid of social engineering that teachers are no longer allowed to control. In the past, these things were dealt with locally, controllably, and with intelligent consideration to literacy trends. I can recall many old-timers talking about the linguistics push in the 70’s that resembles many aspects of today’s literacy conversation. The only difference today is that teachers have far less control of what goes on in their own classrooms. The short answer is this: a participatory model can certainly work in any classroom. Actually, that’s how all education should be. However, this doesn’t groom students to become the compliant individuals that voters and politicians like to imagine. The trend of participation needs to be lead from the front by parents and teachers.

  2. Nicole, great questions!

    I would like to address the question of participatory culture, and whether or not these “affiliations” can “co-exist in the classroom” (Weaver). I think participatory culture, not only can exist in the classroom, but must exist. Collaboration and networking are skills that are required to do well in today’s society. If teachers fail to take advantage of new technologies, and provide students with the language and skills needed to navigate these systems then these students will be at a greater disadvantage than their peers who are versed in these types of learning environments. There are of course problems that come along with incorporating new technologies and media into the classroom. For one, the participation gap is a very real problem and one that I do not think there is an easy answer to. However, Jenkins does suggest that “[r]ather than dealing with each technology in isolation, we would do better to take an ecological approach, thinking about the interrelationship among all of these different communication technologies, the cultural communities that grow up around them, and the activities they support “ (8). The main thing that teachers can do to try to make sure all of their students can actively participate is to gauge each classroom individually. By creating assignments that can be completed with the use of several technologies, teachers will be able to at least limit the students that are not able to fully participate. The idea of students collaborating and each student working on a particular aspect of a project could also help to alleviate some of the gaps—students could choose projects based on the technology he or she has access to.

  3. Part 2:

    Nicole, you also raised the question of how do we get students to care about the text, and I really liked your examples of your own engagement with assignments that had a particular meaning for you. Jenkins raises the idea that:

    Schools […] often seek to develop generalists rather than allowing students to assume different roles based on their emerging expertise. The ideal of the Renaissance man was someone who knew everything or at least knew a great deal about a range of different topics. The ideal of a collective intelligence is a community that knows everything and individuals who know how to tap the community to acquire knowledge on a just-in-time basis. Minimally, schools should be teaching students to thrive in both worlds: having a broad background on a range of topics, but also knowing when they should turn to a larger community for relevant expertise. (42)

    Schools must begin to recognize that “collective intelligence,” for better or worse is part of our society, and educators should be working to incorporate the idea of individual expertise in collaboration with a group into the classroom. Of course students should know about a broad range of topics, but if there is someway to engage reluctant learners I am all for it. I think this idea goes hand in hand with getting students to care about the texts they are asked to read. Allowing individual students to engage with texts or aspects of texts, that they find particularly compelling, and then asking each student to become an “expert” in his or her topic and then share his or her expertise with a group is a great way to engage students. Kajder talks about the “literature circles” that her students participate in, and I think that her method of giving her students a choice in what material they are interested in engaging with, and then having the student decide how to explore his or her topic is a way of teaching students to be more autonomous. At the same time ensuring that when the student comes back to the group he or she will want to be prepared because he will be invested in his own learning process. I also think that students learn well from their peers and literature circles allow the students to teach one another, which can often help struggling students because their more advanced peers are often able to present material in ways that are easier for the student to grasp. I guess it is sort of the Montessori model of education, but I think that that works really well. I do not mean to leave out the fact that students can and should know about a broad range of topics, but I think that is already part of the “normal” school curriculum so I was thinking more along the lines of incorporating alternative methods as well.

  4. Part I
    Hi Nicole,
    Great introduction a discussion of “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture.”

    Like you, I was also able to connect much of this study into my own teaching and philosophies of teaching. I found the in depth discussion of each of the Core Media Literacy Skills really got me thinking in a very concrete way of how I might incorporate these literacies into my classroom. I do, on the other hand, have a bit of a problem with the huge separation that this study creates between children and adults. Granted I can take many of the activities suggested for middle- and high-schoolers and adapt it for my class of college freshmen, however the stress on adults lacking these literacies left bad taste in my mouth. Early in the study Jenkins includes a hard-hitting quote from another author from 2003: “While to adults the Internet primarily means the world wide web, for children it means email, chat, games – and here they are already content producers” (Livingstone quoted in Jenkins 7). Sure – maybe “children” are producers in the examples given on page 5, but does this mean that all “adults” see the Internet for is a url www.something address? I would argue that many “children” and even teens and college students are just as lacking due to the gap mentioned in the article as well as a number of other factors, and many adults, at the same time, are as if not more adept as these “children” with media literacies. There are other examples of the idea that adults are lacking in these literacies in a few other places…but I’ll try and just move onto your compelling questions.

    Moving on – sorry…
    I do believe that the four participatory cultures can exist in the classroom, however I feel that the intention has to be set within the goals of the class and this needs to be made incredibly explicit to the students. And in thinking about this, I think the three concerns presented by the authors can also be addressed by somehow illustrating how every step taken within the class brings the students closer to their (or the teacher’s) digital/media literacy goals. Rather than present students with projects on studying and participating in the core competencies, you have to talk about each one to be sure the students understand them and can see them existing in their everyday worlds…then you can move on and create the lessons they’ll invest in. How we do this?…or how I do this?…I’m sure yet, but I can say that through each of the core media literacy skills presented, I brainstormed ideas on how to adapt some of the ideas into my Freshman English I next semester. As you pointed out from Jenkins, the tools available do matter, but the ways in which we use the tools matter more (8). The tools themselves do not determine students’ engagement…it’s teachers’ facilitation of the tools and the goals that engage the students.

  5. Part II
    In thinking about your question about how we engage today’s students in text they think they can’t relate to…I found myself filing in and out of my own values as a teacher. I do help my students to constantly connect with our texts, but sometimes I also help them “connect” by remaining disconnected. I think there is something to be said for being able to criticize a piece of work, or ‘deconstruct’ if you will, in a more compartmental way. Students also say they have a harder time with works they cannot relate to…however in life, they WILL encounter writing (and people, and situations, and workplaces) that are challenging and not so much fun…I explain to my students that this work (the working through the annoying texts) is just as important as the genuine connection. An activity I thought about trying – as inspired by some of Alex Mueller’s discussion on blogging as different characters and the discussion within the “Performance” section of the Jenkins article (28-31) – is to ask my students to ‘re-tell’ the occurrences from a few our readings early in the semester. It would be interesting to see what students wrote from the perspective of, say, the man behind the cash register in Maya Angelou’s “Champion of the World,” but I’d want them to separate themselves from the excitement at first so they could really “see” what might be happening. Perhaps it’s more like fact-finding…which I’d argue is sometimes more of a objective task versus a subjective one. Hopefully that got to the heart of what I’m trying to say…but in answering this…I think sometimes a lesson can be learned even when students don’t care about a text – they do care about their future and jobs and making money… If you can bring in that ‘hook,’ they connect through their initial disconnection.

    I guess this previous paragraph answers how I feel about process. I see all of my teaching as more so ‘teaching through a problem’ in order to help my students learning problem solving skills (this comes from my work as an advisor, I think). My students are not going to remember working through all of our readings this semester, especially the ones they were not fans of (sometimes I forget them, too), but they are going to remember the process I walked them through. They’ll remember because I don’t profess my process onto them, I present differing processes and help them work through several and see what works for them. They discover their own process. This is how, explicitly through our teaching we connect concepts like “because the creative process is valuable on its own…even if most [students] will never write, perform or draw professionally” (7) to “participation as a term that cuts across educational practices, creative processes, community life, and demographic citizenship” (8). It’s not the readings we assign nor the tools we use to teach them…it’s the manner in which we get students to go through the process that will engage them and therefore help them walk out of our classrooms with tangible problem-solving skills as students and as members of their communities.

  6. Nicole, you raise some very interesting questions but I’m most drawn to the one concerning product versus process. As a composition major and advocate of continuous improvement, I find myself drawn to emphasizing the process of one’s learning over the product. Even though I’m happy to grade students work and see that they have all the necessary components for a given product and have followed the guidelines, I am more satisfied in seeing students taking risks and explaining the reasons for their choices, going beyond simply completing the assignment and engaging in an act of self-reflection.
    I think that the readings for this week nicely emphasize the importance of process in students’ work as they discuss the value of projects such as webquests and read-alouds. Kajder discusses the purpose of literature, stating, “Literature is an invitation to experience, to speak, to have dialogue with others, to question, and to see through eyes that aren’t their own” (44). This quote fits perfectly with the process that is involved in reading and learning material. Some students may be naturally good readers and can comprehend what happens after they read, but this does not mean that they take the time to reflect on the reading or consider opposing sides that are brought to them via their peer’s opinions. This type of work is process oriented; reading is an open gateway that allows students to revisit certain issues and revise their opinions based on their experiences and reading of other texts. In reading aloud, students are allowed to engage their “collective intelligence,” as Jenkins calls it, helping one another to decipher certain words and make sense of context clues. Jenkins describes the learning process, stating, “Asking and working through questions of ethical practices may be more valuable than the answers produced because the process will help everyone to recognize and articulate the different assumptions that guide their behaviors” (Jenkins 17). Jenkins shows that discussing how students’ arrive at certain answers or hold opinions is more important than the answers themselves. While the analysis of the step by step procedures and decisions that students make is important, there still needs to be value placed in the answers that students arrive at. These answers are what help us as educators make sure that all students are on target and understand such concepts as what the author’s main message or what the overarching conflict in a work is.

    Nicole, you raise a thought provoking question about value of process over product, asking, “Shouldn’t the process of getting somewhere count over the finished product since our learning stems from the steps that got us there?,” and I agree with you to a certain extent. I think that the hard work and reconsideration that Jenkins and Kajder stress in their pieces is needed and valued, but as educators we do need to measure what our students have achieved by the end of a unit. Our course objectives are aligned to make us state what “students should be able to do by the end of the lesson/unit” and therefore we need to place importance on the product of a given work. Although, I do think it is necessary to have numerous assessments along the way, ranging from informal to formal in which we monitor our students’ discussion or at the more formal level in which we allow for a revision of a given work. Even though the product in the classroom should be valued, students should be allowed for opportunities for revision and work with their peers, allowing them to grapple with the information and understand their strengths and weaknesses.

  7. Great conversation inspired by a great blog post! Like Nicole Sanford, I want to address your question: “Shouldn’t the process of getting somewhere count over the finished product since our learning stems from the steps that got us there?" I believe the answer is yes, but as Jay points out, the current situation in schools does not support such process-oriented and participatory instruction and assessment. As a college instructor, I have the luxury of avoiding difficult questions about assessment, but I remember quite clearly (and I think the situation has intensified since) how difficult it was to get ALL students to meet the state and national standards within a given school year. Given the many stages of development and the varying speeds at which students acquire knowledge, it seemed unfair that ALL students were held to one standard within one fixed amount of time. Therefore, I counted process as much as product when I taught high school English. Ultimately, this meant that I passed students who had not met the standards if they demonstrated engagement in the process and progress toward the standard. However, they still had to demonstrate that they had met the standard sometime after the class ended, which required a bunch of extra work (for the student and for me). I did this because I believed in it and I still do. We learn at different rates (something that has been proven by a boatload of research) and its unconscionable that policymakers ignore this fact and continue to place pressure on educators to ensure that students are meeting standards in a factory-style assembly line.

  8. Jay, I understand your skepticism with this week's readings especially in how drastic public policy and legislation shape the classroom environment. I like your question, why should students engage collaboratively when current trends promote the idea of the individual? I agree with you that legislation plays a major role in the classroom because it is centered on the MCAS and meeting state standards. Students today are so focused on getting "good" grades that they don't actually take the time to absorb or really learn the information because they are just in it to get an A. And, in a sense, I can understand that because of how society promotes the idea of the individual. But I wonder how do we change this notion? How do we make students, teachers, and most importantly, legislation see that this isn't working? How do we make this change? Or, is there a way to change this? I wonder how much more learning students would accomplish if things drastically changed.

    Sam, I like your ideas of students engaging or caring about the text through becoming "experts" or in doing literature circles. I think these are great tools in helping students see that they can relate to a text no matter how old it is. I think giving them choice makes them feel a part of their own learning.

    Lindy, I was struck by your questioning of the article's separation of children and adults. I didn't give this as much thought as you did, so I am glad you brought it up. I guess I was focusing more on middle and high school when I wrote the blog post. Is there a definitive separation? Why do you think this is? My friend's 80 year old grandfather has a facebook, a big screen Mac, and an Iphone. He seems to be adapting to new technologies and understanding that the Internet is more than just a URL.

    Nicole, I am also a Composition track so I definitely agree that I am more partial to process over product. I love how you mention that although a student may be a good reader, they may not take the time to reflect what they are reading. I think that this happens more than people think but it can be overlooked because they are doing the reading, making the finished product. How do we show students to really take their time to become aware of these processes?

    Alex, I agree with you that it is hard to use process over product in the classrooms. It seems to be a recurring issue or skepticism by everyone's comments. Do we have to change the policies and legislation that centers our education system in order for this idea to work effectively in a classroom?

  9. Everything we’ve been talking about recently, bringing the outside in, incorporating technology, ‘tricking’ students into initiating their own learning, getting students to ‘care’ all stems from the idea that it is the teacher’s job to make the student learn or make the student want to learn. I feel this was not always the case. It didn’t always matter if students could relate to The Iliad, they had to read it or copy it down. Wasn’t math taught through repetition of multiplication tables?

    Now we have this idea that students must take responsibility for their own learning. Teachers must engage students so they want to read, want to learn, and want to contribute knowledge to their community groups. Why is it that students are ‘off the hook’? Why are they not held just as responsible for the material as the teachers are for teaching it? When students fail the MCAS it's the teachers who take the heat.

    Nicole, I think we all have that one lesson that sticks with us. For me it was a project with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We were divided into groups and assigned different scenes that we had to translate into modern language. We were given the scene where Helena feels everyone is playing a trick on her. We translated some of her lines to “You think you’re some big daddy, and me some small mamma, but you nothing more than a bag of chips”.

    While this exercise was effective for understanding Shakespeare, not all learning can be like this. Some learning isn’t as ‘fun’, but does that make it less important? You asked, “how do we make them care about the text”? And I think the answer is that they are not always going to. (Unless perhaps you teach in a Montessori school, which honestly some of the components sounded very similar to. But even then I’m sure students ‘get bored’.) Maybe instead the question should be, ‘how do we get students to see value in knowledge and that they need to take responsibility for a portion of their own learning’?

    You talked about shifting the focus from individual expression to community. I think part of the problem is the way our community functions. Much assessment, whether in school or work, is done individually. This is not the case in all cultures. In my education classes we’ve talked about how for some cultures they do have a communal viewpoint, where the class is only successful if everyone knows the answer. This has caused some students to get up in the middle of exams and ‘help’ other students get the correct answer. Here that is considered cheating. So unless you change the system, you are never fully going to change the mindset.

  10. Yo Nicole!, good post. Cheers. Daps. Whatever your salute of choice is, I'm electronically transmitting it via this post.

    You pose some great questions, but one thing that stuck out to me was your question about why educators are afraid of new technologies. It's an interesting question, and I would assume certainly applicable to some. However, I would like to think that most educators of our age/generation aren't afraid of new technology, but rather they struggle with integrating it into the curriculum for several reasons.

    One of the most glaring problems to me with the integration of technology is the Participation Gap. At least to me, it seems that Jenkins downplays the significance of students' inability to access the vital technology for participating in these new forms of media. It isn't a stretch to imagine students who don't have a computer, who can't access online video games, or who may have a computer but it can't run the software needed to construct a digital story.

    Jenkins wants to dismiss the idea that it isn't about access - at least to some extent - but I think it's a very real hurdle. It is, as he says, much like some students who are privy to parents who take them to plays, read to them, give them access to tutors. The economic divide will certainly play into the Participation Gap. (Why am I capitalizing that? I don't know.)

    The second and most glaring challenge at least to me - after a semester of Jay's prudent and insistent skepticism working on me (that isn't sarcasm, I find his practicality to be very valuable) - is how this technology can get jammed into curriculum standards that are already enormous. Bulging. Packed to the gills. Curriculum standards that have to be met so that students can advance, so that a teacher's performance can be validated. All of these things. I think it's obvious that I'm a huge proponent for going digital and for progressing into a more technologically advanced classroom.

    How can I cover all of this media literacy when I'm already stressing out about covering Shakespearean literature for high school seniors? How can I cover this in a more deeply technological manner, given this, and also the distinct possibility that a portion of my class won't be able to access the mediums that I want to use?

    The longer this class goes on, the more complicated everything seems. But perhaps that is good, perhaps it is nice to be stapled to reality. No matter how uncomfortable the seat may be. It's chaffing my butt. Anyways.

    If this sort of revolution/evolution/change/whatever is going to take place, I think that teachers need to place internal pressure for the sort of paradigm shift that Jenkins is calling for. However, I think that ultimately it will only be able to flourish fully if it comes from On High as already pointed out in the responses. The parents, the voters. It needs to be mandated into the curriculum, there needs to be an emphasis placed upon it in the standards and such. I think the reading of Jenkins made most sense when it compared it to the push for multiculturalism. It was a radical pedagogical shift, but it began to fully flourish when it was something the Standards Shapers began to see the value in.

    Is that where we come in? By rattling the tin cans to get their attention? I'm not sure. I'd like to say yes, but I also doubt the sound of one Idealist screaming in the Forest.

  11. I think participatory culture is already working in our education system. We have kids sharing ideas, posting pictures, and informing others about their lives on social media networks. We also have students still taking classes on oral speaking, presentation skills, and typing. Here lies a problem. We want to see students using such advanced technology, when many still need help with the initial required skills. Participatory culture works in our schools: when an idea, a fad, a song, becomes popular, for the time being students know everything about it. The problem is, these ideas fade fast too. Facebook is not new, and pretty soon, it will be old. We can still create communities for our learners to engage and share ideas: but maybe it doesn’t have to be during the school year? We keep realizing that there is not enough time in the day, week or year to do everything we need. But what about the learning loss that takes place over the summer? A participatory culture would foster learning during a time when many are doing nothing.
    I think educators deal with the problems that arise as we do with all problems that arise in our classrooms, we deal with each one and move forward. We look to see if the general population benefited or if the lesson was more of a waste. We see if we can prevent future flaws. We’ve take numerous classes on classroom management, so too we need to learn about “technological issues”. If we are going to use a resource, we must be well versed in it. We also can, as teachers, truly show in our lessons that our subjects are important to us and that we believe in their importance. Students need to feel this. Sometimes I feel like I’m selling a product to students, but if it gets them to read the chapter at night then I feel my job is done.
    I’ve used numerous webquests in the classroom. Mainly, when I introduce a novel, I have students use a webquest to discover information about the author. For example, with my eighth grade students reading Of Mice and Men, they complete a webquest on Steinbeck and the Great Depression. It allows me to give them a guided tour of a huge topic. I can focus their research to exactly what they need, and let their 10th grade teacher take the reigns when they read The Grapes of Wrath. I like the webquest because it gives me control over the immense amounts of information available to students. They can go crazy finding more information if they so desire (and I’d love that), but this gives a limit: which many need. I’ve used another on a novel about yellow fever in Philadelphia in 1793. This was great for, again, historical context. Flaws with this webquest (which is available online, I did not create it) is that some of the sites have changed or moved, and this leads students to get frustrated.
    Product versus process: these need to be two separate entities. In a writing curriculum, students may spend a week brainstorming, outlining, and drafting. If I am going to claim that their time is valuable, I need to emphasize the importance of this process. In doing these steps, students are able to give me a writing assignment, a valuable product. They need to see the relationship between the two.

  12. Nicole,

    Excellent post - very insightful and interesting.

    I think "participatory culture" (minus Facebook and message boards) encompasses great tools to engage students. Encouraging students to write online is always fun because it's different from the traditional way of writing. Not to mention it seems easier to type because students don't write with pen/pencil and paper as often as we did. Fan fiction writing is a fresh, inspiring concept to me because I never thought about the possibility of recreating an ending, or continuing the story. Many authors do that (the best one, in my opinion, is Alexandra Ripley's Scarlett: Sequel to Gone With the Wind). That's the only text I have read that recreates the story of Scarlett and Rhett (the beginning is Margaret Mitchell's continuation). Other authors that publish sequels to texts like Pride and Prejudice used to disgust me. I felt the authors were being pretentious because they were attempting to mimic the writing of great authors (you just can't make your writing resemble Jane Austen because you would have to have her brains and live during her time! It might be possible, but highly improbable). That was my opinion two seconds ago. Now I have a different outlook on the author's authority and the fan's ability to recreate fiction. What an awesome way to harvest creativity in students? I like the idea, especially since the fan fiction gives the students the starting point they might need (we've all experienced the "I can't start this piece of writing" feeling). Doesn't children participate in fan fiction? Of course it's verbal, but they experiment with the ideas and create amazing detail as they go along. My children can make a simple, quiet half hour in the living room sound like the adventure of a lifetime to their jealous cousins. It's really fascinating.

  13. The only problem with teaching these wonderful online tools is that you have to do what Jay and Alex mentions. It's difficult to get that sort of funding that would require working with these tool in a classroom. You have to consider training the teachers, like us, to use these tools, and they're not going to pay for additional classes. Also, you need enough resources to provide every class with accessibility. A school system is community, so you can't play favorites since everyone shares, and is supposed to be treated equally. As Jay mentions, school systems are more interested in the product, not necessarily the most beneficial process. It sucks, but it's reality. If they could get students to be where they need to be minus the advances in technology using writing tools, then they're going to do just that. It's distressing, especially since there are many benefits, as Jenkins points out:

    We suspect that young people who spend more time playing within these new media environments will feel greater
    comfort interacting with one another via electronic channels, will have greater fluidity in navigating information landscapes, will be better able to multitask and make rapid decisions about the quality of information they are receiving, and will be able to collaborate better with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. (10)

    There is so much efficiency in gathering information, interaction, collaboration, etc. in the "affinity spaces" he discusses. I think the use of the word "playing" is so effective because it's the opposite of work. What students don't realize is that online learning/ writing can be more strenuous than regular writing because you're using another medium to write for you in a sense. When you write on paper it's easy to write what you're thinking and how you want to write it. Whenever I'm doing a creative project I spend a lot of time adjusting the font size, changing the font and color, etc. We don't consider those time-consuming factors because doing it is fun, and helps us attempt to recreate the writing we want displayed. I also like the "multi-tasking" aspect of "navigating online" because it helps the student be more productive. Hopefully, that productivity reflects the student's thinking process. Some students are visual learners, some auditory learners, and some kinesthetic learners. Participatory culture might help any type of leaner, especially the kinesthetic, to develop their critical thinking process by using visual aids.

  14. What do you think about participatory culture? Could it work in our education system, why or why not?

    I think participation is great. Not only does it engage students, but it keeps them from falling asleep in the middle of an important lesson. The only thing I would say that is important to remember that you can't *make* students engage. They have to want it. (Insert old adage here about horse, water, drinking, etc.) Making a lesson as engaging as possible is both responsible and smart, but I'm way too cynical to say that that's enough. Some students want to apply themselves and some of them don't. I think that's important to know when you go into teaching; otherwise you will end up torturing yourself because you have an apathetic (or 10) student(s). It's inevitable that some students are going to talk more than others; you should strive for a more balanced participation. Perhaps discussion based, while also response based? It's important to divvy up the methods of participation.

  15. I want to tie in with what Alex said. The problem of shaping your lessons in order to keep students engaged in the subject is, I think, as old as teaching itself (at least teaching that is eager to make students learn and improve). There are key terms like "method variation," which is a useful concept, but only to a certain extent. My own experience as a teacher taught me that especially when dealing with younger students (5th or 6th grade), method variation can really make students work even on "boring" texts. Little incentives can help there too. At that stage, playful teaching is also still very successful (by the way: I don't think including playful parts into class is a bad thing at all. They can help students loosen up and get ready for rather uninteresting tasks). But this concept has its limits, particularly when you have to deal with older students. They often "see through" didactic concepts, so you have to come up with something else.
    I don't think that there is such thing as "perfect" teaching, but we can try to keep up with modern concept and technology in order to keep students interested and focused. In general empathy and sympathy are absolutely necessary features that teachers have to bring to class, so they can deal separately with each and every student, although, in reality, this might be a mere wish.

  16. Nicole, this post ties in our entire semester in this class it seems, well done.

    One quote you chose to work with was particularly affective for me, and I plan to use it in my final project:

    “Much writing about twenty-first century literacies seems to assume that communicating through visual, digital, or audiovisual media will displace reading and writing. We fundamentally disagree. Before students can engage with the new participatory culture, they must be able to read and write.” (Jenkins 19)

    I cannot help but relate what Jenkins argues to Kadjer's student, Dahabo. Dahabo used images to learn to read critically, and enter dialogic engagement with a text. Using images as marginalia and annotation helped her make sense of things, see relationships between the text and what she knew of the world, and took even incorporated these images into her writing.

    And since Kadjer got Berthoffian, I think I will too. This type of work using images in order to form relationships between texts and our world not only helps us absorb new information, it allows us metacognition about what we know. When Dahabo uses an image of a chain link fence to help establish connections seen between to texts, she is undertaking an activity where, as Berthoff would describe it, "meaning is audited as meaning is uncovered." To audit our meaning as we make meaning helps us to "know about our knowing." This is how we get to "true knowledge" in the Freirian sense.

    Why can't images help us to read and to write. To make meaning and convey meaning. Oh wait, we already do: newspapers, books, internet publications, comic books and graphic novels. We do the work, and it feels natural. "Traditional forms of reading and writing" have been pushed aside already. Centuries and centuries ago.

    I wonder what we mean by traditional these days. Runes, cuneiform, cave drawings, scrolls, pamphlets, books? Is it traditional to read from the left to right or right to left or up and down or back to front? Reading is about decoded signs we've attached things in the world through language. I'm not sure if this has really changed much even if the medium has been "remediated."

  17. I have not read all the other comments yet, so I apologize if I am repeating anything someone else has said.

    The thing that stuck out to me in this blog was the idea that in order for students to be engaged with a text, they must have fun. I agree with
    Nicole that the things I remember most from high school English were the "fun" assignments where I was allowed to be a little more creative or express myself in a not so traditional way. In Bringing the Outside In, Kadjer is always doing "fun" things with her students whether it be giving them digital cameras or having them make a board game, she is doing something with them that they don't expect to do at school and having them do something that they enjoy.

    If the idea of working as a community either in groups in class or in an online environment is something that students are interested in out of the classroom than it has potential to be a way to get them engaged with the text they have to work with in the classroom.


MOOCS: A Problematic Solution to the Disinvestment in Public Higher Education

I agree wholeheartedly with Bady’s cynicism of the speed, inevitability, and necessity of the MOOC movement. From 2011-2015 I direct...