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Dave Boardman
Oct 25 2010

Resources in this collection

5 Resources in this collection
The fourth grade students of Philadelphia teacher Robert Rivera-Amezola produced podcasts about water pollution and conservation as a service learning project, sharing the resulting work with their community through a portal on a school district website. In a thoughtful reflection, Rivera-Amezola describes the process, giving a vision of how participatory work can happen with students and what it means for them to contribute to their community. The interdisciplinary work of Rivera-Amezola's students took the traditional learning of the classroom and transformed it into part of the solution of a local problem.
Participation might mean having a voice online, or in a neighborhood. Texas teacher Katie McKay describes how her highly diverse fourth grade students represented their exploration and understanding of discrimination through the creation of their own writing, comics, and films that they shared with other students both in their school and in their community at a local bookstore known for hosting speakers with strong political voice. McKay describes the students' work in a digital medium as having a voice and power that could not have been established through other means. After a showing to fellow students, the impact was obvious, she wrote: "...we felt that we had appealed to the masses. We believed that each student in our audience was walking home with a better idea of the power our words, actions, and gestures have to divide or to unite."
Participating in society means having voice and the ability and means to use it, and when schools offer an opportunity to help students find an audience for that voice, they enable an opportunity for genuine participatory democracy to take place. Over the years, I've been able to help a number of students find experiences to use their voice. I've come to firmly believe that the act of writing digitally holds the potential not only to showcase work beyond the classroom, but also to use work from outside the classroom to create writing. In a multi-page resource, I share both some of the work that has informed my thinking, as well as examples from my students that illustrate what I've come to see as moments when voice became reality.
Laura Beth Fay introduces readers to Henry Jenkins' Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century with an emphasis on the role of schools in making the distinction between the consumption of media in popular culture and its creation. She connects readers to the concept through her analysis of the research and a link to a video conversation with Jenkins.
Linda Biondi breaks down the fiction from reality with her look at The Civic Potential of Video Games, the 2008 MacArthur-funded study by Joseph Kahne, Ellen Middaugh, and Chris Evans that examines the way modern games provide opportunities for genuine interaction that mirrors roles participants play in modern society. The opportunities for games to provide a civic training ground lie not just with the obvious, such as SimCity, but beyond to include a variety that touch on democracy, human rights issues, and others. Framing her own work through her perspective as a middle school educator, Biondi says that educators can capitalize on the attractiveness of gaming to help students increase their civic participation and education about issues facing society today.

Participatory Media


In Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Jenkins, et al. (2007) characterize today's society as one based on participation, using the term "participatory culture" to describe how we are no longer pure consumers of media, but producers, sharers, and collaborators. This collection looks at the works of digital writing in that light.

It's a relatively new idea that our global society is one in which true participants are those who add to the body of knowledge—the ongoing conversation that permeates the world through email, Wikipedia, Tweets, YouTube, the Encyclopedia of Life, and a vast array of social networks in which new meanings and ideas emerge from the contributions of participants. Those contributions build the framework upon which today's society rests, and Jenkins and his fellow researchers argue the real digital divide exists not between those who have access to technology and those who do not, but between those allowed access to the conversation and those prevented from taking part and from truly contributing.

Technology has changed education dramatically in the last decade, and, until recently, the thought that schools would actually allow students to take part in such uncontrollable venues as YouTube and Wikipedia was unimaginable. Even weblogs, a relatively tame, user-managed format for digital writing, until recently were commonly seen in many school districts as an unacceptable venue that might endanger children. Today, blogging, participating in social networks, and contributing work for online viewing are, in some places, an expectation. A student presence online is an accepted phenomenon—an assumption of society, education, and democracy today.

This collection gathers a mix of resources that tie together the "participatory culture" concept with the digital writing taking place in our nation's schools. Two fourth grade teachers, Robert Rivera-Amezola of Philadelphia and Katie McKay of Texas, offer a lens through which to view work of their students—that of creation of digital work for social change. I also offer experiences from my classroom at a Maine high school, sharing examples of student writing and multimedia produced in an environment where voice is seen as a critical and highly valued component of writing, and where that voice resonates best in a space where genuine audience is accessible.

Finally, middle school educator Linda Biondi shares her look at video games as a means of engaging civic learners, giving them an opportunity to prepare for full participation in society through digital simulation. As gamers, both of them are in training for a day when they will be full participants in society, but as well, as gamers they are already actively engaged in making current connections between their learning on screen and in the very real society around them. Biondi's analysis of the 2008 study, The Civic Potential of Video Games, helps us reconsider the role of games as a vital educational tool, and as a sign that perhaps the gamer is a more tuned-in participant in society that many of us might have assumed.

Society has always had room for non-participants, and that borderline between the fully engaged and disengaged remains no matter how deep the level of technology in education. This collection shows that writing digitally provides an avenue for making that border between observation and participation a highly permeable one, creating opportunity for genuine participation in guiding the conversation and direction of society.

Collection image by Michael Dornbierer. Obtained under a Creative Commons license from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ausnahmezustand/4752989186/

Creative Commons Licence


<p>If this article is persuading educators to think of participatory culture as feasible pedagogy, the question about of how to implicate this pedagogy into low income communities is critical. &nbsp;</p>