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Using Digital and Media Literacies to Expand Global Perspectives

By Stephanie Branson and Megan Jones
 | Feb 23, 2018

ThinkstockPhotos-179016018_x300Our experiences as educators in study abroad programs have led us to recognize and appreciate the vast and beautiful array of different cultural traditions, experiences, languages, and perspectives. Likewise, the shifting sociopolitical climate playing out across international news outlets and social media has prompted us to look beyond our own perspectives and beliefs and contemplate the importance of developing global thinking and dispositions in our students. We wondered, what does it mean to be globally competent and how do we develop those competencies in ourselves and our students? As technology advocates, we considered how we might harness digital tools and develop media literacy skills to help students understand, investigate, and connect with the world beyond their classroom.

For years, scholars, education advocates, and the National Education Association have stated the importance of fostering global citizens who understand the world around them and are prepared to engage responsibly in problems of international significance. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), “global competence is critical for innovation” and students need to develop the “sensibilities” for advancing solutions that will impact later generations. One way this can be accomplished is through intentional teaching practices with digital and media literacies. Improvements in digital innovations, combined with increased access to connected devices and tools have improved the possibility of engaging with people and places beyond our immediate borders. As stated in a recent Literacy Daily blog post, educators need to “rethink their teaching approaches” and that includes considering and promoting new ways of connecting, collaborating, thinking, and creating beyond the classroom.   

Since technology can be a powerful tool for cultivating global perspectives, we offer a few ideas about how we imagine teachers “rethinking” their classroom practices, according the Global-Ready Teacher Competency Indicators. Although we have investigated other frameworks, we found the teacher expertise framework for developing 21st century skills (P21) to be a useful tool for thinking about the teacher’s role and responsibility for creating environments and utilizing classroom practices that develop global awareness and cultural understanding.

Using innovative communicative technologies to ensure global collaborations with other classrooms

Communication technologies are rapidly evolving and a number of digital platforms are geared toward connecting students globally and encouraging them to collaborate in new ways. A current tool available for free to classroom teachers is Flipgrid. This resource allows teachers to instantly connect asynchronously with classrooms around the world to understand, investigate, and discuss global issues. For example, Global Classrooms used the Flipgrid Connections platform to facilitate cross-cultural conversations on Global Collaboration Day 2017. Topics ranged from “What do you see when you first walk out of your house?” to “How can you make a difference in your community?.” These conversations are still growing as children continue to amplify their voice and investigate the world.

Other video platforms, such as Skype, also accomplish this goal. Skype offers a plethora of virtual field trips and guest speakers that open opportunities for students to explore the far reaches of the world and ask experts questions about global issues. As an example, classrooms can schedule to virtually meet with Katie Petrole, a Steinmetz Family Foundation Museum Fellow in Ancient Corinth, Greece to learn more about ancient Greek civilization and artifacts. Aside from video platforms, teachers can also connect their students through virtual global pen pals with ePals. ePals takes the work out of finding ways to connect and collaborate with international classrooms and provides a private workspace for students to use once they are connected.

Engage in critical and complex discussions about cultural representations in print and digital media

Part of encouraging global awareness and cultural understanding is through the development of critical media literacy skills. This can occur when teachers invite “learners to engage in critical and complex discussions about cultural representations in print and digital media.” Examples include website evaluation for imagery and symbolism as well as literature analysis. Assistant principal Adam Schoenbart created a lesson plan in which his students consider not only the graphic novel Maus, but also concepts of visual storytelling as they create digital products to analyze the multimodal text.

For younger students, Meg Jones envisioned a lesson in which students critically analyze The Lorax by Dr. Seuss and expand their understanding of global environmental impacts through a range of digital texts and media. In order to access student thinking and create a space for continued dialogue, we recommend screen annotation tools. Screencastify is a free Google Chrome add-on that enables students to record their screen, annotate over multimedia, and narrate analysis of media content. Teachers can listen to and better understand student thinking in processes of analysis and evaluation.

These ideas not only support the two indicators listed, but also cover a broad scope of global competencies and teacher indicators on the P21 document. Although brief, the examples underscore the need for teachers to seek professional growth opportunities in order to understand how to best integrate digital tools and media in order to support and foster global competencies in the classroom.

Stephanie Branson HeadshotStephanie Branson is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida, pursuing literacy studies and elementary education with a special focus on digital literacies and teacher development. She is an avid traveler and literacy coach for the Cambridge Schools Experience. Connect with her on Twitter @blusksyb.

Megan Jones HeadshotMegan Jones is a technology integration coach in Citrus County, Florida, supporting in-service teachers with digital literacies and classroom technology integration. She is a doctoral student in Literacy Studies at the University of South Florida and is also currently enrolled in the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate Certificate in Digital Literacy. Meg is also a literacy and technology coach for the Cambridge Schools Experience. Follow Meg on Twitter @MrsMJ1218.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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