The first listed learning objective for this course is to “write and communicate appropriately and effectively in different media.” In order to define and determine what “appropriate” means (rest assured, what is appropriate is different in different online contexts, oh, and lots of folks will disagree on what’s appropriate!), the first unit in this course is media literacy.
The definition for “literate,” according to Merriam-Webster, I find fascinating. It’s not just about ability. It’s about being “cultured,” “polished,” “lucid,” and “educated.” These words have implications for how we think about those who we consider “literate” and those who we consider “illiterate.”
We also have the unique privilege to have this course align with a visit from danah boyd, a scholar of social media. Students in my previous WAM courses were already reading some of the interesting things boyd has to say about Facebook and privacy. I would normally start talking about theory relating to social media at the end of the semester, but this year to coincide with boyd’s visit, we’re going to talk about it at the beginning of the semester. boyd talks about a lot of things in the book, and we’ll have time to talk about all of the book, but for our purposes, “literacy” will set up this course quite nicely. The rest of the book will get us started on the last listed learning objective for this class, to “demonstrate critical thinking about your own use of technology in a world where mobile technologies are increasingly ubiquitous.” You will demonstrate this through class discussion and through your written response due at the end of the unit.
For each day of discussion, I will post discussion questions. I’d like you to come prepared to talk about those questions in class. However, this is your class, and we will have different ideas of what’s important in this book, so I’d also like you to come prepared to ask 2 discussion questions in class. You’re going to turn these questions in, so write them down on a piece of paper.
What makes a good discussion question? What do you think makes a good discussion question?
I think a good discussion question asks the people in the class (your peers and me) to talk about something that we have knowledge about. Now if you only ask me a question, we don’t have anything to discuss, because I’m only one person. So it has to be a question that any of us could talk about. A good discussion question also does what it’s supposed to, generate discussion. It has to be about something you are interested in talking about. Another aspect of a good discussion question is that it be a question inspired by the text, either something boyd said or implied in her book. To summarize, then, a good discussion question will tie something said in the text to the thoughts and experiences of those discussing it.
Topic: Social Media
Mon 9/1 Reading Due: boyd “preface,” “introduction,” and Chapter 1 “identity”
- In the preface, boyd says that this book is written for “the people who worry about [teens]–parents, teachers, policy makers, journalists, sometimes even other teens.” From your reading so far, do you agree with boyd? Does this book seem written/addressed to you? If not, what can you learn by reading a book like this written with a different audience in mind?
- boyd says that teens more often than not are “unaware” of how “the networked publics they inhabit” have made their lives different from the lives of adults, and why adults find “networked publics so peculiar.” In your experience, do you think this is true? Are you aware of the differences, and if so, what do you think about those differences?
- When boyd discusses context collapses where “people are forced to grapple simultaneously with otherwise unrelated social contexts,” she gives the example of people running into a former high school teacher while drinking with friends at the bar. What context collapses have you experienced in your life? Do you agree that context collapses happen more frequently in networked publics?
- One of the learning objectives of this course is for you to make conscious choices about the way you represent your identity online. I think all of us make these choices, but we don’t always make them consciously. In reflecting on your past practice in digital spaces, what digital persona have you created? boyd uses the example of a teen who used Twitter to discuss her obsession for One Direction, and Facebook and texting to talk with her school friends. Do you have separate digital persona in this way? What communication methods and social media sites do you use for these different persona? What happens when these contexts bleed into each other?
Weds 9/3 Reading Due: boyd Chapter 2 “privacy” and Chapter 3 “addiction”
- boyd talks about teens who limit access to meaning on their social media sites by encoding meaning–for example, Carmen encodes her sad emotions over a breakup in song lyrics that appear positive to her mom but are understood as sad by her friends. In what ways do you encode meaning on your social media sites?
- Do you agree or disagree with boyd’s thesis about addiction? Do you think most teenagers are addicted to technology, and do you text in class because you just can’t help yourself? Do you feel you have agency when it comes to technology or do you feel disempowered? Do you side more with Nicolas Carr and the technological determinists who say that technology is rewiring our brains and not in good ways, or do you side more with Pinker and Johnson who say technology sharpens our brains? How do we know/judge what technology is “doing” to our society?
Fri 9/5 Reading Due: boyd Chapter 4 “danger”, Chapter 5 “bullying”, and Chapter 6 “inequality”
- One thing that I am incredibly struck by (even before reading boyd’s book) is that people tend to believe what fears they hear in the media over what is “real” or “true.” For example, people are more afraid of sexual predators on the internet than the ones met through personal connection, even though there are very few encounters on the internet compared to those made through personal connection, e.g., Sandusky and that whole cover up. Why do you think people believe the media over reality? Do you think there’s anything we can do about this?
- boyd paints a negative picture of Sabrina and teens like her who grow up in the suburbs and think it safer to stay inside and be safe than walk around inside. I grew up in a very different different situation, in a city, where I was taking public transportation on my own at 14 years old. How did you grow up? Do you agree with boyd about the “better safe than sorry” attitude?
- boyd says that “The internet may not have the power to reverse long-standing societal ills, but it does have the potential to make them visible in new and perhaps productive ways.” (160) I find this argument very appealing, because I’d very much like to believe in things that we can use to transform the world around us. Have you had any experience with social media making these things visible? What role has social media played? I am thinking about what happened at the end of last year with the Juniatian, and how much of that conversation actually got started on Facebook before it came back to campus in the form of a public forum.
- After reading the chapter on inequality, my main thought was that access does not equal understanding, but access does come with expectations about what teenagers are able to do because of their social media use. However, this has real consequences for teens who can’t live up to those expectations. An example I can think of is expectations of what you can do as college students now because you have more access to data. I’ve heard colleagues say that they don’t understand why students don’t know this or that when they have access to so much data. I think we all, faculty and students alike, have more pressure on us to know a lot more because of our access to technology. What consequences can this have in our lives? How do we get different representations about young people and what they know and what access means out there for the public to believe?
Mon 9/8 Reading Due: boyd Chapter 7 “literacy” and Chapter 8 “searching for a public of their own”
- I have heard the term “digital native” used in academia, but I had not heard a critique like boyd’s about how problematic this term is. Do you agree that this term promotes inequality and the digital divide? Do you feel you are a digital native because your generation has had more access to mobile technologies? Do you feel that you naturally possess a knowledge of technology or that you’ve had to learn to use it?
- How do you define media literacy? Do you feel you are media literate? What practices do you see that characterize those who are media illiterate?
- Do you agree with boyd that we now prohibit teenagers from public life in the same way we used to keep women out of public life? Did you have a public life as a teenager? Has your public life changed now that you are in college?
- Do you see a difference between having a public life and being in public?
Topic: Media Literacy
Weds 9/10 Reading Due: Jenkins “Why Heather Can Write”
- For boyd, media literacy is about “possessing the critical knowledge to engage productively with networked situations, including the ability to control how personal information flows and interpret accessible information.” For Jenkins, media literacy is about being “active participants in these new media landscapes, finding their own voice through their participation.” What are some of the similarities and differences between these constructions of media literacy? Do you agree with these definitions?
- Jenkins argues that the Harry Potter wars and other culture wars are “a struggle over literacy” (170). In general today, we consider alphabetic literacy (reading & writing alphabetic texts) to be a good thing, but when it comes to media literacy, there are media conglomerates and conservative christian groups trying to limit and control it. Why do you think literacy has been so contested? Why is our culture able to embrace alphabetic literacy but still struggling over media literacy?
- How did you learn alphabetic literacy? Have you learned media literacy in the same ways?
- What do you see as the role of participatory culture and social connection (social media perhaps?) in making someone media literate?
Fri 9/12 Assignment Due: Media literacy response
Guest Speaker: Jennifer Wade, Assistant News Director, WNEP in Allentown, PA
By the time this response is due, we will hopefully have had many meaningful conversations about social media and media literacy. For your response, I’d like you to write about your take on media literacy after these conversations and after boyd’s talk, if you attended. (By the way, in order to get extra credit for attending, you have to write an extra 100-250 words in this response about the talk). What did you believe about media literacy before this semester? Have your ideas about media literacy been changed or refined in any way through our conversations? How does the information you’ve encountered here effect how you think about your own use of technology and how it is situated in your particular social/cultural context?
The response should be roughly 500 words, 600-750 if you attended boyd’s talk and want extra credit. You should print this response and bring it to class on Fri 9/12.