Exploring Our Digital Environment

As the work of the students at the Arroyo Seco Academy at Franklin High School continues I find myself encountering several fire walls. Some are the virtual kind devised by LAUSD internet security and some are built by the students themselves. That is to say, a by-product of the insecurities some students have towards digital media. There is, I believe, a preconception that young people are all efficiently skilled at navigating the new media environment. The truth is, like any academic subject, there are some students who, because of exposure and practice, are increasingly adept with digital technology, but for those who have not had the same exposure, a computer, the internet, social media, are familiar tools with unknown and unexplored capabilities. This "participation gap", as it is referred to in the MacArthur Foundation paper, Confronting the Challengers of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, highlights the disparity in access and knowledge, a very real and a palpable weight on student's minds as they see their future out of high school and into higher education and the workforce.

Digital media literacy speaks to and addresses the needs of both groups of students. Even for the group of students who feel comfortable with digital media there is still the imperative for them to understand their role as consumers and producers of media. As the students were developing their "Meet Me" power points and building their collaborative Google Map, we had to step back and ask how will viewers (the larger community) perceive some of the pictures and/or descriptions they (the students) were employing? Will they "get" what you're trying to say? When they shared their power points with the class, some were able to hear first hand the questions that arose from their creative choices and hopefully learned that everyone who views their work will bring their own understanding and beliefs to it. These moments of reflection are just as necessary as the skills they are acquiring and/or sharpening.

As this conversation evolved another concern was brought up by our wonderful classroom teacher, Yim Tam. She suggested the need to bring up cyberbullying and other ethical concerns. As more of the students saw how easy it was to communicate with each other, questionable comments began to be posted. The internet and digital media encompass a wide and diverse environment and this can be challenging for a young person, or anyone, to understand and cope with once any hurtful comments or ethical lines are crossed. The first step was to explore what cyberbullying is, how it is defined and experienced by students, as well as the broader society. This was followed by examples of incidents and ramifications of abuse on the internet. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we will be instituting an ongoing classroom dialogue and promoting self reflection on the part of each student on the content developed for each phase of the project.

So it seems it's not only Highland Park the students are exploring and looking to define, it's also the digital environment and their place within it. Follow us as we continue and extend this exploration on Departures Youth Voices.

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