Highlights from our digital media unit

On Friday, we had two class assemblies all about digital media and how people can use it to express themselves. As a blogger and social media advocate, I was bursting with pride. Our digital literacy coaches, Ryan Krakofsky and Fred Yue, were in the audience and loving it too. The assemblies rounded off a great How We Express Ourselves unit but, more importantly, demonstrated a huge mind shift in our school community. Digital media is something to embrace and leverage, not something to block, ban or fear. I also love how the unit was a real community effort, taking advantage of the expertise from our digital literacy coaches, music specialists and other staff members who use digital media to express themselves.

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I’d like to take this opportunity to recap the unit. It’s a new one for us, so it wasn’t perfect and we have a few things to tweak, but we have loved it nonetheless. Writing about it will help me to reflect and, hopefully, help others too.

Digital media is something to embrace and leverage, not something to block, ban or fear. Click To Tweet

Central idea

Digital media is a platform to express and interpret beliefs and values

Lines of Inquiry

  1. What digital media is and how/why people use it
  2. How beliefs and values are expressed and perceived through digital media
  3. How we use digital media to curate, create and express beliefs and values

The seven classes in my yearband approached it slightly differently and took various paths, but I would like to share some of the learning engagements from my experience.

Staff exploration

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First of all, Ryan and Fred facilitated a fantastic exploration session for teachers in preparation for the unit. This gave us all an introduction to both hardware and software that was available. We weren’t expected to master the tools in the short session,  but it made us aware of what’s possible and what tools are available. In the image above, I’m using a Blue Yeti professional microphone to practise podcasting. Other options included vlogging (with the school’s DJI Gimbals), creating videos on iMovie and Clips, and much more.

Provocation: station rotation

As a provocation activity to kick off the unit, we prepared multiple stations, each with a different digital media example. At each station, students could contribute to the shared ‘See, Think, Wonder’ sheet. This introduced the students to several different platforms, prompted some great questions and showed us which elements they were most interested in. The stations were: podcasts, blogs, selfie manipulation, Minecraft and Twitter. Most stations had examples of how known teachers utilise the platform. I encourage you to watch the video below (made using Clips) to get a flavour of the session. It includes questions and quotes from the students.

Music integration

In addition to standalone music lessons, one of our music teachers, Mari, works with teachers to integrate music into relevant units of inquiry. She introduced the students (and teachers) to Incredibox and Soundtrap, two great options for creating music digitally. She kicked things off with a grade-wide presentation and interactive demo session and then supported in class. Many students chose to express themselves through music. This was a welcome addition to the unit and also played a significant role in both class assemblies.

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SOLE: Why do we need to be 13 to use social media?

Digital media, as an umbrella term, includes social media. This is something that we wanted to explore and model, yet our students aren’t actually old enough to have their own accounts. From the outset, we wanted them to understand and appreciate the reasons behind these restrictions. They used SOLE time to explore this question and shared their answers after the time was up. The answers weren’t necessarily what they expected. During their research, one group stumbled across my blog post on this topic! It was a happy accident because it highlighted how easy it is for anyone to create content that is searchable and, therefore, why we need to be critical as consumers.

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Interpreting beliefs and values

Whatever the topic, content creators implicitly express their beliefs and values (and sometimes explicitly). Especially over time, others will develop their own perceptions. For those of you who don’t know me offline, what do you think of me? What do you know about me? How would you describe my character? What do I value and believe? After nearly 200 blog posts and over 8000 tweets, you can probably answer these questions. Students need to be aware that their online presence is a reflection of who they are and others will make judgements based on it. To illustrate these points, students explored some online content by people who they don’t know. After a while, they realised that they make assumptions about these people. This reinforced the need for digital citizenship, positive online behaviour and appropriate sharing. The interview question below (and variations of it) are increasingly common and, actually, I welcome it. You can tell a lot about a person by their online presence. What does yours say about you?

“What social media networks are you on and what will I learn about you if I go there?”

Social LEADia

Breakout EDU: Social LEADia

Speaking of Social LEADia, there is a Breakout EDU game that complements the book and reinforces many of this unit’s objectives. Breakout EDU is a product that captures the excitement and engagement of escape rooms and applies it to education. Click here to find out more and click here to read about this particular game (you will need to log in to see the details). My colleague, Isabella, has used Breakout EDU and so I have heard about it from her tweets and blog posts. I then played with it during the Google Innovator Academy and knew that it was time to introduce it to my students. As suspected, they loved this game and learnt a lot along the way. Just look at the joy on their faces when they finally ‘broke out’! Make sure you watch until the end!

Content creation

We wanted the students to actually create content and share it with an authentic audience. After being introduced to many different options, they chose the most appropriate output for their purpose and product (something else that they learnt about). Students were blogging, vlogging, podcasting, composing and much more! We don’t just want students to consume, so it was amazing to see them actively creating content with such enthusiasm and passion. For the second week in a row, I’d like to share this important quote:

“In the past, we learnt about a “digital divide” between those who had access to technology and those who didn’t. We are now seeing a new divide emerge – a Creative Chasm between those who passively consume and those who actively create.”

John Spencer and A.J. Juliani, Launch

Staff digital role models

In each assembly, there is time at the end for the Head of Year (in this case, me) to say a few words. After two performances that celebrated digital media and content creation, it seemed appropriate to celebrate the teachers’ use of digital media and use it to complement the students’ messages. Unfortunately, it was an idea that came to me at the last minute! The video below (also made using Clips) was a little rushed and not as polished as I would have liked, but I hope that you enjoy it anyway. My aim was to highlight and celebrate the digital leaders that we have on staff. As teachers, we embrace our role as digital leaders and role models.

This is one of my favourite units in Year Four. Like I said, it needs some tweaking and there were things that didn’t work so well, but I believe that this is one of our most important and relevant units. Digital media is already a massive part of students’ lives and it will be even more so as they get older. It is our duty to teach and model how to use it responsibly and positively. This unit has been an important and successful step in that mission.


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