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A “Digital” Baby is Born Every 8 Seconds_Using Digital Media in the Classroom

The 21st century is a technologically driven springboard of new entities. Every day countless new “digital” babies are born into this world, whether it be in the form of an awe-inspiring videogame, smartphone application, social website, and/or media forum. Human parents often embrace and adopt these digital offsprings into their lives rather casually because we correlate their existence with entertainment, comfort, and convenience. However, the significance of these digital entities goes far beyond the contentment and relief that is garnered from accessibility. Although we are constantly engulfed in a digital world, we may not instantaneously connect it to our education and the education of our students, even though it may be inevitable.

Today’s educational content is no longer confined to the margins of a piece of paper or the borders of a blackboard. In the CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Writing in Digital Environments it states, “The focus of writing is expanding: the curriculum of composition is widening to include not one but two literacies: a literacy of print and a literacy of the screen. In addition, work in one is used to enhance learning  in the other” (1).  In order to use digital media effectively, the students must be engaged in critical evaluations of information and also be prepared to be reflective practitioners (CCCC 1). James Gee and James P. Purdy, discuss the importance of using digital media to enhance student learning in their respective literary works: “Ch. 2: Semiotic Domains” from What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and “Wikipedia is Good For You!?” from Writing Spaces.

In “What Video Games Have to Teach Us…,” James Gee offers an alternative perspective on learning and knowing by analyzing the educational validity of children engaging in video games. He believes that many people consider playing video games to be a “waste of time” (Gee 22) because society has constricted ideologies of what is deemed educationally significant. “Important knowledge (now usually gained in school) is content in the sense of information related to intellectual domains or academic disciplines like physics, history, art, or literature. Activities that are entertaining, but that themselves do not involve such learning are just ‘meaningless play’” (Gee 22). To counteract this argument, Gee goes on to explain the true definition of literacy. Literacy goes far beyond being able to decipher the mere meaning of words and images. In order for someone to be truly literate, they must understand the dynamics that are created by multimodal texts, texts that mix words and images. These multimodal texts may also include other components of one’s environment, such as sounds, music movements, and bodily sensations (Gee 17). With Gee’s literacy definition, he recognizes that “language is not the only important communication” (17). Understanding the way language works in semiotic domains, where words, images, and movement are brought to life in ways that are dependent on a group’s particular value system is deemed true literacy (Gee 19).

Upon first glance, it may appear to be a far distinction between video games and understanding the dynamics that exist in the many semiotic domains that encompass reality. However, Gee’s analysis of these semiotic domains is what we as educators categorize as authentic critical thinking. As our students play videogames, they are ultimately learning about “design spaces that manipulate us in certain ways and that we can manipulate in certain ways” (Gee 36). In many of these video games, just as in life, the individual has to learn the social constructs of a world that he or she did not create as well as the rules and regulations that sustain that world. You must analyze, synthesize, and interpret information within the fictional semiotic domain, in order to either get to the next level or  prevent facing your own mortality. Of course, with a video game, you may receive an opportunity to start over and your mistakes may not be finalized; however, Gee goes beyond the simplicity of the game and is able to relate it to the critical analysis skills that one will need to survive in life. As educators, we are supposed to encourage our students to analyze the semiotic domains of various systems, including government, financial structures, group cultures and organizations. The fictional realm of the videogame may give students the opportunity to practice using these skills in various forums, where the stakes are not as high or detrimental.

Due to the saturation of digital media, it is no longer a simple choice whether or not an educator should embrace digital media. If we do not teach students how to filter between the positive and negative aspects of digital media, it will be detrimental to their development. The true question should be how do we as educators teach students the advantages of utilizing digital media to enhance their knowledge, as opposed to stand by and watch them be swallowed up in the pitfalls of nonsensical information. In James P. Purdy’s “Wikipedia is Good for You!?,” he states that students are “going to use Wikipedia as a source for writing assignments regardless of cautions against it, so it is more helpful to address ways to use it effectively than to ignore it” (205). Just as James Gee understands the reality of video games in the lives of students and the dangers in simply dismissing digital media, so does Purdy. The exclamation point and the question mark in the title of his essay (“Wikipedia is Good for You!?) eludes to the positive aspects as well as the questionability of digital media, such as Wikipedia.

Yes, Wikipedia may lack reliability because anyone can contribute to the site, regardless of their background or qualifications and the variabilities in the work offer many inconsistencies (Purdy 207-8). However, Purdy argues that students can be taught how to use the website as a source for ideas and links to texts that may be useful to one’s own research, as opposed to being cited directly (209). Purdy encourages educators to treat the digital media as a tool, as opposed to a setback. Analyzing the distinct qualities of the digital world will help students understand how to make the necessary distinctions in the validity of sources. If we do not help our students to develop this skill, they will remain lost and  unable to successfully navigate a technologically-driven  world. The digital entities never remain in the infantile stages of development, therefore, neither should our students.

*James Gee and James Purdy offer many valid ideas on the power of changing one’s perception about the platform that is used to present knowledge.

Further questions that can be explored are:

1. Should the use of digital entities, such as video games and Wikipedia, be considered educational tools as opposed to educational setbacks, due to the major influence that they have on our students’ worlds? Explain.

2. How would you utilize digital media within your own classroom, so that the educational validity is clearly evident to your colleagues and supervisors? Explain.

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10 Responses

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  1. Guadalupe Bueno says

    In response to your first question, I believe that technology can be used. We live in a global- technological globe that expands as I am typing this very response. In this very class, the use of technology has widen our conversations, and made us aware of others’s viewpoints, and the value behind a blog. Different types of media are beneficial if used as a tool, from which to develop more analysis. Purdy highlights many forms Wikipedia can be utilized to make students knowledgeable of the process behind the publishing of an article and how important is for students to apply similar tactics themselves. Yes, it is true, technology gets a bad reputation when used in the classroom; however, we cannot shun students from the fast moving world. On a positive note, I think that if we have not, we should see technology as a tool that affords students greater opportunity to construct, and that allows teachers with varied resources to aid in differentiating pedagogy.

  2. Travis Lamprecht says

    The use of video games and Wikipedia should be considered as side educational tools that should be used with caution. To ignore technologies as academic sponsors would be ignorant and detrimental to our student’s relation with our rapidly changing technological world. If students were entirely using Wikipedia as their main source of research then obviously this would cause an educational setback. Wikipedia exists for quick information, not necessarily quality information. It should be encouraged to read as an entry-level step into the realms of a subject, afterwards the student must be directed to do his or her own research using libraries and academic databases.

    • Christopher Grimm says

      I like how Travis puts that; Wikipedia is “an entry-level step into the realms of a subject.” True! Wikipedia is a stepping-stone for intellectual curiosity. It’s existence is definitely a good thing, certainly for those students (and everyday “wonderers”), who don’t–or never would-have access to an encyclopedia at home (before the Internet boom). It’s perfect for that quick research inquiry (“Wki” is a Hawaiian word for quick; I learned that by using Wikipedia).

      The problem lies with deeper intellectual research. Academia requires deeper, more focused research. Today’s society is not embedded with the value of spending time on a project–any project. Answers and research are needed quickly; Google allows for quick searches, but often the first “hit” is a wikipedia entry. How do we reconcile quality research with the fast-pace our technology dictates?

  3. mfox2012 says

    Your success with any tool in life depends on how well you learn to use it to your advantage! As educators, it is our job to use differentiated instruction to enhance learning. Anything in this world can be used as a teachable resource if used correctly, that of course includes wikipedia and video games. I totally agree with Travis that, “To ignore technologies as academic sponsors would be ignorant and detrimental” to students. Especially since we live in a technological advance world. Therefore, not incorporating the various forms of technology within our daily instructions would be a complete disservice to our students. I agree with Purdy’s claim that wikipedia allows the viewer to take part in an on-going conversation. I support the notion that there are various ways of learning and encourage my students to explore various forms of communication and information as should we all.

  4. Dana Choit says

    As you state, “Analyzing the distinct qualities of the digital world will help students understand how to make the necessary distinctions in the validity of sources. If we do not help our students to develop this skill, they will remain lost and unable to successfully navigate a technologically-driven world. The digital entities never remain in the infantile stages of development, therefore, neither should our students.” I completely agree! As our world has developed overtime, technology has become an intrical part of not only research but daily tasks. Many if not most students students today have a wonderful handle on the technology in a varitey of ways. Research skills need to be developed too, to help students “keep up” with the times, but also gain this vital source of information. We need to incoporate technology into the classroom in order to help students gain the advantages that come from learning through such technological skill. I would not refer to such advancement as “educational setbacks”, however, we have become increasingly dependent on technology in our daily lives, and I do also think students should learn the more old fashioned skills of research (like with books/library) to be able to utilize research in any form when needed.

  5. johnjparente says

    S, I love what you’ve done here, don’t get me wrong. You said, “Gee goes beyond the simplicity of the game and is able to relate it to the critical analysis skills that one will need to survive in life.” I think more than anything, that is what teaching with tech. is all about.
    You also said, “In order to use digital media effectively, the students must be engaged in critical evaluations of information and also be prepared to be reflective practitioners.” It is Purdy’s assertion that this is important, but we know full well that most of what our students do with digital media on their own is well below the “must” you hold up here. My comment is that while it is important for teachers to raise awareness (how and when to use digital media to their advantage) of certain technology, being engaged in critical evaluation and analysis as well as the reflective practices of learners is becoming more simple, accessible, and almost built-in. We are rapidly heading toward a world where all new internet-based digital media will have an educational aspect.

    I think we agree that digital media and educational tech. is making the world simpler as it evolves, but I think at times you still put education in that old-world frame and give too much credence to your sentimental educational values to really get with this stuff, evidenced by your wording here, “as opposed to stand by and watch them be swallowed up in the pitfalls of nonsensical information.”

    This is to everyone, not just Williamson: You won’t be lost if you do more tech. in your classroom – your students will lose out if you do not.

    • Safaarah Williamson says

      Hey John, I do not believe that you understand what I am saying. I am an advocate for technology and I am not quite sure how I illustrate an “old world frame.” The statement that you provided about teaching students to critically evaluate is a quote from the CCCC and it is a guideline for educators on how to use digital media effectively in the classroom. You are misconstruing my words because when I stated “as opposed to stand by and watch them be swallowed up in the pitfalls of nonsensical information,” I was referring to Wikipedia specifically and referring to Purdy’s statement that Wikipedia may not be reliable due to the fact anyone can contribute to to it, regardless of background qualifications or expertise. If you pull one phrase of my argument, then you wont understand the basis of the entire concept.

      • johnjparente says

        OK, then I misquoted you and that bit about Wikipedia is something I agree with. Please don’t mistake me for one who takes your commentary lightly or for granted.

  6. trevor11 says

    I think you raise a good question by asking if video games and Wikipedia should be embraced as opposed to demonized. I personally was told similar things to what purdy says, I was always raised to understand that while I should read and write, video games were a way to build other skills like hand eye coordination. So some value was placed on video games, if not by my parents who were a bit mor sold fashioned than by other adults. Wikipedia is more complicated beast, I often use it in my classes for general information rather than specifics because it is a open reference source so anyone can put anything. However I do not demonize it. It is a useful tool to show students how to access as source and follow the trail of information back to see where in originated from. It is important though to air on the side of caution when using it. It can and will be wrong so I always use another viable source to confirm or correct and information gathered. I think the more important thing is to show students what the difference is between reliable and poor sources, especially in digital form. It’s much easier to find a bad source online than it is on paper.

  7. Victoria Fontana says

    Safaarah says, “If we do not help our students to develop this skill [of understanding how to make the necessary distinctions in the validity of sources], they will remain lost and unable to successfully navigate a technologically-driven world.” Web 2.0 provides multitudes of sources and sites that contain truthful or biased information. A teacher doesn’t have the power to maintain what information is provided. But he does have the opportunity to teach his students to thoughtfully process what information is valid and what is not. Students will be better prepared to navigate the sources they may otherwise use poorly.

    On page 212, Purdy provides an overview of “The Wikipedia Interface.” The interface can be a great source for a class assignment; after a teacher identifies an articles that is misrepresented or biased, students can research, write, and “participate in the conversation” to improve the article.