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Virginia Journal of Education


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Telling Technology's
Best Stories

by Karen W. Richardson

Marc Prensky calls the current generation the digital natives. They have grown up surrounded by networked digital technologies and are accustomed to nearly instantaneous access to information and communication. And, unlike previous generations, whose main media sources--radio, television and print--were passive, these digital natives also have the expectation of being able to move beyond just being consumers to being creators. In an earlier column, we talked about social networking and its growing importance in young people's lives. If you did not have a chance to watch the Frontline special, "Growing Up Online," I would highly recommend it to you as it provides a glimpse into a sometimes hidden world of young people. You can view segments of the program at the Frontline website at www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kidsonline/ . I know of at least one school division that is using the program as part of its Internet safety professional development.

"Growing Up Online" featured the stories of several teens' experiences on the Internet. For me, the most important point of all these stories was that adults could not abandon their responsibility to help students act both safely and ethically online. Advanced technical skills are different from mature judgment. And it is the latter that really reflects the nature of technological literacy in the 21st century. In the January 30, 2008, edition of Education Week, Scott Cech defines technological literacy as being able to do more than just operate a computer; students must be able to "analyze the information flowing through it, evaluate that digital content's relative merit and relevance, and use it creatively and ethically in communicating with others." That's where adults enter the picture. We may sometimes feel as though we are learning right along with our students and children, but it's essential that we be beside them as we do.

There are examples of young people learning how to harness these digital technologies in positive ways. While the idea of candidates using the Web to campaign has been around for a few election cycles, the idea that voters could use the Web to participate in civic life in powerful new ways is just becoming clear now. There is some indication that access to the media is encouraging young people to not only vote but also to get more involved in the political process. Young people ages 18-22 are turning out to vote in numbers almost three times those that voted in 2004. They are also using the Web, including already established social networks like Facebook, to get information, but, perhaps more importantly, to participate in the election process. For instance, over 31,000 young people have joined Facebook's Rock the Vote group, where they share videos and participate in online discussions.

Educators could take a lesson from these 20-somethings in terms of organizing. Even as I write, the federal government is considering zeroing out the educational funding they have been providing through the Enhancing Education Through Technology grant program. This money is essential for providing students and teachers access to the technology that will help them learn to be digital citizens. The time has come for us to start telling the positive stories of teachers and students harnessing the power of the Web to support powerful learning practices as well. I have started to collect some of those stories at VSTEOnline, the Virginia Society for Technology in Education's website, which I mentioned in an earlier column. I would encourage you to visit the site at http://vsteonline.ning.com and share your own story of the power of technology to transform teaching and learning.

If you're looking for more stories of the power of educational technology, take a visit to the George Lucas Educational Foundation at www.edutopia.org . The Foundation's website regularly features articles and videos related to student use of technology. One of my favorites tells the story of the Geo Literacy project, in which third graders partnered with high school students and local experts to create a website about a local historical site.

Finally, if you want to get a sense of what students are doing with digital technologies, spend some time at Teacher Tube (www.teachertube.com ), the video database for teachers and students. You can start with the Featured Videos, where I recently found a wonderful video about Black History Month created by a group of second graders. It featured their artwork and their voices and clearly demonstrated their learning.

Richardson has been working as an educator for over 20 years, currently as an adjunct instructor in educational technology at The College of William and Mary, where she is also working on her doctorate in curriculum and educational technology. She also serves as regional director of the Virginia Initiative for Technology and Administrative Leadership, a professional development program for school administrators.


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