by Katie Rybakova
Anticipating Dr. Morrell’s talk at Florida State University on the rapidly approaching September 15th date of the Literacies Lecture Series, I fished out of my stack of “to read” books his text Critical Media Pedagogy. As most practitioners and teachers do, the instant I began reading this text, I found myself reflecting on how I can create “learning spaces that are rigorous, relevant, participatory, authentic, and engaging of content” in my own college classrooms (Morrell, Duenas, Garcia, & Lopez, 2013, p. 16). Furthermore, what ARE activities that can be considered authentic, participatory, and engaging, and how do I anticipate engagement and authenticity that require almost spontaneous exploration of ideas and concepts?
As a 21st century literacy skills researcher, this is a common question that I ask myself. As Morrell et al. (2013) wisely suggest, producing media is not necessarily a critical activity in and of itself. However, there has to be an element of assignment that initiates a critical activity. I cannot ask my students to engage critically with flipped classrooms, for example, without first assigning them to create one. But by doing that, I am, essentially, asking them to produce a source of media with the anticipation of a critical thinking process behind it, but not necessarily always the outcome. All I suppose I can ask of myself as a teacher, then, is to provide enough focus as to create a boundary for exploration, and yet enough flexibility to allow for an authentic investigation that has a certain element of intrinsic motivation linked to it; a desire to know without the forcefulness to create without meaning. Morrell et al. (2013) write this more eloquently: students can “use media artifacts such as blogs and digital films as a way to encourage dialogue” (p. 17).
There is one project that I am anticipating this semester that I feel may help me reach this equilibrium between assigning a digital task and students creating an authentic product. This assignment in my methods class this semester is a TED talk in which students are actively engaged in research on a topic of interest to them (hence, flexibility and motivation). Once the final product is made in a form of a Youtube video, my hope is that it may connect to Morrell’s (2013) suggestion to have students begin a dialogue that reaches a large potential audience. This also touches on NCTE’s 21st Century Literacies Framework (2008) and the standards that call for students to engage digitally to form “cross-cultural connections” and “create and evaluate multimedia.” It is my hope to find that this project, while extrinsically tied to a grade, intrinsically motivates these pre-service teachers to continue to engage in such digital critical thinking skills that are necessary for the 21st century world, particularly in the classroom.
Additionally, I anticipate, in conjunction with a colleague here at FSU, to have students engage in a mock interview digitally. This is a different form of digital production that I feel is necessary yet wholly unauthentic. This assignment allows them to reflect on how they did by watching the video themselves, and allows us to watch the video together and discuss suggestions. While this is not necessarily the students producing this video authentically, nor does it give them any creative leeway since the guidelines and professionalism are purposefully strict, I feel like this form of assessment/evaluation uses digital technology in way that benefits the students and the instructors in a way that a traditional interview assignment wouldn’t. By using technology in this form as a tool, rather than a literacy practice, which is typically a warning we instructors receive from educational research NOT to do, we harness the vast options that we are given with the use of the tool digitally that we do not have face-to-face. I am all for authentic, literacy-rich digital experiences for my students, but I feel like we don’t give enough credit to awesome new tools that we can use, well, just for the tool itself. Perhaps it is important then to identify which purposes and what forms of evaluation we need to keep explorative and authentic, and which forms of evaluation can utilize the uniqueness of a digital tool to add value to a classroom product, even if not an authentic literacy-rich experience for the student.
This is one of the questions that I am excited to ask Dr. Morrell about in person, and hope to begin a dialogue on the 21st century initiative about—how do you create an authentic critical media production without, essentially, forcing the matter, and, is there value to using a digital tool for the tool itself?