Phase Three Essential Questions:
- How can technology be used to initiate positive social change?
- What are the potential strengths and limitations of technology as an instrument of social change?
Phase Three Scope and Sequence (Suggested Length: 4-5 Weeks)
In the final phase of the unit, students will embark on a project-based learning mission. By this time, we will have established a spectrum of potential capabilities for technology, based on the literature we have studied in class. Students may be discouraged by some of the ideas suggested by the literature they have reviewed, but the goal of this unit is to put that frustration to use and create a classroom of activists. Inspired by the positive end of that spectrum, as well as the social justice readings we have examined, students will determine ways that they can use the technology at their fingertips to initiate real change and progress in their communities.
In a class project, students will keep these ideas in mind while they monitor their own digital lives and interactions for a set period of time. After monitoring their online activity for several days, students will bring their findings to a classwide data pool, in which we will categorize their activities. Students will evaluate the nature of their interactions and other doings online by first determining whether they are social or solitary. If the activities are social ones, students will determine the extent to which that “sharing” could potentially benefit others, based on the hierarchy of social value Clay Shirky describes in Cognitive Surplus. Students will classify each interaction or activity they recorded according to Shirkey’s distinctions: personal sharing, which neither requires nor creates interpersonal connections; communal sharing, which brings individuals together based on a common interest or situation; public sharing, in which people collectively create a “public resource”; and finally, “civic sharing, [which is] specifically designed to generate real change in the society the participants are embedded in.”4 This idea of civic sharing will direct students’ final project for the unit, in which students will consider how to best use the online resources at their disposal to generate the most value for their community while addressing a specific issue related to social justice.
Project-Based Learning: Brainstorming and Establishing Groups
Until this point, students have explored a variety of specific issues related to social justice as observers, and they should now spend some time brainstorming to identify the specific social justice topics on which their independent studies will focus. A general list of topics can be brainstormed by the entire class, from which each student can write a “wish list” of preferred topics. Additionally, students should attach to this list a summary of their interests and abilities related to media production. Based on common interests and/or abilities, the teacher may choose to create groups of students for the final project. At this point in the unit, the teacher will likely find it useful to remind students that working toward social justice is not synonymous with any political alignment or affiliation. When being grouped together by a teacher for a project such as this, students run the risk of conflicting viewpoints or beliefs. However, at this point in the unit, students should remember that class definitions of social justice transcend political views, and that the overall goal of the project is to emphasize empathy and humanitarianism. If students struggle to find a topic that interests them, the teacher may provide suggestions that are not necessarily political: environmental justice, public health issues, homelessness, etc.
Students may brainstorm as an entire class to generate suggestions for possible forms this project may take, and the teacher may provide ideas as well. For example, if a group of students wishes to address homelessness in their community, they may create a podcast on which they conduct interviews with individuals experiencing homelessness, organizers of shelters and outreach programs, local police, and others connected to the issue. (It should be noted that in such a case, informed consent procedures may be necessary to obtain IRB approval. Teachers should check with their school administrators before allowing or suggesting that students conduct interviews.) However, such a class conversation should not stifle students’ creative process, as one of the goals of the project is to implement technology in innovative ways. Still, to impart the scope of the project, the teacher should establish some general criteria for the final product, regardless of what specifically students choose to create. For example, each group’s finished project should incorporate tangible connection with the community.
Many students may be inspired to begin designing projects without further explicit direction from the teacher, and creativity should certainly be emphasized at this point. However, some groups may find it helpful to look over a list of suggestions for the final project. Aside from the aforementioned podcast project (which may consist of audio, video, or both), groups may consider organizing an event in their community in order to raise awareness about a particular issue, which could feature guest speakers and may be advertised through posts and hashtags on social media. Speakers at such an event could come in person or via FaceTime or Skype technology. Another group project could involve students collaborating to create digital “poems” addressing a particular topic, similar to Claudia Rankine’s video “situations” (see below). An artistic project like this could be performed live or presented online (or both, if the initial performance is captured on video), and could provide opportunities for audience members to sign up for email lists or other means of notification. Through this process, a group could use technology first to inspire activism, and then to set up a network of individuals to connect around a specific issue. Offering suggestions such as these should inspire students to think beyond the static action of creating a website, and consider instead how they might initiate ongoing action in their communities.
Project-Based Learning: Process
Once student groups have been created, the project-based learning component of the unit can begin. A student-directed major project can be a daunting task for a teacher, so structure during this portion of the unit is key. Johnny Devine, a high school teacher in Tacoma, Washington, recommends holding daily meetings for student groups, over which the teacher monitors progress.5 In these meetings, each group member shares their personal accomplishments toward the end goal, their short-term goals for the day’s work session, and their current concerns for the project. This approach helps facilitate equal involvement from and cooperation between group members, and it promotes goal-oriented progress on a daily basis. To set a clear method for doing this, a first priority of each group should be to complete a task analysis of their planned final product. This should allow students within each group to determine a timeline, according to which work can be completed in an organized fashion. Each member of the group should have designated tasks that coincide with this plan, for which a contract may be useful to bind students to their duties.
During these workshop sessions, the teacher should check in frequently to monitor each group’s progress and provide support for any issues that may arise. These issues may require additional skill development and explicit instruction. For example, if a student group addresses the aforementioned issue of homelessness and wishes to conduct interviews, the teacher will need to go over interviewing procedures with those students, as well as all necessary consent material. These sessions should also include a daily objective for student groups to evaluate (and rethink, if necessary) the role that technology is playing in their project. If they encounter obstacles or require guidance, teacher support will be helpful to formulate solutions.
As students continue to make progress in this portion of the unit, the teacher may supplement independent work sessions and inspire student creativity by bringing in additional resources that combine technology and social outreach. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen contains many short works combining poetry with narrative essays, several of which are accompanied by video “situations.”6 Viewing and responding to these provocative texts could provide students with inspiration during the creative production phase of the unit. Rankine’s writing allows many opportunities to be paired with current events articles at the teacher’s discretion. A class discussion could arise from studying how Rankine, along with her husband, filmmaker John Lucas, use creative text and images to address issues of racial profiling, police brutality, and racially-based microaggressions, to name a few. Pairing Rankine’s work with older writing, such as Audre Lorde’s “Power,” can also highlight the ongoing need for activism, because the issues discussed in the text continue to be relevant.
Because student group projects can take any number of different forms, it is necessary for the teacher to check in regularly with groups and monitor progress to ensure that students are adhering to their timelines and contracts. As the final deadline for all groups approaches, the teacher and students should be aware of pacing and any necessary revisions that may need to be considered.
When the final deadline arrives, students will likely be inspired to share what they have created with other groups, and possibly with the rest of the school. If the teacher has access to the necessary resources, classes may organize a “film festival,” during which groups may present their work to an audience, providing an explanation of their inspiration and process, as well as conducting a question and answer session with audience members.
Final Project Reflection Paper
As a component of their final project submission, each student should also complete and submit an individual response reflecting on their experiences creating their project. In this reflection, each student should discuss his or her own specific role within the group, contributions to the final product, and thoughts on the strengths and limitations of the technology implemented to bring the project to fruition.
In short, this unit seeks to transform students from passive participants in digital worlds into active ones, to understand the process of engaging in social issues, and to take responsibility for promoting a community of empathy and outreach.