Perception is a funny thing. “Is the glass half empty or half full?” –it makes you realize that two different people can have two different views of the same exact thing. The way I perceive myself in the digital world is as a collaborator, creator, learner and teacher. This is also how I perceive my colleagues in the UF Educational Technology program. Trying to explain this percept to others outside however can prove difficult, especially if the precept has no grounding in their personal experiences. They simply do not understand.
In “real-life,” I am a (private) high school Spanish teacher in Clearwater, FL. My online identity very much involves my professional life, as it is the primary reason I explore the net. I have established social networks and wikis for all the classes I teach, and my students and I utilize them almost daily, all in Spanish! I attempt to create an environment for them where they can use Spanish in authentic and meaningful ways. I say authentic because I believe that communication with another person, no matter if within a virtual world, is indeed authentic communication.
My digital world experiences have impacted my real world practices lately. I have always been a “teacher” and a person who takes much pleasure in assisting others; I lend a hand to many people from a variety of places and educational settings with my newly acquired Educational Technology wisdom, and my creative ideas. Through a school-wide Technology Consortium that I facilitate online and face-to-face, or through mini-workshops I hold for colleagues and other professionals, I truly collaborate. It may be with colleagues, friends, classmates, my students, or other teachers (or basically anyone who wants to brainstorm with me) but I communicate and likewise learn from others. I consider myself a life-long learner, and currently enjoy all aspects of study as a digital being, an Online-Gator!
In the online world, I have forced my students to interact within the Ning social network in our Spanish online world. Recognizing that U.S. youth “participate in media ecologies …specific to contextual conditions,” as a teacher I attempt to tap into that interest and simulate a similar educational environment (Ito…Tripp 2009). As my students learn outside of school and participate in real-world activities and also in digital spaces, I attempt to similarly focus their energies on class thematic content within digital contexts. By asking them to post a blog entry or react/comment in a discussion forum, they actively participate, IN ANOTHER LANGUAGE! In the same way, “in line with our sociocultural perspective on learning and literacy, we see young people’s learning and participation with new media as situationally contingent, located in specific and varied media ecologies (Ito…Tripp 2009).” By creating situations in an educational virtual world, I oblige the students to experience Spanish language and thus construct their own authentic experiences, no matter if only in a digital setting.
“Media literacy involves not only ways of understanding, interpreting, and critiquing media, but also the means for creative and social expression, online search and navigation, and a host of new technical skills. The potential gap in literacies and participation skills creates new challenges for educators who struggle to bridge media engagement inside and outside the classroom (Ito…Tripp 2009)." So far, this educator has not found it to be overly difficult, maybe due to the private school setting in which I teach. My students are in high school, all with internet access and experience with various websites. Sometimes I have to teach them about a new Web 2.0 tool, but usually their learning curve is high and students adapt to the next Web 2.0 tool quite easily.
Authentic teen experiences include all the “hanging out” time, whether it be online on Facebook, or perhaps by texting on a cell phone; or in the same-space with a friend at the movies or at a party. No matter what, their time together is communication time. I wish that my students would keep “tabs” on each other within our classroom Spanish-language Ning network, but expectedly, they use the Ning as communication only for educational purposes. When they want to speak to each other, they operate on Facebook, IM chat or text (SMS) each other. As much as I desire them to interact on our class social network, I understand that they too have a different “online identity” and distinctive “school identity” where the two sets of actions and activities are singular of themselves. On a happy and successful note, they have reported to me on occasion that they have held a complete chat conversation in Spanish with their classmates!
Ito, M., Sonja B., Matteo B., Boyd, D. Cody, R., Herr, B., Horst, H.A., Lange, P.G., Mahendran, D., Martinez, K., Pascoe, C.J., Perkel, D., Robinson, L., Sims, C., & Tripp, L.(2009). Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning with New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press