Tag Archives: media education

Pimps, Social Networks, and Education: Oh My.

Sometimes, I get to spend most of my day at home. Today became one of those days when mother nature decided to dump much snow on my little corner of the earth. This was our backyard this morning:


Isn’t it so pretty? (note: I only think it’s pretty when I get to sit inside and hide from it).

On these days that I get to spend at home, staring out the window and thinking about how lucky I am that I can sit and write all day, I make lunch for myself. And one of my favorite things to do when I eat said lunch is to read the headlines and click around on CNN.com. It makes me feel like I’m aware of things that are going on in the world, even if only for the brief moments when I am eating my amazing homemade lunch (today: udon noodle soup in homemade turkey broth. yum.)

One of today’s headlines, front and center on CNN’s main page:

Pimps hit social networks to recruit underage sex workers!

Alright, yes, I added the exclamation point for rhetorical effect. But it was a pretty shocking headline. Given my recent complaint about tech fear run rampant in the media, I had to read the article. Would it be yet another manifesto on the evils of social media? I had to find out.

The piece chronicles a problem that is evidently rampant on social networking sites in which pimps are finding 15-and-up girls to traffic to men. These pimps attract young women with alluring (grammatically twitch-inducing) messages like this:


…and girls are falling for it. The author gives the example of one girl whose mother had been recently arrested for “financial crimes.” Apparently, this girl’s “deteriorating family life left her with a sense of desperation. She was smitten, and willing to do anything for the man she thought loved her. So she stayed.”

My tone so far might suggest that I’m poking fun at girls like “Nina” here, who fall for men like “Rain” (seriously? and that’s the actual name he used!) because they are looking for father figures or are trying to right some sort of horrendous wrong that has happened in their lives. This is not my intention. I do, however, mean to point out the ludicrousness of situations like this, situations that I think could be in some way remedied by teaching today’s students how to be critical users of online spaces like Facebook or Twitter, which are apparently two of the prime sites for these pimps’ recruiting operations.

Would these girls have fallen into similar destructive situations without the help of social media? Without the intervention of adults (often teachers) who pay attention and care about them, it seems likely. Teens who are this desperate for love and affection will often find ways to get it, even if those ways are as tragic and as horrifying as selling themselves or obeying the orders of some jerk named “Rain.” This article actually didn’t annoy me as much as some of the ones I noted in my previous post, mostly because the author takes the time to point out that the use of social media is really an old trick using new tools, and that web companies like Facebook “take human trafficking very seriously” (…uh, I should hope so?!) and have instituted means to detect it and shut it down. In other words, the article isn’t solely blaming social media for the ills in our society, but actually seems to suggest we might be responsible for some of our own nonsense (novel, eh?).

What I detect in news stories like this, though, is an undercurrent of fear in our society about social media corrupting the innocence of children. I mentioned recently that I’m reading Nancy Baym’s book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age. In it, Baym notes that one of the common discourses in the early take-up of new technologies is one of moral panic,  or fears that “form in dystopian rhetorics” and “can lead to important policy decisions at personal, household, governmental, and design levels” (41). Such rhetorics, Baym argues, “often focus on the well-being of children, and especially on the well-being of teenage girls (my emphasis). 

My concern is that stories like this do lead to policies that could potentially be counter-productive to curbing situations like this, where young girls are targeted and taken advantage of by online predators. I see this in multiple schools where certain social media sites are banned or blocked by the school’s servers, or where teachers are discouraged from using social media in their work with students for fear of somehow damaging authoritative relationships with students. Concerns I understand, but feel are counter-productive to the instruction of digital literacies.

In case you’re wondering what these media outlets want us to do to protect children, the piece links to the FBI’s tip sheet for protecting kids from these online predators.

I have news for the FBI: this list is kind of unrealistic for the parents (or teachers) of teenagers. Here are a few of my favorite bits of advice from our friends down at the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

  • Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep your Internet computer in an open, common room of the house.
  • Only allow your kids to post photos or any type of personally identifying information on websites with your knowledge and consent.
  • Make it a rule with your kids that they can never give out personal information or meet anyone in person without your prior knowledge and consent. If you agree to a meeting between your child and someone they met online, talk to the parents/guardians of the other individual first and accompany your kids to the meeting in a public place.
  • Check your kids’ profiles and what they post online.
  • Don’t forget cell phones! They often have almost all the functionality of a computer.

No — none of these are “bad” things to do. Heck, if you can manage to accomplish all of these things as a parent, I applaud you. Have you met a teenager? The whole “your knowledge and consent” thing tends to go against the standard operating procedure of most teenagers. Furthermore, I tutor teenagers who have their own computers and smartphones and who are perfectly responsible digital citizens. Having a single family computer in a communal area of the house worked when I was a kid and needed to type a grand total of one paper per semester — it’s completely unrealistic today, when students have their own tablets and laptops and in many cases need them to do their schoolwork. Keeping an eye on every single one of your child’s accounts and profiles, requiring access to your child’s devices and accounts, and constantly checking everything your kid posts online is becoming less realistic for today’s parents. And, I would argue, it’s not entirely necessary.

Instead, how about paying attention to the few nuggets of advice the FBI gives us that are actually worth listening to:

  • Instruct your kids to use privacy settings to restrict access to profiles so only the individuals on their contact lists are able to view their profiles.
  • Educate yourself on the websites, software, and apps that your child uses.
  • Visit social networking websites with your kids, and exchange ideas about acceptable versus potentially risky websites.
  • Encourage your kids to consider whether a message is harmful, dangerous, hurtful, or rude before posting or sending it online, and teach your kids not to respond to any rude or harassing remarks or messages that make them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused and to show you the messages instead.

When it comes down to it, we don’t need to police kids’ uses of the Internet. While some supervision is certainly necessary, especially as kids are just beginning to spread their digital wings (so to speak), 24-7 policing of kids’ digital activities is downright unrealistic, if not impossible. And this approach definitely would not have helped “Nina,” whose Mom was in jail when Nina got recruited for prostitution.

Instead, maybe it’s time digital awareness became part of the curriculum at school and part of the conversation at home. As the CNN article states, throwing one’s hands up and saying they “don’t know how” to use the tech our kids are using is no longer an acceptable excuse. We live in a digital world, folks, and just like in an analog world, the tools we have can be put to horrifying uses when we don’t help kids learn how to integrate them into their lives in smart and responsible ways.

Am I worried about pimps online? Not as worried as I am that we’re not teaching these young teenage women, and their male counterparts, how to be good digital citizens.

Social Media Duh: English Teacher (me) Discovers Goodreads

I have started getting all of my students signed up for Goodreads, a website that allows you to track what you’ve read, what you want to read, and what you’re currently reading. The train of thought that led to this stroke of brilliance went as follows:

  1. I really want my students to read more on their own. Some do, some don’t.
  2. Last time I tried to get students to read on their own, I made them fill out reading logs.
  3. I really got sick of printing those.
  4. The kids really hated filling those out. So much so that many just… didn’t.
  5. There’s gotta be a better way.
  6. Hmmm….
  7. Well, while I ponder that, I’ll go catch up on reading for next week’s lessons.
  8. 20 minutes later, distracted from The Awakening by the need for a snack: I should enter this on Goodreads, I don’t think I’ve done that yet.
  9. OMG.

When I signed up for Goodreads last semester, I didn’t think I would use it. Goodreads cons: the interface isn’t entirely intuitive, some people log regularly while others don’t, and I still can’t figure out how to tell Goodreads to stop posting my activity to Facebook (anyone know how to do this?). But there are some serious Goodreads pros for a teacher who only sees her students for about 45 minutes a week, too. Pros: it’s digital, which means no more printing logs; it’s digital, so I can keep track of students’ activities even when I’m not seeing them every day; it’s digital, so they can all be “friends” with each other and keep each other accountable; and it’s digital, so they can have discussions even though they never actually have sessions together with me (since most of our lessons are one-on-one). A non-digital pro: it’s a great way to keep a log of all you’ve read. I can see students enjoying seeing their lists of “read” books grow!

We have a group called “Liz’s Tutoring Students.” I need to come up with a better name. From what I can tell, students can have book discussions and add books to the group list from our group page. They can also do this maintenance on their home pages, and I’m not sure how the two overlap. I’m also not sure if there’s a way for me to keep track of “minutes read” or “pages read”… still trying to figure that one out. Would love to hear stories about awesome ways you’ve used Goodreads, or any advice or warnings you have if this is something you’ve done with students before. Or, if you know of other wonderful sites to support students’ independent reading, send them along!

The Ageist Myth of Digital Media: Or, My Chat with Papaw

Today, I talked to my grandfather.

Why did I talk to Papaw? Well, two reasons. 1) I like talking to Papaw. 2) For one of my classes, I need to write a blog post. Requirements stipulate that the post be in response to an interview of someone who has used a typewriter. I have used a typewriter, but one cannot interview oneself. Correction: one can, but one would look crazy. Besides, those moments reside in the far reaches of my childhood memories (and once in college). So I racked my brain. Who to ring up?


A former teacher?

Wendell Berry? I don’t know him but I once knew someone who knew him…

I rested on calling my grandfather, not because any of the above options wouldn’t have worked just fine for this assignment (Wendell Berry would’ve been downright cool), but because I am in the throes of dissertation proposal madness and wanted to talk to someone who composed his dissertation by hand and on typewriters, to find out what that was like. And to be reassured that this process is, in fact, this difficult no matter how or when you do it. And to learn some stuff about dissertating from someone who got his PhD at The University in Illinois in 1974 — a very different time, when dissertating meant library-going, dewey-decimal searching, and hand-drafting.

Papaw started by describing how his doctoral thesis came together — the word “laborious” came up more than once. He wrote his dissertation (I just learned this today — how is that possible? I’m ashamed.) on the electrical responses of houseflies’ hair receptors. Electrophysiology… or something. He wrote much of the dissertation by hand, piecing it together in various drafts and with various versions, typing it on a shared electric typewriter in the lab when it a chapter needed to be sent to a committee member. He didn’t type the final version; instead, he hired a neighbor/typist who lived across the street from him and Nana in the their tiny town of Homer, Illinois.

By the time Papaw was working on his PhD in the 1970s, typewriters were common. Were electric. Papaw has never really worked on a non-electric typewriter, though he and Nana had one — a hand-me-down from my great-grandfather that got lost in a move or a spring cleaning somewhere along the way. But though Papaw spent much of his adult life using electric typewriters — his job as an editor in New York pre-PhD required some time in front of typewriters, no doubt — he has since moved on to a computer command station that seriously puts mine to shame.

Papaw’s Command Station

He’s currently writing a book about American jazz pianist and organist Milt Buckner (did I mention my Papaw is also a professional jazz pianist? Someday I’ll be as cool as him), and has composed — and researched — the entire contents of the book with the aid of digital technologies.

When I asked him, “was there anything better about the way you used to do it?”
He said, very decisively, “No.”
And I laughed.

I laughed because my septuagenarian grandfather is one of the more digitally literate adults I know, and because I knew that would be his answer even before I asked the question. He went on to tell me how much more quickly he can work now that he has the Internet to help him track down resources, a word processor that allows him to revise in the moment, and the ability to cut and paste without literally cutting and pasting pages together. His book has been coming together over the course of the past year, and has involved phone and email interviews, Internet searches for Buckner’s daughter, and database hunts for books and articles at the U of I libraries.

As the “digital revolution,” if that’s a thing, has progressed, Papaw has altered his approach to writing and composing drastically. He has a system for converting old records into digital music files (this has always eluded me), he scanned and archived all the family photos (this came in very handy when I made a photo-video tribute for my Mom upon graduating college), and now he is composing a biography (for fun). He was a die-hard iPod user starting with the first version of iPod Mini. I’m not a Mac user, and I give him and the rest of my family plenty of guff for joining that cult, but I’m relatively astounded by Papaw’s willingness to try on, check out, and experiment with new technologies.

But maybe astounded isn’t the right word for me to use. I know plenty of people between the ages of 30 and 80 who know how to “use computers” in ways that many college and high school students do not. As I have designed my research study on teachers’ uses of digital media, many people I’ve talked to have questioned whether or not my findings will simply revolve around age. The mantra: “well that’s easy — the older teachers won’t use technology, and the younger ones will.” Though I see why this relatively ageist belief gets perpetuated in our society, I’m not terribly convinced. I talk to Papaw, who is using his digital devices to do everything from compose and disseminate music to write a book about a jazz organist, and I’m not convinced. I watch a veteran teacher use digital spaces to conduct writing workshops with her students, and I’m not convinced. I watch my undergraduate students in my composition courses struggle with how to create well-thought-out, rhetorically-intelligent websites, and I’m not convinced. Do I think that today’s adults face challenges when it comes to learning how to use digital media in ways that work best for what we want to do? Yes. But so do kids, especially when we fail to teach them how to use these technologies in ways my grandfather is using them now — carefully, critically, and with a purpose in mind.

Marc Prensky, in an essay that I really need to quit citing but that continues to rile me up, argues that today’s teachers are “immigrants,” today’s students “natives” when it comes to the “digital language” (first of all, Prensky, it’s not language, it’s literacy) of the 21st century. I’m going to set the offensive immigrant/native language aside for a moment and focus on the implications of his argument — if, indeed, teachers and other adults who grew up around typewriters and wrote their theses by hand are “immigrants” who can’t shed their non-digital accents, then the digital literacy divide issue should be solved with a generational turnover, right? Wrong. Today’s teacher education curricula do not contain emphases on critical uses of digital technologies, today’s students are slammed with tests that do not communicate the relevance or importance of digital literacies, and today’s teachers are forced to respond to legislation that threatens to take their jobs if they don’t raise test scores. In this environment, a generational turnover isn’t going to “solve” anything related to digital literacy smarts.

I often meet older adults — like Papaw — who are critical users of whatever writing technologies serve the purpose of the moment (and are relatively available). When Papaw needed to use a typewriter, he did. When something else came along that made comprehensive revision more possible and mistakes easier to fix, he learned how to use it, attaining new digital literacies that he did not have before. This isn’t to say that typewriters might not be the better choice for a writer, even today. It is instead to emphasize that it isn’t the technology, but what the writer wants to do, what the technology enables, and how these two things align, that matters.

As our conversation ran off on a tangent, away from typewriters and into Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogging, Papaw and I shared our experiences with various social media. I talked about how I have a Twitter account that I’m horrendously bad at keeping up with, and he mentioned how he has a LinkedIn account that he barely touches. We talked about the various purposes of these sites, who their audiences are, and how the various disciplines of music, art, academia, and business use different media to create their digital networks. Eventually I realized that I needed to read, write, and teach; that the conversation had strayed far from typewriters; and that I should probably get off the phone.

But the impact of my chat with Papaw lingers, and will likely linger throughout the week. This conversation raised a number of questions for me about the assumptions our society holds about young people, old people, and all the somewhere-in-the-middle people. Are our nation’s young people somehow naturally adept at using particular technologies in ways older people are not? Are the experiences, literacies, and technologies of older people obsolete in a 21st century world dominated by computers, tablets, and smartphones? My gut reaction, obviously, is a resounding no. My bigger question, then, is how to communicate that one can be, or become, a critical, intelligent, careful consumer and producer of digital media, no matter the times and no matter their age?

Thanks to Willard Woodward, retired biology professor, amazing pianist, and forever my inspiration.

New Link: The Revision Project!

Check out the new link in the right-hand navigation bar to my latest project!

I have been working, last semester and this summer, on a project with a few of my colleagues here at the University. We created a website that we have entitled The Revision Project. We interviewed undergraduates here at UM and asked them to talk about their revision processes — the site features their thoughts, along with some teacher resources (these are still under construction, but a few are there!). We’re still working on the site, but since we’re showing it to the EDWP instructors today in colloquium, I figured what better day to tell others, too?!

We hope people will find it a useful resource in their composition classrooms! 🙂 Check it out and tell us your thoughts!

Digital Composition in the Teacher Ed Classroom

I have needed — wanted — to blog this past week, but haven’t for two reasons:

  1. I felt like I should blog about the Chicago teacher’s strike, but haven’t been keeping up like I should be.
  2. Time. Hence, (1).

So I’m not going to blog about the strike, but this morning granted me a drizzly day and a little bit of time (that, yes, I should probably be spending elsewhere) to check my feeds and wait for the green radar blob to pass over Ann Arbor before my run, so here I am. And instead of blogging about the strike, I’m going to engage this post from Sweetland’s Digital Rhetoric Collaborative, “Creating an Ebook and Mobile App Multimedia Authoring Course: Getting Started.” Murray’s been tasked with designing a course for his department surrounding the development of ebooks/mobile apps, and as we all do when we design a course, needs to ask: “What do I want students to learn and why?”

A much harder question, when teaching with digital media, than it might sometimes seem, and one I’ve been grappling with since my move from the composition classroom into working with pre-service English teachers.

It’s a difficult question in part because there are so many potential goals one might have for authorship in digital, hypertextual spaces, and these goals depend on one’s teaching context. These goals could be functional; when you ask students to set goals for themselves on projects like this, they often set functional goals first. “I want to learn how to use iMovie” has been a common one in my classroom — okay, but how do you know you’ve “learned how to use iMovie?” is my typical response. But perhaps the teacher’s goal really is to teach students “how to” do something in a digital authorship space. For example, this semester my pre-service English teacher folks are designing WordPress sites where they will archive teaching artifacts, blog about their experiences in their field placements, and post things like CVs and teaching philosophies. One of my goals is for them to actually learn “okay, here’s how I navigate WordPress” and “holy cow, there’s this thing called WordPress that I could totally use in my classroom!”

Or your goals might be rhetorical. As Murray notes,

Students who author in any kind of digital environment are being especially asked to compose in more than one mode, forcing them to think about rhetorical issues of design as well as content. The more practice students get in doing this, the better. Students must be aware of and be able to manage discursive AND non-discursive textual production.

The follow-up question is inevitably and of course, “why?” For my pre-service teachers, headed into teaching environments where making time for assignments that require students to engage in rhetorical decision-making gets eclipsed by time spent preparing students for the ACT, they will need to not only be able to say this is important, but to say why it’s important. Which means I need to be able to say why it’s important for pre-service teachers to learn. Which I still struggle with.

I suppose in part I engage my students with digital composition in pre-service courses because I want them to think rhetorically about how they present themselves as teachers to the world — today, teachers either get upheld in heartwarming films that depict the teacher as self-sacrificing hero (there’s a new one coming out… sigh), or they get denigrated by a media that wants to blame teachers for the world’s ills (see: all coverage of CPS strike). My students need to know how to present themselves as teachers to the public in ways that are both professional and personable. Teachers make rhetorical decisions all day long — in the graphic organizers they design for third period, in the presentation they prepare for staff members at the end of the day, in their correspondences with parents, in the design of their classroom websites, in the way they word and present assignments to students. These things get eclipsed in a lot of teacher education classrooms, but engaging with digital media composition makes those decisions more conscious, more surface-level.

Or, your goals might be critical. You might want students to question the role of particular technologies/apps/etc. in their lives. As Murray puts it, you might want students to “think more critically of the applications they see daily and ask questions regarding their purpose, intended audience, design, functionality/usability, and, ultimately, rhetorical affordances. The app may function, but to what ends and for whom?” This is a very real part of teaching — so many teachers are faced with moments where administrators or other teachers present a new program, a new technology, accompanied by “oooo check out this cool new thing we’re now going to use in all the classrooms!” Too many terrible technologies are being lobbed at teachers these days. I’m thinking, in particular, of my own experiences with Criterion, an automated essay evaluator/grader that I was told I must use during my first two years of teaching. At first, my critical digital literacies weren’t up to snuff — I didn’t have the skills to look at the technology and ask “to what ends and for whom?” By the time I had earned a master’s degree and worked with it for two years, Criterion all but made me nauseous. My hope is that it won’t take my students two years and an advanced degree to ask questions like this in their careers.

Alright, drizzle has subsided — time for a run. As always, DRC has given me much to think about today.

An hour and a half later…

It rained on me anyway. Oh well. 🙂