With the introduction of the new Common Core State Standards, teachers are challenged to bring more non-print texts into the classroom. Educators who are serious about meeting these standards are well served by considering the reality behind the idea of “digital natives.” While our students may be able to use video games, Web sites, or mobile devices, that does not mean they are born with the ability to create and critique multimodal digital texts. The rhetoric surrounding “digital natives” often creates the perception that all students can jump on a computer and produce digital creations professionals would envy. While many adolescents do cultivate new literacies outside of school, their abilities rarely transfer to advanced digital composition skills in school. The truth is that transferring from multimedia “consumer” to multimedia “creator” is a learning process like any other.
Several years ago I approached my colleague Ryan Goble about creating a Web 2.0 unit for sixth grade that would help students make the transition from passive user to active creator. I noticed that most of my computer-based assignments required a lot of individualized instruction; if an error message came up or students hit a wall, instead of overcoming the challenge by reading to see how to proceed, their hands shot up instantly for help. While I would point them toward the program’s help menu or FAQ features, many of these so-called digital natives repeatedly avoided these resources. In response, Ryan and I developed a unit called TEXPERTS TAKE OVER!, using a word I made up to describe a student “tech expert” who would teach peers how to do a specific technology skill.
This unit starts in familiar territory for students, only slightly pushing the boundaries of what they already know, and steadily increases the level of challenge in a three-phase model. The final phase involves a small group of students working with a Web or iPad application they’ve never used before to present content (any kind of content works) to their classmates. By the final phase, they’ve learned to look to each other and to built-in tutorials, videos, help menus, and FAQs in order to “master” their app and use it to create a product they can use to teach others. GoAnimate has consistently been one of the apps we use. Every year the GoAnimate team adds new features and capabilities, and because of their attention to detail for new users, our students are always able to find their footing within the app fairly quickly and begin to use it to create videos that they and their classmates love to watch.
Finding apps for the TEXPERTS TAKE OVER! unit can be challenging because we want programs that are available with free versions, provide in-app assistance to new users, and produce high-interest end products that the kids are proud to share with classmates, other teachers, and parents. GoAnimate meets all those criteria. When so-called “digital natives” jump into it with both feet, they don’t find themselves floundering! Their end products would make you think they really were natural-born experts in this exciting digital environment.
–Kelly L. Farrow, LRC Director, Fairmount School, Downers Grove (Illinois) District 58
-Ryan Goble, Adjunct professor, Aurora University and Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL
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