Although the use of internet and digital materials in the language classroom has come a long way over the last 20 years, still the vast majority of web based material that finds its way into the language classroom is used for information input or comprehension purposes. The students’ interaction with the materials is as such largely passive with the teacher controlling the suitability of the materials selected and deciding what information the students will extract from it.
In Thinking Critically through Digital Media I have tried to build on this model, but develop it and take it to deeper and more critical levels of analysis that go beyond the superficial linguistic level and help to develop students not only as English language speakers, but as capable information literate participants in the global knowledge economy.
The book uses as its basis the development of key digital literacies. These include the ability to understand visually presented data, the ability collect and analyse data using a range of techniques and survey tools and the ability to create and deliver a range of presentation types using digital media tools.
Whilst developing these digital literacies students are also encouraged to assess the validity, credibility and underlying bias of the information they study and are given a range of research tools and techniques for reassessing the information and evaluating how it fits within their personal framework of belief systems and values.
The book itself has four main chapters.
The first three chapters contain a range of activities that teachers can use with students to develop their abilities to understand and create infographics, develop research polls and surveys and create and deliver presentations. These activities give students hands on exposure to a range of recommended tools and develop students as active creators of information whilst developing their abilities to work collaboratively in digital online environments.
The fourth key chapter of the book is a collection of lesson plans that teachers can use to take students through a complete process from accessing their existing knowledge about a topic, understanding new input, examining how the information fits into their existing value scheme, checking the credibility and validity of the information, carrying out their own parallel research through social media to finally sharing and reevaluating what they have learned.
I believe that the skills and abilities teachers can help students develop through the use of these materials are ones that are sadly lacking, not only in the English language classroom but also in the general education of many students around the world.
Through the use of these materials I hope teachers can develop more actively and intellectually critical students who approach digital media with the ability not only to comprehend and consume information but also understand the possible bias, motivation and underlying values of those creating the information. I believe these skills and abilities are key to creating a more tolerant, open-minded and critically aware global society.
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A well-structured book with a cornucopia of links
In this day and age of post-truth, alternative facts, fake news, it is more imperative than ever for youngsters (and adults) to learn how to evaluate sources of information. Distinguishing fact from fiction is one of the challenges of the age (there was even a creative writing talk recently entitled: Is non-fiction the new fiction?). Media literacy is nothing new of course: I was teaching my students how to interpret the media, and how to interpret statistical data.
But the main differences, I think, are that these days news, whether true or false, travels far more quickly than it used to, and is uncontainable. By that I mean that the days in which you could limit the fallout from fake news by recalling and pulping printed material are long gone.
All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that this book is very timely. And what makes it even better is that it covers a range of useful topics: infographics, surveys, and presentations.
Also, this is not a dry academic tome on the one hand, nor a ‘populist’ book on the other, neither of which are of much immediately practical use to the busy teacher. This is, rather, a book written and structured with schools, teachers and pupils very much in mind.
That is evident not only from the copious suggestions and assignments throughout the book, but also the chapter containing 10 lesson plans.
Now, it’s worth saying that when I first looked at some of the topics covered by the lesson plans — body language, breakfast, weddings — I thought the choices were rather odd. After all, they are not the kind of subjects featured in the National Curriculum as far as I know. But on reflection, the choice and range of topics are good, because they demonstrate that the structure and approach of the lesson plans will work in any context.
Another aspect of the book I liked very much was the number of resources suggested. I try to keep abreast of techie stuff but I had no idea of the existence of some of the excellent websites for creating presentations, infographics, videos and so on. I’m looking forward to retying them out!
Bottom line: the book is excellent, and excellent value for money. Even if you don’t teach media literacy or digital literacy, buy the book just to try out all the resources yourself.
Enjoyable and Useful
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and will enjoy using some of the lessons with my students. I particularly enjoyed exploring all of the free websites and resources that Nik shared and spent ages looking at what they offer. The lesson plans are invaluable for any teacher, there is a huge range of activities in each one and they could easily be adapted to almost any situation. The lessons are based on current topics including subjects like the science of happiness, emotional intelligence, textile wastage and advertising developing digital literacy through the activities offered. This book will be useful for any teacher wishing to make use of infographics in their teaching, it introduces many way they can be used in the classroom.