Literacy Junction: Adolescent Identity and Social Agency on the Web
Pru Cuper, Hiller Spires, North Carolina State University, United States
Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, in Nashville, Tennessee, USA ISBN 978-1-880094-44-0 Publisher: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC USA
Before designing web-based learning opportunities for adolescents, there are a few considerations worth noting. Perhaps the most basic of these considerations is the fact that . . . "for middle schoolers, school is primarily a place for making friends . . . and figuring out just who you are. Somewhere after all of that, it's also a place for learning" (Beers, 1995). Literacy Junction, an interactive web site for middle school teachers and students, takes full advantage of this well-established understanding of what engages and motivates adolescents. Following eighteen months of design and curriculum content development, our web site now offers a number of unique features that are proving to be of value and interest to middle school students. In our presentation, we will describe the design process and conceptual underpinnings of Literacy Junction as well as the results of ongoing research with the site. Literacy Junction consists of three conceptual tiers. First, there is Cyber Heights Middle School (CHMS), Literacy Junction's virtual learning center. CHMS is a bustling place, replete with a cast of cybercharacters who typify the idiosyncrasies of real world adolescents and teachers. These "virtual" characters serve as our cybermodels, demonstrating academic approaches to the literature-related activities offered at Literacy Junction. After getting to know the resident cyberkids, our "actual" (or real world) student visitors are then invited to create their own cybercharacters to attend CHMS. These student-created characters immediately become part of our cybercommunity and are invited to participate in our online learning opportunities through the genius of the kids who created them. Based on preliminary research, we are finding that the process of creating and voicing the views of cybercharacters encourages identity exploration and negotiation that fascinates as well as challenges our adolescent visitors. A third and final tier of cybercharacters is comprised of our "fictional" CHMS attendees. These are the many (and varied) protagonists from the books featured on Literacy Junction. After getting acquainted with and helping to create cybercharacters, Literacy Junction's student visitors "go to class" at CHMS in what might be best described as the Literacy Junction Impact Zone. We like to think of CHMS classes as a cyber learning space where global visitors come together and engage with a diverse crew of virtual, actual, and fictional fellow learners. So what actually goes on in these classes? CHMS classes feature technology-enhanced experiences with outstanding young adult literature that often call for critical analysis of contemporary social issues. As students respond to these social issues, issues that are prompted by the literature featured on our site, they are challenged to develop both their individual and collective senses of social agency. They are challenged to grapple with real world problems that are not always easy to solve or even, perhaps, to understand. Through their own perspectives, as well as the unlimited perspectives of the cybercharacters they create, students negotiate their evolving identities and embrace their emerging roles as socially responsible citizens. In conclusion, we respect and agree with Katherine Beers's claim that middle schoolers thrive on social interaction; simultaneously, we are mindful of the critique of technology as an isolating form of learning. Almost two decades ago, Naisbitt (1984) aptly noted, "Whenever new technology is introduced into society, there must be a counterbalancing human response . . . The more high tech it is, the more high touch is needed." Literacy Junction integrates the personal (i.e., high touch) with the intellectual in a creative, challenging manner that potentially yields social and academic benefits for middle school students. References Beers, K. (1999). Literature: Our way in. Voices from the Middle, 7, 9-16. Naisbitt, J. (1984). Megatrends. New York: Warner Books.
Cuper, P. & Spires, H. (2002). Literacy Junction: Adolescent Identity and Social Agency on the Web. In D. Willis, J. Price & N. Davis (Eds.), Proceedings of SITE 2002--Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1949-1950). Nashville, Tennessee, USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).