EC&I 832, Major Project

Photosharing Apps – Impacting Media Literacy

Photosharing apps like Snapchat, Instagram and PicCollage are changing how we communicate with one another. Our students are creating, writing, reading, and comprehending a myriad of messages through the use of pictures, short chats and captions.  What we used to write in a letter or email to a family member or friend, or convey over a lengthy phone call while making dinner or lying on our beds doing homework is being captured and shared via quick snapshots of our lives in a matter of seconds. No lengthy explanations or descriptions, sometimes no context, sometimes nothing but a simple photo.  It makes me think about the literacy skills students need in order to communicate effectively this way.  I either teach about literacy or watch educators teach it almost everyday.  Are we teaching students all the literacy skills they need now, in today’s Snapchat/Instagram world?

The guiding question I have been using for this portion of my project is:

Any app, but particularly those that rely on visuals, chats and quick captions, potentially require a different set of literacy skills to allow students to communicate effectively and to make meaning of what they see.  Is any of this media calling on students to comprehend or communicate in ways we do not traditionally teach?  Should this impact or shift our literacy instruction given how widely these apps are used?  In what ways?


Photo Credit: Hernandez, Andrea. “Media Literacy”. http://www.flickr.com/photos/21847073@N05/8599553567

I think there are two different elements of media literacy to be considered within my question concerning photosharing apps like Instagram, Snapchat and PicCollage. The first is literacy as a consumer/contributor of media at large – I mean the critical examination of photos, videos, news headlines and captions, etc., that they are exposed to from the wider public.  This involves critical thinking skills that examine sources, validity of information, messaging – purpose as well as the actual message – and other skills necessary to be a critical consumer and potential contributor to public media. The other element is the group of literacy skills needed within their own social media circles.  This might include not only photo-visual, but also socio-emotional literacy skills and real time thinking.  What is my friend trying to say with that picture? How do I feel about what they posted? How are they feeling?  Are we equipping students to effectively comprehend and communicate in this way?

The article, “Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Assess Social Media Assignments” by J.J. Sylvia IV, states that using social media in the classroom helps develop necessary skills for the 21st Century. These include: fluency based in multiple media, each valued for what it offers; learning based on collectively seeking, filtering and synthesizing experiences; active learning based on both real and simulated experiences; expression through non-linear, associated webs of representations rather than linear “stories”; and co-design of personalized learning experiences. This is great and complex/critical learning.  Can we teach students to develop these 21st Century skills using our present day literacy practices with social media apps as the tool?  Or do we have to change the practices too?  The article goes on to suggest using Bloom’s taxonomy and incorporating social media (as well as other technology tools) into assignments and outcomes.


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Connectsafely.org put out The Educator’s Guide to Social Media which I used quite a lot in various aspects of my project. They spoke about the importance of having students use critical thinking skills to evaluate sources and how they must take responsibility for what they post online.  In the context of photosharing apps, I was thinking that incorrect inferences made with too little information can lead to inaccurate information being spread.  Again, it becomes an issue of students (and adults!) having literacy skills appropriate to make meaning from this type of communication.  The guide speaks specifically about Snapchat saying, “One reason many young people like Snapchat is because it is “in the present.” It’s not about taking pictures to look at later in life but to experience them in the moment and then move on. It’s as if photos are part of a conversation rather than as fodder for memories.”  Very true.  How do we become part of the conversation?

In upcoming blog posts related to this guiding question, I have some specific ideas from my research and my own experience using the apps related to specific literacy skills we should be using in our instruction.


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