The rapid proliferation of social media has sparked publication of a wide body of research in the last decade. This curriculum is guided by current theories on the impact of social media from scholars such as danah boyd and David Buckingham. Foundational documents from both the public — U.S. Department of Education — and private — Partnership for 21st Century Skills — sectors were considered as the goals and vision of this curriculum was developed. White papers from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning and the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy also guided much of our curriculum planning.

This annotated bibliography is organized by three themes — personal identity, media literacy, and social activism — and includes an examination of related literature. When considering what curriculum strategies most effectively communicate the vision, a project-based learning model was adopted (Krajcik et al., 1994) and “standards-conscious” rather than “standards-driven” mentality employed (Sleeter, 2005).

Personal Identity in the Digital Age — Reviewed by Anwar Shariff

boyd, d. (2008) “Why Youth Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life." Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Edited by David Buckingham. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 119–142.

In this article dana boyd details the results of a two-year study involving American, high school aged, urban youth and their engagement with social networks, primarily MySpace. Her article addresses the impact that participation on social networking sites can have on teenage identity. She outlines the intended use of social networking sites, detailing their history as a social phenomenon, their popular features and intentional structure as designed by major corporations. Her article aims to answer essential questions regarding teen motives for and processes of engagement. Boyd (2008) also discusses the social needs of teenagers and how social networks may meet and distort the attainment of those needs via the impact of networked publics on identity, interpretation and privacy. In the end, she compels adult society to critique their own framing of networked publics and devise ways to help young people navigate these social spaces that are not likely to disappear.

Of key interest to our curriculum is boyd’s examination of how “teens are modeling identity through social network profiles”. boyd’s extensive ethnographic data and analysis of participation patterns among teens on these various sites provided useful insight into how the adolescents that our curriculum addresses may also attempt to fulfill developmental needs through social networking. Knowing the expressed social needs of teens helps us to design a critical questions for adolescents around identity and better prepares us to prepare them for the risks associated with attempting to have those met online. Of importance was boyd’s introduction of the concept of “networked publics”. This new form of public, that has the potential to broaden one’s online social activity for many to experience is an example of some of the complications of identity performance both on and offline that our target audience will face.

Buckingham, D. (2008). “Introducing Identity." Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 1–24.

Buckingham’s article discusses five approaches to exploring identity. The first two approaches focus on the formation of youth identities as seen from both psychological and sociological theories. Both approaches offer insight into how young people are approaching and engaging with digital media. His final three approaches concern the nature of identity as defined simultaneously in a group and individual context, how it is formed and how these variables are changing in a rapidly changing society. These discussions shed light on various digital media behaviors being performed by youth such as instant messaging and the creation of online identities and help to answer whether these behaviors create a divide between real and assumed identities, if such a divide is even possible. He includes a discussion of identity politics and other “significant shifts in how identity is constructed and experienced in the contemporary world” (p.10).

Central to our curriculum is an understanding of the concept of identity and the developmental stages that adolescents progress through that end in identity formation. Through an exploration of the differences and significance of both online and face-to-face identities, our students will have the opportunity to answer critical questions that we hope will inform the choices they make as they seek social validation and self knowledge. Buckingham’s article provides many of the current perspectives on identity that will inform our unit development and influence our lesson planning. His discussion of the realities of student engagement with technology help us to form a more focused intent on supporting the use of technology for social change.

Herring, S. (2008). “Questioning the Generational Divide: Technological Exoticism and Adult Constructions of Online Youth Identity." Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. Edited by David Buckingham. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 71–92.

In Herring’s article, she addresses aged-based differences in the use and perspective of technology. She includes the currents trends in adult perspectives about youth’s social behavior that has developed around technological trends. She also deals with the topic of the identity construction of youth by adults as media producers through gaming sites, advertising and mass marketing. She includes an expression of the ideas and perspectives of various members of the internet generation in an attempt to get a more realistic account of how youth are actually engaging with digital media. Finally she discusses the differing viewpoints of the risks of participation in various forms of digital media from adult’s perspective and youth’s actual online behaviors. She suggests a shifting of the focus in future research away from technological trends of youth and to the youth themselves as their behavior is predictable according to their needs.

This article helps us to consider the impact that adults (who currently control digital media) have on youth identity construction and how in many ways they may miss the mark. The way adults construct youth identities via digital media may vary vastly from the way that youth understand themselves. This will inform our curriculum to divest some of the power of representation to youth who in many ways will begin to take control of their own reputation through blogging, web campaigns and other forms of media content.

Media Literacy - Reviewed by Katie McNeil

Burnett, C., & Merchant, G. (2011). Is there a space for critical literacy in the context of social media? English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 10(1), 41-57.

This paper explores the tradition of critical pedagogy, specifically in literacy, and examines how the use of critique applies to the fluid, ever-changing environment of social media. Burnett & Merchant (2011) describe the balancing act required for teaching social media literacy: a balance between respecting students media interests and “spoiling those interests” by implying there is a “better way.” They argue that because social media is so intertwined with learners’ identities, a critical look at their digital behavior might seem threatening or invasive. Static text was once thought of as a main source of knowledge but the digital revolution has put citizens in the publisher’s seat. As such, media literacy needs to shift from critiquing text to critiquing users.

Burnett & Merchant’s (2011) model for critical practice with social media includes the interdependent aspects of practice, identity and networks. They argue that educators often mistakenly make decisions for their students, e.g., “you will learn literacy in a certain way because that will enable you to read/write in a way that reflects who we think you should become” (p. 55). This is counterproductive to the critical tradition, which empowers students’ agency and control.

Hobbs, R. (2010). Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action. Retrieved:

Renee Hobbs (2010) wrote this white paper based on the 2009 media literacy recommendations of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. In light of our “always-on” culture, Hobbs argues for the necessity of digital and media literacy both in school, at home and in our communities. She sees digital literacy as having the “potential to maximize what we value most about the empowering characteristics of media and technology, while minimizing its negative dimensions” (Hobbs, 2010, p. xi). She urges educators to move “beyond a tool-oriented focus that conflates having access to media and technology with the skillful use of it” (Hobbs, 2010, p. xii). Instead of teaching with media, she advocates teaching about media — promoting critical thinking and questioning of content.

Ultimately, Hobbs does not view media literacy skills as optional or nice-to-have. Rather, “media and digital literacy education is now fundamentally implicated in the practice of citizenship” (Hobbs, 2010, p. 16).

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). Framework for 21st Century Learning. Retrieved:

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is a coalition of nonprofits and businesses advocating for the teaching of higher-order skills in K-12 education. Acknowledging the gap between what children are taught in school and the skills needed for the workforce, the partnership has created a framework outlining the knowledge and expertise students must master to succeed in work and life. Information, media and technology skills is included as one of the four ideal outcomes.

This literacy includes the ability to “understand both how and why media messages are constructed, and for what purposes” and to “examine how individuals interpret messages differently, how values and points of view are included or excluded, and how media can influence beliefs and behaviors.”In addition to theoretical arguments for the teaching of higher-order skills, the website also offers resources for K-12 implementation and assessment.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology. (2010). Transforming American Education: Learning Powered By Technology. Retrieved:

In 2010 the U.S. Department of Education released its first National Education Technology Plan (NETP). The 124-page plan outlines goals in five areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure and productivity, and offers recommendations for states and districts to achieve those goals. Underlying the plan is the growing urgency for the United States to “remain competitive in a global economy” (NETP Executive Summary, p. 13). To do so, the Department of Education calls for the teaching of “21st-century competencies and such expertise as critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication” which should be “woven into all content areas” (p. 8).

In the context of this curriculum, we focused our attention on the teaching and learning components of the plan. In the learning section (p. 14), goals include: the implementing technology across all subjects, leveraging technology to promote equitable access to education and promoting STEM-focused curricula. The teaching goals (p. 16) included: expanding access to technology-based tools, engaging teachers in professional learning networks on social media, using technology to reach the most vulnerable students, training preservice teachers in digital literacy, and developing an online teacher workforce.

Williamson, B. (2013). The Future of the Curriculum: School knowledge in the digital age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

This report, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation initiative on Digital Media and Learning, explores how technological innovation is ushering a need for innovation in curricula. The report attempts to answer what the future of curricula is in the digital age. Operating on the theory that “any curriculum always represents a certain way of understanding the past while also promoting a particular vision of the future,” the report argues that education reform is necessary for adaptation to the new knowledge economy. It promotes “open source” rather than fixed curricula and encourages the shift from teaching “know-what” to teaching “know-how.”

Social Media for Social Good - Reviewed by Susanna Oh

Bennett, W. L. (2008). Changing citizenship in the digital age. Civic life online: Learning how digital media can engage youth, 1, 1-24.

Bennett highlights the parallel trend in the alleged disengagement of youth in conventional political spheres with the growth in social networks, entertainment vehicles and online communities. He frames his article through two contrasting yet dominant paradigms. The engaged view legitimizes shared online spaces from blogging and Facebook to “World of Warcraft” as communities of civic engagement thereby freeing youth to personally express themselves openly in collective spaces. In contrast, the disengaged perspective confines civic engagement to the conventional, public sphere of politics, lending to an attitude of despair in youth as exemplified in the decreasing participation of youth in elections. The latter view ignores the potential of online communities. Bennett therefore calls for an openness to unfamiliar “brands” of civic engagement through the development of educational spaces that nurture this view of political participation. He suggests a shift for multiple players to take significant roles in redefining the nature of civic engagement including politicians, governments, educators, policymakers, operators of youth engagement networks, scholars, information producers and students. Resolving these dissonant perspectives of “proper” citizenship will bridge the gap between young people’s social and civic realities as well as integrate the online and offline worlds of youth.

This article provides a very comprehensive review of multiple influential players and the way in which they may drive conventional top-down approaches to educating and involving youth in public and political spheres. This broad range of stakeholders has not only helped to contextualize the content of this curriculum, but it has also informed the final unit plan in identifying key actors that could be addressed in different lessons to broaden the scope of potential allies that could assist students both in their final unit project and hopefully for their future out-of-classroom projects as well. This article has inspired the need to familiarize students with the role these players take as well as provide opportunities to appeal to them in different lessons across this unit (e.g. following the Twitter account of a Member of Congress and tweeting him/her with relevant questions; comparing the news articles on CNN with a private blog such as Slashdot and then commenting of their respective websites).

Hobbs, R. (2008). Debates and challenges facing new literacies in the 21st century. International Handbook of Children, Media and Culture. London: Sage, 431-447.

Despite access to information on the Internet, youth are still unable to analyze, interpret and evaluate the abundance of information online. Recognizing that a new phase of media literacy has emerged, Hobbs provides an overview of key debates developing among multiple stakeholders, some seeking to reinforce cultural values while others aiming to challenge the norms of society. She discusses the four main approaches of media literacy (i.e. media literacy, ICT literacy, critical literacy and media management) that have developed in the past decade, suggesting that they essentially use the same set of tools although they make different claims about the value of each. The aims and goals of teaching media literacy must therefore be clearly defined in educational program for youth.

One of the four learning outcomes in youth media programs identified by a working group of practitioners in media education at the Education Development Center is civic engagement. They provide descriptors of this outcome as, “a) finding your voice, representing oneself, being honest and authentic; b) work mirrors social issues and issues of personal significance; c) developing perspective and taking actions based on one’s opinions/beliefs; and d) aware of community needs and issues, relevant/contextual content” (p. 439). These descriptors essentially frame the key objectives of the present curriculum, particularly in the last unit as the learning about personal identity, and media literacy converge and are applied in the final performance-based task.

Levine, P. (2008). A public voice for youth: The audience problem in digital media and civic education. Civic life online: Learning how digital media can engage youth, 119-138.

Levine promotes the participatory cultural production of digital media in schools as a relevant and strategic means to involve students in civic engagement. This platform offers a public voice for youth to participate in political activism, problem solving and deliberation at a developmental stage in life when personal ideologies are relatively “plastic.” Further, Levine outlines the importance of active citizenry as a necessary component of a healthy democracy. In particular, he expresses the need for democracies to maintain heterogeneity in public opinion, which he pits against the growing homogenous mass culture monopolized by corporate capitalism. He suggests however, that acquiring a public voice for students is “not a natural process and must therefore by taught intentionally by educators” (p. 125). Through service-learning programs in schools, including opportunities for online media production, Levine cites several examples not only in support of civic engagement, but also improved academic success, lower dropout rates and improved student engagement. Recognizing the potential in setting students up for disappointment, he ends his article by providing four practical strategies to address the issue of finding an interested audience: creating highly interactive game-like environments, marketing through live events such as screenings, development of digital media that have require low investments of time and expertise, and beginning their projects on user-friendly formats such as their own social networks.

Levine’s article is highly relevant in providing both evidence through various theories and case studies to support the premise of the present curriculum. Not only does he recognize the value of nurturing social activism in youth, but he also acknowledges its necessity in response to the threat of mass culture that shadows the wealth of ideas that grays the mosaic of opinions inherent in today’s youth. His practical suggestions in “building an audience” also provide a framework which will inform the construction of the final unit of study.

Mihailidis, P. (2011). New Civic Voices & the Emerging Media Literacy Landscape. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 3(1), 4-5.

The Arab Spring was a significant turning point that transformed social media networks from social forums for entertainment to tools for participatory instigation. Social media now transcends borders and boundaries, providing a voice for everyday citizens to express issues of accountability, corruption and has blurred the lines between speaker and audience through a free-flowing exchange of information, ideas and images. Despite the ubiquitous growth of media literacy in classrooms, Mihailidis addresses three challenges that remain: 1) Youth must re-visualize tools in media literacy as having civic and democratic values, 2) Different pedagogical approaches in teaching and learning must address the ability to share and collaborate from information gained instead of simply consuming content, and 3) There is a need to address whether civic engagement can be a-politicized. With this said, Mihailidis challenges his readers to move beyond simply decoding media messages, and instead join a proactive movement that enables civic voices.

This article provides recent and tangible examples of the potential for social movements through social media. The challenges that Mihailidis mentions help to portray a more comprehensive view of the issues at hand, despite the many positive attributes of teaching media literacy. These challenges will be addressed in the final unit of the curriculum to sharpen students’ understanding of the bigger picture within which media literacy and social activism are embedded.

Rheingold, H. (2008). Using Social Media to Teach Social Media. New England Journal of Higher Education, 23(1), 25-26.

Rheingold elaborates on the context of media learning environments in which his proposed Social Media Virtual Classroom in secondary schools is positioned. He explains that for today’s youth, social media has immense potential to mobilize collective action. As such, developing online literacies such as blogs, wikis, RSS, and social network services is critical in order to capitalize on this radical shift in media participation. He highlights three distinctive qualities of participatory media: 1) many-to-many media in which multiple people have the power to broadcast within a network; 2) an emerging power from the active participation of those within the network and from the ability to connect with others in various communities; and 3) broader, faster, cheaper coordination of activities.

This article provides a clear explanation of what makes social media networks distinct from other media and why it lends itself as such a powerful tool for social activism. The concept of building a virtual social media classroom as an option for this curriculum has also provided innovative ideas for the final unit of this curriculum.

Curriculum Framework

Sleeter, C. (2005). Chapter 3: Designing curriculum around big ideas. In Un-standardizing curriculum: Multicultural teaching in the standards-based classroom (pp. 43-63). New York: TC Press.

Sleeter proposes a “standards-conscious” approach in addressing state curriculum standards. While his model is cognizant of the goals and purposes that standards help to shape, specific content and skills simply “hang” from big ideas. Rather than allowing standards to drive instruction, Sleeter suggests that “students’ actions determine what will be learned” (p. 45). Rather than passively adopting the standards with an uncritical eye, he suggests the possibilities of tweaking essential standards to suit what students are doing – “taking bits of clay and creating things with it” (p. 52). Students are therefore expected to “uncover” the curriculum in the process of inquiry about their big ideas.

Sleeter’s “standards-conscious” rather than “standards-driven” model is as an appropriate match for this curriculum. As there is great value perceived in standards across classrooms in formal schools, we have provided a clear visual of the ways in which it addresses several standards in sixth to eighth grade media literacy. Having this said, our curriculum has been designed flexibly so it can be used by different educators (e.g. individual lesson plans, units for 6th to 8th grade teachers, after-school youth workers). It is therefore important for its users to understand that students are the drivers of the learning – students are both the process and the product. Rather than measuring the success of this curriculum as a completion of a list of standards, we measure success when students have been transformed in their thinking, attitudes and behaviors based on the big ideas of this curriculum.

Project-Based Learning

Krajcik, J., Blumenfeld, P., Marx, R., & Soloway, E. (1994). A Collaborative Model for Helping Middle Grade Science Teachers Learn Project-Based Instruction. The Elementary School Journal, 94(5), 483-497.

As advocates for project-based learning, Krajcik, Blumfeld, Marx and Soloway detail its advantages, citing more critical investigations, collaboration, artifact development and reflection by students. They discuss the challenges that teachers may face such as contextual factors, personal factors and offer solutions in the form of teacher learning, classroom enactment and reflection. They encourage a process of collaboration, production and reflection, until learning objectives are met.

A science based model may help students to be more investigative about the big questions posed by our curriculum and could be instrumental in helping students develop their own ideas about the impact of digital media on their identity formation. It would also steer the culminating projects into a more comprehensive direction, one in which students involve the use of key concepts learned throughout the unit. Project based learning allows students to have major influence and decision making ability as to how they approach answering the big questions. Project based learning also more closely mirrors real world scenarios that call for problem solving skills, that students will undoubtedly find themselves involved in. The after-school environment may lend itself nicely to the creative nature of the project-based learning and support the shift away from traditional top-down educational approaches that we are advocating for.

Laffey, J., Tupper, T., Musser, D., & Wedman, J. (1998). A computer-mediated support system for project-based learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 46(1), 73-86.

In support of project-based learning, a computer mediated learning support system was designed to augment the beginning researcher’s experience. Laffey, Tupper, Musser and Wedman argue that there is an educational need for competencies that extend beyond the traditional classroom setting and that project-based learning will lead to more impactful learner outcomes. As a way of supporting both the time constraints, and teacher inexperience the Project-based learning support system (PBLSS) was invented. The PBLSS supports both instructional and learning processes that motivate a more authentic outcome of student learning and participation. This model, grounded in constructivist theory, acts as a support for project-based instruction and a foundation for future hypermedia support systems.

This tool or one similar could have positive implications on a comprehensive project such as the one we have designed. Such a system could inform all comprehensive projects required the end of each unit. We see it as highly instructive and essential in assisting middle school student in monitoring the completion of their projects. As after-school programming is negatively impacted by time constraints, much like the school day, such a system could be instrumental in keeping all youth on target while demonstrating the value of research and idea development. A supportive system like this also helps to create assessments as it uses a step-by-step approach that lends itself nicely to rubric creation.

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