Activism or Slacktivism: Kony 2012 as a Real Life Global Case Study for Social Studies Students

@dang38 I think that our class should watch the #KONY2012 video in class tomorrow. And I think we should try get the school to partakeinit” ~C.B. Gr.10 Student St.  Andrew’s School~

 I first heard of Kony 2012 when a student tweeted me the above link to the twenty-nine minute video asking if we could watch it in class and perhaps be part of the movement that the group Invisible Children was advocating. This was important in two ways. Firstly, as indicated in other recent blog posts, I have been working on developing use of social media in the classroom; so the fact that a student saw fit, the day they learned of the classroom hashtag, on their own time tweeted to the class hashtag, felt akin to instant gratification. The second matter of import was that the student was expressing concern for a global issue that was current and in the process of going viral. I immeadiately watched the video myself and began thinking about how I could leverage this interest in one of my students into a major teachable moment.

The next day, in Social 10, I posed the question as to whom had heard of Kony2012? I got a mixed response with approximately a third of the class having viewed the video at least once. I proceeded to give students no more background on the video than that it was a grassroots movement begun in the USA to bring an end to the actions of one Joseph Kony – a Ugandan warlord. I proceeded to play the video and you could have heard a pin drop for the ensuing 29 minutes. As soon as I put the video on pause the class erupted with a variety of responses to what they had just seen. We began to discuss the Kony video in three ways. First, in light of the situation that was going on in Central Africa; we began with the basics – who can locate Uganda on a map? I got a couple of quick witted responses along the lines of, “…. its in Africa”; to the usual accompanying laughter. This portion of the conversation also revolved around an explanation of the history of the use of child soldiers by a variety of factions in that part of Africa. Secondly we examined the larger use of child soldiers globally – I wanted to make it clear to my students that we were not simply dealing with an African occurrence; but one that impacts several continents and hundreds of thousands of children. Finally, we proceeded to analyze the media that we had been exposed to; resulting in a very interesting discussion on the use of media in a global world. The extension of this was of course to get their reactions to the content of the video that they had just watched. With this much accomplished for the day I decided to leave the matter for the moment and finished off with my regularly planned lesson.

That evening I spent time doing more research on Joseph Kony and the backlash that was occurring in the media to the activities of Invisible Children. I checked my twitter feed to find that a couple of students had posted links to some articles on both Kony and Uganda in general to the classroom hashtag. Again I experienced a true sense of gratification; as learning was moving outside of the classroom and outside of scheduled class time. I proceeded to check out several articles that were sent and others that I located myself and prepared for what I hoped would constitute another highly interactive current events lesson.

” I’ve always known that we need to take a stand the problem is I don’t know how. ~L.H. Gr. 10 Student St. Andrew’s School~

The following morning I asked students  where they were at with respect to how they felt about what they had seen. I began by pointing out one of my favorite aspects about Social Studies – that it serves to disquiet the mind; once you know something you cannot, for lack of a better way of saying it, un-know it. In the news over night there had been a series of articles and editorials both supporting and criticizing Invisible Children. I had a variety of these articles ready for each of the groups I assigned. The student were given 25 minutes to review their articles and create a graffiti post on a piece of chart paper that explained the nature of their article – each group was then tasked with sharing their findings. The results of the discussion were impressive as a variety of sources from international news papers to Invisible Children themselves made comment on the initiative of the organization.

Students Sharing Findings on Kony2012 Articles

“As big of an impact the Kony 2012 video innitally made, as the days pass many more people are going to [sit] back and do nothing, and soon enough, Kony 2012 will blow by and become another example of slactivism.” ~N.M. St. Grade 10 student St. Andrew’s School~

“The video is not really focusing on informing you about the Ugandan people’s situation as, it’s about changing the people’s hearts.” ~A.M. Gr. 10 student St. Andrew’s School~ 

As the days and coverage of the story has progressed it has dropped out of top spot on major social media feeds as well as in the eye of mainstream news media. Following this last activity I have allowed the matter to rest for a bit – except for integrating it into an assignment that involved assessing the validity and authority of a source. After reviewing the key concepts about how to assess the validity and authority of a source I got students to apply this skill to analysis of time lines on the internet that dealt with Kony and Uganda. After each student had completed their evaluation of the site we have spent the first 10 minutes of each period sharing the sites that they have located and evaluated. Students became more astute, as the sharing sessions continued, about each site and its advantages as a jumping off point for more research. It was amazing to hear students build on each others experiences and provide increasing depth of analysis – going so far as to indicate if this was a site that they would use in the future.

“Most people that watch the video stop there and do not go into further research, and that makes their head stuck on what the video is just saying and they have no back ground information on the subject.” ~L.P. Grade 10 student St. Andrew’s School~

Last week I asked the class, at the beginning of the period, which was worse – to be unaware of a situation or to be aware of a situation and consciously decide that you were not going to take action? The response to this question was what one would expect – that one needs to take action once one becomes aware of a problem – though often times the situation is overwhelming and it makes it difficult for a single person to feel that their participation can truly make a difference. Several students also thought that the media nightmare that the actions of several of the group’s members including Jason Russell, who seemingly had a mental breakdown following the video going viral, has served to harm the public image of the organization. The last things that I have done to this point with my students is to examine their views on the Kony2012 experiences that they have had to date and the role that media and technology have played in this learning. These items they shared in the form of a blog within our virtual classroom – these blogs form the majority of the source material for the quotations that are included in this article.

The extension activity that I will be doing with this group is to expand the skill set that they are developing. I am still working out the details for the individual research project that can be implemented using the inquiry, assessment and sharing skills that this particular initiative had helped develop. More on that later. Where to next? Well there is a new Invisible Children video that is making the rounds – looks like my current affairs segment is looked after for another week.

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The Thinks You Can Think and Other Thinks: Making Sense of My Information Overload In a Digitized Society

A childhood literary hero, the individual who helped me put my children to sleep when they were younger; and the person who helps me introduce poetry at the Grade 10 level comes readily to mind this week.  If you guessed the allusion to Dr. Seuss you are correct; if not or you are still wondering about the specific reference – go to the add tab in your browser window and Google the term – but keep this tab open….

The last month has been one of great personal growth for me as both a reader and a novice thinker. I say novice as I reflect on all of the new information that I have taken on board in the last several weeks from a variety of sources. These new sources of information have been a result of the on-line work that I have been doing with my students. As a high school teacher I am a huge believer in the use of the internet as a educational tool – my students use the internet for research, to log into a virtual classroom that I run through Taking IT Global where they can access homework, post blogs, access on-line video conferencing after school hours with their peers or during tutorial hours with myself. I have also, of late, experimented through the Center for Global Education with international video conferencing with other schools across Canada and around the world. While the setup for the conferencing was a steep learning curve the dividends that it has already paid made it time very well spent.  I use a SmartBoard daily in my classroom and am set-up with Skype on every machine that I access on a regular basis.

In short I was beginning to think that I have begun to understand the digital world that I have worked with for almost two decades. The last month has made me rethink my level of savvy as I have discovered in the last month or so there is more out there than I could have ever imagined – I mean we hear or pay lip service to the idea that the amount of information out there is more than we can handle – in the same way that we pay lip service to other concepts like it is a beautiful day or time flies – you know things that we say or acknowledge without much in the way of a second thought or real attention to the implication of what it is that we are acknowledging. Well between making new connections to various on-line organizations as well as increasing my participation in the online dialogue with others via mediums like Twitter and TweetDeck and discovering what hash-tag discussions are all about I thought this morning when I sat down to write this entry that I am suffering from information overload.

Upon further reflection, and several cups of coffee, I have determined that if I use the skills and tools that I have tried to pass onto my students that I am not in over my head as far as I may think that I am. I constantly remind my students that when faced with a question or situation that it is important to develop criteria to help decide what source, material, information, position etc. is relevant to what it is that I am doing. When I apply this methodology to my studies of technology use in education I have developed several criteria questions that I can use to help me prevent personal information overload. First, is the site, source, post etc relevant to what it is that I am currently trying to figure out? Secondly, is the source one that leads to greater knowledge for myself or those that I may share the information with? Third is the time factor – how long, realistically, is it going to take me to make sense of this source be it to read the material and/or adapt it to my needs in the classroom or with other educators or students? I find that if I keep these questions in mind as I approach new sources of information or ideas for implementation I can significantly reduce my sense of being overwhelmed.

Granted it may mean that there are some sources, no matter how good they are, that for one or more of these reasons gets kicked to the proverbial curb; but as a trade off I filter information in such a way that it is manageable and relevant to me. I have discovered that streams like HootSuite and TweetDeck can allow me to scan quickly posts that are made and only further investigate those that fulfill the above stated criteria thereby allowing me to streamline my viewing.

So how do you make sense of your information overload in a digitized society?

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