The most frequent concerns I hear about students’ technology use at school focus on their lack of, well, focus. Technology administrators choose from any number of online platforms with which they can manage students’ online activity; a process that often becomes a digital game of whack-a-mole between IT staff and students. This approach seems sensible to any educator competing with slither.io or iMessage for their class’s attention, but opportunities abound for educators who are willing to see and connect with their students’ digital lives.
Connected Communities (those in which students engage online) have become digital lunch tables, playgrounds, cul de sacs, courts, and yards, and the ways in which students engage in these spaces allow them to create rich forms of digital identities. Though these spaces — and the literacies associated with them — are often considered distractions from the curriculum, they can offer valuable insights and avenues of engagement for learning.
Connected Communities can draw members through personal connections or serve as affinity spaces; formed around characters, interests, or ideas. Adults may assume that students’ use of digital media is purely passive but that is not always the case. Communities on YouTube are often formed around…