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Tag: digital literacy

May 26th, 2017

MWB’s Spark-O-Matic: The great digital arts melting pot

Well, a whole school year’s gone by since we started the marvelous mayhem that is Spark-O-Matic in early September of 2016 at Medgar Evers Library. And fittingly enough, it’s been most educational, both for mentors and for students, in the exciting months since.

Together, even without a bright, shiny digital creativity lab, we’re exploring how to design websites, make videos, produce soup commercials, delve into logo development (see this post’s featured image), create captivating personal stories with Lida Burris that get seen up on the big screen, and much more.

We’re also learning that sometimes, it’s important to put away your digital devices, even during a digital arts class (maybe especially during digital arts class). And that it’s good to unplug for a while — perhaps do some letterpress at the Mississippi Ag Museum and regain your connection to the real world. After all, one essential key to achieving digital literacy is knowing how to strike a healthy balance between time online and off.

Most importantly, though, the students are discovering how to collaborate together, make connections, share ideas, find their voices and freely express themselves in an increasingly loud, noisy world that can all too often drown them out and mute their creativity. In fact, my favorite times at Spark-O-Matic are when a few students who are inspired and passionate about something—like transforming their own illustrated sketches into digital art—take the lead and share their skills with others. There is such talent in this group, such incredible potential.

These are the times, too, when the class becomes a true melting pot, simmering with ideas that are made better with each new insight offered up by the students themselves. This is peer-to-peer education at its finest. The way the kids guide each other in solving problems, overcoming technical issues, troubleshooting, and tackling details like shading and perspective is amazing.

And now we’re embarking on two new projects that could top them all: One, a cool music video project propelled by the theme, “What Medgar Evers Library means to me…” Kicking things off a couple weeks ago, we discussed what form such a music video would take. Together, we made a list of what we like best about this library, which included: Talent shows, Game day, Movie Flick Saturday, Spark-O-Matic, Creativity, Community, A place of peace, A place to speak your mind, Family, Superheroes (drawings and people), Voting, Babysitting, Volunteer, Conversation, Escape, Family… and so on.

Angel, a rising 9th grader at Callaway High School,  came up with a winning idea: Have the words and phrases from our list illustrated on handmade cards that students, in groups or individually, hold as they pop up around the library. The plan is to get those action-word pop-ups on camera, then create a soundtrack with masterful music assistance from Will Jolly over at Brown River Sound. Will’s already stopped by to scratch beats and get us going on the music track.

Another big project underway is something in partnership with James Bridgeforth from the Mississippi Heritage Trust (mississippiheritage.com).

The Heritage Trust is about preserving Mississippi’s historic places. One of those places is Medgar Evers’ home. So, this summer we are embarking on a Spark-O-Matic documentary about Medgar Evers’ home that will created by our students.

Medgar Evers: Where he lived then. Where he lives today: In the hearts and minds—and lives—of the children and families served by the Medgar Evers library.

We will tell that story through: 1) A visit to Medgar Evers’ house where we will gather video footage, and 2) Interviews with the families and kids who come to the library, talking with them about Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

Starter questions for our patron interviews:

Who is Medgar Evers?

What did he do?

How does what he did live on today?

In our first lively discussion about Medgar Evers, his family and his home, the students added the question, “What is civil rights?” to the mix. That’s a huge question we’ll continue to explore through the project. Once complete, the students’ documentary will be shown at a Mississippi Heritage Trust gala event in December of this year.


We’re going to keep the creative sparks flying over the summer at Spark-O-Matic. While the school doors are closed, the library’s will be wide open. Big things are happening. And you’re invited join this crazy, creative melting pot, Tuesday nights from 5:30 to 6:45.


“You can kill a man but you can’t kill an idea.” — Medgar Evers

August 3rd, 2015

Are Students ‘Digitally Divided’ In Jackson?

There’s no doubt kids today are immersed in digital technology like never before. Look around, and it seems almost every child has a tablet, smartphone, laptop or other techno gizmo they’re glued to. And that can be disconcerting for parents and educators. Because while these “digital natives” are admittedly tech-savvy users who Snapchat on a dime and play Minecraft in a mesmerized state for hours on end, it’s not clear whether they’re building the skills needed to thrive in the real, albeit increasingly digitized, world around them.

That’s where digital literacy comes in. Digital literacy is much more than mere tech savvy. It is the foundation for how to comprehend, create, collaborate, evaluate, understand and succeed in the modern digital landscape. Digital literacy is also about striking a balance and guiding young people in becoming enlightened, responsible digital citizens.

Bringing digital literacy into the classroom is vital for our students. For starters, collaborative activities like video creation, immersive learning games, coding, podcasting and more can help to bring traditional (read: boring) school subjects vividly to life, assist in reaching students where they are, and help to better prepare them for college and career in their very near futures. Yet, schools nationwide and in Mississippi face sizable challenges to implementing digital literacy in their classrooms.

One particular challenge is the digital divide, that gap in access between the technology-haves and have-nots that still persists in many schools despite the digital explosion. In fact, Mississippi recently received an “F” on a report card measuring such in-classroom essentials as broadband Internet access, device availability and whether teachers have met certain digital literacy standards.

All of this leads, conveniently, to the title of my mass communication master’s thesis, recently sent off by Jackson State University to be officially registered and bound:

Digitally Divided in Jackson: Are students getting the digital literacy skills they need to succeed?

This research subject hits close to home personally. Last fall, I had a 9th grader at a local public school which implemented a freshman laptop initiative, and another Minecraft-obsessed 6th grader at a nearby private/parochial school.

This research study explored, through in-depth interviews with 9th-grade public and private school teachers, whether students are being shown how to employ technology to think, create and collaborate across our increasingly digital landscape.

Mina & Perry on IPads

Overall, the goal of the research was to gain insight into:

—How teachers define and perceive technology use and digital literacy in their classrooms.

—Whether digital literacy is being implemented in local classrooms, and if so, how and to what level?

—What are the differences between public and private schools in terms of digital literacy and technology use?

—What more do teachers believe can be done, if necessary, to better prepare students for success?

I invite you to read on to see whether and how public and private school educators in Jackson are prepping our students for success in school, college, career and life—no matter if they happen to be amazingly Minecraft-obsessed or not.

I’ll be publishing a series of articles on this in the coming weeks. Please sign up for our MWB Innovation Series to receive more updates.
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