Module 27: Leveraging Digital Learning Environments

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After working through this module, you will be able to:

  • Define and list examples of digital learning environments, and describe how these environments can serve as valuable sites for professional development related to racial equity.
  • Set personal professional learning goals that you can achieve by engaging in digital learning environments.
  • Devise strategies for reaching those goals using a variety of digital learning environments.

Introduction

Racial equity work is most effective when individuals connect and collaborate with others. As we have discussed in earlier modules, racial equity work can too often get “siloed” within individual communities, disciplines, or systems, resulting in duplicated efforts and fractured understandings of connected issues. For librarians, it is even more crucial to reach beyond the library walls to connect with others involved in this work, since we are frequently the only school or youth services librarian within our buildings. While they are sometimes dismissed as time-wasters, Twitter and other digital learning environments have opened up a wealth of opportunities for educators to learn and engage in discussions about racial equity from scholars, colleagues, activists, and others. In this module, we will explore the possibilities for personal and professional growth that are afforded by digital tools, set personal professional goals that you can achieve by engaging in these environments, and share tips and tricks for getting the most from the time you spend using these tools.


The What and Why of Digital Learning Environments

Digital learning environments include any online platform or tool where people can learn from others, including experts, colleagues, and youth. These environments are often, though not always, social and interactive, with synchronous or asynchronous two- or multi-way communication embedded. Some of these platforms – like Twitter – may not have been originally designed as learning environments; however, that does not negate the potential of these tools for professional development.

Admittedly, there is a lot of negative, hateful, misleading, and simply false content online, so you may be asking yourself why these tools are worth your time when it comes to professional development. Despite the downsides to platforms like Twitter and YouTube, there are also meaningful benefits that can come from engaging with these sites:

A screen capture of a tweet from Clint Smith, a writer, teacher, and doctoral candidate in Education at Harvard University, who tweets, "The sons of black families from the top 1 percent had about the same chance of being incarcerated on a given day as the sons of white families earning $36,000" with an accompanying graphic of a graph demonstrating this statistic.
Digital learning environments like Twitter give you access to BIPOC experts, who share valuable news, knowledge, and perspectives that you may not have easy access to in your in-person networks.
  • Online platforms give you free, on-demand access to experts from a wide range of disciplines, which can combat the “silo” effect and highlight connections and potential connections among anti-racist actors and organizations. 
  • You may find it easier to engage in conversations about race & racism online, for at least two reasons. First, many people find it more comfortable to engage in race-related conversations in a text-based medium, where they have time to carefully consider their questions and comments before sharing. Second, online conversations are not limited by geography or the makeup of your personal social network. You may be the only one in your school, neighborhood, or library who wants to engage in anti-racist work; going online can make it easy to find other like-minded people with whom you can connect. 
  • Social platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat make it possible for you to hear directly from people of color and Indigenous people about the issues that matter to them. It can be burdensome for BIPOC to answer even well-intentioned questions about race and racism from white people. Online, you can find people who have willingly shared their answers to these questions, often without being asked. 
  • Learning in digital environments is self-paced and self-directed. What, when, and how you learn is up to you.

 


Reflect

Since the what, when, and how of professional learning in digital learning environments is self-directed, it is important to set your own learning goals. Having one or more goals in mind will help you make the most of the time you spend engaged in these environments, for example by aligning your Twitter follow list with your learning goal. In your journal, complete this sentence for yourself: As a result of the time I spend engaged in digital learning environments, I will be able to… 

If you are struggling to come up with a goal for yourself, click the arrow to the left to see some example goals.

As a result of the time I spend engaged in digital learning environments, I will be able to:

  • confidently engage in conversations about race and racism with my students and colleagues.
  • more consistently see the ways in which my own race impacts my daily life and opportunities.
  • connect and collaborate with school librarians engaged in racial equity work.
  • improve my ability to see news events and other issues from multiple perspectives.
  • find potential opportunities to partner with local organizations outside of the library field for racial equity initiatives.

 


Twitter

In the rest of this module, we will share some of the Digital Learning Environments we have successfully used for professional development related to race and racism, and tips about how to use those environments effectively.

Twitter has become a critical site for professional development and professional networking for many educators, librarians, and others working toward racial justice. Some of the features that make Twitter particularly valuable as a learning environment are:

  • Twitter’s content is fully customizable based on who you follow: Since you will only see content from people and organizations that you follow, you have complete control over the focus and scope of your Twitter feed. Some people choose to focus their time on Twitter very narrowly, for example by only following accounts that tweet about book recommendations. Others follow a wide range of accounts, but may use third-party tools to organize their feed into separate topical areas (see the tips section, right, for more information about this). 
  • Time commitment is up to you: Each individual tweet is brief (no more than 280 characters), so it’s possible to spend only a few minutes on Twitter and still see valuable content. It’s also possible to engage with the network for longer periods, for example by participating in Twitter chats (see more below).
  • National and world experts in nearly every topic share content, including newly released and obscure content: If there is an author, speaker, or organizations whose work has been influential to you professionally, chances are good that person or organization is on Twitter, which gives them the opportunity to share news and perspectives in real-time, sometimes in a more casual / conversational manner than they could through long-form published content like books or scholarly articles. Many people rely on Twitter as their primary news source, since current events are typically shared and discussed on the site within minutes of their occurrence.

Twitter Tip & Tricks

  1. Follow people of color and Indigenous people. Regularly examine the list of accounts you follow and work to make this list inclusive.
  2. Consider using a third-party tool like TweetDeck, which can organize your feed into multiple topical areas, make it easier to maintain multiple accounts, and simplify the process of participating in Twitter chats (see #4, below).
  3. Use Twitter to extend your learning while attending conferences and events. Share what you are learning, and see what others in the room are thinking.
  4. Participate in Twitter chats – online, synchronous discussions that use a hashtag (like #educolor) to organize questions and responses. Many Twitter chats take place regularly on a weekly or monthly schedule. See the box below for a list of some equity-focused chats.
  • Opportunity to make new connections with like-minded colleagues (local or not): Racial justice work is the work of a lifetime, and everyone on that journey could use support at times. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to find that support among colleagues at your physical workplace. Twitter is a social network, which means that the site encourages connections and communication among its users. Many people have found that Twitter has helped them form a virtual PLC (professional learning community) that helps sustain their racial justice work.
  • Allows you to “peek in” on conferences / other events you can’t attend in person: Attending conferences or other professional development events can be expensive in terms of both time and money. Most conferences now have a hashtag that is used by participants who want to discuss or live-tweet the event on Twitter (for example, the hashtag for the 2018 Joint Conference of Librarians of Color was #JCLC2018). By following this hashtag, you can get a taste of the conference from home, and can often access online materials that are presented at the conference and shared on Twitter by attendees.

Twitter Chats

    • #Educolor – Activists of color in education chat; every fourth Thursday, 7:30 pm EST
    • #ClearTheAir – Focuses on issues of race in education and centers on texts; every Wednesday, 7:30 pm EST
    • #TLChat – Teacher-Librarian chat; every second Monday, 8-9pm EST
    • #EdChat – Education chat; every Tuesday, 12-1pm and 7-8pm EST
    • #CritLib – Critical library pedagogy chat; every other Tuesday, 9 pm EST
    • #SatChat – Best practices in education, Saturdays at 7:30 am EST
    • #YALitChat – Young adult literature chat, every Wednesday, 9-10pm EST
    • #ndlibchat – School library media chat, first and third Sundays, 9 pm EST

 

 

Of course, no social network is perfect, and Twitter has some limitations and problematic elements. One of these is the prevalence of “troll” and “bot” accounts, many of which publish hateful content or tweet abusive statements to others. BIPOC and members of other marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately targeted in such attacks, which are sometimes coordinated. For example, comedian and actress Leslie Jones was the target of an intense campaign of racial hatred after the release of the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, in which she played one of the title team members. The abuse directed at Jones was so intense that she briefly left the site altogether.

Twitter abuses are unfortunately not only directed at celebrities; library workers and educators can be the target of such campaigns as well. At the 2018 ALA Annual Conference, five panelists – April Hathcock, Nicole Cooke, Miriam Sweeney, Cynthia Orozco, and Stacy Collins (all women, and mostly women of color) shared their personal experiences with online bullying, many of which started with or began on Twitter. Twitter accounts are by default public; many people join Twitter for that very reason, so they can share their work and thoughts with a broad audience. However, that also means that it can be difficult to fully protect oneself from online harassment on the platform. It is possible to make your Twitter account private and/or to limit who can send you direct messages (DM’s) on the platform; however, these steps can limit the functionality of the platform for engaging with others and building a professional network.


Webinars

Many organizations host webinars – online seminars or presentations where participants can see and hear from experts in a particular field and sometimes interact with them and with other participants. Sometimes these webinars are limited to members of the host organization or cost money to attend; however, there are also many webinars that are free and open to anyone. Recordings of many past webinars are also available online; while these do not offer the opportunity for interaction, you can still get valuable information from watching.


Explore

The organizations and publications linked below all offer free webinars related to race and equity. Follow the links to explore what each organization has to offer.

In addition, explore the websites for any professional organizations you belong to (for example, ALSC, AASL, YALSA, REFORMA, BCALA, etc.). What webinars are available on those sites for members?


Electronic / digital Newsletters

While less interactive than social networks or webinars, electronic newsletters can often be a valuable source of professional development and may also alert you to upcoming events that might extend your learning either online or in person. Here are some examples:

  • EduColor an inclusive cooperative of informed, inspired and motivated educators, parents, students, writers, and activists who promote and embrace the centrality of substantive intersectional diversity.
  • Teaching Tolerance –  a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center focused on social justice and anti-racism
  • New York Times Race Related a newsletter from the New York Times that explores race with provocative reporting and discussion

Podcasts

Podcasts – audio-only recordings that are typically released as part of a series – are an increasingly popular resource for online learning. Like newsletters, podcasts are not inherently interactive; however, many podcasts have Twitter accounts or hashtags where listeners can discuss the material and extend their learning. There is a huge and growing list of podcasts on just about every possible topic, including the topics covered in this curriculum. Some examples are listed below:

  • Code Switch – Journalists of color talking about race and identity.
  • Latino USA – News and culture from a Latino perspective.
  • Podcasts in Color – Directory of podcasts by creators of color.

Individual episodes from education podcasts also sometimes deal with racial equity. For example: 


Act

Choose one of the learning goals you set for yourself earlier in this module. Use the list of resources and ideas provided here to develop a personal plan for meeting that goal using one or more digital learning environments. Then, begin implementing your plan.


But Wait!

In this section, we address common questions and concerns related to the material presented in each module. You may have these questions yourself, or someone you’re sharing this information with might raise them. We recommend that for each question below, you spend a few minutes thinking about your own response before clicking the arrow to the left of the question to see our response.

I never thought about skin color before and now all I think about is skin color and my own bias. I feel more racist now than ever.
You have recently become aware of your bias, but these are the thoughts that have been operating in your subconscious mind. Now that they are conscious, you can intentionally work to counteract them. This is a positive development! Now that you are aware, it’s important to surround yourself with counternarratives, positive images, pictures and stories of BIPOC to begin countering your implicit biases. 

 

I really want to start having conversations about race. How should I get started?
It’s great that you want to start talking about race, and you should! It’s always important to be mindful that we all are continually learning and that others around you are also at different stages of development. We may inadvertently do harm in our conversations and if you do, it’s important to acknowledge this and apologize.

Throughout this curriculum, we’ve provided a number of resources to help you prepare for and have these conversations. Here are two  we have found particularly helpful:

 

 

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Module 26: Connecting in Person with Others
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Module 27: Leveraging Digital Learning Environments
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