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Teacher Develops Curriculum to Deepen Digital Understanding

By Anthony Rebora — April 23, 2015 1 min read
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The Atlantic this week has an in-depth piece about a journalist-turned-teacher who, spotting an urgent need in schools, has developed a full-scale curriculum to help students better understand the digitally networked environments in which they spend so much time.

Called Living Online, the curriculum—created by Princeton, N.J., teacher Rueben Loewy—includes units on “Identity,” “A Is for Algorithm,” “Open Source Knowledge,” “Remix Culture,” “Bytes & Bots - How the Internet Works,” and “Writing in the Digital Age.” It is geared largely to high school students and designed to be intregated into other courses rather than taught as a stand-alone offering.

The Atlantic piece offers a taste of the “Identity” unit:

The curriculum's first unit—"Identity"—aims to give students insight "into how their identities may be unconsciously shaped by digital media and online socialization." The module highlights opposing perspectives on the topic, from that entertained by people like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who insists users should only have one authentic identity, to the view that individuals are multifaceted and prismatic. "We will examine how individuals craft and express their identities across multiple online and offline contexts," the summary says, "and discuss the implications of having different identities, avatars, and facets of ourselves across different networks."

Loewy, a 55-year-old journalism and media studies teacher at Princeton Day School, started work on the curriculum after recognizing that most schools’ approaches to incorporating digital learning were inadequate for addressing the seismic cultural shifts taking place in young peoples’ lives as the result of technology.

School technology initiatives, he says, tend to be oriented around the use of specific devices or programs or safety protocals, in effect missing the bigger-picture knowledge kids need to make sense of the online world.

Teens today, he says, “are consuming and seeing so many things online that they don’t know how to put it into context or how to evaluate it.”

Loewy says he created his curriculum with feedback from teachers and curriculum developers, and he is currently looking for funders to help support distribution to schools.

The Atlantic piece, however, points to a number of possible barriers to widespread adoption of a curriculum like Loewy’s. Those include a lack of time in schools for much of anything outside core subjects and many educators’ own lack of comfort with (or interest in) digital technology.

Image: “Blogging?” by anonymous Flickr user, under Creative Commons.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.