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Appendix D: A Framework for Wireless Critical Pedagogy

Published onApr 10, 2020
Appendix D: A Framework for Wireless Critical Pedagogy

Although this book presents research into using alternate reality games in an urban high school for a general audience, I engaged in this investigation to address the learning, professional development, and career-long needs of classroom teachers. Some aspects of this work have appeared in academic journals elsewhere. Below, I offer a summary of a framework for teacher development and learning based on the research presented in this book. This framework for wireless critical pedagogy places students’ individualized learning needs first. Technology aids in places, but this framework—built off the lessons learned in running Ask Anansi in my classroom during this study and in my years of teaching experience—does not require expensive devices or lightning speed and unfiltered Internet. Instead, it requires mutual respect, community-driven pedagogical goals, and a willingness for teachers to adjust their practice based on the students in their classrooms and their sociocultural lived experiences. On the one hand, this framework outlines ways that mobile devices may be harnessed in classrooms not just academically but for the purpose of developing critical consciousness. On the other hand, this framework also sustains in-class connected learning without these devices.

This wireless critical pedagogy looks to build opportunities for student empowerment, access to career-preparing skill sets, and distribution of youth counternarratives within the school community. Within this vision of a modern critical pedagogy, mobile devices can offer a pragmatic means for differentiation and socialization, addressing what Thomas Philip and I have called the “3Ts” of technology.1 By helping to develop empowered identities via the mobile opportunities of differentiation and socialization, these devices can support what Paulo Freire calls “conscientization”—a critical consciousness of the social and political elements of students’ world and the ability to act on these elements.2 Below I detail both of these opportunities and then discuss them within the larger framework for pedagogical support in classrooms with regard to technology.

Differentiation through mobile devices means personalizing learning experiences for students in ways that respond to the needs of a particular classroom. For instance, some of the ways I differentiated learning in my own classroom that should be considered by other educators include the following:

  • Audio engagement with texts: This shifts schooling away from privileging only print media.

  • Varied opportunities for textual production: Producing images, video reflections, interviews, and text messages varies what “work” looked like within my classroom.

  • Graphic organizers and supports: Mindmaps, for instance, support students in thinking systemically and making connections across personal experiences and academic curriculum.

  • Continual, formative assessment of student learning: By asking students to respond to text messages while in class, for instance, I was able to gauge individual student learning and engagement and revise lesson plans and instruction based on responses students sent to me or feedback they provided.

  • Expanded resources and methods for independent checking for understanding: Through online searches and peer collaboration, the number of resources for furthering the scope of student research and investigation quickly increased. Likewise, students’ reflections on their own learning were multimodal and varied. They could mindmap, record, photograph, write, and text their experiences, highlights, and challenges within the classroom, taking greater ownership and responsibility for the onus of critical research within their classroom.

Recognizing the many ways that student learning experiences were differentiated, the iPods in my own classroom helped to realign the text, tools, and talk that were supported within my classroom. Further, mobile devices in our classroom helped enrich the in-class community and extended this community beyond the typical hours of the school day. In doing so, these devices extended learning beyond the realm of the classroom walls in ways that traditional homework has not. Mirroring the connected learning forms of peer-supported and interest-driven learning, below are several ways that mobile media devices acted as tools for socialization:

  • Enable communication between mobile users: Peer-to-peer communication meant collaboration on work for class took place at home, over the weekend, and sometimes during lunch periods.

  • Signal student dispositions and identity practices: By personalizing their devices (as described in chapter 3), students were able to display and acknowledge aspects of their identity that were embraced by their peers.

  • Foster learning opportunities beyond the walls of the classroom: Students interviewed community members through text and chat applications, called local businesses for opinions, and documented their community through photography and documentary production.

  • Bridge in-class experiences with civic opportunities for learning: Students had increased service learning opportunities both in and out of school.3

  • Develop technical literacies: Through increasing student confidence with mobile media apps and digital textual production, students saw themselves as a community of researchers, utilizing technology to increase advocacy.

Looking at the above examples of socialization and differentiation, it is worth reflecting on how these activities mirror connected learning and the cultural shifts we see today with regards to student engagement with technology. The components of wireless critical pedagogy listed below highlight the ways that classrooms must become more student centered. Mobile devices can emphasize teachers’ responses to students. Creating content, posing questions, and building theory, students share their work with each other and their teacher, all of whom can provide feedback, suggestions, and critiques. Additionally, the possibilities of community and civic engagement that digital tools offer signal how a wireless critical pedagogy may leverage participatory media tools to reach across the boundaries between school and community to comingle the locations of the student learning experience both physically and virtually. That is, students can physically interact and document learning in schools and communities, and they also can connect to individuals through mobile tools for virtual communication, interaction, and provocation.

The tools for both independence and community-driven research and engagement here act as the fulcrum for a critical pedagogy in the shifting culture of participatory, networked media. This critical pedagogy leverages wireless tools to build humanizing relationships within the classroom and also to extend the reaches of this classroom into the surrounding community. Looking at the many ways that mobile media can amplify student agency, voice, and community within traditional classrooms, these devices can be utilized in ways that challenge dominant power structures in schools. However, in doing so, a negotiation between teachers and students must be reached. Classroom community and students needs come first, and technology second.

Below, I chart the key tenets of a wireless critical pedagogy. This chart takes into account the kinds of differentiation, socialization, and instructional shifts that can occur in classrooms today, regardless of the digital tools present. This is a wireless critical pedagogy both because it can emphasize the cultural shifts occurring as a result of new technologies and also because it means that powerful critical instruction is not tethered to devices that need to be plugged in or charged when running low on battery life. This list is not exhaustive. It is a starting place for teacher conversations and reflections on their own practices.


Table D.1 Key components of wireless critical pedagogy

Student centered

• Student interest, knowledge, and perspective drive content and production.
• Teachers and students collaborate to engage in youth participatory action research.

Empowered identities

• Mobile devices can allow students to document, share, and amplify their expertise and thereby act as tools for Freire’s concept of “conscientization.”
• Likewise, adjusting the activities within classrooms to situate student learning within various roles shifts how students perceive and interpret class work and its relevance in the “real world.”

Community driven and responsive

• In conjunction with youth-driven research practices, work within classroom contexts speaks to and focuses on community needs and concerns.
• Critical educators can help bridge in-class learning with the expertise, opportunities, and challenges that are faced beyond the school boundaries. Through digital tools, visits, and role-play, alternate voices help bolster student interactions with their communities.

Culturally relevant

• Although mobile devices can be seen as ubiquitously embraced as part of youth cultural practices, bringing these devices into classrooms changes the context of how they are perceived. Simply “using phones” in a classroom is not culturally relevant.
• Applying youth cultural practices—including student personalization of mobile devices and fluidity of social and academic time within classrooms—responds to and builds on the ways mobile devices are interpreted in youth social interactions.

Critical technical and academic literacies

• Classroom learning still focuses on academic literacies and technical skills. However, these are applied within purposeful contexts. Students produce academic texts and develop technically complex media in order to advocate, inform, persuade, and ignite discussion among an audience.
• Although students still write and produce research reports, persuasive essays, and other content expected within traditional classrooms, their work can look different. A student’s essay may be a persuasive memo written to (and actually given to) the city council. A research report may be turned into an edited segment of a Wikipedia entry. A response to a literary text may become a blogpost to engage in public-driven discourse.

Not reliant on technology

• Although this pedagogy is responsive to cultural shifts as a result of participatory media tools like mobile devices, it does not require expensive technology.
• A wireless critical pedagogy revitalizes critical pedagogy for the twenty-first century. It does not simply use digital tools within a classroom. Educators need to look beyond specific tools and apps to focus on incorporating the cultural practices of participatory culture for critical education.


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