Dr. Sandra S. Abrams

Abrams picSandra Schamroth Abrams, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Her research on videogaming and the dynamics of digital literacies includes a focus on identities and practices developed, maintained, and modified in related online and offline social and academic contexts.

 

 

Mid-Semester Musings

March 25, 2013

One typically associates ‘March Madness’ with basketball season, but, for others, it marks a time during the semester when work becomes ‘real.’ In addition to taking midterms, students begin to synthesize diverse ideas across disciplines.

In my education classes, though meta-reflection is ongoing, at this mid-semester intersection of time and space, students more critically consider their approaches to teaching—that is what is working, why certain methods are more successful than others, and how practice is supported by theory. For me, this is not necessarily a turning point, but a mile-marker. From here, students continue to build their experiential base and carefully analyze best practices, educational theories, and connected literacies, ultimately cultivating their own understanding of pedagogies that are contextualized, meaningful, and relevant.

Technology, Innovation, and Professional Development: The St. John’s Digital Literacies Summer Institute

February 19, 2013

For the past two years, the St. John’s University School of Education, Staten Island campus, has hosted the annual Digital Literacies Summer Institute, and this year will be no exception.  On June 1, 2013, the full-day institute of hands-on workshops will continue to include introductory and advanced Smart Board techniques, while other sessions will present ideas for teaching with mobile and response devices, as well as Web 2.0 tools and applications for content area classrooms.  As a result, teachers will be able to update their Smart Board approaches and learn how to select and utilize apps for cell phones and tablets, such as the iPad. What is the overall goal? We look to help educators discover and create practical techniques for supporting students’ digital literacies across settings.

The Digital Literacies Summer Institute may involve ‘training,’ but it also asks educators to think about ways they can adapt their teaching to address the fast current of technological change. In her recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, MIT professor Sherry Turkle recounts how her research of digital spaces and practices has included a “moving target” (p. xiv).  Indeed, because technology and related activities shift and change at such a swift pace, teachers need to think beyond the general nuts-and-bolts use of technology (though foundational knowledge is essential) to consider the various ways they can refresh and innovate their practice through the use of appropriate technologies.  In essence, the Digital Literacies Summer Institute helps teachers not only to learn about technologies, but also to think about ways to modify practices and utilize new resources effectively.

When Hanging Out Isn’t Loitering

January 2, 2013

As children, we learn how to speak, and then we learn the nuances of language–how tone, inflection, vocabulary, and context impact meaning.   We learn that if something isn’t nice to say, then we shouldn’t say it at all, and we quickly discover that there’s a time, a place, and an audience for specific conversations. This has not changed in the 21st century, but modes of communication certainly have, and my students and I have explored how emails, texts, tweets, status updates, and other virtual posts, like this blog, are important forms of communication that traverse and sometimes break conventional barriers.

This semester, my graduate students and I thought some more about modern communication. We posted in online spaces, such as Twitter and Blackboard, and we turned our attention away from written text and on to the options of video conferencing, which is typically available through such programs as Skype, Face Time, or Google Hangout.  When we met in cohorts via video chat, we welcomed each other into our homes and considered the blurring of public-private lines in terms of teaching, learning, and what is deemed ‘appropriate.’  One of the highlights of our semester was piloting free video conferencing with middle school students involved in the After School All Stars New York (ASASNY) program.  During this time, groups of pre-service graduate students met with pairs of middle schools students, and, suddenly, classrooms across boroughs (about 35 miles away) became one space.

What does this mean for the future of teaching and learning?  For one, it means that there are greater possibilities to connect with people across the globe and learn about other cultures and spaces. Learning involves collaboration, and now, instead of—or in addition to—having pen pals, students can travel without having to get into a car, purchase a ticket, or pack a bag. That is not to discredit the physical act of traveling, but, rather, to call attention to the cost-effective innovation that can turn students into virtual globetrotters.  What it also means, though, is that we need to prepare our students to be critical, respectful, and careful users of yet another virtual space. Meaning making is complicated, and new interactive spaces also herald new possibilities for exploring what it means to be literate, agentive learners in the 21st century.

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