For more than twenty-five years, Canadian teachers have been at the forefront of getting students online and preparing them to use the Internet in safe, wise and responsible ways. Thanks to the SchoolNet program in the 1990s, many young Canadians had their first experiences with networked technologies in their classrooms and school libraries. However, MediaSmarts’ recent Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III study shows that even now, our so-called “digital natives” still need guidance from their teachers.

The new Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum released this year by the Ontario Ministry of Education is the first major revision to the subject area in almost 30 years.

Emerging ideas and trends in the space of new literacies are indeed fluid and, through discussion, seem to always be in a state of constant flux. As teachers and learners engage with online content and media, strategies and pedagogies bounce between conventional and contemporary approaches. This ongoing conversation and discovery is representative of the media landscape itself - always shifting - suggesting that our strategies and approaches should be charged with being able to adapt and grow. A tall order indeed, so how do we build capacity that makes room for convention, innovation and redefinition in literacy?

In the early months of 2011, the eyes of the world were on the Middle East, watching as the governments of Egypt, Tunisia and other autocratic regimes buckled under the pressure of democratic protest. Among those watching were a group of elementary students in northern Canada, who were able to watch a live Twitter feed of the protestors and other citizens of the region reporting what was happening. Despite their geographical isolation, these students were connected to events happening halfway around the world, thanks to the efforts of their teacher to bring digital media into the classroom.

The classic 1985 science fiction novel Ender’s Game is one of several books of that period that foresaw both the advent of the Internet and its eventual importance in society. While certain aspects of its portrayal seem dated – in particular, it more resembles the text-based bulletin board systems of the time than today’s graphic Web – one element stands out as being particularly prescient: the use of the Internet to allow youth to participate fully in society. While today’s young people aren’t using the Internet to take over the world, as the characters in the novel do, they are increasingly using it to change the world, and more and more teachers are using the Internet to bring civic engagement into the classroom.

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