Doing Digital Advocacy - National Council of Teachers of English
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Doing Digital Advocacy

From the NCTE Assembly on Computers in English (ACE)


This post was written by NCTE member Mary Rice, a member of the NCTE Assembly on Computers in English (ACE).


When I was a classroom teacher, I was assigned to teach the reading-support class for middle level students whose reading test scores fell below district expectations. As part of my new charge, I was provided a bank of computers that were fully connected to the internet.

The administrative intent was not to provide any authentic opportunities for reading and writing online. Instead, I was to supervise students while they worked through a reading comprehension program that had not been developed, tested, or validated for them or for their unique needs as multilingual, multicultural learners with diverse previous educational experiences.

It was galling for students to use these impressive machines to insert a word into a sentence with a blank. It was also not true digital access.

As time went by, I began using those computers for digital composition. Students selected topics and designed projects. As needed, we had conversations about topics like genre and audience. I also encouraged students to search for contradictions, hypocrisies, and injustices. They were more than willing. To avoid technology burnout, we made and played games, read stories, wrote and performed plays, and gave extemporaneous multilingual speeches.

Our work was more than just instruction—more, even, than differentiated, individualized, or personalized instruction. We made curriculum that actively advocated for student success as they defined it.

Now I am a literacy scholar who studies access and equity for digital literacies. I teach digital text composition, assessment of literacies, and literacy leadership. In my work, I consistently return to the following four admonitions for digital advocacy:

  1. Teach Digital and Multimodal Text Composition

Teaching digital texts and advancing technological literacies is not someone else’s responsibility. It is ours. During my time in schools, I have seen more assigning of work that uses digital and multimodal resources than I have seen efforts to teach these skills and integrate them with subject matter.

This teaching does not have to take place in a lockstep fashion. However, it does need to be explicit as directions, specific feedback, mini-lessons, small workgroups, peer teaching, and/or one-on-one coaching.  

  1. Use and Produce Digital Multimodal Texts that Matter

Digital and multimodal literacies afford opportunities both for wide audiences and for very specific audiences to engage with and enjoy our work. Because of this boon, there is no need to compose a text just to please a teacher. Instead, work can be grounded in local and personal relevance and a desire to share.

For example, I teach my students how to make and post their own videos. We spend a substantial amount of class time viewing and commenting on these. Students are not just finding topics to amuse our class, although that happens. They make videos about local food (we love Biscochitos in New Mexico), how to apply make-up, and pet care.

Students also take up meatier topics of race and gender as they identify audiences and take on new identities as advocates. The specifics of lighting, sound, and text boxes are all specific to whom they are trying to teach and where on the web they want to display their videos.

In the end, the videos are examples of what matters to the people who made them and, therefore, have the potential to matter to others.

  1. Intercede for Students’ Access to Digital and Multimodal Texts

We should speak up when opportunities for some students do not match the opportunities of others. For example, in observing classrooms where teachers were using blended learning, other researchers and I noticed that students with disabilities were being taken out of class or pulled into a small group without digital access as soon as the internet devices came out for work.

In talking with teachers, I found that they assumed that students with disabilities were unequipped for digital learning. In negotiating, we were able to convince some of the teachers that their students with disabilities (even severe disabilities) were just as entitled to engage in digital learning as anyone else, and that identifying challenges and addressing them could be wonderful and rewarding.

The lesson here is that when one sees gaps in access, call them out. Listen. Negotiate. Above all, support.  

  1. Share Convictions about Digital Equity

Finally, it is critical to share convictions about digital equity. Some may worry because historically, technology access has been granted to entertain rather than to educate in classrooms. Others have misused access to technology as a reward at home or school. Others suppose that adolescents and millennial generation teachers already are inherently digitally literate.

In reality, attaining digital literacies, like any set of literacies, is a lifelong endeavor for everyone. By sharing sound information about learning with and from digital and multimodal texts, we open conversations that will sustain us as teachers and teacher educators, and we shape more supportive policy contexts for practice.


Mary F. Rice has been a member of NCTE since 2009 and is also a member of English language arts teacher educators (ELATE), the Assembly on Computers in English (ACE) and the Conference on English leadership (CEL). Mary is the editor of her state affiliate journal New Mexico English Journal. Twitter: @ricemarya