Illustration of people using technology.
This spring, Bryant students partnered with Scituate Middle School teachers and held a digital literacy workshop for the school's eighth graders.
As middle schoolers increase online presence, undergrads hold digital literacy workshop
May 24, 2024, by Emma Bartlett
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It’s a Thursday afternoon in early May and Victoria Uzzell ’24, alongside her Bryant peers, is visiting Scituate Middle School. Winding through the halls that lead to the school’s eighth grade classrooms, the group of 14 splits in two — one to an English class and the other heading to a social studies room. Seeing the familiar faces of the teens they’d met on Zoom earlier in the semester, undergrads are eager to share what they have in store.

The middle school visit is part of a 15-week project for a course in the Communication and Language Studies department that focuses on digital technology and its societal impact. Students partnered with Scituate Middle School teachers to increase the thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds’ digital literacy skills through an hour-long workshop.

“Kids are not only starting to develop their independence and identity at that middle school age, but they're also starting to increase their digital usage,” says Communication and Language Studies Department Chair Chris Morse, Ph.D., who is heading the course. “They are at a point where a sense of digital literacy is imperative, so they do not put themselves into bad situations.”

Using activities to engage Scituate eighth graders and encourage participation, Uzzell’s group starts their workshop with a sticky note brainstorm where middle schoolers respond to simple questions in groups — an inspiration from the university’s Innovation and Design Experience for All program. Combining Bulldog spirit with digital literacy, Morse’s students include a game called Tupper's Dos and Don'ts.

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“During this activity, eighth graders looked at social media posts we created using the Tupper mascot and then had to identify which were good posts and which were bad posts. They then had to explain how to fix the bad posts,” reflects Uzzell.

In Morse’s course, students learned everything from what algorithms are and how they work to where ChatGPT pulls its answers from and how emails get from the U.S. to Spain; they also delved into how the digital world impacts society, social structures, identity, family, friends, and romantic relationships.

“Most people use technology but don't understand what they're using,” says Morse, who will run this course again next spring under the name “Digital Literacy, Digital Lives.” “Apple all the way to Google has made money on the fact that you don't have to question how it works. That's great, but it also puts people in potentially dangerous situations because they don't know what's happening with their information.”

In a virtual meet-and-greet between undergrads and middle schoolers, Morse’s students asked the teens what they knew about social media, how they use artificial intelligence, and how they would determine quality sources from problematic sources. Bryant students took that information and, in groups, developed a lesson plan addressing a specific digital literacy topic. Each group then created a short video pitching their workshop idea, followed by Scituate teachers selecting two groups to visit the school.

To bring this project to fruition, Morse collaborated with Bryant’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE). The center facilitated the partnership with Scituate Middle School and identified people who could explain to undergraduates how to best communicate with middle school students.

“One of the things CTE is interested in is building our experiences with community learning and community partnerships; these components have been an important part of the way we're heading in a lot of our different disciplines,” says Terri Hasseler, Ph.D., CTE director.

She notes that when working with community members and organizations, undergrads seek to understand their partner’s needs and work in collaboration to support them and find a solution.

“Bryant, as a member of the community of Rhode Island and regionally, has the responsibility to be a good partner by taking the expertise we have on campus and working closely with community partners on issues that are important to them,” Hasseler says.

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