Netizenship and Near Misses: A reflection

McKenzie and I were called upon to teach from two web publications that responded to the question, “Is the Internet changing the way you think?” Both of these authors posit that it is inevitable that the Net will change how and what we think. However, they depart from this idea when they consider how much control we have in that process. James O’Donnell, in his piece, “My Fingers Have Become Part of My Brain”, seems to think that the adaptation to the changing demands of these new literacies is literally manifested in our bodies, where Howard Rheingold, in his piece, “Attention is the Fundamental Literacy,” believes that we can either master our attention and these subsequent literacies, or let them master us. Realistically though, and according to the fundamental ideas of learning, transfer to new ideas and perhaps new literacies isn’t inevitable unless connections to background knowledge are made regarding the context of the desired skill or content. Simply put, we have to work at new skills, no matter what.

To teach from these readings, McKenzie and I decided to pose this question via Mentimeter: “What strategies do you use to sustain your attention while interacting with technology?” Our prediction was that in order to focus, many people starve one of their senses in order to allow their brains to work harder (i.e. wearing headphones, finding a quiet place, etc.) We weren’t too far off. As responses came pouring in, we created a word cloud that emphasized the responses that repeated. Unfortunately, the word cloud didn’t eliminate articles and prepositions, so these words subsequently over-ruled the better nouns. We managed the best we could but it was rather off-putting.

However, it did push us, as designed, into our next piece, which was to discuss the most important take-ways from the two articles. To facilitate this, we posted a slide on our prezi with bolded text that highlighted the best sentences. Again we stuttered, since Mckenzie and I sort of got our wires crossed as to the purpose of the slide and we ended up zooming right past it in favor of the discussion questions.

I was bummed because the text talk was intended to lead our discussion into the idea of these shifting New Media Literacies that we’d been unpacking in class. Instead it focused on our rather powerful discussion questions:

  • Do you agree with O’Donnell’s assumption that shifting literacies are involuntary- that we are victim to our tech. use?
  • Do you agree with Rheingold that it is inevitable that the Net will change how and what we think as it teaches- or reteaches- our attention span?

These saved us to some extent, because ultimately these were the heart of our lesson. Talk shifted to focus on everyone’s personal experience with attention-keeping and tech use, and gradually morphed into our activity about teaching students good “Netizenship”. With this word we asked students to create snagit photo interpretations that illustrated, in their opinion, what it means to be a netizen. They had approximately 5 mins to learn and create their interpretations of what a netizen is. At the end, we reserved time to have a gallery walk and connect to Rheingold’s idea of Netizenship and Knowledge Curation.

It went extremely well. Student engagement was right on target, even if our topic wasn’t really. We wanted teachers to discuss the literacies necessary to sustaining attention, as well interacting with the Net in a productive and sustainable manner- i.e. Good Netizenship. Instead, we zoomed straight to Netizenship and then stayed there.

Next time, I think we should take the time to discuss “citizenship”, literacy, and “New Media Literacies” BEFORE we get to defining “Netizenship”. I’m happy with the way that our lesson went, but the perfectionist in me demands more.




O’Donnell, J . (2011). My Fingers Have Become Part of my Brain. In J. Brockman (Ed.), Is the Internet changing the way you think? Retrieved from

Rheingold, H . (2011). Attention is the Fundamental Literacy. In J. Brockman (Ed.), Is the Internet changing the way you think? Retrieved from




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s