Multilingual and Intergenerational Digital Storytelling

Building a community learning laboratory, not as an official place or space, but rather as a mission for teaching and learning, has been at the forefront of our digital storytelling projects.  This year we focused on merging two groups; our undergraduate students and adult learners from the greater Whittier community to create Multilingual and Intergenerational Digital Storytelling

Our learning community has a great population of adult learners and college students who are multilingual learners.  In projects like digital storytelling, it gives them opportunities to share their voices in the language that feels most comfortable to them. Being multilingual also means communicating in dual or multiple languages to express culture–which does not always translate well into English or another language. “Chinga tu madre” (more on this later) cannot possibly be translated into English directly to “f*ck your mother.” It doesn’t mean exactly that.  It has many different uses and forms of expression.

Spanglish (mixing English and Spanish in the same conversation) is often heard on our campus and throughout our community.  Our minds think in both languages and sometimes you can’t find the right word in English whereas you might have the exact, most perfect word in Spanish.  It happens to me quite often.

Using multilingual prompts for story writing is a natural transition from the storywork we’ve been doing.  The digital storytelling workshops I run are usually all in English or all in Spanish. So why not merge both languages in a project that includes students who are studying in our modern languages department and who are working internships with populations that use multiple languages? What can our undergrads and adults learn from each other?

Where We’ve Been
This past summer, my colleague Stephanie Carmona who runs the Community Education Program Initiative (CEPI) and I started to craft ideas for incorporating digital storytelling assignments and projects with the populations we work with. We’ve been partnering for several years but this time we wanted to create something new, inspired by an article we read; Engaging Post-Secondary Students and Older Adults In An Intergenerational Digital Storytelling Course.  We decided on a plan to merge our college undergrads with our community adult learners in a new learning experience using digital storytelling. 

Our first task was to look through the catalog of courses being offered during Fall Term and one stood out with bright, shiny lights: a paired course in Social Work and Spanish Literature. 

CEPI’s adult learners had already been visiting a beginning Spanish course to help undergrads practice their conversations in a new language. The students in the Spanish class affectionately titled our visiting adult learners “Las Madres” (The Mothers).  The campus newspaper even ran a story about Las Madres.  

In Social Work, students create digital stories as part of their senior capstone project. Stephanie and I knew this paired course would be the perfect match. But, there was a kink in the next task- courses had just begun and the syllabus had already been distributed with dates and assignments. Would it be too disruptive to ask the team of professors to invite us in to do a digital storytelling project with their students—and— bring in Las Madres to create a multilingual and intergenerational digital storytelling experience?

We immediately emailed both profs and asked to meet with them in person to explain. Then we pitched the project: intergenerational learning where the role of teacher and learner are constantly being interchanged between the adult learners and undergrads.  Bringing together diverse learners from different backgrounds allows for everyone involved in the process to bring in their own unique experiences. The adult learner can be the expert as well as the novice in various topics. In this way, different generations are able to share their knowledge.  And, we would be facilitating an assignment that also promotes multilingual learning in the Spanish part of the course. Everyone has a story to share regardless of age and this assignment would hit the learning goals set by the paired courses. The profs pretty much stopped us at this point and said, “you had us at digital storytelling!” 🙂

Where I’m From
Using the poem “Where I’m From”  by George Ella Lyon, we asked each student to create their own digital poetry based on what they’d like to tell us about themselves.  We used a template and then translated it to Spanish to create “Yo Soy” (I am).  This assignment has been used in classrooms in many different schools but I first learned about it at StoryCenter’s Summer Institute for Educators.

Multilingual & Intergenerational Digital Storytelling

The Assignment
We held a couple of in-class meetings where we invited the adult learners into the paired course to explain the project. Conversations started between our two learning groups. They chatted about the course materials, Spanish Lit, life, and experiences. We then gave both sets of learners prompts to write together and share in groups. At the third meeting we distributed the “Where I’m From” and “Yo Soy” template.  Some students asked if they had to keep the template exactly as written. Other students asked if they could write their poems in Spanglish to describe where they’re from.  We offered maximum flexibility and creativity.

After both sets of learners wrote their poems we scheduled dates to record the audio for their scripts and then to learn to edit them in the video editor WeVideo.  We suggested that they use their own photos; from their family albums or by taking pictures or video from the cameras on their phones.  Some also used stock photos offered through WeVideo or Creative Commons licensed graphics. We decided as a group to screen all the digital story/poems on the day of the final examination scheduled for mid December. 

Before the screening, Stephanie and I watched the videos and we decided to translate some of the Spanish verses to English.  Bilingual students were a great help with the translations.  We originally wanted to also translate them from Spanish to English but we were pressed for time.  Which takes me back to a phone call I got from Stephanie while we were in the middle of translating and subtitling…“how would you translate chinga tu madre?”  she asked.

I of course laughed out loud! In context, one student writes her poem/story about her culture and when she’s describing “[I’m] from chinga tu madre” she doesn’t mean it quite literally. Watch the video to see how we decided to translate it: “Yo Soy” by K. Ortega.

The screening was a hit! There was laughter, there were tears, happy tears! As is the case with these projects, the engagement and retention of information happens by the way we feel after the hard work is finished.  Learning happens on multiple levels. This is an assignment that we take our time in unpacking. 

Where We’re Going
Stephanie and I are co-writing an ebook that explains our work with undergraduate students and adult learners through a series of collaborative projects.  The part we have not yet written is where we explain the joy and fulfillment that comes with the work that we do. The anecdotes we have captured and the tears and hugs that come at the end of each project along with course evaluations and rubrics. How do we measure this work? Our students are engaged and the faculty we work with ask, “when can we do this again?!”  The science of learning tells us that activities and assignments like this can be the key to unlocking how the brain gathers and retains information (this is another blogpost in the making). What we can confirm through our own experience is that this work is valuable on many levels; in education, in community building, in understanding cultural relevancy as well as skill building of multiple literacies. It’s both tangible and intangible. 

In Spring 2020, Stephanie and I will present our work on this assignment and other projects at the 9th International Digital Storytelling Conference at Loughborough University, UK. I’ll write updates- for now, we leave you with our playlist:  Multilingual and Intergeneration Digital Stories.


Building a Community Learning Laboratory Through Digital Initiatives

How can digital initiatives help to build a community of life-long learners? How can we build partnerships that create opportunities that lead to new methods of teaching, learning, and digital collaborations? It begins with creativity, trust, and some play! About 3 years ago, Stephanie Carmona, who leads the Community Education Program Initiative (CEPI) out of the Education Department at Whittier College and I met to think about how we might create learn-by-doing assignments for her computer skills class. Her classes are made up of adult learners which include parents who’s children attend local K-12 schools. Mostly informal and born out of our friendship and willingness to help the many Spanish-speaking parents that we had been interacting with, we started to lead some community-based workshops on building digital literacies. These workshops were guided by topics that our participants suggested: social media and the apps their children are using, how to manage the vast amounts of photos they are collecting on their mobile devices, and Internet safety. The workshops were successful because our adult learners were invited to help in the design process and of course it helped that they bonded quickly and became friends, some even comadres. We also had an undergraduate student intern that helped with the workshops. While trying something new at the computer, our adult learners would summon our intern by calling out, “teacher, teacher!” Although we didn’t necessarily plan for it, we soon found that we were building a community learning laboratory- where we all interchanged roles as teachers learners, and creatives. One workshop on managing photo storage turned into a traveling photo exhibition we call “Nuestro Arte”, still active after two years. (insert flyers) We also created a Story Map based on this Photovoice project. Read more

Surviving 2017

Chaidez Family Christmas Tree with Prisma filter “Daryl Feril.”

The day after the U.S. presidential election last year was grim, to say the least. I woke up, I cried with my kids. I went to work, I cried with our students. I think you know the reasons why. Well, at least if you didn’t vote for Donald Trump.

The 2016 election was contentious but up until election night I truly believed that DJT could not win. A bully of this magnitude does not get to be president I told my kids. I was wrong. The weeks following the election I strategized with friends; how would we survive the next 4 years? DJT’s campaign was hateful; full of abusive language, misogyny, and promises to divide people with walls. My people. Thanksgiving was difficult. No politics at the table, we said. But there was anger nonetheless. I tried to stay off of social media but I was drawn to it, trying to figure out why and what made people vote for him. I got into Facebook arguments. I felt horrible!

As the end of the year approached, I thought about how I would survive the next year, let alone four years given the divisiveness spreading through our country. I live in a bubble I thought — my community is supportive, they celebrate diversity. But reading online neighborhood bulletins told a different story. The campaign and subsequent actions from the new president emboldened racism and xenophobia. I felt uncomfortable even going to my local supermarket. A man wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat got in line behind us at the local bakery where I take my kids on weekends for sweet treats. Mama bear went into high alert to protect my brown children.

I had to calm down. I can’t live my life like this, I thought. I have to return to being the mom and wife that I remember, a productive colleague, an available and supportive friend. “Self Care” became a strategy, a coping mechanism. It’s a phrase my friends and I used often until one of them pointed out that “Self Preservation” was a much better way of describing how we protected our sanity in this tumultuous time. A few days ago at Christmas dinner I was telling my cousin it was like being on a plane losing altitude- you put on the oxygen mask first and then help others. She explained that she too looked for inner peace through a Buddhist philosophy that puts others first before the self. By helping others you help yourself, she said. This makes so much sense to me.

As the year closes, I reflect on what surviving 2017 means to me:

Process Anger. Who says anger isn’t productive? I used to say it. But there are many things to be angry about even before 2017. I’m angry now about apathy. 2017, I hope, has lit a fire under the ass of people who lacked concern, enthusiasm, or were passive about allowing injustice. Perhaps humanity depends on anger to get people moving.

Solidarity. That a man who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy could be elected president stoked rage and fueled the protests that launched the Women’s March the day after the inauguration. There were some like Christy from Facebook who started #notmymarch because they felt or feel like women in America have everything they need and if they don’t, it’s their own fault. We need to build solidarity, especially amongst women. We are ending 2017 with what Time Magazine calls the Silence Breakers as their Person of Year. #metoo as our battle cry. How can we survive if we don’t join together to fight for our sisters, our daughters, all women? We need to have each other’s back! At my job we created a group that meets once a month to discuss ways of empowering women in the workplace. We also have a Facebook group where we share helpful resources and encouraging tactics. And yes, we have happy hours where we celebrate accomplishments!

Focus. Daily, sometimes hourly; 2017 was filled with breaking news, bad news, follow-up tweets about fake news, and so much disruption. In my attempts to be an informed citizen I found frustration and a sense of impotence. What could I do from my little corner of the world? I found that focusing on what I as one person could do was more helpful than what I couldn’t do. I helped create workshops and working groups on digital and information literacy. I joined community groups that help people tell their stories. An effort, if small, to increase understanding of others and discourage fear.

Donate. Time and money. I chose to donate to charities and groups that work for social justice, for immigrant rights, and on our college campus for DACA students.

Digital Hiatus. At several times during the year our immediate family unplugged and turned off all electronics (one to four days at a time.) It wasn’t that hard to do. I think we all needed it.

Practice Kindness. We are all fighting the good fight. 2017 has posed great challenges but I’m grateful that I never lost sight of this.

Wine. And Cocktails. Sometimes there’s drinking involved. Where would I be without my happy hour gatherings? Surviving 2017 involved family, friends, and free-flowing libations.

Laugh. If you don’t laugh you’ll cry. This is what I told myself to justify taking a break from the bombardment of serious material coming at us on the daily. I unwind by watching comedy shows. Not necessarily ‘late night’ comedy. The hosts often take news headlines and tweets from the president as a punchline but it’s often too real to laugh at. It’s like, you can’t make this stuff up!

Meditate. Earlier this year I downloaded an app that was supposed to help me do this. I never used it. I find that activities that involve time to myself work best as meditation. I need it. Sometimes it’s just skin care. I put on a sheet mask and my blood pressure drops significantly. Sometimes it’s just waking up early when my house is silent. I look outside and watch the sun come up. The day is about to begin and anything can happen. It helps me get started in a positive state of mind.

Reflect. There are many challenges ahead. The list can be daunting. But it’s important to also acknowledge accomplishments. If 2017 put us in a state of anxiety and insecurity it also triggered a state of action. Protests, marches, phone banking, support groups, and book clubs. We have found our ways of pushing through this darkness. Survival isn’t enough. It’s a balance that I’m still learning- putting others before the self as my cousin Krystle reminded me yet striving for self preservation.

In a few days I’ll hear the New Year’s song “Auld Lang Syne.” It’s a bit of somber song reminding me of the joys and sorrow of the past year but also signaling the coming year with all of its possibilities.

Raising the Parent Digital Comfort Level

Recently I joined the amazing staff from the Parent Education Center for the Whittier City School District to give a workshop on creating digital storybooks using iPads. My goal is to help parents become familiar with the technology tools their children are using in the classroom but I also like to chat about larger questions involving navigating digital platforms and the Internet.

Before we got started on creating digital storybooks I asked parents to tell me why they chose to attend the workshop. Most said they feel their kids know more about using mobile devices than they do. Other parents want to learn to use mobile devices like the iPad to encourage their children to learn creatively outside the classroom.  Some parents expressed concern about having their kids spend mindless time playing online games after school.

The school district now provides iPads for children to use in class and some of the higher grades can also take them home. Most parents in attendance do not have mobile devices at home other than smartphones.

After introductions we chatted about the new Common Core State Standards which outline that students must develop digital media and technology skills.  This is in line with some of the initiatives I’m involved in at the college level to help increase digital literacy and support 21st century learning.

The iPad is a tool that can help.  Children are familiar with using touch-screen technology found in mobile devices.  They like to use these tools to socialize, communicate and contribute to online communities. Teaching a child with a tool they have a personal interest in can help to get buy-in from them to engage in lessons and activities.

 During our workshop some parents remarked that they felt uneasy about their children spending “too much” time on digital devices.  Another parent commented that while she wasn’t sure how much time her child was spending with the device in the classroom,  at home she sees digital devices as a distraction from doing other activities like playing outside or solving puzzles.  Balancing the physical and virtual world is important. True.  My mother worried about too much TV when I was a kid.   She too saw the “boob tube” as a distraction from socializing with the neighborhood kids and running outside to get exercise.  Innovation, technology and gadgets always bring competition for our attention.  

But playing online games can be productive.  My son says he likes to play computer games because it’s his way of unwinding after a long day at school.  Some online games provide a distraction but they also have teaching elements that are woven into the fun. They can also help children develop their digital citizenship.

Back at the workshop I spoke about an example I had observed the day before in my household:

My son loves multi-player games that involve building virtual worlds.  Last summer, while attending our annual family reunion he recruited new members to join his ‘clan’ in the virtual world he was building.  

His first day of middle school this past fall was filled with the angst of attending a new school district where he didn’t know anybody and had to make new friends.  He quickly bonded with other kids who also played the game of ‘clans’ and soon they joined his world (the world of middle schoolers as well as the virtual one).

“So, all those little viking-looking characters represent a real person” I asked as I inquired about his online gaming.  “Yes!” he said, “there used to be more but some have gotten kicked out.”  “Who kicks them out” I asked.  “I do” he said,  “I’m the leader, I created this world.”   “Why do you kick them out?”  “Well, if they’re mean to other members or are cussing in the chat- I warn them and if they continue I kick them out.  Sometimes players destroy what we’re building in our community and then I kick them out too.  I don’t always know when these things are happening but the other kids will tell me.”

Interesting.  Sounds a lot like traditional communities.

I think about how online games can teach children about leadership skills, participation and collaboration, working in groups and how they check their behavior in online communities–perhaps much the same as they would check it in a traditional classroom setting.

This also reminds me of a story I read a few years ago when the new director for the Media Lab at MIT mentioned how his experience in playing World of Warcraft shaped his professional development:

… and a guild leader in World of Warcraft. “My feeling is that what we are doing in WoW represents in many ways the future of real time collaborative teams and leadership in an increasingly ad hoc, always-on, diversity intense and real-time environment,”

As we regrouped our thoughts at our workshop I thought more about how we want to better understand the impact digital learning is having on our kids and how to raise the comfort level for parents.  Perhaps a way to do this is learn by doing.

We continued on to digital storybook creation using iPads.

“Why do we tell stories?” I asked our participants.

“To pass down information, to explain traditions!” exclaimed a parent and another parent said “to teach a lesson, to give a moral of a story.”

Yes, we tell stories to entertain, to record an experience, to share knowledge too.

Each parent was provided with an iPad that has the Haiku Deck application installed.  I chose Haiku Deck because of it’s simple format that focuses less on learning the platform and more on creative presentation creation with pictures and words.  Creating an account to use this application used to be completely free (useful, given our budgets) but now the company has a limited free account option and pushes users to purchase a ‘premium’ account for more features.

I asked parents to create 5 slides with pictures and words that describe what they like to do with their families or how they spend time together.

The parent center staff and I walked around the room helping parents create accounts in the Haiku Deck app.  The app requires an email address to sign up.  Some parents did not have an email address and we helped them create one first.

Haiku Deck has a helpful search function for pictures that recognizes photos tagged in different languages.  For example, some parents said they liked going to the beach on weekends with their kids.  Our workshop was bilingual so when they typed “playa” into the search bar the results came back with similar tags for “beach” in English and Spanish along with images of sandy beaches and sunsets.

As we wrapped up our workshop you could see lots of tapping on the screens to find the menus to add slides, add pictures, and writing of text. Then there was “look at this” giggles from some parents working together. Fun!

To finish our workshop I asked participants to share their stories.  We heard and saw stories from a mother who likes to run in the park with her kids.  Another mother who likes to attend baseball games with her children and grandchildren! Another parent expressed her love of reading bedtime stories to her young child.

One of the final stories was created in the format of a letter from a mother to her son. The room was clearly touched by her story as everyone ‘awwwed’ and clapped.  

Oh, the power of stories!

At the end of the workshop parents commented that they would keep working on their stories since they could access their accounts on their mobile devices or through Some said they couldn’t wait until their children got home from school to show them what they created in class!  

Digital Literacy For Parents

cc: phsymyst –

Last Saturday I joined an amazing group of educators and parents for a one-day conference that focuses on how students are learning in the 21st Century. The “Parent Academy” is an annual event organized by the Whittier City School District. This year they asked me to be their keynote speaker.  I am honored–because I am a parent, because this is my community, and because I am excited to share the work I do.

Below is my speech accompanied with slides and links that I use to talk with parents about the importance of digital literacy and how to better understand and support our 21st century students.

Photo by Regina Valencia. Whittier Community Photography Exhibit, December 2016.

Good morning! I’m so grateful to be here with you today as a fellow parent, trying to navigate teaching and learning in a technology-driven and networked world.

I’m Sonia Chaidez, I work at Whittier College as an Instructional Media Designer where I help faculty integrate meaningful technology use to help students learn to build their digital literacies.  I teach using digital storytelling projects as a way to help merge creativity and technology use but also to think larger about the content students are learning.  

I have a blog where I write about community-based learning projects, education technology and how we learn through stories, and sometimes I throw in a post about being a working mother and self care.  More importantly, I am the mother of two children who widely use the Internet for researching, gaming, and communication.

cc: Alan Light –

I started my career working as a researcher and script editor for a show on science and technology in the late 1990s. We were interested to see what the future would look like and what inventions and gadgets would be part of our everyday lives.

cc: GogDog –

I remember doing a story on a backpack with a rocket—kind of like the Disney movie called, The Rocketeer.  How could we avoid traffic with a jet-propelled backpack without sitting in the parking lot called the 405 freeway.  

Then there was a story I did on wearable technology. This Smart clothing that could learn us and perhaps tell us how active we were during the day (point at Fitbit)- sound familiar? Are any of you wearing a fitness tracker?

 There were many ideas about what the future would look like.  

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On the daily, we interact with gadgets and computers in many different ways. We are consumers of devices and the services they provide but we should also think about how to be smart consumers of the smart devices we carry in our pockets and how the apps we download everyday are learning what we like and what we do.  

These mysterious algorithms known as mathematical equations done by computers aggregate, they add up our data and make calculations based on ads we’ve clicked on or news story headlines.

Have you ever Googled something and these ads pop up on the side of your screen? Yeah, the machine is learning and is suggesting or rather luring things for you to buy and to read—and this can be both sneaky and tricky.

As we enter 2017 and look at technology trends, we need to pay attention to how we are interacting with digital technologies so that we can be engaged parents to help our children navigate the world wide web and learn in a senseful way.

We want to equip our students with skills and tools so that they can thrive in this fast changing, information economy where knowledge is the currency.

cc: Shakespearesmonkey –

My talk today is on digital literacy–the ability to essentially exist and navigate in digital or virtual environments.  While there are pitfalls, we also want to look at the benefits of knowing how these digital environments work.  This is important because the roles our children will take in the coming years will depend on this. It will shape their personal identities.  And, in some cases it may blur the lines of the physical self and the virtual self.

We’ll also look at social media and networks.  These are spaces not only used for communication and social interaction but colleges, universities and employers do active recruiting on these sites.

We’ll chat about digital footprints and why it’s important to know that everything we do online today has a lasting shadow that could affect opportunities in the future.  I’ll be speaking today mostly in English but I do speak Spanish and you can ask me any questions in either language at the end of our talk.

Now, I have a question for you as parents; what career would you like to see your child pursue and why?  Let’s a take a couple of minutes to have a conversation at our tables/chairs about this.  Introduce yourselves , you’ll be spending a good part of the day together and chat a little bit about some careers you think would be good for your child or children.  

I’ll come back in just a bit.


Okay, let’s come back. What are some careers you you’d like to see your children pursue?

(parents from the audience mentioned:  an astronaut or a career with NASA, a scientist who can discover something new, a zoologist since their child loves animals, and a mathematician since their child loves working with numbers.)

These are great!  We want the best for our children.  That’s why we’re all here today!

cc: Laurence Vagner –

In every single career that our children will choose, they will need to have digital literacy skills.  We’ll come back to that.  Our children are 21st century learners.

21st century learning is about being a problem solver, a critical thinker, and an effective communicator and collaborator.

My job is to prepare students to enter the workforce but I also want them to build life-long learning skills.

A couple of years ago, Thomas Friedman who writes on globalization and technology for the New York Times wrote an article about what tech industry leaders look for in their future workforce and they listed skills that might surprise you.  

Sure, if you want to apply for a job as a computer coder or you want a job in robotics then you need know how to code.

This is described as “hard skills” or a person’s technical skill set and ability to perform a specific task –but overall employers in the technology sector listed soft skills known as “people skills” or “social skills” where individuals can work well with others by listening, understanding, and a willingness to keep learning.

Among these soft skills are collaboration and adaptability and the ability to keep learning because of the constant innovation and changing of technology.

This is important!

A generation ago, information technology and digital media were skills you learned if you wanted to go into those specific career fields.  Today, they are a core competency necessary to succeed in most all careers.

We need to nurture students’ ability and confidence to excel both online and offline in a world where digital media is everywhere and part of our everyday lives.

The communication infrastructure or, the building blocks that makes this- is built so that many of the resources we need to move ahead are tied to having access to the Internet and a knowledge of navigating web pages that will ask you for identifying information.

I have another question for you all—
What kinds of resources can you think about that are dependent or make it necessary for you to have Internet access to locate online?

Take a moment to think about this…

What are some of the resources you thought about that are dependent on internet use and going online?
How about:

  • Looking for a job
  • Applying for a job
  • Applying for college and financial aid
  • Where to find resources and information–about your city, about your health provider, about…
  • What about shopping? E-commerce? Did you hear about many of the brick and mortar stores closing after this past holiday season because a majority of goods are bought online?

So, it is important to have a set of digital knowledge skills to function in the society we live in.  

Our students are known as “digital natives” meaning they have grown up with the Internet.

The parents of “digital natives”, us, we are known as “digital immigrants” because we have been moved to learn how to navigate electronic resources in our adulthood.

We are all in this together–we are all learning!

We are asking our students to have 21st century skills or digital literacy skills not just to succeed, but to be active participants in this new world order.


So what does digital literacy mean?
Literacy in the traditional sense means the ability to read, write, speak and listen.
The digital is a broad term. In some ways it is still being defined.
Here are some definitions that we work with:

(These are from the National Council of Teachers of English)

There are many tools and techniques that educators use to teach digital literacy.
I’m going to briefly talk about one:



How many of you know what Wikipedia is?  
How many of you have used it or use it to get information?
Wikipedia is crowd-sourced, meaning anyone can create an editing account and add information to this database.
Do you remember the giant books broken into letter of the alphabet that you could use at your local library or school or if you were lucky enough maybe you had a set in your home–called Encyclopedias?  

Wikipedia is the 21st century version where the information contained in this online encyclopedia is dynamic–meaning it is constantly being added to and updated which makes it a valuable tool for people searching for information.

Now, sometimes students are discouraged from using Wikipedia because they are warned that information could be false–since it’s crowd-sourced and anyone can post, the information could be bias or just plain fake.

But this is also what makes Wikipedia a great tool to teach information and digital literacy.

When we read Wikipedia entries there are usually a set of sources and footnotes at the bottom of the entries.  

There is also a team of people working behind the scenes to flag or bring to the attention of the reader that sources are needed—- meaning be careful—

do your own research before you make your conclusion.  
But a good way of teaching students who want to use Wikipedia is to have them look at the sources that are listed.  
This gives them a place to start when they are doing their own research.  
They can then determine if the information is true or needs updating to reflect current changes.

Wikipedia is used worldwide and sometimes, depending on the the language you are reading it in, the information can be different.   

The Encyclopedia Britannica that I had access to as a kid, stopped being current in 1993.  The sets of books would cost thousands of dollars to acquire and unfortunately, by the time they would reach printing, some of the information was outdated.

At Whittier College we hold Wikipedia edit-a-thons where we teach students how to be critical consumers of the information they are reading on Wikipedia meaning we want them to verify the information and if facts are lacking we ask them to be active participants in our information infrastructure by creating accounts, finding facts with sources and contributing to Wikipedia.  

This is also an excellent way to search for topics that are not represented and add them for the world to learn about.  

This process demystifies or clarifies the way digital platforms are created and students have a better understanding of how Wikipedia can be a good source of information rather that just being told to stay out, don’t use it!  

The reality is that many, many students use Wikipedia because if you do a Google search on almost any topic (we all do this!) the Wikipedia entry will likely come up as the first choice.

As with many things when teaching youth, if we tell them to simply not do something without explanation, it’s not preparing them and this is when the pitfalls of technology can happen.

Let’s talk a bit more about Digital Citizenship and Social Media-

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Of the digital literacy skills I think this is the one that’s been neglected the most.

Our children, our students should start learning digital citizenship as early as possible, ideally when they start actively using games, social media or any digital device.  Digital citizenship is about using the Internet in a smart way.

The students I work with use the Internet for research, to get ideas, and to gather multimedia like pictures, video and music to include into their assignment.  
There’s lots of stuff out there!
It’s important for students to understand that when they read and gather what they find online that they are not making new discoveries, meaning it is not their original work and they must give attribution or credit for the sources they are using.
We also know this as plagiarism meaning an attempt to get credit for someone else’s work and while students may get a bad grade in middle or high school, in college they will get expelled.  It is a serious offense!  
At worst, if they steal copyrighted information that they find online and claim it as their own without giving credit, they could get sued.  It also greatly damages their reputation.
Another aspect of being digital citizens is that 92% of Digital Natives or today’s youth that have grown up using digital devices, now have  a digital footprint.

What is a digital footprint? Let’s watch this short video:

Digital Footprint video

The simple definition is:
“the information about a particular person that exists on the Internet as a result of their online activity.”

Our digital footprint paints a picture of who we are—-and it is likely more public than we assume.
Many companies will Google job applicants to see what they can find out about them online.
Have you Googled yourself to see what come us?  Next time you’re online type your name into a search bar to see what comes up.  

Is your online identity affected by your digital footprint?

The portrait that your digital footprint paints also helps companies target you for products at specific markets, some schools or employers use it to look into your background, and advertisers track your movements across multiple websites.

Whatever you do online, you might be leaving digital footprints behind.

How many of you have left comments on Facebook or simply hit the LIKE button?
Have you ever shopped online?  
Have you left reviews for the items you’ve bought online?
Even when we are logged into web-based platforms or search engines like Google, the information we are looking at, what we’re clicking on or key words in our email are being tracked.  
It’s important to know this because we want to make sure that our digital footprint represents us fairly and doesn’t damage our reputation.

Education is key and we need to let our children know that the many ways they are interacting online can have consequences and could affect things in the future like college and job applications and getting credit and loans to buy a car or home.

The best thing to do to manage your digital footprint is to manage your privacy settings.
When you are signing up for “free” accounts, they are not usually free.  
You are giving the apps and products permission to gather data that can be used to market to you or they sell the data to companies to help them create targeted advertisements.
My suggestion is that you visit each website or online platform that you interact with to check their privacy settings.
If you’re on social media you can manage your privacy settings in your account information but sometimes the companies change their terms of service and
they don’t always alert the consumers–us and our children.  
We have to be vigilant about this and again, be smart consumers.

cc: luc legay –

How many of you are on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, maybe Snapchat?  Why is it called social media?
Well, there is a ton of information to be shared like news, recipes, rants, magazine articles, live video from witnesses.  And it’s social meaning we create and are a part of networks where we can engage by liking, commenting, sharing.
These networks we create or join are important.  They are a part of our identities and how we think of ourselves as a public.

In the early days of the internet, small groups of people formed online networks and they communicated with each other by plugging in their phones that connected to their computers and then they would be prompted by a flickering cursor to type a message.  If someone was online they would respond.  
Later came a larger web where you could get access to electronic newspapers and some sights that shared information that was maybe published once a week
but you would read it and there was no 2-way communication.  

Later came Web 2.0.  
Web 2.0 enabled 2-way communication where online users could communicate with larger networks.  And now we have the social media revolution.

Let’s watch a video first:
Social Media Revolution


This video is from 2016 and it includes trends and statistics that are still daunting to me!
The social media revolution has done just that, revolutionized the way we think about social and civic engagement, e-commerce, news sources.

Social media is how many of us communicate. How many of you use Facebook Messenger or What’s App to text or call people?
Technology has made it easier to connect with friends and family in far away places.

My mom doesn’t have a smart phone. She has a tablet and she calls and messages me using FB Messenger at least twice a week!
My mom who has resisted technology most of her life– but she is a very social person and has gotten her friends to also join social media groups so they can share chisme together–virtually–well, at least that’s what she says.

As parents, most of us are on social media for various reasons and some of us may be “friends” with our children.
So what is the allure for our children to be on social media?

Did you every hang out at the mall when you were a teenager?  It probably wasn’t to shop, maybe it was.
My local mall had a movie theater and my friends and I would ask our parents to drop us off to watch a movie but then we would stay to hang out with other kids from school at the mall.  That was our Facebook in a limited social network which included only the kids that got rides to the mall on that day.

When I was much younger than I am now, my family would travel to a small town in Mexico where my dad and his family are from and we would visit the town square.  We would buy ice cream and sit on bench to people watch.  I remember seeing young girls on one side of the square and the boys on the other side.
Ever so often one would get brave and go over to talk to another.  This is where young people come gather,  to get to know other young people like them.

In my research I look to why students are attracted to social media. I regularly ask students at the college where I work about this. Last year I did a workshop for parents at the Boys & Girls Club of Whittier on different social media platforms and how teens and young adults are using each site.
I also look at research that experts in the field are doing.  A researcher named danah boyd writes quite a bit on this subject.  
She has a book called, It’s Complicated: The Networked Life of Teens where she conducts interviews from across the country to get a sense of what motivates teens to engage in online spaces.

What I’ve found isn’t surprising.
In a chapter boyd calls, “Search for a Public of Their Own” she describes how teens want access to meaningful public spaces and they want to connect to their peers. They want to see and be seen. It reminds me of the town square and the youth dances in Mexico when I visited.  
It’s completely normal– isn’t that what most of us wanted growing up?  
Perhaps what we still want?

Social media is an extension of this.
Teens are now part of a larger public in online spaces but they are also creating and engaging in larger networks.  There are potential dangers in this and that’s why we as parents feel uneasy.  We want to have more control on how our children are using the Internet and with whom our children are interacting with online.
Their safety is our number one concern.

The Internet was essentially invented to share information with a group of trusted individuals.  Because of this, little protections existed. There wasn’t a lot of worrying about people introducing viruses or pretending they were someone else to be malicious.  If that was the case, they would be expelled from this virtual community much the same as a traditional community.

But now…  the Internet is largely open and more accessible.  We navigate through it not always thinking about how open it is.  This can at times lead to identity compromises–there is one of us, but there are many components that represent us digitally. The lines between our physical self and digital self are becoming more blurred because of the ways we interact online. We want to shelter our children and keep them safe but we also have to prepare them to be good digital citizens so they can exist and balance their digital and physical lives.

There are many resources available for parents on the internet about internet safety for kids.

I have a handout in both English and Spanish for you today from a workshop I do on this subject.

In the workshop I cover;

  • Privacy and revealing personal information
  • Choosing screen names- using real names vs. pseudonyms or an alias that protects your privacy by not revealing your real name    
  • Password safety
  • Posting photographs, pictures, and video online
  • Friends on the internet
  • Internet scams, identity theft
  • Downloads
  • Cyberbullying

As boyd says in her book,“teens want access to publics to see and be seen, to socialize, and to feel as if they have the freedoms to explore a world beyond their heavily constrained one shaped by parents and school.
The interactions online can be meaningful and teens create networks that can be both social and beneficial.

cc: Sue Waters –

There is another book I recommend by a researcher on cyberculture named Howard Rheingold.  He wrote a book called, “Net Smart: How to Thrive Online.” Rheingold points out that the success of 21st century learning depends on making use of online tools without being overloaded with too much information.  
We need to be empowered participants rather than passive receivers.  The message is that we use social media mindfully, which means we think about what we are doing, why we are doing it and how we are spending our time wisely doing it.

This can and should include our individual efforts to produce a thoughtful society by as he says,
“Countless small acts like publishing a Web page or sharing a link could add up to a public good that enriches everybody.”

It’s about being a good digital citizen; using digital tools to ethically contribute to the cultural understanding for global communities.  In essence, putting your digital literacies into practice!  These are especially important in the academic future of our children.  They will be asked to join or create their own learning networks where they will practice their digital citizenship skills to ethically and empathetically contribute to the information infrastructure we’ve been talking about.
These learning networks will lead to learning communities where many 21st century learners engage with people they’ve never met in person.  We now ask students to work collaboratively using web-based and online tools like Google docs to write together, to edit with each other and to learn from one another.

21st Century Learning is about being a digital scholar.

What can we as parents do to encourage our children to be mindful of how they are using digital tools?

cc: massimo ankor –

There is a lot of critique about the ways our society is using technology and engaging in social media.  
Indeed, researchers continue to study this especially when technology trends change.  I’m currently interested in learning more about gaming, youth and Mindcraft since my children like to spend a considerable amount of time watching Mindcraft videos on YouTube and creating virtual worlds inside the platform.

Think of it as this:
If you want to go swimming, then you have to learn how to swim–especially if you want to go into the deep end without drowning.  

Education is the most powerful tool in digital literacy.  Technologies change, digital tools and infrastructures are continuously updated and can look quite different from year to year but once you are aware of how these technologies work and the effects they can have then you can go into the deep end of the swimming pool.

What can we do as parents to help our children learn and understand?

The World Economic Forum ( has put together a set of 8 digital life skills that children need to learn, and that parents should be informed about.  We’ve covered most of these but I’ll return to this slide during our questions & answers.

Our digital well-being depends on how we manage the technology that can at time feel like it’s overtaking our lives.  We should be aware of efforts to limit screen time, to not jump at every buzz our digital devices make.  I sometimes dig in my purse to look at my phone because I think I heard it buzz when it hasn’t.

It’s important to be in the moment, to listen, to make eye contact and not constantly look at our electronic devices. We may also want to take breaks from social media, especially when there is constant news and information posted on things we disagree about.
Think about self care— let’s take care of ourselves first so that we can guide our students.  For our children, it’s important to have them take a break from gaming and other activities they like to do online.

cc: gem fountain –

I’ve spoken today about social networks and how they can have a positive effect on youth looking to create online groups that matter to them and help them grow academically.  But human contact is also important.  I said earlier that employers are looking for soft skills, the “works well with others” skills that are best developed by interacting more with humans and perhaps less with machines.
As parents we can navigate the Internet together with our children so that we learn from each other.
Sit down and ask them why they like to visit certain websites and why they like to read certain blogs or watch YouTube gamers.
It’s also good to take advantage of free tutorials and classes that teach students and parents.
We are all in this together, as parents and teachers we are working to prepare our children as digital citizens who can look at the challenges of today and to solve the issues of tomorrow.

I’d like to end on a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. since we just celebrated his life and legacy earlier this week.

He said,The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically……intelligence is not enough…..intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”  

cc: Auntie P –

Thank you!  I can take questions in English or Español.

Questions from the audience included:

How long should parents let children be online?  I answered that some experts recommend 30 minutes to an hour a day but sometimes kids are required to be online to do research or homework so times may vary.  I usually let my kids be online to play games for about an hour if they’ve finished homework.  I have to admit that on weekends like the rainy ones we’ve had recently, I do stretch that time out a bit.

Are there filters or timers that parents can set for children when they are going online?  You can set up a family account on YouTube that gives parents access and control on types of videos that are accessible to children.  There are also restrictions for websites, web searching and timers that parents can set up on mobile devices like the ipad.  Common Sense Media has many, many resources available for parents and step-by-step guides. The Whittier City School District also created a presentation called How to Keep Your Kids Safe During Online Activity.

I had another important question that came from a mother after the Q&A session.  Last week she saw news coverage of a student who opened fire in his classroom at a private school in Mexico. News reports stated that the shooting was inspired by a website that the student visited.  The parent I spoke to was concerned about her children and their interactions online.  She says when she was growing up the worry was about neighborhood street gangs and deadly initiation rituals but now there are virtual gangs to worry about too, she says.

It’s a difficult question to answer.  I worry too. Education, talking with our kids, this is where we can help.














Finding Community Through Digital Literacy

Maria de la Luz and her daughter.

“Que viva la mujer! Que viva Whittier!” exclaims Maria de la Luz while speaking about her photo featuring a group of women who have bonded over hikes in Turnbull Canyon.  “We leave our troubles on the trail and we like to laugh, sometimes we cry” says Maria de la Luz.  Her name means Maria of the light and she shined this past Friday night during the opening reception of our community photography exhibit at Whittier Public Library.

“Nuestro Arte: Community & Photography” is a project that began from a series of workshops on learning about digital literacy.  Stephanie Carmona who directs and facilitates the Community Education Parent Initiative (CEPI) program at the Fifth Dimension lab located at the Boys & Girls Club of Whittier and I have worked together for the last year with a group of women  who regularly join our workshops on using computers and learning to navigate the internet.  These women are busy –they are active in their communities helping at local schools and churches, some attend English classes and others find the time between work and home obligations to join our conversations on how we engage as digital citizens.

“Que es Snapchat?” asked one of the women from our earlier workshops.  She had heard her children talk about various social media applications but didn’t know much about them.  Stephanie and I then created a series of workshops on children and internet safety.   

Our conversations grew into discussions of how our children are learning on mobile devices and how we come together as a community of parents who want to learn to be better teachers at home.

“My mother is my hero” says Maria de la Luz’s daughter while she translates for her mother at the photography exhibition.  “She does back-breaking work during the day working in recycling and then she comes home to take care of my brother and I.”  Clearly, Maria de la Luz doesn’t need workshops to be a great teacher to her children.  Her photo is among a group of 12 in the exhibit that share multiple perspectives.

Working on digital photo archives in the computer lab at CEPI.

Back in August I called Stephanie with an idea I had for an assignment that would kick off our new series of workshops.  The last time I met with our CEPI group they requested to learn about managing the vast amounts of photos that we take on our phones. What happens to the photos when they are stored on our devices?  When the phone dies, breaks or is lost and the photos are not backed up we lose precious pieces of our history and memories we were trying to preserve.  Stephanie and I then designed a workshop series that would help participants create photo archives using the site  This opened up opportunities to discuss topics such as web applications and privacy, data and photo management and how to use tags when uploading photos.  

I often think about what it means to be digital literate.  Can digital literacies be taught or is it that they are taught to be learned?  This photo archive project is important because I wanted to include an assignment for our participants that would focus on the intersection of their interest and issues that matter to them.  Developing literacies around creativity and issues people care about is helpful to get buy-in.

To learn more about digital photo archives, I asked participants to take three photos of their community–the same community they all inhabit but perhaps see in different ways. We spoke about the reasons we take photos: to capture something that is beautiful like a blooming flower or a sunset. We take pictures of our children and events we are proud of.  But photography can also serve as an advocacy tool.  We can take photos of the challenges we see within our community to seek solutions.   

During our workshops we agreed as a group to choose one photo from each participant to highlight with a personal statement.  The women in our group were also learning to use computer software to practice their typing skills.

 And then we had a wild idea: what if we create a photo exhibit out of this assignment?  

I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  On a whim, I contacted some librarians at our local public library, I explained the project and I asked if space could be made available to exhibit the photographs that the 12 women in our group would be sharing.  The response I got was yes, yes, and what more can we help with!


Opening reception photos by Regina Valencia.

So last Friday, December 9, 2016 we held our opening reception to our first ever community photography exhibit featuring women who are not professional photographers. They are brave community members with simple cameras on their phones who created touching photos covering issues of mental health, being homeless, mentorship, the environment, activism, and love.

The lessons we learned went far beyond our classroom.  Stephanie and I like to call the women in our group “artistas”–translated somewhere in between artists and rock stars.

Opening reception photos by Regina Valencia.

We did a toast at the end of our night to celebrate our accomplishments—a toast to changing the world, for the better, starting locally.

The photography exhibit will be up until December 31, 2016 at Whittier Public Library. See the opening reception slideshow here.

A special thank you to:
Whittier Public Library for providing a space to exhibit our photos and for the multiple ways they support our community in literacy and learning.
(CEPI) The Community Education Parent Initiative
The Boys & Girls Club of Whittier
The Fifth Dimension Students from Whittier College
The Digital Liberal Arts (DigLibArts) program at Whittier College
The Whittier Library Foundation
And to Alicia, Alma, Anabel, Elizabeth, Hicela, Lucy, Maria de la Luz, Norma, Olga, Rosa, Veronica, and Rosalia for sharing their stories and photography with us.


Photos by Regina Valencia.
Photos by Regina Valencia.

PhotoVoice: Participatory Photography as a Digital Storytelling Tool

Photo of our 9/22/16 class workshop on PhotoVoice from Whittier Daily News:

This semester students from the paired course “Medical Sociology and the Science Behind Obesity” are engaging in a new way to do digital storytelling.  The method known as PhotoVoice is borrowed from a movement that aims to use participatory photography as a self-advocacy tool.  This assignment asks students to use photography and video as a way to tell a story about the relationship between their environment, their community, and their health. Professor of Sociology Julie Collins-Dogrul and Professor of Biology Sylvia Vetrone first taught this course together in the Spring of 2012.  Students worked in groups to create video projects that explored and documented both negative and positive resources surrounding local parks and corner stores.  The student digital stories were then placed on a map that collectively told a richer story of the neighborhood structure.  You can see the stories from 2012 here by clicking on each pin on the map.

Professor Julie Collins-Dogrul wanted to revisit this project but with a slight difference of focus. She is asking students to choose a public elementary school attendance map (a proxy for a neighborhood) to document positive and negative resources in the neighborhood like safe ways to walk to school and options for healthy lifestyles like nearby parks or abundant fast food.  “The PhotoVoice projects aim to document lived experiences, communities, resources, and challenges in a digital story” says Collins-Dogrul.  “The technique gives voice to local people (including Whittier College students) rather than experts, and enables locals to evaluate their own community needs and advocate for social change.”

An important part of this project will be the interaction of students with community members. “Because of the public nature of our PhotoVoice projects students must get consent from people they wish to photograph if these people can be identified.  Photovoice projects are not scientific research, but they are public, and therefore we require consent” says Collins-Dogrul.  “Students, likewise, give consent for their projects to go public.”

The goals of this project are to enable students to record and communicate their views on Whittier’s food and physical activity, strengths and concerns, to facilitate praxis; a way of connecting theory and action, to promote dialogue and knowledge about obesity through discussions of the PhotoVoice process and final digital story and to use visual methods of knowledge production to advocate for policy change.

Fall 2016 digital stories will be added to update the map from 2012.

Internet Safety or as we say around Whittier: Seguridad en Internet

seguridad internet flyerThis semester I am once again partnering with Stephanie Carmona who is the community education and parent initiative coordinator for the Whittier College Fifth Dimension program at the Boys & Girls Club of Whittier. Together we are preparing a series of classes for parents and this Monday, February 8 from 9:30am to 10:30am we will talk about “Internet Safety for Kids: What Parents Need to Know.”  Our workshop will be in English and Spanish.

I’ve prepared a list of helpful tips that we will talk about and share as a community.

Come on by!

Internet Safety for Kids: – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires