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We are in a paradigm shift in the classroom where educators need to work in the gap between life and school. Across multiple art forms, youth are immersed in the remix culture. This provides teachers an opportunity to offer learning objectives in their classrooms in a new way, while at the same time offering students opportunities to read and write their cultural practices that are central to their own everyday experience. Incorporating participatory practices into the classroom, such as remixing, allows for a blurring of boundaries between informal and formal learning and harnesses the power of digital technologies for students to reflect on the participatory culture that they live in. Access to new media encourages a wider population to remix. This new form of literacy helps teachers understand that our students are reading and writing in new ways. Reading and writing was once relegated to reading books and writing papers (lessons commonly found in English and language arts classrooms). However, a possible hypothesis is that the educational system has not caught up with the shifting landscape of participatory culture where there are new ways to read, write, and compute numbers.
Using digital media has huge opportunities. Yet, to a point -- we've built a high-way system, and said hey! our whole world is now going to be based on this new highway system - but we're not going to teach anyone to drive. Being a part of participatory culture not only requires having access to a networked computer (or a comparable mobile device), but also involves gaining a familiarity with habits of mind and skills that are necessarily for participating in the new digital culture. We refer to this as the participation gap and this challenge pushes beyond a framing of the digital divide around issues of technical access and instead understands the challenge we confront in terms of access to practices mediated by digital technology, such as remixing or using wikipedia or understanding how to harness the power of learning in social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Our commitment to address the participation gap means leveraging digital technologies and resources for schooling, and providing opportunities for all students to learn these social and cultural ways of being. While some youth are already quite fluent in these new media practices (social networking, writing blogs, being members of fan fiction sites, game modding, etc.), others have had little or no exposure to the “affinity spaces” (Gee, 2004) where the new media literacies are being used, and, consequently, are at a disadvantage when it comes to knowing how to think and act in a networked society. But it is not only youth that need to know how to think and act in a networked society. A holistic approach to overcoming the participation gap is to look not only look at the youth who don’t have access but also to the adults who might have access but not the know-how as to what to do. To an extent, this too is a participation gap, where through dialogue, the “teacher-student” and “students-teachers” (Freire, p. 80) teach each other. They co-mingle their experiences, co-configure their knowledge and skills, and co-construct the curriculum (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). We wired the classroom-so now what? A question you might consider is, “How do we avoid the replication of this same problem where the expansion of technical infrastructure outstrips the educational vision needed to use these tools towards meaningful pedagogy?”