Who is allowed to participate?

Chalkboard by 742680 available at Pixabay under CC BY 1.0

I have been allowing my student to publish their work for as long as I have known them (some for four years). They have read stories and responded by writing their own versions or adding chapters to them. They have published pamphlets and posters on nonfiction topics and distributed them among the school and community. So why then did I freak out  when one of my students, who had been studying the Moore Tornado told me he wanted to publish a website to teach people how to prepare for a tornado? Was it because suddenly I couldn’t control what would happen to his message?

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I media dei… by Sinstra Ecologia Liberta available at Flickr under CC BY 2.0

After only recently hearing about the trend of participatory culture I went home to investigate this more. Henry Jenkins explains it well in this short video.

My students had been given some freedom previously to create their own texts and this is a small-scale version of participatory culture. They had expressed themselves and shared this with others locally.  However, now with the inclusion of Web 2.0 one of my students was willing to partake in a full-blown version of participatory culture. This type of engagement in Web 2.0 services allows high participation allowing various forms of civic and political activism, something like what my student was asking to be a part of.

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The Internet by AK Rockefeller available at Flickr under CC BY SA 2.0

Henry Jenkins explains that educators must allow all students the opportunity to explore the world of participatory culture, just as we allow them to express themselves through other creative means. I particularly was drawn to this quote on his website; “Our goals should be to encourage youth to develop the skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be full participants in contemporary culture.”  Now isn’t that what every teacher wants to see in their classroom?

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L’espace internet… by Jean-Pierre Dalbera available at Flickr under CC BY 2.0

Rather than limiting student’s choices and engagement with Web 2.0 I should be encouraging my students to learn the skills of digital citizenship for a world they will no doubt be a part of. Elizabeth Losh makes this point when detailing the many barriers that hold teachers back from allowing students to partake in Web 2.0 participatory culture. As I read through her article I felt convicted. Have I stopped students from engaging in participatory culture because of a digital divide? Yes, I have.

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Lady blogger with her maid, after Vermeer by Mike Licht available at Flickr under CC BY 2.0

Participatory culture allows youth to create and partake in a digital world youth and most importantly feel heard. They are allowed to write the stories they read. Youth can comment on the education they are receiving and ultimately they can gain agency over their environment.

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SEO by internet_marketing_strategies available at Flickr under CC BY SA 2.0

This cheesy video makes some good points in how to change our classrooms to encourage participatory culture.


After looking into the benefits of participatory culture I thought again about my student. He is a student who is already participating in a digital world, he has an Instagram account, he makes and shares Minecraft creations and he develops videos for YouTube. It occurred to me despite me wanting to restrain this child’s participation in new media I couldn’t. So why then as institutions do we constantly try to do this? My own need for control was what was holding me back. So I let it go. I said “sure, go for it” to the student. And he was engaged completing this task and felt more achievement in its creation than he has in any other endeavour. Perhaps when it is finished I will even share it with you, dear reader.

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Internet cafe cозопол by Uros Velickovic avaliable at Flickr under CC BY 2.0

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