In addition to DMA girls' practices and products, we also value their stories and language and what these reveal about the design dispositions that DMA sponsored (intentionally or not). The architectures of participation shown in other sections indicate that DMA created what Debra Journet (2007) calls a "rough space" of frustration and engagement with new tools, marked by mentor-led risk-taking in social interaction and digital production (see also Graupner, Nickoson-Massey, and Blair, 2009), and a safe space for playful participation in production-in-the-making as represented in girls' productions-already-made (Sheridan and Rowsell, 2010, p. 19).
In this section, we continue to reveal the complexities of sponsorship in relation to new tools and available structures by focusing our analysis on girls' own language and stories about their developing understandings of digital tools. Our focus on language not only adds girls' spoken conversations and language use to contextualize their tool use and products presented thus far; it also further illuminates the worthwhile difficulties of capturing ephemeral digital literacy practices-in-progress and the messy complexities of describing these practices while attempting to un-entrench ourselves from lingering disciplinary distinctions between product and process.
The scene with Emily and Alexa in "Narratives from Camp," for example, demonstrates a simple moment of language use that could be misrecognized in a number of ways. When Emily shouted to Alexa, "You have to cut my face," we did not rush to correct her terminology or supply her with the word "crop" because Emily's declaration indicated that she knew three important things: what GIMP was for, what she could do in it, and what needed to be done next. Whether she had the precise official term or not, she knew what they were trying to design and what they needed to do in order to create the desired result. Considering our sponsorship in relation to girls' language, we see how this could be recognized by others as a disconnect between the formal language of design and the informal phrases that girls used to describe the actions they performed with new digital tools. However, we would argue that a move to label this as a disconnect would be a misrecognition in relation to the broader contexts of the camp. As Gee asserts, "All language is meaningful only in and through the context in which it is used" and "only on the basis of shared experiences and shared information" (2000, p. 63). Since contexts are flexible and reflexive, not given but constructed (Auer, 1992; Giddens, 1979), there is no static singularity to any given social language (e.g., whether school, disciplinary, or civic) (Gee, 2000, p. 63). Thus, there is no static designation of what counts as the language of design in contributing to girls occupying design as a disposition.
If the three features of any context of a situation are what is happening, who is taking part, and what part language is playing (Halladay and Hasan, 1989), then during DMA we wanted our use of digital tools to be one way to value each of these—actions, people, and language—rather than to privilege one over the others. In our interactions with girls, we were likely to use the terms we'd introduced: import, layer, crop, scale, invert, airbrush, export. Yet these terms did not instantly transfer from our language use to theirs. When they asked how to "make this picture bigger," we asked them to show us where the "scale tool" was on screen; once they located the icon, they proceeded. Though we may have led and responded with the technical language of design, girls used their own action-oriented language that described what they wanted to do rather than given tool-specific labels. Yet the contexts of girls' language use were always situated in relation to ours—as well as in relation to their desired actions and understandings of design. This is a clear example of how Gee understands context as an active process, of "making and doing a context, not just passively registering one... Context is not just 'out there.' We do not just reflect context when we speak or write. Rather we always actively create context. We make the world around us mean certain things" (2000, p. 64).
Another moment of possible misrecognition occurred for us when we overheard Trinity's repeated use of the term, "Instagramming." Once girls set up their tablets and installed Instagram, DMA became a sponsored site of "selfie-palooza," and Trinity was no exception. In her excitement to have and use her own tablet to connect with other DMA girls on social media, Trinity took photos while declaring she was going to be "Instagramming" all the time. In this case, as teachers, we voiced our concerns (to each other) not about a disconnect between technical terms and colloquial language—but about the possible slippage between concepts, or conflation of the acts of taking photos and posting them to Instagram. Did Trinity think that taking selfies on her tablet meant they would automatically be posted on Instagram, or that they couldn't be used for other things? Again, we did not intervene in girls' language in the school-based ways still conflated with effective learning (Initiate, Respond, Evaluate), largely because such an intervention would've interfered with our other goals of encouraging play and confidence. Instead, we waited to see Trinity's language-put-to-action. We learned, in practice—in the digital realm of Instagram to which girls allowed us "follower" access—Trinity posted selfies successfully, writing captions and tagging friends. Like Emily, she appeared to know what the tool was for, what she could do with it, and how to do so. If we had acted only on her language—in the context of our own existing affective concerns with Trinity's computer literacy skills rather than in the contexts of her digital practices-in-progress—we would have acted based on our incorrect assumptions of her need for a conceptual and linguistic "intervention."
Sheridan and Rowsell's (2010) research on professional digital media producers "highlights that even those proficient in action may struggle to talk about their practices and the logic guiding those practices" and that "despite their design abilities, these producers are often unable to articulate their dispositions" (p. 22). In thinking of the difficulty that professionals have in talking about their practices, we ultimately find it troublesome to imagine evaluating DMA as a site of sponsorship for middle school girls' digital practices-in-progress based on their language, even in relation to their own actions. While we do not want to assert a hierarchy of difficulty in articulation—where, if it is difficult to articulate practices, then it is even more difficult to articulate (or show evidence of) dispositions—we do see these as interrelated and dependent upon one another: giving voice and language to design practices and dispositions is challenging work for all of us. And indeed, it is particularly daunting for girls to take up in the course of two weeks.
In everyday practice, Gee (2014) writes that, "when things seem to be going awry, when communication is becoming confusing or unclear, [people] consider more of the context and change their judgment about what was and was not relevant" (p. 39). This everyday act—considering more of the interrelated contexts of girls' frustration and engagement, actions and language—causes us to shift not only our judgment about what is or isn't relevant, but also our school-ingrained ways of evaluating progress and understanding what fostering dispositions looks like. Ultimately, we're left with these questions: Did it matter that Emily didn't use the word "crop," or name the specific tool, if she got the action and its function right? Did it matter that Trinity seemed to confuse the act of taking photos with the word for an app that edits and shares those photos? It did not seem to matter to girls during DMA; in "Girls' Writing & the Affect of Design," we consider whether it (should've) mattered to us in lights of girls' affective responses to their understandings of design.
We offer here a brief overview of the camp and our goals for it. In brief, we wanted DMA to provide girls an opportunity to create—rather than merely consume—digital texts. Twenty rising sixth grade girls participated, from two historically low-performing elementary schools in lower-income neighborhoods in Louisville. Using tablets, desktop computers, and digital cameras, girls learned, used, and played with image manipulation and video editing. We selected technologies that would give girls the opportunity to develop their projective identities, to imagine a technological place for themselves both within their projects and in their futures. We chose two focal technologies: the Mac-standard video-creation software iMovie and the free Photoshop-like image manipulation program GIMP. Since Sheridan and Rowsell (2010) identify strong support for social sharing as key to building architectures of participation for digital media literacy (pp. 46-7), we also asked girls to leave daily comments on the camp blog and share photos with one another on Instagram. Then, during the second week of DMA, girls designed group projects that proposed solutions to problems in relation to the camp's theme, Designing Your Future, and presented their projects to an audience of family, teachers, and university community members.
The primary exigency for DMA was the worsening underrepresentation of women in technology-related fields—and the particular risks for girls from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. A U.S. Department of Commerce study found that in 2009 women held just 27% of science and math jobs, a drop of three percentage points since 2000. Many researchers suggest this gap is the result of adolescent girls' tendencies to underestimate their own abilities and to have higher anxiety in science and technology (Andre, Whigham, Henrdickson, and Chambers, 1997; Britner and Parajes, 2005). Peggy Orenstein (1994) called this the "confidence gap," and her research has suggested that this anxiety and underestimation often begins in middle school. Furthermore, adolescents in low-income schools are also affected by what Henry Jenkins (2009) called "the participation gap"—they are much less likely than peers at wealthier schools to use technology outside of highly restricted academic applications, and thus much less likely to see themselves as participants in digital environments. Jenkins argued that, in our current cultural moment, children have "unequal access to the opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge that will prepare [them] for full participation in the world of tomorrow" (p. xii). More equitable digital participation, he argued, is how children and adolescents come to understand interface gestalts and develop creative technological problem-solving skills. Thus, DMA aimed to offer girls going into lower-income middle schools a chance to build technological confidence at a critical age, right before they were asked to make one of their first significant decisions about their educational futures: which elective classes to take in middle school.
We wanted DMA to be a confidence-building experience for girls that offered them two sets of possibilities: one as active bodies on a university campus where they might envision themselves, and another as thoughtful producers of digital texts. To address the former, we chose the theme, Design Your Future, as a way for girls to think about how they might pursue degrees and careers using technology in whatever futures they plan for themselves, whether as a wedding designer, soccer player, or student in an advanced math class in middle school. To emphasize the latter, we borrowed from composition's disciplinary emphasis on text creation as well as reading and critical analysis (see Selber, 2004). As a discipline, we make text creation the center of classroom learning based on a foundational understanding that students learn to write by writing. By extension, many scholars in our field have taken up a similar stance that students learn to compose for a range of audiences and contexts by composing in forms including but not limited to print-based text.
From our initial survey and participant interviews with DMA participants, we discovered girls often associated technology use in school with testing, gaming, or, at most, text consumption rather than any active creativity or design thinking associated with text creation. When asked in interviews about technology use in schools, girls often referenced "computer class," where the main objective was to use computer programs to complement curricular learning (e.g., "Cool Math"), not to engage in media creation. Further, our initial survey results indicated that, while the majority of girls at DMA had watched videos online, only two reported making their own videos. Yet every participant indicated a desire to make videos during camp. It was this fuller participation in digital spaces that DMA sought to encourage.
To help girls imagine themselves as active producers and participants in digital spaces, we turned to the scholarship of Gee (2004) and Selber (2004) as theoretical frameworks. First, we used Gee's projective identities as the trajectory for how we hoped girls would participate in digital design. Gee (2004) characterized projective identities in two parts: as acts of projecting values and desires, and of seeing these projections as projects in the making (p. 112). The goal is for learners to see these acts "as their own project in the making—an identity they take on that entails a certain trajectory through time defined by their own values, desires, choices, and goals" (Gee, 2004, p. 114). For DMA, we hoped that girls would imagine future identities as capable, confident creators in and through digital projects. To trace these identities in the making, we used Selber's (2004) framework from Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Based on Selber's categories, we developed three objectives for girls: to be users (functional literacy), questioners (critical literacy), and producers (rhetorical literacy) of digital media. We hoped that, through play and collaboration, girls would participate in Purdy's (2014) approaches to design thinking: not only in analysis but also in synthesis, designing their futures in and through digital texts that might "shape the future and motivate the ways in which we (learn to) represent and communicate" (p. 626).
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