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Relevance and Definitions of Key Concepts
With the exception of “and” and “as”, every word in this chapter’s title is a contested concept. Where does “youth” begin and end? Does “media” refer to any available means of representation, to the press, or to mass communication in general? All three, maybe? And what exactly constitutes “digital writing”? Composing a text using a word processor? Posting to Twitter? Uploading a sneaker review to YouTube or hosting a stream? Finally, what does it mean to be a “global citizen”? Is it descriptive, prescriptive, aspirational? Again, maybe all three?
In this chapter we focus on young people’s involvement as global citizens who use digital media as a means of engaging with sociocultural, political, and economic issues that might otherwise go unremarked. Given the complex nature of the titular concepts, however, we will first ground our discussion by examining their definitions a bit more carefully. Doing so will allow us to appreciate the various tensions both in the subject matter itself as well as in the research. We will then consider how emerging theories may help us think through such tensions, and we will use them to consider the roles of educational practitioners in working toward resolutions. We will also discuss issues related to research methodologies before offering a few final recommendations for future work.
Who, then, are these youth we speak of? Because our focus is on digital writing and global citizenship, our references to young people will refer to grade-school and college-aged individuals who, either independently or with the help of peers, mentors, teachers et cetera, use digital tools to create compositions of varying degrees of formality with the explicit aim of interacting with people living outside the bounds of the writers’ nation states. Our references to “media” will speak primarily to the myriad web-based tools and platforms young people use when creating digital compositions, although we may at times insert the word “social” to limit our discussion those tools that facilitate synchronous or asynchronous interactions.
What do we mean by digital writing, though? I mean, there are clearly some things that we DO mean, and clearly some things that we DON’T mean. We do mean all manner of multimodal compositions, although I wonder if there must be an actual “written” element? Must their be words? I also wonder if it must also be some planning involved? And should it be published for an audience wider than those in one’s contact list? Let’s take texting as an example. Even though sending a text message often uses written language to communicate, that it typically facilitates communication between just a few people within one’s social sphere suggest it is something qualitatively different from filming, editing, and publishing a sneaker review to YouTube. So maybe we should think of digital writing as a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is communication that exclusively uses written language informally to interact spontaneously just with people the user knows irl. On the other end of the spectrum is communication that, instead of using written language, uses still and moving images as well as audio to present a planned message to a global audience.
Here are the key elements:
  • The presence of written language
  • The degree of planning involved
  • The intended audience
Text messaging, then, typically prioritizes written language to communicate spontaneous messages to a limited audience of personal acquaintances. So, is it digital writing? In the strictest sense of the concept, yes, text messaging is digital writing, but it is qualitatively different from digital compositions that seek to bridge global divides. In June of 2016, WNYC’s On the Media podcast published “Two Years in the Life of a Saudi Girl,” an audio diary created by Majd Abdulghani, a Saudi teen who documents two years of her life as she learns karate, pursues a career in genetics, and navigates societal pressures to accept an arranged marriage. Majd’s diary includes zero written text, it is to some degree spontaneous, and it has been published to most podcast platforms and downloaded by thousands of listeners. Interestingly, while Majd is the primary author of the audio diary, it is worth nothing that various producers and editors participated in the ultimate publication of the diary, which may suggest that digital writing often includes some element of collaboration. So, is “Two Years in the Life of a Saudi Girl” digital writing? Yes, of course it is, and it is qualitatively different from sending and receiving text messages. What educational practitioners must consider is which forms of digital writing do young people use to engage as global citizens? And how can young people’s use of such forms be supported and encouraged through educational practice?
Finally, what is global citizenship? No doubt the most contested concept in the chapter title, global citizenship means different things to different people, and to some people it means nothing. A great deal of contemporary research into global citizenship is presented under the rubric of cosmopolitanism (Appiah, ___; Zimmerman, ____; Hull & Stornaiulo, _____; Bean, ____), which frames global citizenship as a progressive, humanistic way of understanding the individual’s relationship to the wider world in light of the increasing global connectivity resulting from internet communication technologies. The cosmopolitan view of global citizenship seeks to, in __________’s words, PUT GOOD QUOTE HERE.
Implications for Educational Practice
With educational technology growing increasingly accessible, under what classroom circumstances can young people use digital writing to engage as global citizens? And under what circumstances will such engagement be stifled? Literacy educators often occupy a rather complicated position in relation to their students’ engagement as global citizens. In the United States, for example, the Common Core State Standards for ELA charge teachers to prepare students who are “college and career ready” in a “twenty-first-century, globally competitive society” (Common Core, 2010). Underlying the idea of a “globally competitive society” is a neoliberal conception of the global other, one that views global youth principally as competitors for increasingly scarce global resources. The CCSS for ELA, then, frames global citizenship fundamentally as an economic imperative, and this framing shapes the kinds of reading and writing assignments teachers in the U.S. bring to their classrooms. Here is a typical example: students are asked to read an article alerting a U.S. audience that young people in Asia—particularly those in China and India—are outpacing American students in mathematics, and their teacher follows this sort of reading with reflective or research-based writing assignments in which students interrogate the causes and long-term effects of Asian mathematical superiority on their future job opportunities.
The tendency to frame the connection between new literacies and global engagement as a means to acquire capital is not an exclusively American phenomenon, and literacy researchers themselves sometimes operate under the same assumption, as we see in Mills (2010) observation that “sophisticated technological knowledge is now a highly demanded credential for cosmopolitan recognition in globalised networks” (p. 234-235). And that young people “engage in the transformation of existing multimedia designs, creating globally oriented funds of knowledge that are easily expanded and adapted to meet changing criteria for success in the new times” (p. 235). Note the way in which words like “cosmopolitan” and “globalized” combine with words like “credential,” “funds,” and “success.” Such subtle associations between globalism, new literacies, and the acquisition of capital can elide a more humanistic conception of the relationship between technology and young people’s emergent cosmopolitanism, one that sees the global other as a human resource rather than as an economic resource—or perhaps both.
In the United States, though, the CCSS for ELA effectively limits teachers’ attention to global issues to the reading standards for literature in grades 9 and 10: “Analyze a particular point of view or cultural experience reflected in a work of literature from outside the United States, drawing on a wide reading of world literature.” While it is reasonable to expect some reference to global perspectives in the Common Core standards for reading informational texts and writing, the world outside the U.S. is conspicuously absent. It is, of course, important that students read literature from around the world as they develop their global citizenship; however, with the exception of classics and mythology, it is difficult and expensive to access published world literature in translation. Which is not to suggest that students cannot develop a more global perspective by reading old literature from around the world, but such work seems unlikely to shed much light on being a contemporary global citizen, which implies actual engagement with the globe rather than simply knowledge of it. In any case, reading literature and informational texts from around the world—both the old world and new—misses an element crucial to young people’s growth as global citizens: interaction.