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Planning Digital Citizenship Activities at School? Imagineaction offers project funding opportunities for teachers

For the first time in decades, Canadians saw a rise in the number of youth actively engaged in this spring's federal election campaign. Youth didn’t just show up to vote on May 2, but articulated their political views in the weeks leading up to the election – through social media.

More recently, social media gave us a front seat to the Vancouver riots after the Canucks’ loss on June 15. Stories were shared via images, status lines and tweets, capturing at times even the most intimate moments (Vancouver Riot Kiss). While the fires were still being extinguished by teams of firefighters, many Facebook and Twitter users were busy recruiting over 10,000 young volunteers to clean up Vancouver streets – a mission accomplished during the wee hours of the morning. When the sun rose on the following morning, the only evidence of the riots was the boarded up windows of the stores that had been looted.

Public dismay was immediate and amplified when social media turned against the rioters and was used as a vigilante tool to yield photos and names for police to use as evidence in criminal cases.

Social media was a friend and foe, all wrapped into one.

We can expect more discussions and debate in the coming months about the role social media played in this event. But one thing is clear – social media is here to stay and has become embedded in the culture of our youth. This is why, more than ever, it is important that media and digital literacy be embedded as well in their education, so they can move beyond technological proficiency towards becoming creative, reflective, evaluative and empowered e-citizens.

In its brief From Consumer to Citizen – Digital Media and Youth Civic Engagement, Media Awareness Network explores the extent to which media – especially interactive technology – influences civic and political engagement for children and youth. It also articulates a strong argument for the importance of developing digital literacy skills at an early age in order for children and youth to become engaged and responsible “civic and political actors at all ages.”

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) couldn’t agree more. Teachers have been teaching students about the importance of being a positive contributor to society and have participated in social action projects for as long as there have been schools.

Teachers have played an important role in helping their students become active and responsible citizens in a global and increasingly complex world. They see first-hand how media and information technology influence the manner in which our students interact with each other and how they view the world around them. Technology has opened doors on issues related to the environment, civic engagement and social justice. It can also help students develop life-long skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, information literacy, global awareness and broad-based knowledge.

That is why more and more teachers are integrating media and digital literacy into their classrooms, equipping their students with the necessary critical thinking skills for positive and enriching media experiences. Teachers are already using tools such as cell phones, iPods, and Web 2.0 applications as ways to engage their students in group discussions, media productions, digital art projects and community group projects. And the learning is a two-way street as students themselves teach teachers the technical applications and teachers teach students how to apply the knowledge and content learned at school within these applications.

CTF believes in teaching the whole child, instilling a love for life-long learning and developing critical thinking and media literacy skills, civic education, creativity and community engagement. The CTF program Imagineaction provides a venue for teachers to channel creativity, ignite social engagement and instill critical thinking in their students. Through this program, CTF offers subsidies of $750 to help teachers launch education projects related to the environment, democracy, health and/or citizenship education.

The CTF Imagineaction program links school participation in citizenship and social action by taking a critical thinking approach to defining effective citizenship. Under this paradigm, students look critically at their community with an eye to identifying strengths to be trumpeted and weaknesses that may require action. Social action is then based on a need identified by the students with the assistance of their teacher.

This year’s Media Literacy Week theme “Digital Citizenship” provides an excellent segue to the CTF Imagineaction program. CTF's support for Media Literacy Week includes offering special project funding opportunities to teachers who wish to organize activities related specifically to the theme.

Visit the Imagineaction Web site at to create a profile under the teacher tab that will give access to teacher resources and project funding to help get your digital citizenship project started.

Since 2006, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation has worked with Media Awareness Network to hold the annual Media Literacy Week. The federation is the national alliance of 17 teacher organizations representing 200,000 teachers across Canada. CTF is affiliated to Education International which represents 30-million educators around the world.

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