book review

Hacking digital learning strategies

Reviewed by Vicky Papageorgiou

This review first appeared on the March-April issue of the Serbia ELTA newsletter

Keywords : technology, learning strategies, digital learning, mobile apps, mission-based learning

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Shelly Sanchez’s books are always highly anticipated because they are useful, practical, well written and fun to read! This new one, under the title ‘Hacking digital learning strategies ‘,  is no exception to the rule, therefore. A completely student centered book which focusses on learning strategies.

The book is divided in 10 missions. Each chapter comprises a set of steps, which the teacher can follow to complete the mission with their students, as well as, a section about the anticipated problems and a mission prep section. An additional section is the Mission Toolkit in the last pages of the book which offers storyboards, question sets, templates, maps, tables, handouts, mission task cards, badges,  etc. and anything useful for the teacher when planning these missions in their class.

In the first mission, entitled DESIGN A GAME WALKTHROUGH : Create a Tutorial and Teach Others How to Play, Sanchez describes how an  experience she had in a classroom taught her a valuable lesson : she didn’t have to do all the teaching or know all the answers, which led her to realize that students could design instructional content and, thus,  gain, as well as, share knowledge, a process which motivates them immensely in the end. Therefore, in this first chapter she explains how students teach others how to play a game with a video walkthrough that they create.

In the second mission, called GO ON A SELFIE ADVENTURE : Define Yourself Through Images, Sanchez makes use of the so popular selfies among students which also offer the opportunity for reflection. It is a fact that young learners are not necessarily fully aware of this process, however, posting these selfies after manipulating them is because they are opting for the best shot as they know their peers will rate them! This specific mission’s purpose is to teach learners how to make responsible decisions about their own digital identities.

The third chapter is about CREATING A FICTIONAL SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILE : Manage your digital footprint more purposefully. Believing that to teach the learners how to navigate the digital world with all the necessary skills, confidence and support is of pivotal importance, the next mission has exactly this as its sole purpose : to deepen the students’ reflective means and understand what building  confident digital identity entails. All this, through historical figures!

Mission 4 is REMIX LEARNING INTO A DIGITAL TEXTBOOK : Produce and publish an engaging online book. It’s aim is to encourage students to be responsible and choose the learning materials they need and not just accept them as given by teachers. The right expression would be ‘expect them to personalize their own learning even though they are young’! Following this pathway, they have to create their own digital textbook ‘helping others learn the topic in an engaging way’, as Sanchez claims.

Next come the debates and the 5th Mission’s title is DEBATE ISSUES, DON’T DISS PEOPLE :Argue differences of opinion respectfully. Disagreements on social media are a frequent occurrence and while they result in all parties feeling offended, most of them miss the opportunity for a constructive discussion. While these public arguments are part of our daily social media life, the author believes (quite correctly!) that our curriculums still teach our learners long written argumentative essays, considering, therefore, the need for teaching them shorter arguments in combination with teaching them how to respond intelligently to people with different opinions. Adapting to the new conditions of our life, thus, is a necessity and also has a practical side which teachers are called upon to equip their students with. Our students learn to be respectful and intelligent digital citizens.

In chapter 6, ‘Seek and preserve the truth’, Shelly focusses on the quest for truth when everyone is exposed to ‘fake news’, she tries to show how we can motivate our students to care and preserve the truth.

In chapter 7, ASSEMBLE A GLOBAL CLASS MEETUP : Join the World Community and Discuss a Pressing Issue, she tackles on the problem of helping students to understand the role as global citizens and find interest in global issues. For this reason, she suggests that teachers and students organise video conferences with classes from different countries whew students participate in a cultural exchange activity.

In the next chapter, students are required to conduct Real-World Field Research and suggests we shoulod see students as problem solvers and innovators. So, this new mission is all about publishing field research to enlighten the public.

In chapter 9, APPRECIATE OTHERS  WITH A DIGITAL BADGE, Shelly points out that , more than grades, we need to recognise values. Digital badges are used to recognise achievements, claiming that ‘When students issue their badges, they

send a message to their peers that they recognize their achievements and skills’. In this mission, students design  digital badges to issue to their peers.

In the final chapter, CROWDFUND INNOVATION TO FIND SOLUTIONS, suggest ways we, educators, can help students innovate solutions to make a difference by , for example, crowdfunding to help improve their communities.

Mission-based learning is , in fact, a powerful and meaningful way of empowering our students , not by just teaching them a language but by teaching them at the same time of being global citizens , responsible  contributors and and caring human beings.

Overall, this is an excellent read and a very resourceful book which can be an invaluable tool for teachers of young learners as well as teachers of teenagers, if only with a few modifications in the mission procedures. It belongs in every school’s and every teacher’s library!

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