I remember being a teenager and being bombarded by pictures and videos emerging from desperate areas of the world like Somalia and Ethiopia in the 1980s. Shocking, disturbing and terrible to see, as a young person, these images most likely formed my first impressions of these places.
And these impressions would probably remain today if it weren’t for the web.
Sites like Global Voices (which I’ve blogged about before and which is required reading for the kids in my classroom), Afrigator, and this video collection made by students in Senegal have allowed me to peek a bit deeper into the regular everyday lives of people who live in Africa. While I by no means consider myself to be well educated on this part of the world (never having travelled anywhere in Africa even a single time) I do now know something about life in this part of the world.
This has been added to again by the new website, Africa Knows. Simply a collection of photos taken in this part of the world by people who live there, it serves as another window. Beautiful photographs of everyday life, these are the kinds of images that we need to help students form authentic perceptions of parts of the world they have very little knowledge about.
When I want students to begin looking at a country or a part of the world that has come up in our classroom, I want them to overcome stereotypes and pre conceived notions they might already have. That means giving them authentic information they can access over time. Information that is authentic and multimedia. Information that contains the voices of real people struggling with their daily lives as we all do. A few key steps I use in my classroom are:
1.) Go to Global Voices Online and subscribe to the feed of blogs emerging from the nation you are interested in. Realy blogs written by people, this will let you in on the issues that concern people in that place.
2.) Regularly search spaces like flickr and Youtube for images and videos from the place you are interested in. Many nations also have channels or groups that are collections of videos and images that someone is aggregating. You can have your students subscribe to these in whatever reader you are using, making life one step easier.
3.) Use indices of newspapers online like this one to get “official channels” of information. While newspapers are always good to look at to find the latest news stories, if you have older students, it is also interesting for them to compare the issues that are being run in the papers compared to those people are blogging and posting images and videos about. It can be an interesting dichotomy.
More than anything, I am interested in students constructing perceptions and opinions that are based on facts that are real. Combatting racism and a “our way of life is better than yours” type of attitude can be difficult, but in a global world, this is essential work for classrooms.