Teacher-librarians are in a privileged position when it comes to teaching students about technology. They have books to back them up. As useful as they can be, it is neither technical manuals nor Dummies Guides to … to which I am referring. I am talking about fiction that can safely transport students into worlds where they can see their peers interacting with technology to find solutions to their problems. They can also see the pitfalls of using technology and draw their own conclusions about technology and, equally importantly, the varied motivations of people behind the technology.
Amongst my favorite books for inspiring students to ask questions about the uses and dangers of technology are Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (2008) and For the Win (2010). These are great works of social criticism as well as young adult adventure stories revealing how technology can serve both forces of oppression and liberation. Even reluctant readers will often find these stories so engaging that they will be reluctant to put them down.
However, some students may be intimidated by the length of these books. For those students whose first criteria is the (small) number of pages in the book, Orca has two short novels that will give middle school students the opportunity to reflect on why they need to ask questions about the motivations of others when they use social media. Similarly, they will realize the importance of giving careful consideration to the consequences of the careless use of computers.
The first of the titles is Oracle (2012) by former middle school teacher Alex Van Tol. In this novel a student creates an anonymous advice blog to manipulate a popular girl into paying attention to him. His dishonesty backfires, but not in a way that reads as a condemnation of the use of social media. The novel explores social relationships that most students in middle school and junior high will recognize; it then reveals the benefits of responsible behaviour, both on and off-line, without seeming like a sermon.
The second novel is FaceSpace (2013) by Victoria Times Colonist arts and entertainment columnist Adrian Chamberlain. In this novel, the protagonist has to navigate his way through the complications that enter his life when he invents a cool friend to impress others and gain followers on social media. Although the title suggests that this is a novel about technology, the story demonstrates that it is human nature that makes technology interesting.
What I like about these novels as teaching tools is the fact that they provide a human context and place the use of technology in familiar surroundings. In our school library learning commons we can supplement the information that our students can derive from our newspapers and magazines, databases and technical manuals with works of fiction that set information in a more approachable human context. And then we can invite our students to use their critical thinking skills to compare the world portrayed by the author with their own world. Isn’t it wonderful to hear when they think!