Share This: Self-Publishing for Modern Schools

What changes in a world where anyone can publish to global audiences with just a few taps on a smartphone screen?

selfShort answer: A lot.

Just ask people in places like Ferguson, MO where cell phones have done more to document the unrest of the last few months than traditional news cameras. Or teens who have posted viral videos that show their creativity and passion. Or self-published authors who have reached the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Our newfound ability to distribute our creative work across a variety of platforms to a potential audience of over 3 billion people has fundamentally changed the news media, politics, governments, business, and much more.

The implications for educators are staggering in terms of both the opportunities and challenges. At a time when almost a billion photos are being uploaded each day, or when it would take 50 years to watch just the YouTube videos being uploaded in the next 24 hours, if we don’t understand the power of self-publishing in our student’s hands, we don’t really understand the world and how it’s changing. And we don’t understand the implications for our kids as learners.

The platforms for publishing are too numerous to count: WordPress blogs for writing; Tumblr blogs, Twitter, and Pinterest for sharing and curating content; Facebook for sharing personal stories; Instragram, Flickr, and Snapchat for pictures; Soundcloud for podcasts; Vimeo, Vine, and YouTube for video; and uStream for live streaming video. The variety of formats and technologies that support them are a) easy to use, b) changing by the day, and c) in the hands of our kids whether we want them to be. The new reality is that creating and sharing information is increasingly ubiquitous in the world and, importantly, is not controllable in any traditional sense. Control now rests almost exclusively in the hands of the user and the personal decision making process they use to publish.

So what are the big questions for educational leaders? What do we have to make sure that our kids understand about the powerful self-publishing tools they carry around with them and use on a daily basis? What are the implications for our day to day work in schools? And what steps do we take to change our own practices to better understand the implications? Let’s dive into some of those here.

Literacy – Reading and writing have always been the two pillars of literacy, and while we could expand the definition of “writing” to include publishing, we’re actually talking about “sharing” as the new third leg of the literacy stool. Look at the National Council Teachers of English definition of “21st Century Literacies” and among a number of other bullet points you’ll find this:

Active, successful participants in this 21st century global society must be able to design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.

If we want students to take advantage of all of the powerful publishing tools they have at their disposal to do really good work in the world, they’ll be much more able to do that with us than without us.

Now we can look at that two ways. We might say that most of our students are literate because they’re already doing that on their own even though the vast majority of student publishing is solely for social, personal reasons. Or, we could look at it and say that while they’re out their creating and sharing already, they could be well served by our efforts to help them understand how to do that at a level of complexity and quality that they may not be producing on their own.

Obviously, the first step to making all of that a part of our work is to be literate ourselves. Are you “designing and sharing information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes?” If not, is it fair to say you are illiterate?

Ethics – Students (and many adults) have very little context for the ethics of publishing online, and not just from an appropriate/inappropriate standpoint. How many understand the legalities of copyright and remix, the implications of Creative Commons, or the cultural nuances of content for various audiences? And how do we help them understand beauty and purpose and the idea that the content they create and share with the world can and perhaps should have a positive impact far beyond their personal networks and social circles?

Privacy – One part of the modern world and the tools and technologies that go with it that is almost totally neglected in schools is any conversation around the privacy aspects of the content we create and share. Students (as well as teachers) have little if any concern or understanding about who actually owns their content once they publish it and how that content might be used in ways other than they intended. (On that note, this 10-minute reflection on privacy by EML Lead Writer Audrey Watters is absolutely worth the time.)

If we are to help our students become effective publishers, we have to make sure they understand the long lasting impacts of what they publish, and how to navigate both the transparency that comes with sharing and also the freedoms that they give up when they publish.

Entrepreneurship and employment – Self-publishing can lead to audience which can lead to opportunities for business, and we would be remiss not to help our students understand how social media and marketing go hand in hand. In fact, some would argue that publishing online is now a key factor in building a personal portfolio or a “brand” that future employers might look for in the people they hire. There is no question that one of the upsides to publishing is the potential connection that can be made to collaborators or organizations that may be looking for people to join them in their work. But there’s also no question that self-publishing has created enormous new opportunities for individuals to set up shop on their own as well.

Where do we start?

If we want to create opportunities for students to explore the potentials and pitfalls of self-publishing with us (rather than just crossing our fingers and hope they do it well on their own), then we have to begin to create cultures of transparency and sharing in our schools and classrooms to support that. As always, it comes down to how well we ourselves are publishing to the world, what purposes we have behind doing so, and the level of quality and complexity we strive for. As schools and districts and individual leaders, it’s no longer enough to publish an end of the month e-mail or a poorly designed newsletter that has a 1990s clip-art feel. We have to be able to model for our kids that kinds of publishing that we would want them to engage in.

That said, here are three examples of schools that are engaging in a culture of publishing and setting what I think is a great standard for the work that they ask of their kids. And in each of these three examples, the work revolves around educating people in the local community as well as those in the “global community” around what the work of schools now needs to be.

  • First off, here are a series of videos created by the Community Consolidated School District 59 in Arlington Heights, IL, the school at which our most recent podcast interviewee, Ben Grey, is an assistant superintendent. From a design standpoint, you’d be hard pressed to find a more elegant and well crafted set of school produced videos that give viewers an incredibly high quality feeling about the school.
  • Second, Scarsdale (NY) Schools self-published an 85-page book on its Center for Innovation that came in a printable pdf format and also in an Apple iBook format. It’s a great example of imforming community members of where you are in your work and in your thinking.
  • Finally, here’s a really beautiful ebook written by Hawken School headmaster D. Scott Looney that looks deeply at “The Future for Education.” It absolutely pushes the conversation around innovation in his school community.

There are many others, and we’d love you to share some of your favorite models that schools are creating to show their students what’s possible.

Here’s the bottom line: if we want students to take advantage of all of the powerful publishing tools they have at their disposal to do really good work in the world, they’ll be much more able to do that with us than without us.

Image credit: Sonotoki

Will Richardson

Co-founder of Modernlearners.com and Change School. Author, speaker, instigator, surfcaster, husband, and father to two amazing young adults.

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