Selfies, gifs, memes and emojis can empower students’ language

Classroom research involving more than 200 primary school students across three low socio-economic Queensland schools has used smart phones, animation, photography and videos to rapidly increase the students’ use and command of the English language, also known as literacy.

Strong literacy skills are associated with stronger employment opportunities, wages, social participation, health outcomes and longevity.

The research, known as the SELFIE (Strengthening Effective Language of Feelings in Education) Project, was led by Australian Catholic University’s Professor Kathy Mills. 

It ran for two and a half years, to teach participating primary school students how to express emotional language through the use of digital technology.

Working closely with teachers, principals and the not-for-profit Big Picture Industries media company, young project participants were taught how to produce their own digital images, as well as posters, animations and films. 

Professor Mills said the outcomes of the SELFIE Project were very positive.

“The participating Years 4 to 6 students went from using quite basic and simplistic emotional language to then being able to describe emotions in very sophisticated terms,” Professor Mills said.

“Typically we think of books as a way to increase literacy but not all young people are motivated to learn in this way.”

Professor Mills added that young people today showed emotion by liking a post, or by posting selfies, emojis, gifs and memes.

“Using digital technologies as the key, the SELFIE Project unlocked children’s fascination with technology to increase their use and understanding of the English language,” she said.

“The ability to express emotions, attitudes and judgements is a large and important grammatical system in language. Ability in these areas is associated with higher academic achievement, well-being and long-term social health. Learning to accurately describe this emotional expression is highly educational for young people.

“With the proliferation of fake news and a deluge of information compared to previous generations, students today need critical literacy skills more than ever. There are many ways that education can channel young people’s everyday literacy practices with mobile phones and computer games to inspire learning, and to not only play games for learning, but also to learn how to build the games themselves.” 

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