December 2015: M-Passioned Member Joni Siani

Joni Siani, Braintree MA1) What do you do?

My main focus right now is in problem-solving the issue of smart phone use in schools.  I feel this is the “crisis” area in regard to Media Literacy. Our smart phone use continues to be a complex and polarizing issue for educators, administrators, students and parents. 

My organization, No App For Life, is about balance.  First, we’re elevating the dialogue beyond the reductive and limiting discussions of “technology” being either good or bad.  School officials are struggling with creating policy, procedures and protocols, and we have yet to have an honest national discourse of “best practices” that includes the addictive nature, psychological implications of childhood development, social skills, and interpersonal relationships.  We keep looking at the device itself,  without the deeper conversation of what IT is doing TO us.

My Media Literacy role is creating compelling media works – films, books, blogs, lectures, workshops and animations – in order to address the issue of digital socialization

We see examples of the unintended consequences of digital socialization  every time a school is in the news for disturbing behavior surrounding events between students and cell phones. Whether it’s a sexting scandal, from middle schools to high schools, or violent outbursts because of phones being taken away or even when asked to be put away, the behavior is part of a deeper issue and side effect of digital socialization. My work is dedicated to getting to the heart of the problem and to answer that question from students and educators: “just tell me what to do.”

2) Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.

No App For Life is pioneering an empowering program called Embrace and Let Go to underscore the paradox of our love/hate relationship with our devices.  The theory is embrace the best, and let go of the rest. By educating groups of student leaders, we’re inviting them to be a part of the solution and to have a voice in cell phone policies.

The result: a peer-to-peer narrative of students who found greater happiness and more fulfilling relationships when they shifted from the digital world of connectivity to more authentic communication practices as they focused on developing their own human apps.  We created a sustainable system that offers a balanced use of digital media. 

My students encouraged me to put our work into a book and film about what they learned to pay it forward.  Our film, Celling Your Soul: No App for Life, just won the Best Documentary at this year’s Boston International Kids Film Festival. 

We just had a screening at a high school in MA and at the end of the screening, about 20 students were so anxious to continue the talk about how they’re being affected, they actually chose to skip the Pep Rally! Instead, we sat in a conference room talking, listening and strategizing.

Any cultural shift is not going to happen over night, but we feel we have a winning formula to start the process. It works as a foundation for what will continue to be a fluid and constantly unfolding issue. Please reach out to me directly and I’d be happy to share!

3) Why is media literacy important to you?

I love the philosophy, “when the truth is known it can no longer be ignored, only denied.”   Media shapes us … individually and as a society.  The concept of Media Literacy taps into my inner truth seeker.  There is something powerful in exposing the intent behind the message.   

As an educator, when students are awakened to some of the more disingenuous media messages that they’ve internalized and they understand how they’ve been shaped by certain media influences, their feelings start to make sense and their enlightenment is truly rewarding. 

4) What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?

I am an outspoken and passionate advocate of Media Literacy education in all schools and working with to pass legislation in all 50 states.  I’m thrilled that more and more states are supporting the legislation needed to make Media Literacy a priority as part of the national school curriculum.  Media Literacy Now is doing tremendous work on the government end in order to make it easier for educators to move forward on programs and faculty development. 

5) Why did you become a NAMLE member – what benefits do you see to membership and how will it support your work?

I am constantly in awe of the work of our NAMLE community.  We have so many people doing amazing projects. I read through our member’s websites and watch their videos on their work and I am inspired and I learn new things all the time.  NAMLE is an excellent example of positive media and Internet use in being able to connect like-minded individuals to connect and grow the mission together.

As far as my own work, if you’re an educator, parent, or organization leader who is interesting in elevating the conversation so we can have an honest conversation and honestly address the issues of cell phone use in schools and the non-stop demands 24/7 on us as a culture, let’s talk.

It’s amazing to see the awareness that emerges from one Media Literacy workshop or film. Our goal is to empower, create policy and guidelines from an educated position, rather than social pressure.  Our focus is on the benefits of human interaction, what we need for personal growth, happiness and relationships.  When we focus on the benefits of authentically connecting, we take away the negativity on the devices.

Thank you NAMLE!

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