ACM Logo  An ACM Publication  |  CONTRIBUTE  |  FOLLOW    

Making Education (Double) Count
Boosting Student Learning via Social and Emotional Learning and New Media Literacy Skills

By Laurel Felt / July 2010

Print Email
Comments (5) Instapaper

Schools and afterschool programs must devote more attention to fostering what we call the new media literacies: a set of cultural competencies and social skills that young people need in the new media landscape. Participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement.
Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, and Robinson, 2006, p. 4.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Competencies
Self-awareness: accurately assessing one's feelings, interests, values, and strengths; maintaining a well-grounded sense of self-confidence.
Self-management: regulating one's emotions to handle stress, control impulses, and persevere in overcoming obstacles; setting and monitoring progress toward personal and academic goals; expressing emotions appropriately.
Social awareness: being able to take the perspective of and empathize with others; recognizing and appreciating individual and group similarities and differences; recognizing and using family, school, and community resources.
Relationship skills: establishing and maintaining healthy and rewarding relationships based on cooperation; resisting inappropriate social pressure; preventing, managing, and resolving interpersonal conflict; seeking help when needed.
Responsible decision-making: making decisions based on consideration of ethical standards, safety concerns, appropriate social norms, respect for others, and likely consequences of various actions; applying decision-making skills to academic and social situations; contributing to the well-being of one's school and community.
(Collaborative for Social, Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2010).

Participatory, engagement-driven activities that tap and foster social and emotional learning (SEL) and new media literacies (NML) meaningfully enrich students' learning of the basics as well as boost physical wellness and social functioning.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) comprises self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Notable programs such as Lions Quest Skills for Life, Paths (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies), and School Connect offer lessons in: recognizing and managing stress; interpreting facial cues and body language; problem-solving; resisting bullying; identifying personal strengths and challenges; and setting goals.

Skeptics may dismiss such lessons as artifacts of a toothless, politically correct, "touchy-feely" era. But empirical research has found that pursuing competency in these areas allows one to build a solid base, to establish the intrapersonal and interpersonal support networks necessary for holistic health and achievement. Evaluators of SEL programs have found that "... social-emotional competence and academic achievement are interwoven and that integrated, coordinated instruction in both areas maximizes students' potential to succeed in school and throughout their lives" (Zins and Elias, 2006, p. 1). In other words, SEL mastery facilitates and amplifies both book smarts and street smarts.

SEL Impacts
The impacts of SEL implementation are considerable. Compared to peers in a control group, SEL program participants tend to display more daily behaviors related to getting along and cooperating with others (Payton, Weissberg, Durlak, Dymnicki, Taylor, Schellinger, and Pachan, 2008). Emotionally, SEL program participants reported "more positive attitudes toward self and others (e.g., self-concept, self-esteem, prosocial attitudes toward aggression, and liking and feeling connected to school)" than peers in a control group (Payton et al., 2008, p. 7). They also demonstrated increases in social-emotional skills (e.g., self-control, decision-making, communication, and problem-solving skills) in test situations, such that SEL programming produced an average gain on achievement test scores of 11 to 17 percentile points (Payton et al., 2008, pp. 6-7).

SEL programs also provide an impressive return on investment in terms of both dollars and sustained behavior change. Aos, Lieb, Mayfield, Miller, and Pennucci (2004) found that the value of SEL programs exceeds their costs (cited in Zins and Elias, 2006, p. 6). This finding was replicated in several independent investigations, with benefits ranging from $3.14 to $28.42 for each dollar spent (Hawkins, Smith and Catalano, 2004; Schaps, Battistich, and Solomon, 2004; Botvin, 1998, 2002). Over time, SEL programs have also been shown to return value in terms of improved life outcomes. Fifteen years after a universal intervention for urban elementary school children ended, researchers recontacted 93 percent of the program's participants to learn about their lives (Hawkins, Kosterman, Catalano, Hill and Abbott, 2008). This sex-balanced, multiracial/multiethnic sample of 598 individuals aged 24 to 27 years boasted significantly better educational and economic attainment, mental health, and sexual health than peers in a control group (Hawkins et al., 2008).

New Media Literacy (NML) Skills
Play: the capacity to experiment with one's surroundings as a form of problem-solving.
Performance: the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery.
Simulation: the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes.
Appropriation: the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content.
Multitasking: the ability to scan one's environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
Distributed Cognition: the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities.
Collective Intelligence: the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal.
Judgment: the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources.
Transmedia Navigation: the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities.
Networking: the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information.
Negotiation: the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms (Jenkins et al., 2006).
Since its publication, the authors have identified an additional NML skill:

Visualization: the ability to interpret and create representations of data to express ideas, find trends, and identify tendencies (E. Reilly, personal communication, Jun. 28, 2010).
(Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, and Robinson, 2006, p. 4).

SEL programming is a primary component of several successful public health interventions. Project AIM (Adult Identity Mentoring; Children's Hospital Los Angeles, 2008), an evidence-based program to reduce HIV sexual risk behavior among youth, utilizes a SEL-based approach. Rather than directly providing instruction on sexually explicit topics, it encourages participants to envision possible selves (Markus and Nurius, 1986), and then helps them develop skills and resources in order to become the successful adults they envision—and avoid becoming the unsuccessful adults they equally foresee. Due to Project AIM's documented success in affecting sexual intentions, motivating abstinence, and delaying sexual initiation (Clark, Miller, Nagy, Avery, Roth, Liddon, Mukherjee, 2004), it has been embraced as a national Diffusion of Effective Behavioral Interventions (DEBI) project for HIV; Department of Health and Human Services-approved pregnancy prevention program; and officially designated Global AIDS Program for use in some African countries (L. Clark, personal communication, Apr. 6, 2010).

MY LA (Minority Leaders in Action; University of Southern California Childhood Obesity Research Center, 2009) uses SEL intervention to combat childhood obesity. While it does offer lessons in nutrition, MY LA's primary means for turning the tide on this epidemic is individual- and community-level empowerment. Activities emphasize self-awareness and social awareness, among other SEL competencies; preliminary data from this nascent program seem promising.

New Media Literacies (NML) also inform this pedagogical approach. "The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom" (Jenkins et al, 2006, p. 4). NML skills include: play; performance; simulation; appropriation; multitasking; distributed cognition; collective intelligence; judgment; transmedia navigation; networking; negotiation; and visualization.

Many teachers decry new media, and rightly so. Some students are still struggling to balance their time between digital activities, such as gaming and social networking, and analog activities, such as exercise, face-to-face conversation, and sleep. In terms of educational software, many products' "bells and whistles" fail to facilitate meaningful student learning and are neither worth teachers' valuable prep time (especially because this may demand extra time and cause stress for those teachers who feel a lack of comfort, dexterity, or experience with negotiating new technology) nor students' precious classroom time.

But the capacities, or literacies, that undergird successful negotiation of new media are resoundingly worthwhile. First, many of these literacy skills, such as play, performance, judgment, and negotiation, aren't new at all. While they have become increasingly vital in the context of new technology, they have always been important because they support the essential development of critical thinking, creativity, and innovative problem-solving (Gee, 2008). Second, NML skills support participatory and self-guided modes of learning, both of which tend to better engage students' interest and therefore deliver superior learning outcomes (Gee, 2007; Lyman, Ito, Thorne, and Carter, 2009; Lankshears and Knobel, 2003). Project New Media Literacies, via its innovative Learning Library and other useful tools, supports teachers' explicit instruction of NML skills. Global Kids Online Leadership Program also offers valuable curricular resources.

According to Durlak and Weissberg (2007), "When it comes to enhancing personal and social skills, effective programs are S.A.F.E. —sequenced, active, focused and explicit" (p. 7). Therefore, if time and resources permit, implementing stand-alone SEL and NML programs—such as the aforementioned Lions Quest Skills for Life and Project New Media Literacies—is certainly worthwhile. But all too often, schools can't afford even this modest investment. School days are already jammed with inflexible mandates and standardized testing, while budgets are already overdrawn on upkeep, salaries, and core curricular aids. If activities didn't "double count," or pursue multiple educational aims, some of these aims would never be realized. Surely a case can be made for something being better than nothing: better some SEL and NML than none at all.

Thus, activities that focus on an academic objective and draw on SEL competencies and NML skills, that use SEL and NML as the how, or the means for teaching formal academic content, are key. According to Dr. Henry Jenkins (Dec. 1, 2009), "[This is] the heart of what I've been arguing about integrating the skills across the curriculum" (personal communication). The solution is "double-counting."

Currently, this methodology is being piloted by the Dakar, Senegal-based African Health Education Network (Reseau Africain d'Education pour la Sante; RAES, Its program, Sunukaddu, aims "to improve the response to HIV/AIDS in school by voluntary counseling and testing [of health status], the promotion of human rights and communication" (, n.d.). Over the past two years of implementation, media experts have trained high-school students in storytelling, audio/visual recording, editing, and digital uploading. Participants were then encouraged to explore the community in order to collect and create authentic media pieces pertaining to HIV/AIDS. Finished pieces were added to Sunukaddu's website, from which diverse individuals—young and old, Senegalese and foreign, those living with HIV/AIDS and those bearing witness—could stream the media clips, comment on message boards and blogs, and seek out additional information relating to various reproductive health issues, particularly HIV/AIDS.

Now in its third year, Sunukaddu is further enriching the program by adding the following objectives: improving students' communication skills in message construction and storytelling (fiction, non-fiction, autobiographical), message dissemination, and working with diverse media (audio, photography, video, studio art, performance); emphasizing engagement with voluntary HIV/AIDS counseling and testing (VCT) and networks of peer support; and exploring methods of supporting the humane treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS.

These activities represent some ways in which content-based objectives can be reached by tapping into SEL and NML (see Table 1).

Table 1. Curriculum, NML, and SEL in Action!
Sunukaddu Curriculum Objectives Aligned with Complementary NML Skills, SEL Competencies, and Hands-on Activities
Curriculum Objective NML Skill or SEL Competency SEL Competency or NML Skill Hands-on Activities
Communication—message construction, storytelling (fiction, non-fiction, autobiographical) Performance Social awareness Have multiple, small groups role play a day in the life of a teenage HIV/AIDS patient and the various people in his/her life. How do peers treat him/her during lunchtime and after school? What is his/her home life like?
Appropriation Social awareness, Responsible decision-making Sample and remix popular media (e.g., songs, clips from TV shows and movies) in order to show society's mixed messages regarding sex.
Simulation   Diagram the process by which HIV/AIDS-related stigma affects the community.
Negotiation Social awareness; Responsible decision-making Go into the community and interview a stranger on a non-sensitive topic (not HIV/AIDS). Notice his/her nonverbal communication and ask follow-up questions to draw out his/her story. If this individual is from a different culture, remember that s/he may have different ideas about acceptable topics of conversation and ways of behaving.
Manipulation of diverse media—video, audio, digital (including cell phones), clothes, art, pottery, jewelry Play Social awareness, Self-management "Mess around" (Ito's words) with three different media. See what you come up with (i.e., discoveries about the media, ideas for projects, memories of past experiences).
Transmedia navigation Social awareness Use at least two types of media to tell the same story or to extend a story.
Multi-tasking Self-management With a partner, find all of the information you can about a complicated process involving a type of media (e.g., editing on the camcorder, throwing a pot). Then create a "How To" media piece (e.g., video, audio recording, song, newspaper article, instructional pamphlet) that explains this process. You have 20 minutes.
Engagement with voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) and peer support Self-management, Self awareness, Social awareness Visualization Part 1. Suppose you had unprotected sex. Construct a timeline of events. Beneath each event, write how you would feel at each point.
Self-management, Self awareness, Social awareness Collective Intelligence Part 2. Present your timeline to a partner, discussing your choices and feelings. Then explore together different types of support you might appreciate, such as a conversation, an informational website, a hug, a clinic visit, etc. Beneath each event and emotion, write the support that would be most helpful at that point.
Responsible decision-making Distributed cognition, Judgment Conduct research (Internet, books, newspapers, etc) on the prevalence of VCT, locations of nearby service providers, the benefits and challenges (such as lack of access, stigma) of VCT, and other communities' ways of responding to these challenges. Summarize your findings in a table, written article, or informational video or podcast.
Methods of encouraging the humane treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS Self-awareness, Social awareness, Relationship skills, Responsible decision-making Collective intelligence, Performance What does it mean to treat people living with HIV/AIDS humanely? Consider: the definition of the word humane, the risk that people living with HIV/AIDS pose to others' health, the rights of all parties involved, the way you would want to be treated if you had HIV/AIDS, etc. Use a narrative (written or performed/recorded) to bring the issue and your conclusions to life.
Self-awareness Visualization Think about yourself. In a personal journal, make a list of things you already do to humanely treat people living with HIV/AIDS, such as greeting them respectfully; make a second list of things about your behavior that you'd like to change, such as avoiding eye contact; make a third list of realistic goals for the school year, such as starting a conversation with a person living with HIV/AIDS.
Social awareness Visualization Brainstorm methods of encouraging the humane treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS. Think about whether you'd like to change the way individuals treat one another, or the way a community responds to HIV/AIDS. Which is more feasible? What are three things that could be done immediately in order to help bring about this behavior change?

NML skills seamlessly complement SEL competencies such that harnessing one supports the other. For example, the NML skill of collective intelligence requires and reinforces the SEL competencies of social awareness, self-awareness, and relationship skills. The SEL competency of self-management, meanwhile, could develop within the context of such NML skills as visualization, play, and performance. These synergistic activities are not only hands-on and enjoyable, but their execution supports academic, social, emotional, technological, and pedagogical growth. As they stand, the activities are ripe for adaptation—in fact, over the next few months, Sunukaddu will adapt them from their current form in order to better harmonize with the unique culture, time constraints, and experiences of the program and its participants.

In education, as in life, the most important thing is the process, or the journey. By understanding the importance of SEL competencies and NML skills, as well as how these elements might be utilized to enrich an academic lesson, we are all on our way to creating the learning opportunities that best meet our community's needs, and best prepare the next generation for success.

Additional Resources
RAES image


  • Tue, 16 Feb 2010
    Post by Ehud zamir

    Im a great believer on involving tech and elearning in education. Here are some interesting papers about e-learning:

  • Sun, 29 Nov 2009
    Post by Jenna McWilliams

    Jon--I know! I've been a big fan of Halverson's work, which is partly why I felt so let down by the book. I was looking forward to a text that toed the cutting edge, a text that pulled its readers toward a future we have barely envisioned.

  • Sun, 22 Nov 2009
    Post by Jon Aleckson

    Jenna you may have unleashed a debate here. Professor Rich Halverson has been very involved in using technology to help teachers teach and student learn in new ways. He is a "technology enthusiast." Maybe the authors should be criticized for not being clear about their own views, but you definitely got their motives wrong. The Postman comparison went too far!

  • Sun, 22 Nov 2009
    Post by Lisa Gualtieri

    Allan Collins, one of the authors of Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, responsed to this review at

  • Sat, 21 Nov 2009
    Post by Peter Shea

    The authors seem to have inherited Neil Postman's pessimism about the baleful effects of post-industrial technology.