Nicole Mirra

nicole mirra headshot

Nicole is an assistant professor of English education at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her teaching and research focuses on the intersections between critical literacy and civic engagement across multiple contexts, including urban secondary English classrooms, grassroots youth organizations, and digital learning communities. Prior to earning her Ph.D. in urban schooling from the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies in 2012, she taught English language arts at a public high school in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. This experience sparked her passion for English education, which continued to grow as she taught at another public high school in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and coordinated the UCLA Council of Youth Research, a university/school partnership that engages young people in research in their schools and communities in pursuit of educational and social justice. She also advocates for teacher leadership and critical digital literacy as a Connected Learning Ambassador for the National Writing Project.


Blogs (21)


Moving Past Civic Engagement To Civic Innovation

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Nicole Mirra at DML2016 Every year, without fail, I leave the Digital Media and Learning Conference with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to my work. While I attribute some of this energy boost to the opportunity to connect with colleagues and share my research, I think its major source is the conference’s commitment to highlighting the power and responsibility of digital technologies to contribute to a more equitable and active civic life. Too often, when discourses about education and technology converge, conversations focus on the novelty-factor of particular tools in the classroom, opportunities for large-scale data collection, or


The Contradiction of Borderless Technology in a Border-Filled World

Thursday, August 25, 2016

cars at U.S.-Mexico border As I am slowly making my way through an analysis of the mission statements and strategic technology plans of the United States’ largest K-12 public school districts, one thing is becomingly increasingly clear to me — nearly every district is striving to prepare students to be “21st century ready,” but none define what exactly this means. Instead, what they are doing is throwing around terms like “global citizenship” or “21st century economy” to stress the necessity of new investments in pedagogical models (e.g. blended learning) and digital infrastructure. I’ve realized that education policy discourse (particularly when it


Addressing School Leaders’ Connected Learning Concerns

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Empty desks in classroom I recently had the opportunity to talk about technology, equity, and learning with a group of administrators, coaches, and support staff in an urban school district during their end-of-year leadership summit. My morning presentation offered Connected Learning as a framework for instructional design that takes advantage of the possibilities for amplification, dissemination, and (of course) connection afforded us by digital media tools. I used a quote attributed to 20th century American philosopher William James to establish my thematic focus – the need for learning experiences that recognize and capitalize upon the interconnectedness of citizens within a


The Power of Debate as Form of Civic Communication

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Empty podium on stage In the popular imagination, debate is usually perceived in one of two ways — as a stuffy academic exercise (think policy wonks) or a raucous shouting match (think recent Republican presidential debates). Urban educators across the country are working to change these perceptions and re-cast debate as a creative and critical means for middle and high school students to develop and express their opinions about matters of social concern — in the process bolstering their academic, socio-emotional, and civic skills. I have been fortunate enough to be part of the New York City debate community for over a


Equitable Connected Learning Requires Diverse Research Perspectives

Monday, April 25, 2016

Andrew Slack sitting at table talking to people at DML Conference As a former high school English teacher in two large, urban school districts, I completely understand how educators, parents and policymakers who are wrestling each day with the most pressing issues facing public education — standardized testing, the effects of poverty on learning, opportunity gaps — might be a bit impatient with educational theory and research. Is this new theory about the intersection of culture, politics, and digital media going to give me the answers about how to help my most struggling students today? If not, it can wait. My students need me right now. So,


Designing Youth Participatory Action Research Pathways: Bringing YPAR to DML

Monday, April 04, 2016

graphic design for DML Geekout Day workshop, Designing Youth Participatory Action Research Pathways Sometimes when you are immersed in a community and surrounded by friends with like-minded interests, beliefs, and ideas, you begin to forget that an entire world that does not understand your lingo or share your experiences exists outside that community. I re-learn this lesson often in the context of the Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) community. I feel so fortunate to have been invited to share my YPAR experiences across multiple audiences over the past few weeks. I participated in an Educator Innovator webinar alongside several members of the UCLA Council of Youth Research to discuss


Amplifying the Teacher Perspective on Connected Learning

Thursday, February 25, 2016

workflow drawing for teacher This is my second post in a series exploring my journey to develop and teach a graduate “Multimodal Literacies” course for pre-service and in-service teachers based on the connected learning framework. (Here are my first and second posts in the series, as well as my original inspiration.)    And, we’re off! In the blink of an eye, the first five weeks of my graduate course focusing on “New & Multimodal Literacies” with pre-service and in-service teachers have flown by. My six committed students and I have been engaged in an exploration of Connected Learning and its applications to


#SlaveryWithASmile: How Twitter Can Raise Social Consciousness

Monday, January 18, 2016

screenshot of Tweet about controversial book on slavery being recalled by Scholastic I love Twitter. I love Twitter because it makes silly questions about dog pants go so viral that the President feels the need to weigh in with his opinion. I love Twitter because it allows me to follow the thoughts of all of the actors in my current theatrical obsession: the “Hamilton” musical. But most of all, I love Twitter because of its ability to bring stories to light from around the country (and around the world) that spark social and political dialogue. While some consider tweeting about social causes to be a form of “slacktivism” because


What the Connected Learning Research Community Can Learn from YPAR

Monday, December 21, 2015

man speaking on stage at Council of Youth Research Last month, the two of us (along with our mentor, Dr. Ernest Morrell) celebrated the release of our book, Doing Youth Participatory Action Research: Transforming Inquiry with Researchers, Educators, and Youth. The book tells the story of the UCLA Council of Youth Research (YPAR), a long-running youth participatory action research program that mentors young people from South and East Los Angeles to develop research questions about the educational and social challenges they recognize in their communities and then conduct rigorous inquiry into those questions for the purposes of fostering empowerment and action for social justice. We


Blended, Hybrid, Flipped, Online: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Hybrid course development explanation drawing niagara college This is my second post in a series exploring my journey to develop and teach a graduate “Multimodal Literacies” course for pre-service and in-service teachers based on the connected learning framework. You can see the first post here and my original inspiration here. Now that I have a sense of the conceptual and thematic organization of my course and have decided upon some focus texts, I am confronted with the task of setting up weekly structure and my methods for communicating content. Several of my colleagues have asked me whether, considering the multimodal subject I am


Connected Learning and Teacher Education, Part 1: Choosing Texts

Thursday, October 15, 2015

stacks of hundreds of books In my last post, I described my rationale for developing a “New and Multimodal Literacies” course for pre-service and in-service teachers grounded in the principles of connected learning. Even though the start of the course is still more than three months away, the journey has begun. In one of the more painful routines of the academic world, professors need to submit book orders for their spring courses just as they are settling into their fall ones. (Sigh) On the bright side, this deadline has spurred me to begin thinking seriously about some of the texts that will


My Exploration of Connected Learning as a Framework for Teacher Education

Thursday, September 24, 2015

connected learning graphic showing learning principles design principles I was living in Los Angeles in 2013 when the Los Angeles Unified School District began implementing its ill-fated plan to provide all of its 640,000 students with iPads. I am now living in El Paso, Texas, where the El Paso Independent School District just completed its (admittedly much smoother) roll-out of laptops for all of its 60,000 students. I could likely be telling a similar story regardless of where I lived considering the frenzy across the country to get devices into the hands of students. While I think the goal of providing equitable access to


What’s ‘Value Added’ About Tech Tools in the Classroom?

Monday, June 22, 2015

graphic of tree with leaves and branches that represent digital tools I always cringe when educational pundits talk about evaluating teachers according to “value-added” assessment models, as if the value that teachers offer their students could be easily quantified or evaluated according to any standardized metric. Conversely, I am not averse at all to interrogating the value that digital tools bring to teaching and learning in classrooms; in fact, I think the connected learning community needs to speak up and encourage this conversation, considering the mad rush among many school districts to acquire technological resources without sufficient discussion about or planning for how these tools will enrich


Engaging Students in Critical Social Media Analysis Through Debate

Thursday, April 09, 2015

students holding debate on video conference As part of the national celebration of Digital Learning Day last month, I had the opportunity to moderate an online debate between two teams of high school students from opposite ends of California about the merits and risks of social media as a communication tool. Considering that I helped coach a high school policy debate team in my former life, I was thrilled to participate in this lively dialogue. The California Writing Project organized the debate, which was recorded and broadcast through Google Hangout on Air, in order to demonstrate an innovative way that teachers can use technology


Is the Maker Movement Equitable?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

young girl working on measuring a robot with another student The title of the article from The Atlantic stopped me in my tracks as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed: “Why I am Not a Maker.”  I was perplexed. Why would someone not want to engage in the fun, creativity, and imagination of the maker movement? Within the connected learning and DML communities (at least my involvement in them), making has always had a positive connotation, bringing with it the possibility of turning teaching and learning toward a focus on producing new things/ideas instead of simply consuming the status quo. But, perhaps I was ignorant


Ferguson, Social Media and Educational Dialogue

Thursday, December 18, 2014

protesters chanting holding up signs we cannot be silent As St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch stepped to the microphone on the evening of Nov. 24 to announce the grand jury’s decision about the fate of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, I found myself glued simultaneously to my laptop and the television set. I watched McCulloch’s statement on CNN while toggling between Twitter and Facebook to express my emotions in real time and gauge the reactions of friends, colleagues, and the rest of the world online. Physically, I was sitting on a


Potential and Pitfalls of Digital Reading Platforms for Connected Learning

Thursday, October 09, 2014

human shadow of boys face made of words At the recent Tech for Schools Summit hosted by EdSurge at the USC Rossier School of Education, organizers promised that the event was designed “for educators by educators” and that attendees would “gain exposure to cutting edge tech tools.” I arrived with an interest in learning more about the ways that education technology tools are marketed to teachers and the extent to which these tools offered teachers opportunities to customize Connected Learning experiences for their students. While the daylong event included a keynote address, a student presentation, and 3-minute pitches from some of the start-ups in


Digital Tools Can’t Magically Create Connections

Monday, August 25, 2014

illustration graphic showing its complicated connecting policy and practice One of the best perks of supporting the Los Angeles Central Library is advanced notice of the readings and talks coming through town as part of their ALOUD program. A few months ago, when I noticed that danah boyd was going to be talking about her recent book, “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens,” with USC Professor and Connected Learning pioneer, Henry Jenkins, I snapped up a ticket. The talk took place at the end of July, and the ideas that these two scholars expressed about how young people are interacting with digital tools


Making Learning More Connected

Monday, July 21, 2014

connected educators graphic with word collage that represents their role I consider myself pretty invested in the Connected Learning community. I had the privilege of co-chairing the “Civic Education and Youth Serving Organizations” strand of the Digital Media and Learning conference in 2013, I contributed to an eBook edited by Antero Garcia focused on the application of Connected Learning principles to the classroom, and I am a Connected Learning Ambassador for the National Writing Project. Nonetheless, whenever I prepare to talk about Connected Learning with classroom teachers, as I did last week during a workshop with the UCLA Writing Project, I find myself a bit uneasy


Innovators, Not Hackers: Stop Portraying Youth as Digital Deviants

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Roosevelt High school female student presentation response to media's portrayal of our high school Why is it that when young people use technology on adult terms, they are praised as 21st century learners, but when they use technology on their OWN terms, they are castigated as deviant rule-breakers? I’ve been pondering this question lately as I consider the national media attention that students from Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Los Angeles, have received in relation to the rollout of iPads for all students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. By most accounts, the rollout of the iPads has been — how could I


The Value of Social Media and Counternarratives

Monday, August 17, 2015

large group gathering for black lives matter march vigil As I write these words, St. Louis County has just declared a state of emergency in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of protests marking the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson. When word began to spread that night that protests were taking a violent turn, I did not immediately turn to The New York Times, CNN, or any other traditional news source to learn more about what was happening. Instead, I turned to Twitter. There, I found first-hand reports from people on the scene in Ferguson about what